Published on The Economist, by R.C. in London, August 27, 2010.
AT LAST, it’s out. Or rather, as is the way with these things, large chunks of it have been leaked to the press. The report by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights into war crimes and human-rights abuses during Congo’s wars from 1996 to 2003 has been long in the making, and is also long in the reading—about 600 pages, apparently. The collapse of the country then known as Zaire in the mid-1990s precipitated Africa’s first continental war, involving eight countries, and caused the high number of deaths of any single conflict since the second world war—maybe as many as 4m in all.
Many countries’ armies, militia groups and rebel groups were involved in the killings, and all get dishonourable mentions in the report. But attention will focus on the Rwandans, partly because they started Congo’s collapse by invading the country in 1996, but also because the present regime of Paul Kagame has been most vigorous in denying that its forces did anything wrong at all during that awful conflict, despite many peoples’ suspicions to the contrary. Indeed, Mr Kagame has generally taken a “holier than thou” attitude to the whole Congolese imbroglio, arguing that his soldiers alone had the right to act in eastern Congo, to hunt down the Hutu genocidaires who had fled there after the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.
But the UN report will prove deeply embarrassing reading for Mr Kagame and his Western allies as it alleges that far from merely finding and killing genocidaires, Mr Kagame’s army and allied militias knowingly committed wholesale killings of Hutus, often “mostly children, women, old and ill people”. Indeed, the report goes on to say that some of the attacks could have amounted to a genocide, “if proved before a competent court” … (full text).