FDLR disarmament, cacophony of local actors and enduring UN failure to facilitate peace in Great Lakes region

By René Claudel Mugenzi

January 2nd 2015 mark the deadline for Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) Rwandan rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to voluntarily disarm as accorded by Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)

We are waiting to see what will happen, but it is more likely that FDLR will not comply with this demand considering that no troop movement toward fulfilling this demand had been announced or observed in the region.

As this deadline was approaching we have heard different and confusing messages regarding what will happen to FDLR combatants them when they disarm. While the US special envoy for the Great Lakes region; Mr Russ Feingold announced that ‘’those who will disarm will be taken in transition camps where they will be taken in a third country’’ Martin Kobler the UN secret general special representatives to DRC and head of United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) call for FDLR armed to ‘disarm and go back to Rwanda peacefully’’.

Since its existence FDLR has made several requests to have a dialogue with the Rwandan government in order to find a peaceful solution the situation. No single effort has been made by the UN to facilitate that or to consider the dialogue request as an important pathway to find peaceful solution to the existence of FDLR.

On contrary UN has promoted and advocated the disarmament by force and repatriation of FLDR combatants when necessary. These UN actions were done on the background of awareness and in-depth knowledge that the vast majority of FDLR combatants are orphans and survivors of several circles of massacres of Rwanda Hutu refugees that occurred in DRC by the current Rwandan army particularly between October 1996 and June 2003.

These massacres as well as  possible genocide against Rwandan Hutu refugees in DRC were documented in a UN report called DRC mapping Exercise.

UN should have expected, respected and understood the unwillingness of some of FDLR combatants to go back to Rwanda considering their experiences with the Rwandan government forces as well as lack Rwanda and the international community efforts to ensure accountabilities of crimes against humanity they experienced.

UN should also have realised that the political reasons which have prevented more than 200,000 (unarmed) Rwandan refugees in DRC (according to the UNHRC) to go back home, will be much more relevant and stronger for 1400 armed FDLR combatants (according to MONUSCO)

On the other side Rwanda has repeatedly rejected all FDLR requests to have a dialogue with them arguing that Rwandan government could not negotiate with ‘’genocidal forces’’. This argument is pretence considering that among members of FDLR who returned to Rwanda, some were reintegrated in Rwandan government army including one of the FDRL founder and supreme commander General Paul Rwarakabije who is currently Commissioner General of Rwanda Correctional Service.

If the Rwandan government genuinely believes that FDLR combatants were criminals, they would not have integrated its members particularly its former leaders within its army and administration.

DRC dilemma:

As the deadline is expiring the DRC army is expected to be part of forces that are supposed to attack and forcibly disarm FDLR combatants. In the past the government of Congo has sought and received effective support from FDLR combatants to fight against the Rwanda government forces and the Rwanda-backed Congolese rebel of the Rally for the Congolese Democracy (RCD) which invaded Congo and resulted into a war known as the Second Congo war or Great War of Africa.

Furthermore DRC government is very much aware, as documented in a report by UN group of experts’ reports, that not only the current Rwanda government has fuelled conflicts in its eastern provinces by establishing and supporting armed groups which resulted in enduring instabilities, humanitarian crisis and loss thousands of lives. In the process Rwanda has also systematically looted its minerals.

The above mentioned actions by the Rwandan government have undoubtedly created within Congolese population, army and political leadership a sympathy about FDLR cause of ‘’liberating Rwanda and bring about democracy’’. Those unfortunate Rwanda actions have also created strong feeling of hatred and in-depth and dangerous resentment towards Rwanda government and its leaders for causing all unbearable suffering in DRC.

This negative feeling was demonstrated by several protests by Congolese population across Congo against armed actions by the Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in north Kivu province. This was also demonstrated by the eruption in joy and celebration by thousands of Congolese population after hearing about the death of the Rwandan president Paul Kagame, which turned to be a rumour.

Furthermore it is also important to note that Congolese population, particularly those living in East have never protested against FDLR despite all war crimes and rape allegations by the UN and Rwanda government.

Tanzania frustration:

Tanzania is one of the main contributors of troops to the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade which is supposed to attack FDLR and forcibly disarm them after 2ndJanuary 2015 deadline. In trying to find solution of the FDLR and armed groups in East of DRC, the Tanzanian President Kikwete has called for dialogue between the Rwandan government and the FDLR. The government of Rwandan response to this peaceful way of conflict resolution was of extreme furious and harsh nature towards the President Kikwete.

Rwandan President Kagame called President Kikwete’s proposal ’utter nonsense‘and threatened to “hit him” for daring to express that idea.

Who would blame Tanzanian in case it decides not to attack or demonstrates reluctance to attack FDLR considering that a peaceful pathway of ending conflict that President Kikwete has proposed was rejected without being given a chance.

Who wold blame Tanzanian in case it decides not to attack or reluctance to attack FDLR considering that it’s long term and extensive experience in facilitating negotiations and dialogues between belligerents groups in the region has not been taken into consideration in the case of  FDRL and the Rwandan government. In fact, Tanzanian has effectively and successfully facilitate peaceful negotiations between the previous Rwandan government and armed rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front – It has also successfully facilitated peaceful negotiations between the previous government of Burundi and armed rebels.

Who would blame Tanzanian in case it decides not to attack or demonstrates reluctance to attack FDLR considering that FDLR combatants who would be disarmed and forcibly repatriated to Rwanda are more likely to receive treatment that might be harsher than the ‘’hitting’’ that Rwandan  President Kagame had promised to the Tanzanian President Kikwete.

South Africa anger:

South Africa is also another major contributor of troops to the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade which is supposed to attack FDLR and forcibly disarm them after 2ndJanuary 2015 deadline.

In the last four years, South African had gained much more awareness and disturbing knowledge about the Rwandan government level of intolerance to its critics.

The assassination attempt on the South African soil of General Kayumba Nyamwasa who is a former Rwandan army chief of staff, turned opponent has infuriated South African authorities. The judge sentencing those who were accused to be part of the plot said that the ‘’plot was politically motivated from a certain group of people from Rwanda. ‘’

The South African authorities were more enraged when another Rwandan government opponent Colonel Patrick Karegeya was brutally murdered in South Africa and Rwanda government operatives have been the main suspects.

Who would blame South Africa in case it decides not to attack or demonstrates reluctance to attack FDLR considering its full awareness of potential unlawful treatment that those who oppose to the Rwandan government can face. Forcibly repatriating FDLR combatants that have been opposing the Rwandan government without a negotiated settlement, would be for South Africa government a serious and fundamental breach to its freedom and democratic values on which its own governance system is based.

USA contradicting positions and views:

In a press conference held on 30th December 2014, US special envoy for the Great Lakes Russell Feingold announced ‘’

‘’We all have a deep interest in ensuring accountability for those responsible of war crimes, crimes against Humanity and act of genocide’’

‘’Ending the treat of armed group is a critical component to civilian protection in eastern DRC’’

This clearly demonstrates that the ‘Interest in ensuring accountability for those responsible of war crimes’ is not valid for those committed against Hutu refugees in Congo as documented by the UN Mapping report which documented more than 300,000 killed.

If US had a genuine interest for ensuring justice for all crimes committed in Great Lakes region particularly in the East of Congo, we would not be talking about FDLR today. As the vast majority of current FDLR combatants took up arms shortly after they survived assassinations by the Rwandan government troops in order to protect themselves against the Rwandan government determination to wipe them out.

US and UN know that the vast majority of FDLR combatants are aged between 18 to 40 which would not be impossible for them to have been masterminded or participated in the Genocide that occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago as the Rwandan government claims.

I agree with the importance of ending the threat of armed group in the region, but this cannot be achieved sustainably by ignoring grievances that drove them to take up arms.

On the other side, it is surprising that US punishes Rwanda by halting military aid as result of UN report that documented  Rwanda support to rebels that destabilised DRC, at the same time US considers that the same government has the ability and genuine willingness to provide justice and effective integrate its former armed enemies without an international facilitated dialogue.

FDLR ambiguity in its responses:

In the above combinations of confusion and dangers FDLR has not made clear if it will disarm in full and its timetable to achieve that. (It has also surprised by organising disarmament events on which between small numbers of combatants have officially handed their weapons and joined the UN reception camps. At this rate FDLR disarmament might take 5 years if we consider that they have 1500 combatants according to UN.

Catastrophic and shameful UN failure to honour its responsibilities:

UN role in this FDLR issue should have been principally driven by its founding principles of maintaining peace and human rights. This would have been achieved by facilitating all initiatives that would avoid any armed conflicts; particularly promoting dialogues between all relevant local actors. Furthermore UN should have analysed and considered all presented grievances and ensured that they are addressed without discrimination and side taking.

On contrary UN has taken a path that worsened, discredited or enforced the above mentioned local actors frustrations, anger, contradicting positions and ambiguity of responses instead of taking a leadership that would bring effective  and harmonious collaborations between them.

On 25th September 2014 in Kinshasa The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ‘’emphasised the importance of completing the disarmament of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, as soon as possible, noting that military action should remain an option, if necessary,”

At many occasion speaking or addressing FDLR issues, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon totally ignored all calls for dialogue which could have resolved the issue peaceful.

Furthermore he has also totally ignored and refused to implement UN mapping report recommendation of ‘’creation of a mixed judicial mechanism made up of national and international personnel as one of various transitional justice measures to be considered to address the numerous international crimes committed in the DRC’’ (which most of current FDLR combatants who were very young have survived and lost many of their relatives)

If UN had implemented recommendations of its Report of the Mapping Exercise, FDLR would be by now an entity of the past.

Meantime survivors of Rwandan government massacres and currently FDLR combatants who will refuse to disarm peacefully might be attacked and some of them will undoubtedly lose their lives in what has been international coordinated injustice against them and their rights since October 1996.

As history has thought us, those who will survive will undoubtedly continue to take up arms, they will keep dying until UN will decide to effectively honour its responsibilities.

God bless and save the African Great Lakes region and its people.