The Congo and the mendacity of rights ‘watchdogs’
A fortnight is a long time in international affairs to use a tired cliché. In the last two weeks we have witnessed killers being let off for the flimsiest of reasons by the International Criminal Court. Callixte Mbarushimana top honcho of the FDLR, the infamously murderous and rapist outfit of former interahamwes, was let off due to ‘insufficient evidence’.
The ICC gave Mudacumura Sylvestre, partner-in-atrocities to Mbarushimana, a boost when it declined to issue an arrest warrant to prosecutors seeking to hold him accountable for the crimes against humanity he and his band have been perpetuating. Justifying their decision the Judges wrote “The fundamental principles of fair trial do not allow the chamber to establish on its own any of the connections which are missing in the prosecutor’s application,” The ICC press release of 30th May 2012 concluded “ under article 25(3)(d) of the Rome Statute, the contribution of the person must be “significant”.
The massacre of more than 200 Congolese civilians by machetes and knives earlier on, by the FDLR in Kalehe and Ufamandu and another militia, Raia Mutomboki, make a mockery of the judgment. On or around May 15, the FDLR reportedly killed 51 people in Kamananga and Lumenje. Outraged local villagers mobbed the UN peace keepers who have a base in Kamananga. 11 MONUSCO members were injured.
One fellow cynically observed that Mudacumura was let off because the Kinyarwanda translator at The Hague, explained that his name meant “he who is blameless”. Snide remarks aside, the Eastern Congo situation is more complex than the personalities involved. Yet the key players who could influence the dynamics have focused on personalities and other diversionary factors.
When the media reported on a ‘leaked’ report, purportedly by the UN, perennial Rwanda-bashing organizations such as Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group could not resist the opportunity to piggyback for maximum media effect. A Youtube clip of an Al Jazeera interview with Anneke van Woudenberg, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, reiterates what the Human Rights Watch press release claims; Rwanda is actively involved in Congo. She calls for the arrest of Ntaganda who she claims is in Rwanda. Thierry Vircoulon, International Crisis Group’s Central Africa Boss response cannot hide his bias: “Of course they [Rwanda] always deny,” he says even before hearing what the Al Jazeera journalist has to say.
However the last comment from the U.N. says the Media got it wrong. There was no such ‘leaked’ recent report alleging Rwanda’s involvement. Penangnini Toure U.N. spokesman told Voice of America (VOA) that the U.N. it was just a “routine interrogation of the 11 men who had presented themselves to the U.N. and asked to be repatriated to Rwanda. […] That’s all we reported and that’s where it stops. The U.N. did not produce a report saying that Rwanda is directly involved in what is happening in eastern Congo,” Toure said.
But even without the UN’s denial, a mere cursory glance at the Human Rights Watch’s Press release should have revealed inconsistencies so flagrant, no commentator worth his salt should have wasted more time on it other than may be draw the public’s attention to more of HRW’s mendacities. Why for instance would a group of people, allegedly forcefully abducted, choose to return to the place from where they were abducted?
“Former FDLR fighters said they were told by demobilization coordinators or other former fighters to attend meetings for demobilized combatants, which they did in the hope of receiving financial support or finding employment.” An FDLR fighter joining the M23 is like asking a chicken to vote for Nandos or MacDonald’s. Anyone with a little knowledge of the Eastern Congo dynamics knows that it is totally unlikely.
“Soldiers rounded up about 30 young men and boys who were watching a film and forced them into a truck. […] Another 31-year-old Rwandan recruit told Human Rights Watch he was taken by Rwandan soldiers in late April from Kinigi market, where he had gone in search of food.”
Why would a serious outfit like the Rwanda Army ‘round’ up possible recruits from a public place like a market or a film hall, especially given the sensitivity of the issue?
Also, demobilized soldiers in Rwanda do not get their financial benefits or jobs from ‘meetings.’ The first thing you are asked to do if you are a ‘demob’ is open a bank account where your monies are channeled through. This is common knowledge.
The HRW report contains so many illogical assertions it would take much more than this space to question all of them. The fundamental tenet of seeking to counter factual information from all concerned parties was not respected, and neither does HRW ever seek to work ethically, at least whenever their subject is Rwanda.
So, given that Human Rights Watch’s allegation about itself is that it does ‘careful fact-checking’ and ‘meticulous field research and reputation for impartiality,’ what is its game?
Van Woudenberg of HRW is an acclaimed researcher, trained at the prestigious London School of Economics, with more than 10 years experience. Why do such people willingly indulge in blatant falsehoods? The answer lies in what Human Rights Watch is. Or is not.
Some journalists mesmerized by the Human Rights Watch-cultivated image, regularly refer to it as ‘The International Watch Dog’ on human rights. Which probably that is why they took what was in the report at face value. But the International Atomic Energy Agency is a watch dog. HRW on the other hand is an NGO, albeit a powerful one, with an espoused ideology. Although it claims it does not source funding from nations, it has accepted money from the government of the Netherlands in the past. It has taken money from private Saudi Arabian donors to vilify Israel. All these are documented facts. In fact Human Rights Watch’s selective bias against certain countries is well-known to every informed, objective observer.
Recently no less a person than renowned publisher Robert Bernstein, founder of HRW, has began faulting the organization for ‘poor research methods,’ for ‘relying on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage,’ and so on.
Rugumire Makuza is the President of the Rwanda Evaluation Society