By Giles MUHAME (chimpreports.com)
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has come under fire over a report in which they inaccurately reported that some of the DRC-based rebel M23 fighters are Rwandan soldiers who participated in peacekeeping operations in Somalia.
In a report dated July 22, HRW said: “Former M23 officers who had been part of previous Rwanda-backed rebellions said they recognized officers serving with the M23 who they knew were members of the Rwandan army.
Congolese deserters told Human Rights Watch that a number of M23 fighters admitted freely that they were Rwandan. Some said they had served in the Rwandan army’s peacekeeping contingent in Somalia or Darfur.”
Interestingly, Rwanda has never sent peacekeepers to Somalia. As per UN Security Council Resolution, 2036, AMISOM is authorised to deploy 17,731 uniformed personnel (including police) into Somalia.
Currently the military component is comprised of troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti and Kenya, who are deployed in four sectors covering south and central Somalia. Sierra Leone joined the AMISOM a couple of months ago.
The report is likely to leave the international body with facial lacerations and also raise fresh questions about its integrity and the credibility of its regular reports.
HRW has in the past been accused of having a bias against Rwanda in their reports, with many researchers blaming the body of publishing concoctions and falsehoods with the intent of stoking security tensions in the region.
President Paul Kagame took to social platform Twitter to add his voice to criticism of HRW operations. “You are just dead wrong and biased on Rwanda. Get facts right and put blame where it be….if you want to be helpful.”
Rwanda’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) Olivier Nduhungirehe expressed shock at the incorrect report.
“When HRW alleges that M23 admitted that he served in the RDF (Rwanda Defence Forces) contingent in Somalia, how can this report be credible?” he asked.
He also blasted HRW Executive Director, Kenneth Roth for fabricating lies: “Trapped by your lies. According to your report, some M23 admitted having served in the RDF peacekeeping contingent in Somalia. For your info, Rwanda has never sent any peacekeeper to Somalia. How can we give credit to a report full of lies like this?”
While many credit HRW for exposing abuse of human rights across the world, the report on M23 is likely to spark off a heated debate on competence of its researchers in the Great Lakes region.
Meanwhile, HRW accused M23 rebels of rape and executions, allegations the rebel Movement vehemently denies.
“M23 rebels have summarily executed at least 44 people and raped at least 61 women and girls since March 2013 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Local residents and rebel deserters reported recent forced recruitment of men and boys by the M23 in both Rwanda and Congo,” the report noted, citing witness accounts by former M23 combatants.
However, M23 publicist Rene Abandi told Chimpreports on Tuesday that it was “absolutely wrong for HRW researchers to expect credible testimonies from soldiers who were loyal to Bosco Ntaganda whom we fought and defeated.”
“They are still opposed to us. How can you get impartial information from them? You need to talk to nonpartisan people not our enemies,” said Abandi.
“HRW has for a long time been publishing reports that are not factual. They are poorly done. M23 would not be so popular in the region if it was carrying out executions. It’s the Congolese army which was even captured on cameras torturing suspected spies which was so pathetic.”
HRW further reported that following clashes between M23 factions a few months ago, Congolese Hutu armed groups, including the Popular Movement for Self-Defense (Mouvement populaire d’autodéfense or MPA), have carried out attacks in and around M23-controlled territory, and killed and raped several civilians.
UN officials and former Hutu militia fighters told Human Rights Watch that some factions of these militia groups have received support from Congolese military personnel.
A 16-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch that on June 17, she, two other girls and an older woman who were coming home from their farm in Rutshuru were gang-raped by several Hutu militia fighters.
In June, MPA fighters killed the local chief in Buchuzi, in Busanza groupement, as well as two M23 policemen. The fighters accused the chief of recruiting members for the M23.
Some of these Congolese Hutu groups are allied with the FDLR, which has long carried out horrific abuses against civilians in eastern Congo, including killings and rapes.
Sources interviewed by the UN Group of Experts, cited in the group’s leaked interim report in June, said that Congolese army soldiers have supplied ammunition to the FDLR and that local Congolese army officers operating near M23-controlled territory and FDLR commanders “regularly meet and exchange operational information.”
Rwanda has in the past accused DRC government of arming FDLR, a militia that draws fighters and leadership from perpetrators of the 1994 genocide and continues to commit atrocities in Congo.