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ForeignPolicy

How the U.S. Can Make Partial Amends for Its Negligence During the Rwandan Genocide

Congolese populist movement requests urgent meeting with Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. ambassador Rice.

To: The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, Washington, D.C., 20520
To: The Honorable Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, United Nations Plaza, New York, N.Y., 10017

Dear Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice,
The humanitarian situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is disintegrating, and it is time for the United States to intervene publicly and forcefully.

According to report after report from human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the violence is escalating, and the United Nations does not have enough peacekeeping troops to contain the violence. Already more innocents have died than in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The world cannot say again that it had no idea of the scope of this disaster. Rwanda can no longer be given a free pass because of its suffering during the genocide, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame must be held accountable for the alliance he has formed with Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who is turning a blind eye to the crimes committed against innocent Hutu civilians in eastern Congo.

In an urgent communique to independent media, the Congolese National Congress for the Defense of the People (whose French acronym is CNDP), is asking to meet with you precipitously regarding the Rwandan government's unwarranted detention of CNDP leader, Gen. Laurent Nkunda, and the corresponding increase in massacres of Congolese civilians since his arrest on Jan. 22. As documented by Human Rights Watch on Feb. 13:

"The rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which includes elements of the Interahamwe responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, brutally slaughtered at least 100 Congolese civilians in the Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between Jan. 20 and Feb. 8, 2009."

"The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven't seen this level of violence in years," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "We've documented many abuses by FDLR forces, but these are killings of ghastly proportions."

In addition, Human Rights Watch has accused Rwandan Tutsi elements of the joint "peacekeeping" forces of "having raped several women since the start of operations against the FDLR." HRW also said the joint force's "information sharing has been scant and too late to permit the U.N. forces to be able to plan for providing the needed protection" of civilians.

"The Congolese government nominally leads the joint operations against the FDLR," HRW said, "but the coalition troops that attacked the FDLR in Ufamandu were largely soldiers from the Rwandan Defense Forces. These Rwandan soldiers were allegedly responsible for having raped several women since the start of operations against the FDLR."

Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, in order to facilitate this urgent meeting on behalf of Nkunda and the people of eastern Congo, the CNDP will offer a delegation to meet in Washington with State Department officials and Kagame. It is imperative that you understand that with every passing day since the general's detention, Rwandan Tutsi troops have slaughtered more and more Hutu civilians. Unless immediate assistance is provided, and high-level dialogue is initiated with the United States, the general will remain in grave danger (including the possibility of assassination), and civilian massacres will continue to rise.

You should be further aware that reports issued by corporate media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC and Voice of America regarding the general's unprecedented detention, have neglected to include interviews with the general or testimonies by Hutu government officials.

As a result of these omissions, the U.S. State Department and the people of the United States have not received the full story of the tragedy of eastern Congo -- including the deaths of 45,000 innocent people killed each month. These cataclysmic numbers should be sufficiently alarming to warrant America's immediate intervention.

The CNDP identifies itself as a populist young political party. It was created in 2006 on the eve of the first democratic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It prides itself on its vibrancy and its democratic ideals. Its leader, Nkunda, has always proclaimed his goals were the protection of civilians and the fight against the corruption of the Congolese government and Kabila.

Independent journalists, Georgianne Nienaber and the Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s Helen Thomas, who visited CNDP-controlled territory in early January, report that the local population supports the CNDP because of the protection it offers. Nienaber's and Thomas' complete, unedited interview with Nkunda before his Jan. 22 detention, can be seen in five YouTube videos, two of which are provided below:

Video 3:

Video 5:

Underscoring the dire situation in east Congo, "Hotel Rwanda" humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina sent an open letter to President Barack Obama on Jan. 27, asking him to intervene in what is becoming an apocalypse of violence, aided and abetted by mining interests from nations in the West.

Rusesabagina says, "The international community needs to intervene to prevent the lives of more innocents from being lost."

Regarding the arrest and detention of Nkunda, Rusesabagina says:

"It [the arrest] is not a panacea for the violence. Rwanda's President Kagame bankrolled and directed Nkunda in the past. His arrest is a "chess move" on Kagame's part to try to get back on good terms with his [Kagame's] international donors. Both Sweden and the Netherlands, two of the four biggest donors to the Rwandan government, pulled their funding after the release of the U.N. Security Council report on the Congo in December 2008."

Ambassador Rice, you are already on record in your pledge of a new era in U.S. support of human rights. In a powerful statementduring your first appearance in the United Nations Security Council as the United States representative to the U.N., you stated the following, on behalf of the protection of citizens:

"Civilian protection is not just a moral duty; it must be a core element of military operations. The United States government understands that protection of civilians is a vital priority -- indeed that it must be an essential part of our missions."

It is clear from this heartfelt statement that you plan to oversee a more proactive and humane policy toward international human rights.

Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, in order to solicit your intervention in this monumental and ever-growing catastrophe, civilian and military representatives from the CNDP reached out to the independent journalists. Through an ensuing series of e-mails and phone conversations with these journalists, the CNDP is providing you the following points of concern:

President Paul Kagame should immediately free Nkunda, who is being illegally detained.

The Congolese parliament is not in agreement with the central Kabila government. The Congolese government has stopped the legal proceedings initiated against Nkunda. This has not been reported in Western media.

Nkunda was arrested because he has created a powerful, grassroots populist movement in eastern Congo, which exists to protect the riches of Congo for the Congolese people. Powerful business interests in Kigali, Rwanda, needed the CNDP to be placed under the control of Rwanda so that exploitation of Congolese minerals (which has been documented by the U.N.) can continue.

Nkunda's arrest is a major setback for the Nairobi, Kenya, peace talks. There was about to be a breakthrough in which Congolese refugees now in Rwandan detention camps would be allowed to return to Congo. If this were allowed to happen, the CNDP movement would become too strong for Rwandan interests to control.

Powerful intelligence sources in Kigali, with or without the knowledge of Kagame, suggested that the removal of Nkunda by assassination would assure political victory for Kinshasa, DRC, which was losing territory to the strong CNDP movement.

There was pressure on the Rwandan government when Great Britain and the United States accused Rwanda of responsibility in the growing insecurity in the eastern Congo, especially the Kivu provinces and its capitol city, Goma. American and British interests threatened to pull monetary support to Rwanda. As a gesture to this pressure, Rwanda offered up Nkunda as a concession.

The chief of the Rwandan defense Forces, James Kabarebe, was sent to Kinshasa to strike a bargain with Rwanda for the removal of Nkunda. He is an ethnic Tutsi who helped Kagame mastermind the overthrow of the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. He is also on the United Nations list of 54 individuals linked to the exploitation of Congo's natural resources.

The plan was for Rwandan troops to dress in FARDC (Congolese) uniforms, assassinate Nkunda and claim that his death was caused by his defense against FARDC forces in the fight against the FDLR. This would satisfy intelligence interests that already understood that the Kabila government has been in collusion with the FDLR to perpetuate unrest through displacement of the population, rape, looting and killing.

Bosco Ntaganda is a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and allegedly a former deputy chief of the general staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libration du Congo (FPLC), who was used in an attempt to destabilize the CNDP. Rwandan intelligence infiltrated the CNDP and tried to bribe certain officers, telling them they would receive promotions and money in return for their betrayal of Nkunda.

Ntaganda was promised a good position in the Congolese military hierarchy and $250,000. He was also offered a deal through Rwanda in which his indictment by The Hague for war crimes would be forgiven and erased. On Aug.  22, 2006, a pretrial chamber of the International Criminal Court found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Ntaganda bore individual criminal responsibility for war crimes committed between July 2002 and December 2003 and issued a warrant for his arrest.

As of May 2008, Ntaganda is wanted by the ICC for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Ntaganda is also known as "the Terminator." In early January, with support from the governments of Kagame and Kabila, Ntaganda did attempt to unseat Nkunda and proclaimed himself to be the chairman of CNDP, but he failed because the 7,000 CNDP soldiers were solidly behind Nkunda.

Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, you should also please consider that in a horrible twist of fate, the testimony of human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo was released hours before news came that Dr. Alison Des Forges was killed in the crash of Flight 3407 from New York to Buffalo on Feb. 12. Des Forges, senior advisor to Human Rights Watch's Africa division for almost two decades, dedicated her life to working on Rwanda and was the world's leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath.

Des Forges represented all that is good with humanity in a region of the world that seems to have lost its grip on what it means to have human compassion. Kagame had banned her from entering Rwanda.

The following recent testimony from the HRW's Feb. 13 press release says it all. Please do not allow what happened during 1994 to be repeated upon people who have absolutely no voice:

"The Tutsi [Rwandan] soldiers accused me of being the wife of an FDLR combatant, just because I'm Hutu," said one woman, who was raped by a Rwandan army soldier in Remeka. "After they raped me, they burned my house, saying it was the house of an FDLR. I was pregnant, but there's no more movement in my womb. I think I have lost my first child." 

A woman from Lulere village in Ziralo told HRW that the FDLR said they would not leave Congo without "first exterminating the Congolese people." The FDLR forces then killed her 73-year-old father and 80-year-old uncle by smashing their skulls with small hoes.

Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, it is critical that you intervene in this matter. By complying with the CNDP's urgent request, the United States can compensate in a small way for our inattention and negligence during the horrific days of 1994.

Linda Milazzo is a Los Angeles writer, educator and activist. Since 1974, she has divided her time between the entertainment industry, government organizations and community development projects, and educational programs. Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer with a focus on Africa. Her articles have appeared in the Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill magazine, the Ugandan Independent, Rwanda's New Times, India's TerraGreen, COA News, ZNET, OpEdNews, the Huffington Post, the Journal of the International Primate Protection League, Africa Front, the United Nations Publication, A Civil Society Observer and Zimbabwe's the Daily Mirror.
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