Human Rights Watch has no legal teeth, its only a flat track bully

201271012205914864_8I read Frank Kagabo’s article in this week’s issue of The East African ‘Why Human Rights Watch reports, opinion matters in Rwanda’ with a lot of interest. Not only because I found the topic rather thought-provoking but also because he’s someone I worked with for a few years at this very publication. I know I promised not to react to any more foreign reports, but something he said in his article raised my hackles.

He states that “HRW reports have the institutional credibility to influence court decisions in international jurisdictions, especially in the West’”. He goes on to say that that credibility was displayed during a recent US State Department press briefing where Jen Psaki referred to a Human Rights Watch report alleging continued Rwandan support for the M23 rebels in war torn East DRC.

While I will not argue with his point that HRW has a certain credibility in western capitals, rightly or wrongly, there must be an acknowledgment that this credibility is strictly political and not legal. Currently, whenever HRW or any advocacy group publishes a report, very often the majority of western media and political elite take it as the truth. Voices challenging the findings are either ignored or called bias.

Kagabo writes that HRW focuses on a need that is largely unmet. That is true and I respect the fact that they try to do their job. The late Alison Des Forges, who passed away in a 2009 air crash, was one of the first people to document and warn the international community about the MRND government’s plan to exterminate the Tutsi.

However, just because they are doing a thankless task doesn’t mean that they have ironclad credibility that cannot be questioned and challenged. The recent report quotes a witness, allegedly a former RDF soldier, stating that Rwandan troops operated as peacekeepers in Somalia. But as anyone with a slight interest in Rwanda peacekeeping affairs know, Rwanda doesn’t have any peacekeepers in that east African nation. While HRW said that that was a simple mistake, and that the organisation stood behind the rest of the report, it certainly put in question their fact checking and editorial control.

HRW’s credibility is strictly political, not legal. The difference between political corridors of power (where weak nations and individuals are excluded from discussions) and courts of law is that defendants are not only allowed to examine the entirety of the evidence against them, but they are allowed to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses.

  In December 13, 2009, HRW published a report titled “You will be punished’ which highlighted FDLR abuses and its chain of command. This report became the basis of ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo’s prosecution of FDLR’s Executive Secretary Callixte Mbarushimana in 2010. The FDLR bigwig was allegedly criminally responsible for five counts of crimes against humanity including murder and rape, and eight counts of war crimes. Sadly, on 16 December 2011 the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Hague-based court in a majority decision declined to confirm the charges against him. Mbarushimana’s attorney poked so many holes in the prosecution’s evidence (evidence that HRW helped gather) that the judges had no choice but to throw out he case before it even got to trial phase. HRW evidence could not stand up in a courtroom, rendering it legally ‘no-credible’. Perhaps if Mr Ocampo had done the legal grunt work himself, this criminal would have faced justice. Sadly the FDLR leader is now untouchable in France and able to wage war in comfort.

As Mr. Kagabo states, HRW reports have been used by captured genocidaires in court to fight extradition to Rwanda. But as Leon Mugesera and others have learnt, Western courts have repeatedly pooh-poohed HRW reports alleging unfair court systems and deadly prison conditions.

Western courts have repeatedly ignored HRW reports. Sadly however, politicians don’t always hold themselves to the same standards of hard evidence and facts. And that is why HRW is still able to throw its weight around. Let’s not think any different.


Africa has to choose: Either leave the ICC or die by its sword

The proponents of international justice are up in arms over the AU’s (African Union) Sunday decision to support a resolution tabled by Uganda to drop the ICC (International Criminal Court) crimes against

Uhuru Kenyatta: Too big for the ICC to swallow?

Uhuru Kenyatta: Too big for the ICC to swallow?

humanity charges against Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. Other than Botswanan opposition, the 53 African heads of state present in Addis Ababa unanimously supported the petition. They urged the ICC to let the local courts deal with the issues emanating from the bouts of post-election violence in Kenya that killed over 1000 people in 2007-2008.

As AU Chairman and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters at the closing of the two-day summit, “African leaders have come to a consensus that the process that has been conducted in Africa has a flaw…The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity… but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race hunting”.

The ICC’s Field Outreach Coordinator, Maria Kamara, while on a Kenyan radio show described theicc-600x400 resolution as “political”.   “The AU resolution is a political resolution and the ICC is purely a judicial decision that is governed by the Rome Statute. So the two institutions are completely different. Political decisions will not influence the ICC judicial processes. The trials will proceed as the judges have already indicated. They have not decided otherwise. The judges are the only authority that will determine whether the case will proceed or not”.

As expected human rights groups threw their two cents in.  In a press release Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director Netsanet Belay called on the AU to reject the resolution saying that Kenya’s leadership was attempting to “shield its leaders from being held to account for the human rights violations that took place in Kenya in 2007-2008”.

I am not going to argue either for or against the ICC as an instrument of international justice. What we need to examine is the manner in which African leadership surrendered their nation’s sovereignty to sign the Rome Statutes that established the ICC in the first place. The argument that the ICC is launching a racist campaign against Africans makes for great headlines; however it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Sure Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Abdullah Al-Senussi, William Samoei Ruto, Joshua Arap Sang, Francis Kirimi Muthaura, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta,Laurent Gbagbo,Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo,Ahmad Muhammad Harun, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman Omar Hassan 05-12-2011-ICC-GbagboAhmad Al Bashir, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain, Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus, Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo,Bosco Ntaganda, Germain Katanga,Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, Callixte Mbarushimana, Sylvestre Mudacumura, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, Bosco Ntaganda, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen are all Africans. But no one forced these African nations to sign the very legal document that they are now crying foul about. What did they think would happen?

The ICC can only investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression in situations where states are “unable” or “unwilling” to do so themselves. So, I must ask, why weren’t these member states refuse to try the various cases? Africa doesn’t have a monopoly of horrific acts. Not by a long shot. The US treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the drone attacks killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan are some crimes that could potentially fall within the ICC’s mandate but they wont. First of all because the United States refused to become a signatory of the Rome Statute (as did Rwanda). And secondly because, even if it was, it would have gone through the motions of a trial of some sorts.

icc sovereigntyRemember the outrage caused by the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib? Well, only two lowly soldiers were eventually imprisoned for three and ten years respectively. The rest were either demoted or discharged from the army. Was that truly justice? I doubt that the Iraqi men who were electrocuted, beaten and treated like dogs would think so. But there were ‘trials’ so ‘justice was served’.

African nations weren’t forced to sign the Rome Statute. Instead of signing it willy-nilly they should have foreseen the potential damage that the ICC would unleash. That would have nipped the ICC-issue in the bud. Secondly, why did African leaders allow their domestic cases to go to The Hague? Even today I’m still flummoxed Kenya’s relinquishment of the post-election violence investigation and prosecution.

Honestly, there is no two ways about it. The only reason that the ICC is still a player in African affairs is because we let it. We are the ones who signed in and ratified it. Now is the time we sign out. We cannot have our cake and eat it. We need to get out now. If we don’t we cant complain about the manner it operates.

The Boston bombings are revealing a lot of hypocrisy

Boston Marathon Bombing

Boston Marathon Bombing. Less than 5 dead

I was watching the news on Monday night when a breathless journalist, telling us that there were two explosions close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, interrupted regular programming. At the time of writing this, I heard that there were three innocents dead and more than 150 injured.

It’s a tragic event for sure.  But I noted two things that I felt I should talk about.

First of all, I noted just how sober minded the journalists, who reported the event, were. Before it was confirmed, none of them, no matter their media affiliation, termed the explosions a ‘bombing’. They avoided the word ‘terrorism’ and they were very mindful of the tone of their language. They refused to speculate on the causes of the two blasts until they got official confirmation. Only after Vice President Biden released a statement saying the blasts were caused by bombs, did CNN call it a ‘bombing’.

The media understood that pronouncements could either exacerbate the situation, sowing hysteria, or lessen the tension in Boston and the rest of the country. They choose the former and good for them. Now only if these very same western journalists had been so ethical in, for instance, Kenya during the run up to the presidential election, I wouldn’t have an issue. But they weren’t. Instead of sober analysis and responsible reporting, they made an already jittery populace even more nervous. It got so bad that Kenyans took to Twitter to denounce CNN’s reporting.  In fact, it was left to Kenyan journalists to remain professional. Funny enough, these responsible journalists were judged by their western peers for being politically influenced.

It would seem that there are different rules being applied here. But I’m not surprised and neither should anyone else; after all, don’t we all know that ‘west is Best…and to hell with all the rest?

The second thing I noticed was just how vocal local social media enthusiasts were following the bombings. It seemed as if every Rwandan on social media sent ‘prayers’ to the victims. And why not? We are a global community and what happens to Bostonians affects us all. However, I must ask this question. When a grenade attack occurred near Kimironko market on March 26, killing one person and injured about eight, I did not get the same sense of global community. Honestly, forget ‘global’, there was barely a peep from Kigalians.

A woman near the site of the car bomb, in Mogadishu.

A woman near the site of the car bomb, in Mogadishu. More than 50 dead

This made me wonder. Have we been so brainwashed and blasé that we only react when the tragedy occurs in certain places? Places that don’t ‘deserve’ tragedy? Just this weekend 50 civilians were killed in an attack on a courthouse in Mogadishu by Al-Shabaab. Lets be honest here, how many of you posted links on their Facebook and Twitter denouncing the attack and standing with the people of Somalia?

This situation reminds me of George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm. In a famous passage of the book, Napoleon  the head honcho, writes on the barnyard door, ‘all animals (read humans) are created equal but some animals are more equal than others’.

In other news, Rwanda refused to allow the UN Security Council to insert language in a statement praising the International Criminal Court (ICC). That shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone considering the fact that it refused to sign the Rome Statue establishing it. However, the Associated Press’s James Spielmann writes that: ‘Rwanda is angry that the ICC has indicted Bosco Ntaganda and Laurent Nkunda, M23 rebels in eastern Congo, who are reported to be backed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

He then continues, ‘ Analysts have speculated that Kagame may not want to see Ntaganda testify at The Hague court because of his knowledge of military deals and illicit mineral extractions between Congo and Rwanda’.

Forget that Nkunda isn’t even indicted by the ICC. Did the reporter do even a bit of research? If he had he would’ve known that Rwanda cooperated with the US and the ICC to fly Ntaganda to The Hague. Secondly, Ntaganda was indicted for what he allegedly did in Ituri under the command of Thomas Lubanga. The same Lubanga who was found guilty by the ICC. Was Rwanda even mentioned in the first trial? No. What makes anyone think that it will be involved in this second trial? This is just lazy journalism.

Post- Ntaganda, DRC is still in the same old mess as before

Last week, The Guardian’s correspondent Pete Jones, interviewed a Congolese soldier who recounted the hell that he and his colleagues unleashed onto the womenfolk of Minova, a small centre 30 miles north of scenic Goma, the biggest city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.

“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” the 22-year-old told the British journalist. “When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.”

According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.

The simplistic narrative that one hears from the Congo is that the bad guys are the rebel and the good guys the government troops. However, the truth is that both sides are the bad guys. The angels are few and far between.

Only after pressure from MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo, did the government deem it fit to attempt to prosecute the errant soldiers and their commanders. UN special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece, warned the Congolese authorities in a March 25 letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes or MOSUSCO would suspend support.

Mind you, not one solider has actually been prosecuted despite the fact that the crime took place in broad daylight and the suspects easily identified. Mind you, there is some progress. 12 officers have been suspended while a probe begins. But to be truthful I doubt that the women will get any justice. Only time will tell.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I feel that many people think that with the arrest of the ‘Terminator’, General Bosco Ntaganda, peace will

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

descend on the lush rolling hills of North Kivu Province and people will hand hands singing ‘Kumbaya’. Sure, taking him out of the equation is certainly a positive move, but the Congo is still not a place for the faint hearted. Days after his March 18 surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, the Mai-Mai, a rag tag militia, had the temerity to attack a UN compound in Lumumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga Province in Southern Congo. Actually, the attack, in which 35 people died, occurred a day after ICC authorities took Ntaganda into custody and flew him out of Kigali International Airport.

So, how are things in Goma and its environs? Well, peace talks are still taking place in Kampala between the Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23. But as usual, foreign meddling will most likely cause the renewal of the armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council authorized a new ‘Intervention Brigade’ with the unprecedented mandate to take offensive action against rebel groups in the East, the Congolese delegation has turned quite belligerent.

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

In a March 1 press conference, Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Tshibanda, called on the M23 to disband.  “The M23 may become agitated as they want. We were willing to reach a political agreement with them… The only future for the M23 is to cease to exist as a politico-military movement. If this is not the case, the brigade will look to end their life”, he said.

Of course the M23 isn’t taking those threats lightly.  It recently wrote an open letter to the South African parliament asking it to reconsider its deployment of 1,000 troops under the auspices of the Intervention Brigade. The M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted “if SA Special Forces attack us it will catastrophic and apocalyptic”.

So, as Ntaganda faces the ICC judges for the next few years, the people of Eastern Congo will probably face more hardship, not less.


Is the African Renaissance catching a second wind?

A portrait of Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, right, next to one of the previous president, Mwai Kibaki.

A portrait of Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, right, next to one of the previous president, Mwai Kibaki.

For hours yesterday, I joined thousands of East Africans (and the millions of Kenyans) to watch the Uhuru Kenyatta presidential inauguration. While I didn’t turn off the television feeling like I was floating on air (case in point; after Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory speech) I felt a certain amount of optimism pierce my cynical heart.

When President Kenyatta talked about working remembering that “that no one country or group of countries should have control or monopoly on international institutions or the interpretation of international treaties. While each state has a right to its own view, it must respect the fact that it holds just one view amongst many in the community of nations”, my thoughts went back almost a decade and in his voice I heard the voices of the last generation of African giants. Men like Abdoulaye Wade, Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, our very own Paul Kagame, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the late, great Meles Zenawi. Sadly, their dreams of a ‘new’ Africa has taken a lot longer than they had envisaged in 2001 when they became the godfathers of NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development).

During Bill Clinton’s first trip to the continent in 1998, he talked about a “new generation of African leaders” devoted to democratic practices and economic empowerment. Sadly however, quite a few of these leaders ended up resembling the very dinosaurs they replaced. I am talking about Laurent Desire Kabila, Isaias Afwerki and, sadly for me, Yoweri Museveni.

But like the proverbial phoenix that rises from the ashes, I feel that Africa’s time in the sun is upon us. Just look around. Somalia is getting its act together. South Sudan is now a free nation and NOT at war with the North. Even Zimbabwe is finally getting its act together again and there is bread on store shelves again.

I know that there are still many issues that need urgent resolution like Mali, DR Congo and the Central African Republic, but looking at the entire continent through my ‘Rwanda-tinted glasses’, I feel somewhat optimistic. We are witnessing a new confidence emanating from a vibrant, highly educated and driven youth; governments are letting private businesses thrive, stability is no longer an exception but rather a rule and an emerging multi-polar world is giving us all some breathing space. Viva China!

With Kenyans giving the dastardly International Criminal Court a slap in the face (and leaving the busybody Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, of the infamous “choices have consequences” remark spluttering in impotent rage) by voting for their candidate of choice and doing it without resorting to machetes, they showed that Africa wasn’t doomed to perpetual doom and gloom. In fact, the increasing intra-African trade, joint peacekeeping and peace enforcement and close diplomatic cooperation is showing that there is a way forward.

I will not pretend that we are out of the woods yet. I’ve see fully-grown men (and a woman or too) get off lavish presidential jets in Washington DC, Paris, London and Beijing, and beg for money to feed their poor and pay the wages of their civil servants (the worst culprits being our French West African brothers). This is not tenable as Rwanda learnt the hard way.

This new wind is not one we can take for granted however. Yes, there is a global increase in demand for our raw materials. Yes, we are currently in the cusp of a demographic ‘sweet spot’. Yes, we have allies that don’t make it their business to butt their noses in our internal affairs. However, this doesn’t mean that we can take our development for granted. Are we seeing the shoots of an African renaissance? Yes. Can they be easily destroyed? Once again, I say yes. It is our responsibility to nature these shoots and let them grow into strong, tall trees.

Bosco Ntaganda: A monkey off our back

From Goma to The Hague...via US Embassy, Kigali

From Goma to The Hague…via US Embassy, Kigali

Let me be as honest as I can possibly be. Monday’s thunderbolt that the ‘Terminator’ himself, General Bosco Ntaganda, had handed himself over to the Americans means a whole lot of NOTHING. Why do I say this? Simply because taking him out of the DRC morass won’t change an iota, where the systemic failures of the DRC state is concerned. But I am getting ahead of myself.

For too long it seems that every single tragedy occurring in the DRC was Rwanda’s fault. Rapes? Rwanda. Civil war? Rwanda. Bad roads? Rwanda. Mobutu? King Leopold? The rubber trade? Slavery? Mosquitoes? Cholera? All Rwanda’s fault. When some disgruntled Congolese soliders, who were ill treated and unpaid for months decided to take to the Masisi hills and challenge the Joseph Kabila government, Rwanda was the villain. This despite the fact, which was revealed later by Minister James Kabarebe, that Rwanda was playing the role of mediator.

As a result of this move by Congolese citizens (a fact that many, many people who should know better refused to acknowledge), Rwanda was vilified and aid was cut. Despite our protestations, the truth was ignored as an alternative ‘Gospel’ was put forward by ‘experts’.

In this Gospel there were certain ‘concrete’ facts.  First of all, Rwanda was the hidden power behind the M23, the evil puppet masters. Secondly, the M23 was full of rapists, child soldiers and miners (instead of the FDLR).  Thirdly, despite Col. Makenga’s leadership role in the M23, the ‘real’ leader was Bosco Ntaganda. Fourthly, because Bosco Ntaganda fought in the RPA during Rwanda’s Liberation War, he was Rwanda’s lackey (and if one is to believe Max Fisher, a foreign affairs blogger at the Washington Post, a Rwandan citizen). Well, the General’s actions preceding his visit to the US Embassy, Kigali put paid to many of these assumptions.

As the fighting last week has proved, Ntaganda and Makenga are not the best of friends, never mind M23 allies. In fact if Bosco had had his way, he’d have scuppered the Kampala talks and taken his chances in the field of battle against the Congolese army and whatever the international community threw at him. Alas, that would not be the case. Makenga gave him and his faction a hiding, leaving him no option but to flee.

If he was supported by Rwandan troops (as reports continued to insinuate during the battle against Makenga) would he have been defeated so

He doesnt joke. Colonel Makenga, center, commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, Congo, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

He doesnt joke. Colonel Makenga, center, commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, Congo, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

thoroughly? The RDF is renown for punching a lot above its weight. In fact, it has gained quite a mystical aura in the minds of those who see the boogeyman in every dark corner. If the RDF is truly as good as they say it is, it goes without saying that Makenga would have been trounced by all the ‘Rwandan’ firepower. But that wasn’t the case. So, either Rwanda, ‘The All-Powerful’, actually didn’t support Ntaganda in the first place hence his defeat…or the RDF isn’t as mystical as some want to believe (and that wouldn’t fit into the popular narrative where instead of mutinous Congolese units beating the DRC troops, it was actually Rwandan troops doing the fighting).

So, after his defeat, does Ntaganda, a Rwandan ‘lackey’, seek safety in the arms of his ‘godfathers’? No. He sneaks into the country. Drives past the Ministry of Defence, the President’s Office and Intelligence Services building and hands himself over to the Americans.

Honestly, the only reason that I care that Ntaganda handed himself in is because it’s left a lot of eggs on peoples face. Those who have made it their career to link everything wrong with the Congo were, for a few moments, left speechless with confusion.  Rwanda’s reputation, which they had dragged through the mud, is being restored. No longer do we have to be lumped along an alleged war criminal. We have our own problems to solve.

But what about the poor Congolese? I cannot see how Ntaganda’s departure will improve their lives.  I hope events prove me wrong. But I doubt it.