Rwanda has rejected renewed claims that it is backing the M23 rebel force in eastern DRC. Following a UN report critical of Rwandan involvement, Human Rights Watch has now taken up the issue.
First there was a report by a UN group of experts, published in June. Now that has been followed by a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW). Both make the same claim - that Rwanda is supporting rebel group M23 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The HRW report, which also accuses the rebels of committing war crimes, points an accusing finger at Rwanda and Uganda, alleging that between July and August this year, the local population living near the border between Uganda and Congo witnessed Rwandan troops crossing over to the DRC in Ugandan military vehicles. Rwanda was quick to refute these claims. Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said such reports were a joke and that Rwanda attached no importance to HRW's allegations.
According to Anneke Van Woudenberg, HRW's senior Africa researcher, "the M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities".
She also noted that "M23 commanders should be held accountable for these crimes and the Rwandan officials supporting these abusive commanders could face justice for aiding and abetting the crimes."
Human Rights Watch says M23 killed at least 15 civilians in areas under their control since June and raped nearly 50 women and girls, the youngest of whom was eight years old. An M23 spokesman denied the claims.
Regional group ineffective
The report was released just days after a regional organization made up of eleven countries in the Great Lakes region (ICGLR) agreed on the deployment of a neutral force to restore peace and security to eastern DRC. However the meeting was attended by fewer than a third of the regional leaders invited and the UN has expressed doubts that the deployment of such a force will ever become reality. Foreign Minister Mushikiwabo, who represented President Paul Kagame at the meeting in Kampala, said the UN should be aware of the complexity involved in deploying a force on the ground.
"If the UN, through its mission, can solve the problem, we'll be extremely happy. We don't really mind, what we want is peace," she said.
"It's also a question of expectation, people expect heads of state to sit in one meeting and when they get out, the force is on the ground, but it doesn't work like that. To put a force in place is a very complex mechanism and I think the head of the UN peacekeeping operations knows that better than anybody."
The latest ICGLR meeting in Kampala was the third in two months aimed at resolving the DRC crisis. The region is already patrolled by UN mission MONUSCO, a 17,000-strong force whose mandate lists the protection of civilians as a top priority.
A United Nations mini-summit on eastern DRC is scheduled for 27th September. Leaders of the Great Lakes grouping have requested their chairperson, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, to send a strong message at that meeting "seeking diplomatic and technical support from the UN to the ICGLR initiatives" including the international force and political and diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in eastern DRC.
The fighting in eastern DRC has forced some 220,000 people from their homes.