Is the US Response to Mass Rapes and War Crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo Driven by Politics?


NY Times columnist Nick Kristoff is right- the crimes taking place in the DRC are among the most under-reported in the world. It’s almost as though the DRC doesn’t exist. When was the last time you heard a story about the never-ending conflict there? Probably the last time was when Secretary Clinton bravely went to the refugee camps there to draw attention to the plight of the women and children.

But here’s what is interesting- we gave a green-light for military action in Libya based on stated fears that Libya would become a killing field. And yet the DRC already is a killing field. In fact, the word “genocide” more than applies.

Recently, the UN confirmed more mass rapes have been carried out by the government forces in Eastern Congo:

The United Nations on Friday confirmed that government troops committed mass rapes in several remote villages in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

A joint UN assessment mission found out that troops serving with the Congolese armed forces, known as the FARDC, raped at least 121 women and subjected villagers to cruel and degrading treatment around June 11.

[snip]

The mass rapes were first reported by Amnesty International which claimed that fighters of a former armed group integrated into the Congolese army deserted from an army training camp and raped possibly up to 100 women.

According to AI, senior officer of the Congolese army, Colonel Kifaru Niragiye, and approximately 150 of his soldiers were responsible for the mass rapes in Nyakiele.

There is so much that is troubling about the DRC, like the fact that over 5 million people have died during the conflict. But what is problematic for the United States is the role that Rwanda is apparently playing in perpetrating war crimes in the eastern part of the country. This is problematic because after the Rwandan genocide, we’ve been very supportive of Rwandan President Kagame even as it became clear that he had started to use the very same methods of repression and abuse that were so prevalent during the genocide:

This is a pointless war — now a dozen years old — driven by warlords, greed for minerals, ethnic tensions and complete impunity. While there is plenty of fault to go around, Rwanda has long played a particularly troubling role in many ways, including support for one of the militias.

Secretary Clinton, to her credit, has issued some pointed criticism of the Rwandan government:

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton admonished the Rwandan government on June 14 for its legal prosecution of “opposition figures” and “lawyers,” as political actions that should be reversed. Whoever drafted and vetted the secretary’s comments did her, and Rwanda, a commendable service.

[snip]

More recently, the administration of Rwandan President Paul Kagame has engaged in increasingly repressive tactics including shutting down independent media, and jailing opposition candidates and their supporters under a vague charge of genocide ideology, the same charge Professor Erlinder was accused of. Peter Erlinder is a William Mitchell law professor in St. PaulMinnesota and an international human rights attorney. He traveled to Rwanda to join the legal team defending opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. He was arrested on May 28, 2010 by Rwandan police on false charges. He was held in a Rwandan prison and was hospitalized twice after interrogation sessions, before being released on medical grounds but also after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton had called for his release and after ICTR had reasserted his ICTR immunity for everything the Rwandan government was accusing him of.

I’ve noticed that much of our response towards Rwanda is based on our guilt over not doing anything to stop the genocide in Rwanda. That seems to be a common theme. I think we also have some guilt issues with respect to the Holocaust and it results in our turning a blind eye when Israel engages in some of the very same tactics that were used against Jewish people in 1930’s Germany. It also seems that victims of horrific war crimes often become the oppressors and use their past history as victims as a justification or rationalization for their own crimes. Kagame has imprisoned opposition leaders, members of the media, activists and lawyers for expressing “pro-genocide views.” Human rights groups have denounced this as a cynical tactic to repress anyone with whom Kagama disagrees by claiming they are pro-genocide.

Perhaps the most offensive rationalization for Rwanda’s current war crimes comes from that shameless, self-righteous opportunist, Tony Blair. He’s a reprehensible human being in my mind. In the 1990’s he seemed to be an honest, visionary leader but during his term in office (after the Northern Ireland peace accords) he turned into a self-righteous, messianic meddler who would rationalize anything so long as it promoted his agenda, even if it meant lying to justify a war. Here’s a telling article about his relationship to the Rwandan President:

Tony Blair has defended his close personal and working relationship with one of Africa’s most controversial leaders, Rwanda‘s Paul Kagame, even as foreign governments distance themselves over accusations of war crimes and the suppression of political opposition.

Blair has described Rwanda’s president as a “visionary leader” and a friend after making the central African country the focus of the work of his charity, the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), to turn around the continent’s fortunes.

The initiative includes placing officials hired by Blair in Rwanda’s institutions such as the president’s policy unit, the prime minister’s office, the cabinet secretariat and the development board to assist with administration. Blair is leading a similar programme in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and says he intends to expand it to other African countries.

But the relationship has come under increasing scrutiny following a UN report that accused Kagame’s forces of war crimes, including possibly genocide, in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo, and charges that the Rwandan government is increasingly authoritarian after the opposition was effectively barred from challenging Kagame in August’s presidential election. The White House has criticised Kagame for the suppression of political activity and made clear that it does not regard Rwanda as democratic.

But Blair said allowances have to be made for the consequences of the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and suggested that Kagame’s economic record outweighed other concerns.

During a recent visit to Washington to meet the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and promote his Africa initiative, Blair told the Guardian: “I’m a believer in and a supporter of Paul Kagame. I don’t ignore all those criticisms, having said that. But I do think you’ve got to recognise that Rwanda is an immensely special case because of the genocide. Secondly, you can’t argue with the fact that Rwanda has gone on a remarkable path of development. Every time I visit Kigali and the surrounding areas you can just see the changes being made in the country.”

[snip]

For many years, Kagame, a Tutsi who led the forces that ended the genocide, was praised by other leaders – Bill Clinton called him “one of the greatest leaders of our time” – amid continuing guilt over the major powers’ failure to stop the murder of the Tutsis and out of a belief that he had brought relative stability to a troubled region.

But the publication of a UN report in October accusing Rwanda of war crimes in eastern Congo, including the wholesale massacres of Hutu civilians and the plunder of minerals, tarnished Kagame’s image. He has vigorously denied the accusations but human rights groups have been documenting such crimes for years.

Blair rolled his eyes at mention of the UN report, which he questions, and suggested that Rwanda’s occupation of eastern Congo for many years was justified by the continuing threat from Hutu extremists.

“He (Kagame) and I specifically discussed this,” Blair said. “They [the Rwandan government] very strongly push back against the allegations that are made.

“You’ve got to understand that it’s a very difficult situation in Congo because you’ve got the rival forces fighting each other and that’s spilling across into his territory.”

Kagame has also been forced on the defensive over his re-election in August, with 93% of the vote, after his main rivals were jailed and barred from running after being accused of stirring up ethnic hatred between Hutus and Tutsis after what Human Rights Watch called “persistent harassment and intimidation” of their parties by the government, and the curbing of criticism in the press including the banning of two newspapers. The deputy leader of a third opposition party was murdered in July…

So, because Tutsis were slaughtered in mass and Kagama is a Tutsi, we should turn a blind eye to the massacre and rape (ie. war crimes) of people in Congo? But this is the money quote from Blair: “[he] suggested that Kagame’s economic record outweighed other concerns.” Blair literally makes me sick to my stomach.

And guess what role Tony Blair plays in Mideast Peace? He’s the head of the Mideast Quartet and can you guess why? Because of his conversion to Zionism during his stint as Prime Minister where he benefited from the vast sums of money thrown in his coffers by the British Israel Lobby and by his conversion to a more Evangelical form of personal religious belief. Israel wanted Blair to head up the Quartet, as did the U.S. for the simple reason that it would be yet another biased group purporting to be honest brokers in the conflict. Naturally, the Palestinians can’t stand the man.

So it seems that once again the people, and in particular the women and children, in the Democratic Republic of Congo will largely be ignored as Western powers assuage their collective guilt and financial opportunities abound for multinational corporations doing business in Rwanda.

Nobody is doing more to help the women in the DRC than activist, writer and playwright Eve Ensler of V-Day. Her DRC website is a fantastic source of information for what is going on and what people can do to draw attention to the crisis.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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4 Comments on “Is the US Response to Mass Rapes and War Crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo Driven by Politics?”

  1. Carolyn-Rodham Says:

    Thanks for providing link to the website, Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource. A lot of great stuff there. I like the fact that you can choose specific items to donate towards the City of Joy being constructed — a bed, a refridgerator, therapy sessions, food. Just put my $ where my mouth is.

    Reply

  2. Stacy Says:

    I love Eve Ensler. She should win a nobel peace prize for her work with women in the DRC. She’s been doing it for years at great personal risk to herself and it goes largely ignored by the MSM.

    Reply

  3. tovah8 Says:

    Thanks for this post. I don’t know much about Rwanda and the politics of the DRC, I just know it’s really bad there.

    I saw this on google news- it’s Hillary giving Rwanda Happy Independence Day wishes but she seems to give them a lot of credit for keeping peace in Africa and their commitment to human rights?

    http://allafrica.com/stories/201107040804.html

    I know she has to say nice things when she releases those country statements but it sounds like Rwanda is turning into a bit of a dictatorship and stirring up trouble in the DRC. How is that preserving peace in Africa?

    I don’t want to sound hyper-critical but at times I don’t under stand the Obama administration’s overall policies towards the Congo, Sudan etc. It sounds like we have appeased the President of Sudan (I forget his name) even though he presided over genocide and we ignore countries like Rwanda. Were in not for this post, I wouldn’t have been aware of some of the business interests involved.

    Re: Tony Blair- I used to like him but he seems to be really full of himself these days. I watched part of a debate on CSPAN and he was arguing some religious view and he just seemed a lot like George Bush- like everything he does is right just because he thinks it’s Gods will. People like that are kind of scary. I think his hawk views towards Israel are a reflection of that too. A lot of very religious Christians believe Israel will have a role in the end of days etc. etc.

    Anyhow, keep on this issue stacy it’s good to hear about this stuff.

    Reply

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  1. U.S. Militarism and Women’s Rights | US FoPo & the Middle East - July 4, 2011

    […] day before yesterday I wrote about how American foreign policy seemed to be getting in the way of helping women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So I was […]

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