In recent weeks, Rwanda has suffered the brunt of what can only be called a media feeding frenzy as international news organizations threw a series of "leaks," allegations, speculation, and rumor into the press pool. In what may be the most egregious violation of ethics, the United Nations leaked 47 pages of an addendum to the interim Group of Experts (GoE) report on the Democratic Republic of Congo. A blog associated with the Washington Post published 900 words of the leak, but not the entire document. If true, the unproven allegations are damaging to Rwanda. Rwanda responded through its foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo.
Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo by Government of Rwanda
This is a one-sided preliminary document based on partial findings and is still subject to verification. The UN Group of Experts has accepted our invitation to Kigali to do what should have been done before; carry out relevant consultations and obtain the facts. We intend to provide factual evidence that the charges against Rwanda are false. These, as well as Rwanda's own allegations, will hopefully be reflected in the final UN report due in November.
We contacted the Security Council office by phone today and suggested that all ethical considerations require that the United Nations release the 47 pages to us so that the entire report is available and not just what Reuters, the BBC and the Washington Post want readers to see. The staffer said she "would try." So far there has been no response.
The Rwandan government has not been given the opportunity to see the leak or respond in a timely fashion. As a result, biased media reports are shaping a deadly narrative along the Congo/ Rwanda border and cries of "kill the Tutsis" are spreading through social media and on YouTube.
What follows is a reconstruction of press reports and events leading up to the GoE leaked addendum.
It was a relief to hear Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo at the United Nations as she rebutted claims by the Congolese government, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and western press interests that Rwanda is providing covert aid to the new rebel movement M23 in eastern Congo. I write "relief" with intention, because up until this recent story, verbatim talking points from HRW and Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende have dominated coverage with Rwanda's point of view conspicuously absent from reportage. As a result, those interested in learning more about the complicated layers of history and geopolitics in Central Africa have been forced to read a one-sided narrative.
Mushikiwabo wrote an op-ed in which she challenged a "predictable barrage of innuendo, fabricated leaks, and outright lies regarding Rwanda's role." Her op-ed was ignored by the mainstream international press, but the UN correspondent for Reuters finally offered the Rwandan rebuttal after Mushikiwabo's UN briefing was broadcast on UN Web TV. Why Reuters did not actively seek out the Rwandan perspective earlier this month is a question that needs to be asked. Mushikiwabo was in Kinshasa at the same time that Reuters' stringers in DRC were offering "news" of the anti-Rwanda leaks.
The tsunami of misinformation and partial information about Rwanda's role in the Great Lakes region of Africa began in early June after the BBC published a widely-quoted story that there was a "leaked" UN report which suggested Rwanda was involved in covertly arming the M23 rebel group. M23 was formed in May after a group of former National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel soldiers broke with the Congolese army (FARDC) and their former commander, wanted war criminal Bosco Ntaganda, while demanding implementation of the 2009 Goma Peace Accord. The United Nations issued a strong denial that there was any such report implicating Rwanda in a plot to arm M23, but the damage was done. Predictably, the news of a "leaked report" spread through the blogosphere, social, mainstream, western and international media, including the New York Times.
The United States was drawn into the fray after the Congolese government and Human Rights Watch charged that the Department of State was blocking an annex to a separate yearly report of a group of experts (GoE ) on Congo. Again, the press reported verbal testimony that someone had seen the annex and that it implicated Rwanda. A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Payton Knopf, denied that the United States was trying to quash the report or shield Rwanda from scrutiny.
Despite the US denial, heated rhetoric burned up the Internet for days charging that the GoE report was being blocked, until the yearly interim report appeared more or less on time as it does every May/June. You can read the interim report here, and are urged to do so. It is long, but significantly reduced this year by mandate from the normal 400 plus pages to 137 pages.
Media responded with a shrug since there were no charges of Rwandan collusion with rebel forces in the interim report and did not delve into the critically important minutiae. Rwanda comes off well in many cases, including repatriation of smuggled minerals and other confiscated stolen resources (sections 147-150), but this did not fit the conventional wisdom of Rwanda as the "bad guy," and so was not reported.
The GoE report also cites atrocities committed by dozens of militias operating with impunity in eastern Congo. Yet the emphasis for the last month in the press has been on the new M23 rebels. Read the report and find 47 sections dealing with rape, murder, mutilations, massacres, pillaging, burning, stealing and smuggling by other militia groups. Common sense and critical thinking suggests Rwanda cannot possibly be held responsible for these internal problems in DRC.
Yet, only the redacted addendum on Rwanda dominated the news cycle.
Recognizing the controversy over the lack of inclusion of the complete addendum, the chair of the Group of Experts, Agshin Mehdiyev, said, "The Group of Experts intends to transmit to the Security Council, through the Committee, an addendum to the interim report in due course." In this case, "due course" means that the Security Council is reviewing the addendum and will release it in the next few days. This addendum has been leaked to some media, but only 900 words of 47 pages has been reported.