Rwandan Support For Rebels Goes Largely Unchallenged At U.N. Meeting

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Rwandan president Paul Kagame

Rwandan president Paul Kagame


UNITED NATIONS — Alleged support from Rwanda for a rebel group fighting against the United Nations itself has gone relatively unchallenged so far at the this year’s gathering of world leaders.

Rwandan president Paul Kagame spoke on Wednesday before the U.N. General Assembly, using his relatively brief speech to discuss just how far his country has come in the time since the passage of the Millennium Development Goals. He also took the time to slam the International Criminal Court, which he described as having “served to humiliate Africans and their leaders.”

Left unsaid was any mention of his neighbor to the west, the Democratic Republic of the Congo — home to one of the longest ongoing conflicts on the planet, which has left hundreds of thousands dead. Congolese president Joseph Kabila had no such qualms in his own speech earlier in the day, taking time to single out Rwanda as a cause for many of its ills. “It is important on this front to recall a double reality which is often unknown or hidden,” he said, “that it is because we acted in solidarity welcoming on our territory refugees from Rwanda that the Congolese populations of the Eastern part of my country are deprived of peace — the elementary right for all humans.”

The United Nations must “require that each one of [its members] strictly respects the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” Kabila continued, referring to the rejection of the use of force contained within the document. “Reporting and denouncing the violation of these principles is certainly a good thing, but punishing those who violate those principles are much better, especially when those violations are established, persistent and recurrent.”

The latter matters due to the frequent reports the United Nations Security Council receives from its Group of Experts on the Great Lakes region. In Oct. 2012, the GoE first named Rwanda in its report on the M23 rebel movement in the Congo and accused Kagame’s government of directly supporting its fight against Kabila’s government. The M23 has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Congolese civilans and proved enough of a threat that the U.N. specifically authorized an intervention brigade to take the fight to the rebels.

Complicating matters is Rwanda’s position on the Security Council, a seat it won last year and will continue to hold throughout 2014. Since taking up its seat at the Horseshoe Table, Rwanda has been hot and cold towards action against the M23. While it voted in favor of establishing the intervention brigade, it has also moved to block condemnation of M23 attacks on the peacekeepers that make up the mission. It also acted to prevent possible sanctions on two of the M23’s senior commanders.

The United States has in the past been accused of being too cozy with Kagame, particularly former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice towards the end of her tenure. One of the GoE’s reports, it was reported, was even blocked from being released for months at the request of Washington. In recent months, however, the U.S. has become increasingly willing to criticize Rwanda’s support of the M23. “We call upon Rwanda to immediately end any support to the M23, withdraw military personnel from eastern D.R.C., and follow through on its commitments under the framework,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a briefing in July, a call that was reiterated in August.

It would seem that the U.N. won’t be using the time of the General Assembly, however, to press Kagame about the M23. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Kagame interacted on Tuesday at a meeting on the Millienium Development Goals, but it is unlikely there was any discussion of the situation in the Great Lakes region during that time. “There is no bilateral meeting but the same is true of many leaders, given the tight programme,” Martin Nesirky, Ban’s spokesman, said in an email to ThinkProgress. “The SG has been in frequent contact with leaders in the region, including President Kagame.”