Africa is the modern-day Wild West of “The New Imperialists,” to borrow the apt expression coined by Greg Mills to describe the Western humanitarian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and their over-paid staff roaming the continent (http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/11/02/opinion/edmills.php).
In the conflict-ridden region of the African Great-Lakes, the most loathed NGOs by governments and their citizens are rights, governance, and accountability organizations like the New York-based “Human Rights Watch” (HRW) or the London-based “Amnesty International” (AI) and “Rights and Accountability in Development” (RAID). In Central Africa, the governments of Angola and Congo-Brazzaville, for instance, have chosen to treat and prosecute RAID investigators as “spies” for this organization’s constant criticism of the misappropriation by Angolan officials of oil revenues and the publication of the phenomenal credit cards’ expenses of the son of Denis Sassou-Nguesso, Congo-Brazzaville’s president, who also happens to be a high-ranking official of the governmental agency overseeing revenues generated by oil royalties.
That’s why the reports, documents, and press releases by these organizations are taken and even called as “fatwas” by these governments, their state-run media, and their citizens. At times, when one of these fatwas would seem to favor one country, its government and media would brandish it in celebratory “gotcha” pontifications. At other times, when such a fatwa is perceived as negative to a country, the latter’s government and people would dismiss it and verbally abuse the organization---if not worse. I, for one, being a Congolese, reeled the other day against the recent report on Congo’s Kivu provinces by International Crisis Group which, in my biased understanding, seemed to establish moral equivalency between the murderous rogue General Nkunda and the democratically-elected President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila.
These past few days have seen the release by a number of these NGOs of a flurry of “fatwas” aimed at the countries of the African Great Lakes region: Human Rights Watch on the Congo (and incidentally Rwanda) on October 23; International Crisis Group (ICG) on the Congo on October 31; and Amnesty International on Rwanda on November 2, 2007.
Two contradictory reactions on the website of The New Times, the Rwanda’s state-run daily and online news magazine directed each at the last two documents are published under the same dateline of November 3, 2007, and uncannily encapsulate both modes of reactions I just described.
The November 2 memo released by Amnesty International caused quite a donnybrook in Rwanda, pitting the government against the international rights organization. The memo is entitled “Rwanda: Suspects must not be transferred to Rwandan courts for trial until it is demonstrated that trials will comply with international standards of justice” (http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr470132007).
Rwanda was banking on its abolition of the death penalty in late July of this year to expedite its efforts to have those suspected of participating in the 1994 genocide to be extradited to Kigali to face trial. Not so fast, says Amnesty International. While hailing the abolition of the death penalty in Rwanda, the rights organization also reiterated the principle of fair and transparent trial that is lacking in Rwanda: “The initiatives to transfer cases to Rwandan courts follow the enactment of legislation abolishing the death penalty in Rwanda in July 2007, one factor that has obstructed previous transfers to the country. Amnesty International has publicly welcomed Rwanda’s decision to abolish the death penalty. The organization, which campaigns against impunity around the world, also acknowledges the importance for national courts to investigate and prosecute persons accused of the heinous crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994. However, national trials must be conducted justly, fairly and effectively, ensuring that the rights of the accused and victims and witnesses are fully respected.”
But Amnesty International, in its objections, seems to further even question the moral and judicial legitimacy of Rwandan authorities to prosecute these cases as those in power today in Rwanda might themselves be implicated in the chain of events leading to the 1994 genocide: “For any justice system to operate effectively, it must be impartial. Amnesty International remains deeply concerned that, to date, crimes committed by members of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), during 1994 have not been adequately investigated and prosecuted by national authorities.[…] The RPA was the armed wing of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), the current ruling party, until July 1994 when it became the Rwanda’s national army. This failure raises serious concerns about the ability of the national justice system to address all crimes committed in the conflict justly, fairly and impartially. The ICTR and other states should not transfer persons to Rwanda for trial, until the national justice system has demonstrated its impartiality by investigating and prosecuting crimes committed by individuals associated with all parties, regardless of which group suspects are a member.”
This objection by Amnesty International is especially damning as it tends to confirm the grounds for the unprecedented international arrest warrant issued in Paris on November 17, 2006 by the now-retired French anti-terrorist Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière against a sitting head-of-state, in the person of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, alongside Rwanda’s army Chief of staff Colonel James Kabarebe and a host of other high-ranking Rwandan officials, for the downing of the former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana’s Falcon 15 jet in which also perished three French crewmembers. Rwanda reacted swiftly to this arrest warrant, cutting off diplomatic ties with France on November 20, 2006 as this arrest warrant amounted in fact to questioning the very constitutional basis on which is founded the regime in place in Rwanda.
Amnesty International memo thus reopened this recent most serious blow to the moral and legal authority of the Rwandan government. Furthermore, this memo also pointed to the autocratic nature of the Rwandan government where any serious political or human rights challenge to it is deemed “genocide ideology” and “divisionism”---a self-serving de facto censorship of democratic expression of opinions and infringement of the right of free assembly of Rwanda’s civil society organizations, also decried by the US State Department Country Report for 2006 as the memo pointedly asserts.
Echoing the outrage of the Rwandan government, The New Times reacted to this memo by throwing back this question of moral authority at Amnesty International’s own doorsteps in a November 3 scathing editorial entitled: “Where from did Amnesty buy the monopoly of morality?” Mirroring the same defensive reactions with which the media of the neighboring Congo’s media greeted the release the previous days of the reports by Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, The New Times’ editorial didn’t mince words in its assault on Amnesty International: “What right do the employees of Amnesty and the institution itself believe they have the authority to cast judgment on others they do not know?” (http://www.newtimes.co.rw/index.php?issue=1337&article=2062)
What’s more, the editorial then went on to claim that Amnesty International is in the business of cooking its reports in order to milk its donors: “Amnesty International is one of many in an industry that thrives on bad news and pessimism, an industry notoriously accused of gross inflation of both facts and figures to retain larger-than-life contracts from foreign donors necessary for their very survival. It feeds on the souls innocently believing in what Rwanda believes; natural rights, the freedom to live, survive and thrive.
The monopoly on morals by organisations such as Amnesty International is one of the great crimes never reported.”
Strangely, under the same dateline of November 3 on the website of The New Times, an article by Edwin Musoni is praising the International Crisis Group report on Congo’s crisis in the northern Kivu province in a “gotcha” game with neighboring Congo. The article is entitled “Punish FDLR allies, Congo’s Kabila told,” a title that is an outright misrepresentation of facts as nowhere in the report does ICG suggest that the FDLR, the umbrella group under which now operate remnants of the former Rwandan army and the Interahamwe genocidal militias, is an ally of the Congolese government (http://www.newtimes.co.rw/index.php?issue=1336&article=2046). It’s worth repeating here that these militias are entrenched in the mountainous forests of the Kivu provinces, a region that had been occupied for five long years by the Rwandan army during its occupation of the Congo. Moreover, the article suggests that the ICG reports was accusing the Congolese army and the FDLR militias for carrying out joint military operations to commit atrocities on Congolese civilians: “FARDC and FDLR have reportedly committed joint human rights abuses against sections of Congolese and Rwandan civilians caught on the Congolese soil.” The ICG report, incidentally disputed by the Congolese government in the very same ways these fatwas are received in the region, blames instead specifically certain “rogue” elements within the Congolese army for collaboration with the FDLR. The ICG report instead enjoins the Congolese government to “Discipline rogue national army (FARDC) and Mai Mai (PARECO and FAPL) combatants engaged in active collaboration with the FDLR and inciting ethnic hatred against Tutsi communities.” And nowhere in Edwin Musoni’s article is General Nkunda---the foremost rogue among all the rogues in the Kivu provinces and who is backed by Rwanda---described as a human rights abuser as other fatwas by these organizations have done.
At any rate, as long as conflict and bad governance persist in the region, these are the two ways in which reports and press releases by rights organizations will be greeted by governments and their media mouthpieces.