By Masako Yonekawa
For the past weeks, it has been reported that Dr. Denis Mukwege — 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Co-Laureate, Congolese gynecological surgeon, and advocate for women’s rights — has been the target of multiple death threats, both online and offline. Then on 13 August, Fédération Internationale Pour Les Droits Humains issued a statement on this issue. This was followed by another statement on 17 August by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), citing that General James Kabarebe, former Minister of Defense of Rwanda, denounced Dr. Mukwege on Rwandan state television. On 20 August, the US Ambassador in Kinshasa stated that the Rwandan army’s death threat against Dr. Mukwege was “unacceptable”. Japanese NPO RITA-Congo, which I co-chaired, also issued a similar statement on 21 August.
In reaction to the PHR’s statement, KT Press exposed one article: “Debunking Lies: Did Gen. Kabarebe Threaten Nobel Prize Co-Laureate Dr. Mukwege?”
According to this article and the footage of talk show, on July 18, when Rwanda Television (RTV) aired a talk show on the Liberation of Rwanda, Gen. Kabarebe claimed the following points:
- That Rwandan army entered DRC and killed people was a propaganda, that was promoted by guilty fellows who were defeated during the liberation struggle [in 1994];
- Dr. Mukwege from South Kivu is used by these defeated dissidents and other NGOs that have their own interest in holding Rwandan refugees hostage in refugee camps in the DRC and other countries in Africa;
- In order to maintain their profession, NGO workers have refused to let Rwandan refugees repatriate to their homeland, and promoted a negative propaganda against Rwanda. Likewise, some countries have been supporting perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi and promoting negative propaganda;
- This negative propaganda has led to the publication of the United Nations (UN) Mapping Report in 2010 alleging that 6 million died in the DRC without any single dead body being traced; and,
- The Mapping Report is a propaganda to be used to hold young Rwandan refugees hostage in the DRC and other countries in Africa. This explains why even after the expiration of cessation clause of Rwandan refugees’ status [in December 2017], which implies that well-founded fear of being refugees no longer exists, many refugees have remained held hostage in the host countries.
As a former UNHCR staff member who worked both in Rwanda and DRC and currently a researcher, I have been conducting interviews with 90 Rwandan refugees—including few former RPF officers— exiled in Africa, Europe and North America to ask their intention on return to Rwanda. I also interviewed 31 international experts— academics, ICTR lawyers, journalists, NGO workers— on Great Lakes region. Additionally, I initiated screenings of Dr. Mukwege’s film “The Man Who Mends Women” in Japan and coordinated his visit to Japan in 2016 and 2019. Based on this experience as well as literature review, I would like to counter-argue about Gen. Kabarebe’s allegation of the causal relationship between Rwandan refugees’ repatriation and UN Mapping Report, as well as Dr. Mukwege’s intention.
To clarify why many Rwandan refugees continue to remain in the hosting countries, this is simply because refugees have categorically refused to return to Rwanda due to their strong fear and trauma of the RPF, the principle actor responsible in mass killings from 1990 onwards. Refugees whom I talked to and who were the victims and witnesses of atrocities by the Rwandan army that invaded in the DRC in 1996-7, have never been misled by the Mapping Report. In contrary, they have strongly supported the findings and recommendations of the Report. Some of the refugees have continued to receive threat from the RPF even today just like Dr. Mukwege has been experiencing. Moreover, since Rwandan army attacked and destroyed Rwandan refugee camps in eastern DRC in end 1996, no single refugee camp exists there, and refugees are supported neither by the UNHCR nor NGOs except when they repatriate.
Just to recall, the discovery by the UN peacekeepers in late 2005 of three mass graves in eastern DRC led to conducting a mapping exercise in the DRC. When the draft Mapping Report was leaked in August 2010, the Rwandan government, whose troops are accused of some of the most serious crimes documented in the report, reacted angrily. Rwanda threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers out of UN missions if the UN published the report. Soon after, the UN Secretary-General paid an impromptu visit to Rwanda to speak with government officials about their concerns. Although the outcome of this meeting is not known, what is clear is that the UN has not raised this issue even once since the publication of the Mapping Report on 1 October 2010.
Due to the UN’s longtime silence—10 years!—, it is absolutely natural for Dr. Mukwege to repeatedly appeal the international community to follow the recommendations of the Mapping Report—establishment of a mixed chamber—in order to end the impunity. He himself has witnessed atrocities and has treated tens of thousands of victims of sexual terrorism. It is widely known that in the 1990s, the first international tribunals were established to investigate crimes during armed conflict in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. This movement is followed by the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2002 by the UN and Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in 2006 by the UN and Cambodia, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2007, and Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutors Office in 2015. Thus, question remains why the same international community cant implement the same for the DRC whose conflict is known to be the deadliest worldwide since the end of World War II, having produced more than 6 million death since 1996.
I strongly urge that Rwanda stop intimidating Dr. Mukwege and others, and face honestly and sincerely with the truth and justice in order to bring last longing peace and security in the Great Lakes region.
 Masako Yonekawa, Assistant Professor at Tsukuba Gakuin University in Japan, has authored the books, Post-Genocide Rwandan Refugees, Why They Refuse to Return ‘Home’: Myths and Realities, Repatriation, Insecurity, and Peace: A Case Study of Rwandan Refugees, as well as several scholarly articles “The Prolonged and Flawed Nature of Contemporary Conflict and Peace Processes: ‘Spoiler’ Phenomenon in the DR Congo”.