By Diogene Bideri
Kanombe Military Barracks and Hospital, adjacent to a busy road, a stone’s throw from Kigali International Airport, is really a secret training camp for an illegal rebel army? Somebody thinks they saw a boot-print in the shape of an RDF-issued boot on the DRC side of the border? An empty raincoat with RDF insignia? In Rwanda, look at the reports such as those issued by this Group of Experts on the DRC with a mixture of bemusement and anger.
How can Rwanda’s reputation be under this amount of duress from such shoddy and patently dubious findings? Several long-term development partners are withholding aid and budget support to Rwanda based on this?
This is hardly the first time Rwanda has come under siege from a report built on whispers, rumours and dubious sourcing. Remember Jean-Louis Bruguière, the French judge who, just six years ago, issued a report into the plane-crash that killed former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana in April 1994 and served as pretext for genocide? Bruguière concluded that the Rwandan Patriotic Army, commanded by Paul Kagame, was responsible for shooting down the plane.
These findings were met with jubilation by the French military establishment and the genocide planners and perpetrators who had found their way into exile. This theory allowed them to spread doubt and confusion regarding responsibility for the genocide; diverted attention away from the controversial role of the French military at the time; and, lastly, it served to undermine the fundamental legitimacy of Rwanda’s post-genocide government.
Bruguière’s report relied entirely on one political opponent of the current Rwandan government after another; ; people he knew would agree with what he had already determined to conclude. When he issued his damning report, Rwandans knew it was junk but the world sat up and took notice. This was a French judge, after all. A serious man from a serious country. The damage to Rwanda, including through the indictments of several top officials and the severing of diplomatic ties with France, was immediate and real.
Fast-forward to January 10th this year, when Bruguière’s successor, Marc Trévidic, along with colleague Nathalie Poux, debunked the 2006 findings with striking clarity. In stark contrast to Bruguière, Trévidic and Poux deemed hearsay testimony worthless given the political complexities of the case and instead led an expedition of scientific experts to Rwanda.
Their findings were unambiguous: the shots that downed Habyarimana’s plane could only have been fired from Kanombe Military Barracks, then under the control of Habyarimana’s own troops along with French military “advisors”. It was, as most historians had known all along, a straightforward coup d'état. This was not a political judgment or an historical assessment. It was science, pure and simple.
I dwell on the Bruguière case because there are unmistakable echoes in the work of the current Group of Experts on the DRC, led by Steven Hege. Hege, like Bruguière, is unapologetically hostile towards the post-genocide government in Kigali.
In a 2009 fact-sheet entitled Understanding the FDLR, Hege described the terrorist group made up of Interahamwe remnants as victims, not perpetrators, of atrocities. He went on to deride the government in Kigali as dominated by “Ugandan Tutsi elite” and offer the conclusion that peace was only possible in the Great Lakes region when “international opinion eventually sours on the Rwandan regime”.
It seems self-evident to me that Hege’s appointment was a gross error of judgment on the part of the United Nations. While his views are his own, it is clear that Mr Hege is wedded to a world-view that makes it impossible to serve with any kind of impartiality where Rwanda is concerned.
Hege, in many ways, is Bruguière reincarnate. Like the French judge, Hege has taken full advantage of his vaguely defined but extremely wide-ranging powers to inflict maximum damage on Rwanda with minimal evidence.
These expert panels, appointed by the UN Secretary General based on poorly-defined criteria, bring to the table questionable expertise in many cases, clear political agendas in some, and appear accountable to no-one. Despite this, the UN grants them extraordinary power which, in the case of Rwanda, have been wielded in such as way as to treat a UN member-state of fifty years standing with all the respect and due process of a lowly criminal. In fact, much less: a criminal at least gets a lawyer and his day in court, not to mention the presumption of innocence.
By contrast, Rwanda was given a total of seven hours to respond to the first litany of allegations levelled against it. Even after Rwanda issued a comprehensive and detailed rebuttal, it is Hege himself that has the authority to deem which, if any, elements of the rebuttal are worthy of consideration.
It is difficult to comprehend how such a judge-jury-executioner model of international justice has been allowed to come into being, especially one so wide open to political contamination by individual activists.
The truth has a way of finding its way to the surface. In the meantime, however, Rwanda suffers at the hands of an unjust, unaccountable and punitive UN model of “expert panels”. This demands urgent review if the United Nations system has any hope of preventing a collapse in trust among less powerful states who find themselves at the receiving end.
Dr Diogene Bideri is a lawyer and senior research consultant at the National Commission to Fight Genocide