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U.N. Chief Returns from “Damage Control” Trip to Rwanda

Megan Iacobini de Fazio

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2010 (IPS) - U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon returned Thursday from what has been described as a damage control trip to Rwanda, in an attempt to reassure President Paul Kagame that his concerns over the recently leaked Mapping Exercise report are being heard.

During Ban’s hastily arranged trip to the Rwandan capital Kigali, he met Kagame and a number of ministers, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Louise Mushikiwabo, who last week threatened to pull Rwandan peacekeeping troops out of Darfur should the final draft contain allegations of genocide.

The 600-page Mapping Exercise report, prepared by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), accuses Rwandan military forces and an allied rebel group of carrying out widespread human rights violations which could amount to genocide. It contains descriptions of over 600 atrocities which occurred in the period between March 1993 and June 2003, allegedly committed by Rwandan troops against Rwandan Hutu fighters who fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo after the 1994 genocide.

The report documents a number of violent attacks on civilians, including women and children.

An official with a human rights group, who asked not to be named, told IPS that it also had information of violence in DRC, directed not towards individuals but towards particular ethnic groups.

“The report seems to be very well researched and detailed. In light of the widespread ethnic violence, accusations of genocide seem like a normal conclusion,” he said.

Mushikiwabo, who is being considered by Ban as possible head of a new U.N agency dealing with women’s empowerment and gender equality, strongly criticised the U.N.’s inquiry into Rwanda’s alleged war crimes, claiming that the report was “fatally flawed” and that it was “patently absurd for the U.N., which deliberately turned its back on the Rwandan people during the 1994 genocide, to accuse the army that stopped the genocide of committing atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Gregory Stanton, president and founder of Genocide Watch, told IPS that the U.S. State Department knew of reports of mass killings of Hutus as early as 1996. When Stanton pushed for further investigation into the matter, however, he said he was told by the Central African Affairs Coordinator at the State Department to “stop asking questions”.

“Ethnic violence in DRC has been going on for more than a decade, so accusations of genocide ring true. No government should go unpunished for committing such acts,” Stanton said.

Ban told reporters Thursday that he had encouraged Kagame, the Rwandan government and all concerned countries to submit their comments by the end of the month, so they can be released simultaneously to the final version of the report, whose publication has been delayed until Oct. 1. He commended Rwanda’s efforts and the great strides it has made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

He also congratulated Kagame, who will co-chair an MDG advocacy group in New York next month, on his inauguration for a third seven-year term as president. Kagame, who has been in power for 16 years, won a landslide reelection last month amid allegations of fraud and violent repression of the opposition.

Many candidates were not allowed to take part, while three politicians who had criticised the government in the past were attacked in suspicious circumstances in the months leading up to the elections.

Ban, who was accompanied to Kigali by his special envoy to the Congo Roger Meece, U.N peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy and U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights Ivan Simonovic, told reporters he had listened to the government’s concerns and he “fully understands and appreciates the depth of their feelings on the matter”.

He also praised Rwanda’s commitment to the U.N. agenda and its role in peacekeeping operations, especially in Sudan, and complimented Rwandan forces for being “well trained and highly disciplined”.

The threat of Rwanda pulling out of peacekeeping operations in Sudan is one the U.N. must take seriously. Rwandans make up the largest contingent of the peacekeeping forces in Darfur, and contribute over 3,000 troops to peacekeeping missions all over the world.

This episode has highlighted how much power a relatively small country can yield when it contributes a large number of troops to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

There are speculations, in part prompted by the delayed publication of the report, that Ban may seek to remove any mention of genocide from the finalised version of the Mapping Exercise, in order to stop Rwanda from leaving peacekeeping operations.

The official told IPS that his NGO would like to see the report published in its entirety and without changes, adding that “it would be embarrassing for the U.N. if the report was changed as results of threats from the Rwandan government”.

He echoed a number of other NGOs in expressing his hopes that the Congolese and Rwandan governments, along with the U.N. and other international actors, will follow up on the findings of the report and work together to bring to justice the perpetrators of these acts.

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