U.N. Group Recommends Sanctioning Rwandan Defense Minister

Rwandan President Paul Kagame Addresses the U.N.

A United Nations Group of Experts (GoE) has suggested a new target for sanctions related to the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: the Rwandan Minister of Defense. The experts offered Defense Minister James Kabarebe’s name up for blacklisting due to his suspected role in arming and leading the M23 rebel group in the Congo, as detailed in a report earlier this year.

The GoE made its pitch to the United Nations Security Council committee responsible for sanctions on the Democratic Republic of Congo on Monday. While no action was taken on that specific suggestion, the committee did decide to send forward the rebel leader Sultani Makenga to the full Council for potential repercussions. Among the punishments that the U.N. has at its disposal for individuals accused of breaching international peace and security are travel bans, freezing of financial assets, and even potential referral to the International Criminal Court.

Drama of being named aside, the question of whether the Security Council will take action against any Rwandan officials is a different story:

Diplomats said it was unlikely the council would find the consensus necessary to add any Rwandans to the U.N. blacklist.

“But the fact that the Group of Experts would make this recommendation will itself send a strong political message to Rwanda about the need to curtail support for M23 rebels,” another diplomatic source said.

The accusations against Kabarebe have prompted the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands to suspend some aid to Rwanda, which relies on donors for about 40 percent of its budget. In September the European Union froze further budgetary support to Rwanda.

Even a slim chance that a member of President Paul Kagame’s cabinet be sanctioned puts Rwanda in an interesting position. Rwanda was elected last month to join the Security Council for a two-year term, starting in January. While no vote will likely come of the GoE’s suggestion at this point, it does still lend itself to the potential that further revelations of the link between Rwanda and the M23 could spur a U.N. response. In that event, Rwandan diplomats would have their work cut out for them.

The situation has the potential to be awkward for for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice as well. Rice, thought to be the front runner for the position of Secretary of State once Hillary Clinton departs, is particularly close with Kagame. Also, the United States has been accused of holding back the release of the initial GoE report that accused Rwanda of aiding the Congolese rebels, possibly at the behest of Rice.