The New Times (Kigali)

3 August 2012

Rwanda: Are the UN Experts Credible?

Fighting has intensified in the Democratic Republic of Congo threatening the eastern city of Goma. The fighting between the M23 rebel group fighting ... ( Resource: Congolese Protest Against Eastern Violence

The credibility of some members of the UN Group of Experts for Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been questioned after it emerged that the Group's coordinator, Steve Hege, has, for long, sympathised and advocated for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

The FDLR, a militia group based in the DRC, comprises elements responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that left more than one million people dead.

The FDLR was also branded a terrorist group by the UN following evidence of how they have raped, killed and tortured innocent civilians in Eastern DRC, in addition to continuously planning attacks in Rwanda.

The UN Group of Experts has alleged that Rwanda is supporting DRC's M23 rebels, but according to various sources, it is unacceptable for such experts to be perceived as impartial.

Credibility of Mr Hege, the coordinator of the experts group, started to crumble after several publications he authored, were widely circulated. On one hand, the publications depict loath for Rwanda's leadership and on the other admiration and sympathy for the FDLR militia.

FDLR was also blacklisted by the US, and a regional intergovernmental forum, as a terrorist outfit.

The armed group has, also, been subject to several Security Council resolutions, with its leaders placed under travel and financial sanctions, while its field commander, Sylvester Mudacumura, was last month indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.

In one of the articles, Hege criticized the joint Rwanda-DRC military operations, which had brought relative peace to Eastern DRC. He claimed FDLR had rightly been disappointed by Kinshasa's growing ties with Kigali following the 2009 peace deal between the Congolese government and the then National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) rebels.

In the article, "Understanding the FDLR in the DR Congo: Key facts on the disarmament & repatriation of Rwandan rebels", published by Peace Appeal Foundation, on February 24, 2009, Hege wrote: "The FDLR must be viewed in light of the regional history of armed rebellions formed by refugees and/or political exiles who have eventually taken power back from undemocratic regimes".

He compared the militia group with the rebel movements that brought Presidents Paul Kagame and Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza to power - arguing that the "the young officer corps and rank and file of the FDLR" are survivors of an alleged massacre by the Rwandan military in the late 1990s in the Congo.

"Many FDLR claim their arms are a defense for the remaining refugees who have not received any assistance for over a decade...While only a small per centage of the FDLR actually participated in the horrors of 1994, the Rwandan government has been reticent to collaborate with MONUC regarding FDLR leaders not implicated in the genocide," Hege alleged in the article.

To the contrary, Rwanda has maintained a reintegration programme that has seen thousands of former FDLR rebels return home, get skills training and reintegrated into the community.

In the same article, Hege defended the FDLR for refusing to disarm and repatriate, before concluding, "The FDLR have not constituted a military threat to Rwanda for over five years...The FDLR would rather wait for political negotiations when international opinion eventually sours on the Rwandan regime."

He also alleged that "economic and political power (in Rwanda) remains resoundingly concentrated in the hands of the Ugandan Tutsi elite from the RPF", an assertion observers say is intended to promote a distorted narrative that the RPF-led government is constituted of a foreign invading force, without legitimacy.

In addition, Hege has expressed resentment towards perceived Congolese Tutsi communities and armed movements associated with them, accusing them of maintaining "allegiance to Rwandan Tutsis".

"For their part, it is not enough that they (Banyamulenge) just say that they are Congolese. They must demonstrate that they truly are just that by prioritizing their relationships with their fellow Congolese citizens over the economic and territorial interests of Rwanda," he wrote in a JSR 'Issue Paper': Tumultuous return for Banyamulenge refugees" on October 10, 2004.

In a Guest Blogger article "Peace Today" in the DR Congo, published by Refugees International, on March 24, 2010, Hege wrote, "Most Congolese and international analysts in Goma believe that the CNDP, which continues to run a parallel administration in Masisi territory and whose soldiers were never fully integrated into the Congolese army, is trying to clear out the entire region north of Lukweti in order to take control of plush grazing land for cattle.

"Other observers (say) that that the CNDP may also be preparing this zone to settle migrants from Rwanda who recently crossed into the Congo claiming to be Tutsi refugees".

Hege was appointed to head the Group of Experts (GoE) on DRC on June 25, 2010. Members are Marie Plamadiala (Moldova), Ruben de Koenig (Netherlands), Steven Spittaels (Belgium), Nelson Alusala (Kenya), Emilie Serralta (France) and Hege (USA).

From the time Hege wrote most of these articles, the UN Security Council has passed multiple resolutions (1896, 1906, 1925, 1952, 1991, 2021, and 2053) that explicitly identified the FDLR as a dangerous armed group.

Maitre Laurent Nkongori, an international law expert based in Kigali, said the fact that the United Nations appointed Hege as coordinator for the Group of Experts on the Congo, despite his biased views about the Congo crisis and the broader regional realities, demonstrates how the UN is continuously manipulated by ill-intentioned actors.

"Make no mistake; this is not an isolated case. There is a pattern, dating back to the 1994 in the build-up to and during the Genocide against the Tutsi. Some powerful people are bent on advancing a particular narrative about Rwanda and the Great Lakes region, it's a coordinated project," he told The New Times yesterday evening.

Prof. Jean Pierre Dusingizemungu, the president of Ibuka, the Genocide survivors' umbrella organisation, pointed out that Hege's views portray him as a sympathizer for Genocide perpetrators and an apologist of the crime of genocide.

"It is clear from his past statements and publications he's a Genocide revisionist to say the least. He still calls Rwandan nationals Uganda invaders, and fans hatred and violence between communities by blaming everything wrong on a particular side," Dusingizemungu said.

"It's unfortunate the United Nations handed responsibilities that demand sobriety, objectivity and neutral minds to a man who lacks credibility, and has never hidden his partiality in the same issues he's tasked to investigate".

It was not possible to get a comment from the government of Rwanda by press time. But an official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The New Times: "It is shocking to find that this is the person charged by the UN to cast judgment on Rwanda and be given the freedom to wreak havoc on its reputation".

"If these are not forgeries, then Hege's appointment to chair the Group of Experts was stunning misjudgement on the part of the UN Security Council".

The New Times could not immediately get a comment from the United Nations.

On Monday, Kigali presented to the UN Sanctions Committee a rebuttal to a controversial addendum to the recent GoE report, which accused Rwanda of supplying logistics and fighters to the M23 rebels, which has taken several towns and villages in DRC's North Kivu province since the war broke out in April. The rebels blame Kinshasa for breaching the March 23, 2009 accord with CNDP rebels, under which the latter were to be integrated in the official military and political spheres.

The controversial UN addendum, which has provoked several donor countries to delay or suspend budget support to Rwanda, did not include Kigali's position on the allegations. The final report is expected in November.

The New Times understands that some of Hege's online articles containing anti-Rwanda views have been pulled off, as his objectivity increasingly comes under the spotlight.

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