10 February 2013

Congo-Kinshasa: How Credible Are the New UN Group of Experts?

Photo: Gado/RNW
A cartoon depicting donors strong reaction to United Nations evidence that Rwanda is supporting Congolese rebels (file photo).

The mandate of the former UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) comprising Steven Hege, Nelson Alusala, Ruben de Koning, Marie Plamadiala, Emilie Serralta, and Steven Spittaels, ended last year.

The group, coordinated by Hege, a man known as a long time advocate of the genocidal outfit, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and personally biased against Rwanda's government, claimed that Rwanda, and to some extent, Uganda, were supporting DRC's M23 rebels.

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Hege was engaged in a determined political campaign to tarnish Rwanda, when his group first leaked a report to the media alleging that Rwanda and Uganda, which is now leading regional efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in eastern DRC, were supporting the M23 mutiny.

Ugandan officials also refuted and 'rubbished' reports by Hege's team.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a Washington DC-based international law firm, agreed with the assessment that the GoE abused its powers in the course of shifting blame for the mess in eastern DRC.

Among other shortcomings, the law firm found that the GoE members were guilty of "[a] lack of transparency, the reliance on questionable sources and the complete lack of analysis of witness bias, motivation, or contradictory evidence."

No doubt, the credibility of some members of the previous GoE team was questioned. So is the current one.

'New wine in an old bottle'

In a December 28, 2012 letter, from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed to the President of the Security Council, the former appointed Nelson Alusala, (Kenya-arms), Henry Fomba, (Cameroon-customs and aviation), Bernard Leloup, (Belgium-regional issues), Marie Plamadiala, (Moldova-armed groups), and Emilie Serralta, (France-natural resources), as the first five members of the new GoE on the DRC.

On January 2, Daniel Fahey, from the US (finance), was added to the group whose mandate, expires on February 1, 2014. The mandate is renewable.

Serralta, who is among the three reappointed from the previous team, is Coordinator of the new Group. Moldova's Plamadiala and Kenya's Arusala were also in Hege's team.


Olivier Nduhungirehe, the Deputy Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, in New York, is concerned.

"Three experts of the previous group were reappointed. We objected to one of them (Plamadiala) and to a new comer, the Belgian, Bernard Leloup. We provided information on how they are biased against our country," Nduhungirehe told The New Times.

"However, the SG went on and appointed them. We were disappointed and announced to the DRC Sanctions Committee that the two are not welcome to Rwanda."

The government's concerns are not farfetched.

In a June 2003 opinion article - Time to Turn the Heat On President Kagame - published by Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper, Leloup did not mince words on his take about Rwanda's current government and leadership.

In the article, the Belgian, among other things, urged Rwanda's donors to recognise that the May 2003 constitutional referendum and the subsequent legislative and presidential elections were "meaningless and potentially dangerous."

"Since RPF's ascension to power in 1994, the regime has not ceased to harden, particularly during the last few years. Repression has reached great heights, as political instability has increased across the country and within the army," Leloup wrote.

The government documented most of Leloup's work indicative of his partiality.

Uganda's High Commissioner to Rwanda, Richard Kabonero, is also disappointed by the work of the UN GoE, in addition to how it is evaluated and appointed.

However, Kabonero says, the region should not give much attention to the GoE as the current search for home-grown solutions is more important.

"We can't really spend time worrying about the UN group," Kabonero added.

Kigali and Kampala have not only strongly criticized reports compiled by the GoE but also the methodology that was used, which they say is flawed.

Mushikiwabo has previously stressed that what is even more disturbing is a moral disgrace committed in the name of the UN when an apologist of genocide perpetrators [Hege] was put in a position to sit in judgment of the victims.

Mushikiwabo has also criticized the UN process for appointment and vetting of experts. It is broken and in desperate need of repair, she is quoted saying.

A submission, by Rwanda's Permanent Mission to the UN, serving as the Government's formal objection notice to the candidacies of Leloup and Plamadiala, highlights government's concerns over the duo's unfairness, and qualification issues especially on the part of the Moldovan, who, it is believed, does "not meet the professional requirements for an independent expert," among other considerations.

While they [UN] "lack any substantive guidance on the vetting process" of experts, the UNSC's investigative guidelines state that experts: be independent; have specialised expertise in the area of competence; have academic qualifications; undergo performance evaluations that are transparent; and have cultural and country-related knowledge relevant to the mandates of monitoring mechanisms.

When The New Times e-mailed the Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, for comment, a senior UN Spokesperson referred the paper to Kim Sook, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea and President of the Security Council for the month of February.

Sook has not responded to The New Times' queries.

"These are independent experts who report to the Security Council, and it's up to the Security Council to evaluate their work," Eduardo del Buey, the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General responded.

The New Times had, among others, sought comment on why the UNSC would insist on appointing on the GoE individuals whom a UN member country deems biased, as well as the possible downsides to such a decision especially since Plamadiala and new comer, Leloup, are not welcome to Rwanda.

"You may wish to send your query to the President of the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea," Ki-moon's Deputy Spokesperson noted. The Security Council which has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security comprises 15 members: five permanent members with veto power, and 10 non-permanent members, elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term.

Rwanda became a non-permanent member starting January 1, a position the country will hold until the end of next year.

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