The Leaked UN Report

•September 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Leaked UN Report

Why the DRC Mapping Exercise is actually an exercise in misconstruction.

One of the biggest news stories to hit Kigali in recent memory has flooded the local and international media as speculation abounds regarding a leaked United Nations report that—in one version– accuses the Rwandan army of possible war crimes including genocide. The preliminary report has been met with furor from Rwandan officials, namely, Foreign Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo who has written a letter to the UN Secretary General threatening to withdraw the thousands of Rwandan troops now serving in UN peace-keeping missions around the world.  “The U.N. can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a force serving as peacekeepers and it is the same force you are accusing of genocide.” Mushikiwabo said in a press conference about the report.

This—nearly 600 page– report raises several questions about both the nature of the study and the timing of its leaked release. Careful analysis combined with a thorough a historical perspective is required to understand the relationship between Rwanda, the U.N, the DRC and that perilous word: genocide

What’s it really about?

First, it is critical to note that this is not a report about Rwanda or even the Rwandan Army in Congo. The intention of the report is to call for accountability for atrocities committed in Congo from 1993 -2003. While large numbers of Hutu refugees were killed in DRC during that period, most news stories focus on possible RPA involvement with these killings rather than the report’s call for a truth and reconciliation commission. Also, most of the data in this document is about forces that are far removed from the Rwandan army and, despite what media reports may suggest, only a small fraction of the report refers to the Rwandans directly. Those who wish to scandalize the RDF are betting on the notion that the average person will never actually read the report.

The UN researchers were not scientific in their approach.  They required only two sources for each event cited in the report, regardless of how grave the incident. That’s the same requirement a local newspaper reporter has and is far cry from the rules of evidence born by prosecutors and criminal investigators. The report states that the mapping team “was not concerned with pursuing in-depth investigations or gathering evidence of sufficient admissibility to stand in court” but rather with “providing the basis for the formulation of initial hypotheses of investigation by giving a sense of the scale of violations, detecting patterns and identifying potential leads or sources of evidence”. The report itself merely concludes that a further investigation would be required to determine if crimes had taken place.  The problem is that it does this with dangerous language and an incendiary approach and the leaking of it has left Rwanda’s critics salivating. Regardless of the outcome of further investigations, for years to come, amateur analysts will look at this report, see Rwanda’s relative prosperity compared with the crisis in DRC and draw their own conclusions.

The UN Human Rights Office had to know that once they leaked a report with the word “genocide” into the public domain that–even if the evidence they had would not stand up in court of law–the damage would be done in the court of public opinion. To understand why, one must appreciate the historical and political setting.

History & Context

In January 1994, General Romeo Dallaire sent a now infamous cable to the U. N. Head of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO) in New York advising that he had information regarding imminent attacks on the Tutsi population in Kigali. Dallaire indicated that he had credible information on arms caches being held by would-be genocidaires and would move to seize them. The DPKO Chief baulked and subsequently ordered Dallaire not to take action to stop the massacres. The man that gave that order would later become the Secretary General of the UN: Kofi Annan.

In April of 1994 thousands of then FAR and Interahamwe militia would say that the president being killed combined with the presence of RPF troops in the country left them with no choice but to slaughter hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as rape tens of thousands of women in response. Despite this, the UN and its peace keeping force still had no sincere response. Both the UN and the United States refused to call this “genocide” at the time. Using that word would have required the UN Security Council to take action. But when referring to events 15 years in the past, the word gets misused in dodgy and reckless ways

After the RPF took Kigali in July of 1994, a mass exodus occurred with many genocidaires–along with many innocents–fleeing to neighboring countries, particularly DRC (then Zaire). The UN finally stepped in, providing more than one million dollars per day in aid to feed and shelter the very people who just finished decimating a population. By the time all was said and done, the core of the forces responsible for the genocide against the Tutsi had reassembled across the border with the benefits of UN shelter and plenty of innocent human shields.

Kofi Annan did eventually issue a couple of reluctant apologies on behalf of the UN for its inaction during these events but he has never taken personal responsibility for his own errors. Many believe that this report, commissioned towards the end of Annan’s tenure as Secretary General, is his final attempt to redeem himself by sullying the reputation of those who did act to end the genocide against the Tutsi.

From those UN camps and the surrounding communities, ex-FAR and former Interahamwe militia continued to launch attacks on Rwanda for years. At the time, Rwanda’s future was still very much in doubt. As any country would, Rwanda entered DRC to eradicate a real and present danger to its national security. But Rwanda didn’t just indiscriminately attack Hutu people in DRC. On the contrary, it embraced them.

The UN report doesn’t mention and critics don’t want you to remember that during most of the period which this report covers, Rwanda repatriated hundreds of thousands of Hutus back to Rwanda from DRC. In fact, the President of Rwanda went to Gysenyi to welcome these people home. By the way, that president, Pasteur Bizimungu, was a Hutu. Incredibly, this report suggests he oversaw the genocide of his own people. And if this was an attempted genocide, it marks the first time in history that a government tried to extinguish a people while simultaneously bringing them home, feeding them, educating them and giving them healthcare.

If you buy the idea that Rwanda wanted to commit wholesale slaughter against the Hutu population, why do it in Congo where the Rwandan government has so little control? Critics say that the government has total control in Rwanda.  If they wanted to slaughter a large segment of the population, why not do that here where they can manage the media and security? We are instead made to believe that it was RPF policy to take the massacres on road to the lawless and unpredictable DRC. That just doesn’t add up.

The Leaks

The fact that DRC’s problems seem so unsolvable combined with Rwanda’s relative prosperity and good governance causes frustration to a lot of people. It’s just too difficult to believe that such a large segment of the Rwandan population could have participated in mass rape and slaughter of its own people in 1994. It’s much easier to assume that this small country suffers from an evil elite minority. This belief, combined with a need to somehow “explain” the crisis in DRC has helped to shape a small but powerful culture of people in the development community who detest Rwanda and loathe her every success.

Large institutions like governments and the UN with powerful military forces rely on a level of secrecy to maintain security. Recent leaks in the United States military ranks have resulted in international investigations and arrests as well as numerous news reports looking into the nature of the leaks. But the UN disclosed this report as well as a confidential letter from Louise Mushikiwabo to Ban Ki Moon and there has been no mention of an investigation into the leaks.

After hundreds—if not thousands—of articles on the subject, not one piece of investigative journalism from the USA or Europe (where the leaks had to have occurred) regarding the supposedly unauthorized disclosures has emerged. Bureaucrats, scholars and journalists who work with the UN, Rwanda and the DRC know that many in that circle have been itching to turn the tables on Rwanda for years. And it is also understood that, despite recent cooling of relations between France and Rwanda, the place to start with an attack on the RPF is with a Paris based newspaper like Le Monde, where the leaked report first saw the light of day.

It’s now clear that the people the behind this report had a motive beyond obtaining and presenting the facts. The leaks and the UN’s apathy towards them belie that ulterior motive.

What now?

The Rwandan government has threatened to pull its troops from all UN peace keeping operations if the UN publishes this report in its current form. In response, Ban Ki Moon, has personally implored Rwanda to keep its troops in places like Darfur and Haiti. Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, has so far been unwavering in her stance regarding the report, however she has agreed to delay its release until October 1 and allow Rwanda and other countries to publish comments along with the report. It is unclear what Rwanda will now do with its troops. Some observers suggest that the best way to combat the abusive language within the report is for Rwanda to continue its proud work in other regions. Just last year President Obama praised RDF peace-keepers in Darfur as “disciplined”, “remarkable”, “model soldiers”. Perhaps continued service is the best way to contest an unprofessional document like the DRC Mapping Exercise. Also, Rwanda knows the importance of preventing genocide and the best way to do that in Darfur, Chad and Haiti is to stay.

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Rwanda’s Photo Fears

•August 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As in every city, car accidents are common in Kigali where they break out like a rash when heavy rains hit the roads and careless or inexperienced drivers lose control on the slick streets.  But this is the dry season so the boulevards are relatively incident-free.  These photos are of a more interesting collision last night.  I didn’t get the details of this event, beyond what is obvious from the pictures, but when I stopped to snap some shots, the crash became less of a story than did my experience of covering it.

Driving from KBC in Kigali to the gas station in at Kisementi, Remera, I came upon a traffic stop due to this collision.  I pulled over, grabbed my camera and Rwanda Media High Council press credentials then approached the officer in charge and asked for permission to get some shots of this curious wreck.  As I was finished taking these simple photos, a man in a business suit pulled over his SUV and said something in Kinyarwanda to the police.  The officers immediately acquiesced authority to this man who may or may not have identified himself to them.  What is clear is that he scolded them for allowing me to take photographs of a car accident in Rwanda. He told me to stop taking photos and questioned why I wanted these photos.

“Who are you?” he said with more than a little intimidation, “Why are you taking photos here?”

I showed him my credentials and explained that this accident was interesting and that folks would want to see these shots and hear about the how it happened.  Then I asked who he was.

“I am Rwandese”, he replied.

“I see that.  But who are you?  What’s your name?”

“I am Rwandese”, he repeated, “Why are you taking photos?”

I had already identified myself and shown that I was a journalist.  The accident spoke for itself as something interesting and news worthy.  But in Kigali, interesting and news-worthy are often not enough.

This vibrant city has a plethora of bloody history.  Much of that history has been difficult to document, in part, because in Rwanda, cameras and photographs are seen as a threat.  Folks can walk around freely among genocide survivors with machetes in their hands and no one is frightened.  The streets are peppered with teams patrolling police and soldiers armed with automatic rifles, and no one expresses and concern about this.  (In fact, their presence is almost universally appreciated because citizens realize these men aim to keep the peace.)  Even multiple grenade blasts don’t do much to scare people or keep them away from the crowded areas where they have exploded.  But pull out a camera, and people freak-out, especially the police.

If you want to get technical, even a credentialed reporter cannot take photos of incidents including police or soldiers without prior written permission.  Getting that written permission can days, if not weeks, so taking a timely photos of any incident where police are involved is almost impossible. The quickest way to get arrested in Rwanda is to take a photograph that includes a police officer.

People here are extremely afraid that a photo–any photo– will be used against them.  This is true both when photographs are used to accurately portray an incident as well as when they are used to incorrectly manipulate the story of a given event.

Who was the mystery-man in the dark suit who pulled over last night to reprimand these officers for allowing me to do my job?  As I said, he refused to identify himself, another common occurrence in Rwanda.  (As a rule, police officers and soldiers do not wear name badges and, despite rules to the contrary, they do not give their names when asked.) But it appeared he thought he was performing some sort of duty by trying to prevent me from documenting something in Rwanda that could be perceived as negative to residents and outsiders alike.  Of course it is absolutely paranoid to think that observers of my work are going to judge Kigali based on a small car accident, but photo and media paranoia are the norm here.  What this guy apparently didn’t realize is that the suppression of simple photographic work is far more damaging to the reputation of this hopeful country than even the most damming photographs could ever be.

Rwanda could do more to bolster its standing by freeing-up restrictions on people who try to collect facts and data.  In their efforts to control the stories being told here and to manipulate the gathering of basic information, authorities do more harm than good to the reputation of Rwanda.

Would-be opposition candidate Ingabire questioned, not arrested, as part of larger investigation

•March 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Some Human rights groups and local and international journalists again spread inaccurate information in her defense.

Reports were flying around Rwandan and International press last week that would-be opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was arrested late Tuesday night as she tried to leave the country. Radio Rwanda announced that she had been detained at Kigali International Airport as she tried to flee. But according to the Commissioner of the Rwanda National Police, she was not arrested. Instead, police went on Tuesday to her home to deliver a summons to return to the RNP Criminal Investigation Division for a fourth round of questioning regarding accusations that she is spreading genocide ideology and working with known and even convicted genocidaires including members of the current FDLR. She has denied these allegations. Ingabire maintains that she was not fleeing the country, but merely going home to the Netherlands to visit family. Most of her close relatives and friends, like her, live outside of Rwanda.

Ingabire was questioned for three straight days this week at CID headquarters. Police and military are tight-lipped about their investigation which has elevated from a simple criminal matter to one of Rwandan national security. Ingabire has received world-wide attention and support from journalists, human rights groups, and others working outside of Rwanda who say she has been unfairly persecuted here. The incident she is most known for by foreigners is the one involving a scuffle that occurred on February 3rd, when she and her then assistant, Joseph Ntawangundi, went to pick up an ID card in Kigali, allegedly cut the line, then were attacked by an angry mob. In that incident, Ntawangundi was beaten and both he and Ingabire were widely defended by international groups.

But that incident put Ntawangundi’s face on the cover of Kigali news publications and before long many people reported recognizing him as a convicted fugitive killer. Ingabire and other groups were quick to deny Ntawangundi’s guilt and called the claims “reckless” and said he was nowhere near Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. But a stellar piece of investigative journalism by Radio Contact and New Times revealed that Joseph Ntawangundi was indeed here and that he participated in the genocide then proceeded to abandon his wife and young child in a refugee camp.

For her part, Ingabire has partially retracted statements decrying Ntawangundi’s arrest but her website continues to post complaints in his defense. While he now admits his guilt and has even asked for forgiveness, Ingabire has offered nothing close to an apology to her supporters, to human rights groups or to the people of Rwanda for boosting the profile of a convict war criminal.

Now she is not under arrest at this time but is prevented from leaving Rwanda pending the outcome of a serious investigation with possible charges of divisionism and links to FDLR. A UN report has supported the link between Ingabire and FDLR but many say the report’s facts are weak. However, she still refuses to reveal the source of her campaign funding and that has led some to conclude that the money must be coming from unscrupulous sources.

This reporter encountered Ms. Ingabire at CID headquarters on Thursday. When asked, she said she was fine but did not understand why she was being prevented from leaving Rwanda. She has still refused to give any interviews with media houses inside Rwanda, instead claiming that it is the Rwandan media that refused to speak to her. This reporter repeatedly requested an interview with Ingabire several times this week to no avail.

Police cannot yet say whether she will be arrested or eventually allowed to leave. However, It’s now clear that Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza will not run for president this year in Rwanda, if ever. Today she is resting at her residence in Kigali. According to authorities, she is free to roam the country, but not to leave it.

Questions or comments?  Please contact: steveterrill@hotmail.com

or call (250) 78 356 9597


Are the Rwanda National Police accountable to the people they serve?

•March 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Are the Rwanda National Police accountable to the people they serve?

Just last month the Rwanda National Police received praise and accolades for dismissing over 30 officers for transgressions while on duty. The nature of the transgressions has not been revealed. The decision comes at a time when public annoyance with poor police performance is mounting and many wonder if the force has gone far enough—or high enough on the food chain–to make substantive differences in the way the public, citizens and visitors alike, experience the police in Rwanda.

This has become especially important now as Rwanda and its criminal justice system are coming under fire from the West for the arrests and interrogations of journalists, as well as would-be opposition party members. While those matters are often misunderstood outside of Rwanda, it is clear that here, within the country, there have been promises made to improve police customer service but the public hasn’t seen the results.

The police do have some programs that look and sound good on paper. There was last year’s “Customer Training for The Rwanda National Police” that taught 80 officers about dealing with the public and even included a presentation on “The Impact of Poor Customer Service on the Economy of Rwanda” from the Institute for Political Analysis and Research ( IPAR). At that time, Amin Gafaranga, in Charge of Customer Service at the Rwanda Development Board, also gave a presentation on a survey he carried out on the perception of the police by citizens here in Rwanda. It showed that there is a breach between the perception of the police by citizens and the image the police hope to project.

Back in July, 2009, the RNP began a new effort at addressing citizen complaints about officers and improving effectiveness with the help of a grant from the United States government. The two-year $1.45 million project, administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, was the first of a series of activities planned under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Threshold Country Program, a three-year $25-million program managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Rwanda. The Threshold Country Program was specifically designed to improve Rwanda’s ranking on the Political Rights, Civil Liberties, and Voice and Accountability governance indicators. Last year’s money paid for a special advisor from the United States aimed at professionalizing the force from the top down.

And a few weeks ago, the U.S. Ambassador W. Stuart Symington, alongside the Commissioner General of Police (CGP) Emmanuel Gasana, officiated the closure of the course in Advanced Internal Investigation Techniques. This was another USAID funded program.

Those funds also helped produce an impressive looking platform for reporting police misconduct to authorities and even to the Commissioner of Police himself. This program centers around a form called the “Rwanda National Police Citizen Complaint or Compliment Form”. It can be found at any police station, district office, and is even available online. The RNP Spokesperson was asked how many—if any—of these forms they have received since launching the program and if any action has ever been taken as the result of such a citizen report. At the time of printing he had not responded.

Now all of this seems very congruent with the RNP mandate as laid out in the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda. There the law emphasizes the guiding principles on which the RNP should base their operations: Safeguarding the fundamental rights guaranteed by the law; Cooperation with the people they serve; Being accountable to the people.

But now some are questioning if any of this works or if it is really making a difference. Customer feedback programs, like a form for citizens to use to report police misconduct, only work if the police officers in question give their names to those with whom they interact. But citizens don’t know ahead of time the name or ID number of an officer that will violate their human rights, and in Rwanda, unlike many other countries, police officers don’t wear name badges. When asked about this, RNP Spokesperson Kayuranga stated, “All on-duty RNP officers are required to give their names to citizens and visitors when asked.” But when the Rwanda Focus asked 20 officers for their names, all 20 refused to give them. This makes the expensive new citizen reporting program instantly obsolete.

When asked, representatives from the U.S. State Department and USAID were unable to comment on short notice; however they assured the Rwanda Focus that they would relay these concerns to the proper Rwandan authorities. The U.S. Embassy aims to assist the Rwanda National Police when possible and keeps an eye on local crime trends. Their website warns that “In recent months, the Embassy has received several reports of assault and robbery involving pedestrians, primarily, but not limited to, the Kiyovu district of Kigali.” It also says that any crimes, specifically robberies, should be reported to police. But after being summoned to the site of a recent attack and mugging on a woman in Kikuciru, the police officers who arrived insisted it was not necessary to file a report of the crime (and therefore not record it in national statistics) because there were not adequate witnesses and no hope of it being solved. It was impossible for the woman to use the much lauded new complaint form because the officers in question would again not give their names and did not wear visible identification.

In another incident, a more senior officer was involved in a suspicious auto crash with an American couple. He was in full uniform and while driving his service vehicle at 2am in Kimironko. Witnesses said he was drinking and had a total of seven people—including two young women companions—in the car with him. He also attempted—unsuccessfully– to flee the scene of the accident. Then both he and the officers who arrived to investigate the accident would not give their names to those involved in the crash nor would any of the officers give their names to a Rwanda Focus reporter on the scene. The officers also claimed it was not permitted to photograph the accident scene or the officers doing the investigation but spokesperson Kayuranga disputes that.

Kigali residents know that police officers here can be routinely observed violating basic traffic laws which they insist are essential to public safety and everyone else should obey. It’s all too common to see uniformed officers driving service vehicles while on the phone—a criminal offense in Rwanda– or not wearing seatbelts, stopping in the middle of the road to chat with a driver coming from the opposite direction and often cutting off another vehicles even if they have the right way.

Early Sunday morning, patrons and staff at Kigali’s most popular nightclub looked on in shock as a team of at least five armed police officers ran down and forcibly detained a young man for the crime of peddling condoms and cigarettes to the nightclub goers. These officers also claimed that it was illegal to document their work and all of them refused to give their names to civilians nearby and to reporters.

These problems will be difficult to address because they are not related to the conduct of one, or even just a group of officers. The usual solution of sacking officers won’t fix anything here. This is a systemic dilemma that results from a perception both within and without the police department that the police officers themselves are somehow above the citizenry and sometimes above the law. Until the commissioner and his commanders take major steps to remind themselves and their force that contempt for the population they serve is unacceptable, this behavior of police displaying disdain and disrespect for their own customers is expected to continue.

Questions or comments?  Please contact: steveterrill@hotmail.com

or call (250) 78 356 9597

Analysis of “Myths on Rwandan Media” discussion

•March 25, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday the Huffington Post published a piece by Louise Mushikiwabo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Government Spokesperson for Rwanda. The piece and ensuing comments calling it “laughable” can been viewed here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/minister-louise-mushikiwabo/myths-on-rwandan-media_b_511521.html
Here is my/our response to the discussion.

By Steve Terrill
As a journalist working in Rwanda I can say this post is NOT laughable. Rwanda is changing at lightning pace. For some that change cannot come quickly enough. We’re just 16 years out of the most efficient slaughter in history and yet we’re at peace. A couple of journalists have been charged with violating very real laws as well as the ethics by which they are bound—both here and elsewhere. But those men wrote their stories—regarding detailed sexual exploits with alleged specifics in the private bedrooms of public officials– in Kinyarwanda, and those who criticize their indictments have little understanding of what they really wrote or what they are being accused of. True, it’s not enough to blame these misunderstandings on language alone, but it is also not enough to assume the worst here without some firsthand accounts from non-criminals who are not writing reckless conjecture regarding the private sex lives of public officials. Those who wrote these articles are not in jail. They are free on a generous appeal. This regime, responsible for the greatest U-turn in human history, is being vilified for allowing unscrupulous scribes more than their “due process”. These so-called journalists make life difficult for me. I write about politics, war, justice, and ICT. I don’t have time to write about what I presume is going on in the bedrooms of officials nor do I think it’s responsible to turn the debate of press freedom to those topics.

Today I visited CID (Criminal Investigation Division) at the headquarters for the National Police of Rwanda. I was there by invitation and still, I narrowly avoided being arrested as I asked one too many questions that were perceived to be in defense of opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, who was also there being questioned about her alleged ties to the FDLR. But later, I met with the Commissioner of Police for the country of Rwanda. He offered me an apology, in private. He explained that many of the proud, hard-working young people on his vary large staff are not highly paid or educated. He made a good point and while I did hear the words, “You are under arrest”, today, I never actually found myself in custody. (By the way, neither did Victoire Ingabire, contrary to erroneous BBC reports).
It’s a little too easy to sit on the side-lines from 2,000 miles away and make judgments about the progress—or lack thereof–occurring here. It’s my duty to report the truth, even if no one in the West is interested and even if it lands me in prison. I love freedom of the press and Rwanda too much to settle for less.
Of course an official from government is going to tout her country’s achievements. Would Hillary Clinton do anything different? Mushikiwabo did well in her piece and those who are committed to the development of this country need to be patient and persistent in our efforts to raise the levels journalism here.

We have the equivalent of World War III raging just a few kilometers beyond our borders. If that were happening in America, we would see a whole new definition of “police state”. When we look at the larger picture, the Rwandan ability to move and grow and accept criticism is remarkable. We won’t encourage further change by uprooting the good developments that have already taken place.

In America, journalists have spent years behind bars, simply for writing facts. That has never happened in the post-genocide Rwanda. Other countries have killed journalists and yet have still been ranked higher than Rwanda in press freedom. Clearly, some reporters have no border with reality and whatever they print is blindly regarded as fact, regardless of how little sense it makes.

I invite anyone—and I mean anyone—to write to me or call me if you contest what I am saying here. But please, only do so boldly if you are journalist living and working inside Rwanda, like me.

Steve Terrill
Journalist
steveterrill@hotmail.com
(250) 78 356 9597