Eritrean and Sudanese Refugee Claimants in Israel

There are about 36,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugee claimants currently in Israel. Israel claims that the vast majority are illegal migrants or, as Prime Minister Netanyahu (Bibi) calls them, “infiltrators.” T’ruah, an Israeli human rights NGO, claims the reverse, that they have mostly fled oppression and forced military service (Eritrea) for a safe haven in Israel. Israel was one of the first countries to ratify the Refugee Convention in 1954 and, therefore, had agreed not to refoule refugees if they had a legitimate fear of persecution. To assess the application of this criterion, some background might be helpful.

In the early 2000s, Sudanese fled to Egypt as refugees. By 2005, 30,000 had registered for asylum status there, but there were tens of thousands more in the country who had not been registered. In November 2005, a Sudanese asylum sit-in crisis took place in which the majority of the 4,000 protesters were women and children. Over six weeks in a park near the Mohandessin mosque in Cairo, the participants in the sit-in grew to 4,000 just when Egypt had taken steps to deport 640 Sudanese “illegal migrants.” UNHCR offered to organize a voluntary repatriation to Sudan, given that the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Army had signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 9 January 2005.

However, UNHCR, which had suspended its asylum hearings after the peace agreement had been signed, was unsuccessful in mediating the dispute in which Sudanese refugee claimants were protesting the dire social and economic problems they faced in Egypt and the insecurity of their status. Overwhelmingly, the Sudanese were unwilling to return to Sudan given that they faced a worse and more dangerous situation there. Further, the agreement the year before (the so-called four freedoms agreement), guaranteeing Sudanese in Egypt freedom of movement, residence, work and property ownership, had never been implemented. The Sudanese were still treated as foreigners with no rights to stay.

The government turned on the refugees using water cannons and batons. On 30 December 2005, thousands of riot police attacked the refugees to end the protest in the camp and killed at least 20, though Boutros Deng claimed that 26 Sudanese were killed, including two women and seven children. Egyptian human rights and refugee organizations claimed the total was much higher and that over 100 were killed. Though no survey is available, most of the public seemed to support the police and called the Sudanese dirty, rowdy criminals and stealers of jobs.

The Eritreans had a slightly different history. They were not fleeing ethnic cleansing and possible genocide, as the Sudanese did from Darfur, but an extremely oppressive regime that made military service compulsory and indefinite following the 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia. Deserters were treated harshly and subjected to indefinite prison terms. Those who fled initially made their way to Sudan and then to Libya. In Libya, they were mistreated and enslaved. By 2006, they had shifted to Egypt, but given that they were subjected to the same conditions as the Sudanese, they and the Sudanese headed for Israel in the belief that this nearby democratic country would treat them better, especially since Jews had suffered so deeply and so many had been refugees.

Between 2008 and 2010, traffickers had taken control of the flow and enslaved or ransomed the “refugees.” In 2009, Israel created its own refugee determination system. Israel also closed its border. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel interviewed survivors among those enslaved by the traffickers and estimated that as many as 4,000 died between 2008 and 2012. However, getting past the traffickers did not end their quest to reach the Promised Land. For example, in October 2012 a group of Eritrean refugees with little food or water had been stranded at the border between Egypt and Israel for over a week.

However, 36,000 Eritreans and Sudanese managed to reach Israel. Contrary to some claims, there was no necessity that Egypt as the first country in which they arrived had the obligation to process them as refugee claimants or that Israel had the right to send them back to the country of first asylum to have the claims processed in Egypt. The first country rule is an EU edict and not part of international law.

Israel responded to the influx by building an impenetrable border fence and detention facilities. In processing the claims, only 4 Sudanese and 10 Eritreans were granted refugee status, or .01% of Eritrean claimants compared to a success rate in Canada of 85-90%. The Israeli government also initiated efforts to deport those that had arrived in Israel as “economic migrants” and “infiltrators.” In spite of the Israeli effort, more kept coming, but in significantly reduced numbers. Some moved on from Israel to other destinations. Nevertheless, by the end of 2017, Israel hosted a population of 40,000 Sudanese and Eritreans without access to health benefits or a legal right to work, though most were employed in the underground economy, mostly in hotels and restaurants. In 2016, the Israeli government introduced a 20% withholding tax on their wages.

This past November, Israel announced that it had arranged to relocate these “illegals” to an African nation widely rumoured to be Rwanda and perhaps Uganda. The internment camp at Holon would be closed. The government gave the “illegals” 90 days to leave voluntarily with a grant of $3,500 or face forceful deportation. A minority of Israelis reacted by initiating a sanctuary movement as well as one of civil disobedience and non-cooperation with Israeli expulsion efforts; a group of pilots announced that they would not fly the refugees back to Africa.

At the end of January 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Rwandan President Paul Kagame met in Davos. Purportedly, they finalized their agreement to secretly transfer thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers from Israel to Rwanda. Though some claimants took up the offer of a $3500 grant to help in relocation, most refused. When the Israeli-Rwandan deal became public this past week, Rwanda was embarrassed by the alleged agreement to receive the expelled refugee claimants in return for a reimbursement of resettlement costs. The country (and Uganda) denied that they had signed any such agreement.

In the midst of the past three months, Israeli courts entered the fray. In response to a case filed by the Tel Aviv University Clinic for Refugee Rights, a special Jerusalem appeals court for refugee issues ruled that flight from service in the Eritrean army was a justified ground for claiming refugee status even though British and Danish courts had ruled that it was not. Further, any argument that insisted that granting refugee status to so many Eritreans would threaten the Jewish character of Israel could not be used to make a refugee determination. A stop order was placed on the deportations. In response, the Israeli government requested, and was granted, an extension in the case of asylum seekers from Darfur and Nuba. The High Court of Justice endorsed granting male migrants of working age a “choice” of either deportation with a $3,500 grant or internment in Israel.

In the diaspora, many liberal Jews mobilized to help the refugee claimants working on two tracks – lobbying the Israeli government to drop the policy and negotiating with their own governments to at least take some of the refugees. The effort was successful in Canada when the private sector stood up to the plate to sponsor the refugees and the Canadian government, strongly influenced by a brief of a former Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler, agreed to allow 2,000 to be resettled in Canada in 2018. As a follow-up, in a totally surprising move, this past Monday a separate agreement was announced between the Israeli government and the UN wherein the UN would arrange for the resettlement of 16,250 refugee claimants to other countries over five years while Israel agreed to allow an equivalent number to remain with resident permits. Netanyahu said that he would now scrap the controversial plan to deport the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers given the unprecedented understanding with the UN.

Within a few hours, in the face of a backlash from his base, Netanyahu reversed course, first suspending the agreement and then cancelling it. Even more oddly, seemingly out of nowhere, Netanyahu blamed the NGO, New Israel Fund (NIF), for sabotaging the deal, but no explanation accompanied the charge. The following day, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in an absolutely unprecedented action in Israel, claimed that NIF had put pressure on Rwanda to withdraw from the deal, but offered no evidence. NIF insists that it has been totally transparent and never did what Bibi claimed. Netanyahu, however, promised that parliament would set up a committee to investigate the NIF and its involvement in sabotaging the deal.

The puzzlement is that this leaves Israel in a far worse position. First, Bibi’s attack on the NIF resulted in an enormous swelling of support for NIF and for the refugees. The support came both from Israel and abroad. It even came from south Tel Aviv that had been undergoing a process of gentrification over the last decade and from which area a delegation met Netanyahu on Tuesday. South Tel Aviv is the area where most of the “infiltrators” live because they have access to the bus station, social services set up by Israeli volunteers and companies seeking casual day labourers. With permanent status, the Eritreans and Sudanese would more likely disperse through the country.

The government’s black eye is even much darker. The Rwandan and Ugandan governments, embarrassed by the whole affair, announced that they had no signed deal with Israel. Further, in openly acknowledging that Israel could not sent the “infiltrators” back to their home countries, the government implicitly conceded that the Eritreans and Sudanese were refugees in some deep sense.

In the meanwhile, the debate continues in Israel with those opposed to the refugee claimants accusing them of being illegal migrant workers and infiltrators who, in Israel, undermine Israeli social life. The defenders of the claimants insist that the vast majority are fleeing oppression and, in Eritrea, endless forced military service. Quite aside from the debate over the refugee claims process, Israel introduced another dimension, its long continuing war with Arab states and the antipathy towards Israel of those states and members of the population. Israel claims the need both to preserve its Jewish character as well as preventing Muslims from entering Israel and undermining the ethnic balance. Tough measures towards asylum seekers (or infiltrators) are necessary, the government declared ignoring a long Jewish tradition, for many, the essence of the Jewish character, to helping those in need.

Netanyahu’s reputation has suffered even more than Israel’s. Yossi Verter wrote:

“In the face of all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s past capitulations, it was the most disgraceful, the most transparent. In comparison to all his reversals, it was the quickest, the most humiliating. The man had already taught us a chapter on zigzags and back-and-forths – in the story of the Western Wall egalitarian prayer space and the metal detectors at the Temple Mount, for example – but this time he outdid himself, in both speed and flexibility. A contortionist could only dream of having such a liquid backbone.”

However, the result, though embarrassing to the government and especially Netanyahu that finds himself boxed in, still leaves the so-called illegals without security or a clear road to the future. One advance: Israel released the asylum seekers who were interned for refusing deportation to Rwanda.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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The International Criminal Court: Justice versus Judgment

The International Criminal Court: Justice versus Judgment

by

Howard Adelman

If mercy is almost inherently unjust (see yesterday’s blog), an international system of justice may be inherently merciless. A system of justice brought to the treatment of genocidaires, murderers and abductors is fraught with even more paradoxes than the humanitarian dilemma. On 16 December 2003, Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, referred the issue of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Uganda became the first sovereign state to invoke Articles 13 (a) and 14 of the Rome Statute granting the ICC jurisdiction over domestic criminality.

On 13 October 2005, the ICC unveiled its first ever arrest warrants, though they were issued on 8 July. The delay was only a result of security preparations. Four leading LRA commanders, in addition to Joseph Kony, were indicted — Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo, Dominic Ongwen, and Raska Lukwiya. Today, only Kony remains at large and only Dominic Ongwen is under arrest in The Hague. One was killed in battle, one was captured by local militias and one, the peace negotiator, Victor Otti, was killed by Joseph Kony himself. All of them had been charged with a litany of war crimes and crimes against humanity dating only after mid-2002 since the ICC did not have jurisdiction before that date.

The United States Senate has not ratified the Rome Statute that President Bill Clinton signed in 2000. George W. Bush subsequently suspended the country’s signature. Barack Obama has never renewed the effort to sign the treaty. Instead, the United States has systematically sought and obtained bilateral immunity agreements with over 100 countries that American nationals would not be subject to prosecution outside U.S. borders. The U.S. also enjoys the protection of its status as a permanent member of the Security Council where it can veto any reference by the UNSC to the ICC. On the other hand, in 2008, Obama committed his administration to ensure justice for those who committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. Though Obama could accede to the Rome Statute in practice, that accession would have no possibility of being ratified by the Senate.

However, without even the Senate veto, there are at least four different reasons Obama will not sign the Rome statute:

  • The American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA 2002), which explicitly prohibits cooperation between the U.S. and the ICC, is still in force.
  • The Obama administration has no interest in resurrecting the issue of alleged American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and does not want to make Americans vulnerable to investigations by the ICC.
  • Given statements by high-level UN officials decrying American drone strikes that are part of Obama’s war on terror, and given those officials’ allegations that targeting civilian areas is illegal under international law and a war crime, the U.S. has no interest in placing these drone strikes under an international legal microscope.
  • The U.S. opposes an ICC investigation into Israeli actions during the Gaza War, for example, and opposes the Palestinian Authority requesting such an investigation.

Not only does exempting the U.S. from the jurisdiction of the ICC undermine the principle of universal applicability, it points out the inherent tension between the ostensible universal jurisdiction of the court and the authority of a sovereign state. America’s exemption from the Rome statute seriously impairs the principle of universal international jurisdiction of the ICC.

When the ICC issued the arrest warrants for the LRA-five for enslavement, rape, and inhumane acts, inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering, as well as twenty-one counts of war crimes, including cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, rape, and the forced enlisting of children, it did so without reference to or under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, the premier international political body in the world. The ICC had positioned itself as a court of legal jurisdiction independent of the UNSC. Without taking away the right of the UNSC to refer cases to the ICC, this tension over the independence of the ICC from the UNSC was quickly and easily dissipated when the head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, welcomed the indictments and hailed the initiative as sending “a powerful signal around the world that those responsible for such crimes will be held accountable for their actions.”

The second issue was trickier and was left unresolved. When Museveni referred the matter to the ICC, by that request for an indictment, was Museveni, at the same time, denying his own state, Uganda, legal jurisdiction over the LRA-five? When Dominic Ongwen was captured and handed over to the Ugandan army, Kampala initially wanted to try him. But others insisted that Uganda, by referring the case to the ICC, had already granted ICC primary jurisdiction. The conflict was resolved, but not the division over principles behind it, when Uganda voluntarily granted ICC jurisdiction on the basis that Ongwen was alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in several countries (Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan as well as Uganda) and, therefore The Hague would be a better place to try him. But Uganda never acceded to the principle that the ICC jurisdiction trumped that of the sovereign state of Uganda.

Many analysts are concerned that the ICC may undermine national justice systems. They offer a very strict and narrow interpretation of the complementarity provisions of the Rome Statute, namely that, “no case is admissible where a country is willing and capable of conducting its own prosecution.” The strict provision offsets a third concern, the potential manipulation of the ICC for political ends. Did Yoweri Museveni refer the LRA indictments to the ICC for political rather than legal reasons? Was it an effort to mobilize the international community behind Uganda to enhance Uganda’s efforts to eliminate the threat of the LRA?

This issue arose over the reference of the LRA-five to the ICC even before the indictments were issued. From the very beginning, the question was raised whether the charges were laid on purely legal grounds or was the issue of the arrest warrants a political act in partnership with Uganda to use international law to induce the commanders of the LRA to surrender? Earlier, the reference by Museveni of the LRA issue to the ICC put pressure on the government of Sudan. Suddenly, after the reference to the ICC, Sudan acceded to Museveni’s request that Sudan end its support for the LRA and wind up the LRA bases in South Sudan. A March 2004 Protocol to permit the UPDF to attack LRA bases in southern Sudan was also agreed upon. This was precisely at the moment that LRA abuses had reached their peak. The ICC appeared as having been used for national political purposes.

The fourth dilemma of the ICC and the international community, complementary to the one immediately above, was the tension between peacemaking and meting out justice. Kony wanted immunity from the jurisdiction of the ICC for both himself and his commanders. Most of the population on the ground wanted peace even if it meant Kony and his colleagues got away with their murder and mayhem. The bulk of the population had been interned in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps for ten years and did not want to surrender the opportunity to return to their home villages. Two million people, ninety percent of the population of Uganda’s northern Acholi provinces, had abandoned their homes presumably in exchange for shelter and security. The camps were not only crowded and unsanitary, but they had not even provided the security supposedly guaranteed. Instead, they offered a more concentrated target for raids and abductions than the widely dispersed villages.

The other side of the argument was that the failure to offer amnesty undermined peace efforts. Rebel forces would be alienated when they could not access the protection offered by the Ugandan government’s Amnesty Act of 2000. The ICC indictments counteracted the incentive to defect from the LRA. The Amnesty Act had guaranteed blanket amnesty for all rebels of any rank who voluntarily surrendered. Ugandan minister Betty Bigombe, backed by the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, and the Catholic Church, used amnesty as a negotiating tool. Face-to-face meetings between senior government officials and LRA leaders in 2004 almost resulted in a peace agreement. The issuance if the ICC indictments put the nail in the coffin of those efforts.

Bigombe loudly complained that the ICC had rushed getting out the indictments and had not given the peace channel enough time, scuttling her efforts. Even more seriously, the ICC charges, and the refusal of the ICC to set them aside, deprived future negotiators of an essential tool in negotiating peace. Archbishop Odama of the Gulu Catholic Archdiocese concurred. “This is a blow to the peace process…Confidence-building has been moving well, but now the LRA will look at whoever gets in contact with them as an agent of the ICC.” Peter Onega, chair of the Uganda Amnesty Commission, insisted that amnesty still applied to all other rebels not named in the indictment. But even then, there would be two countervailing forces. Rebels who tried to defect, or suspected of wanting to defect, would be killed by the senior commanders. Furthermore, ICC commanders below the top could not be sure they would not be indicted if they did defect. For both reasons, the ICC arrest warrants undermined peace efforts and, in particular, the role that amnesty could play.

This was not a new issue. At the time of the drafting of the Rome Statute, the Harvard Human Rights Journal (V. 19) adumbrated the problem. The journal raised the issue whether offers of amnesty should be complemented by suspension of indictments. Even more, it was argued that prosecutions would prolong conflicts since they would narrow the number of options available to the peace negotiators. Broader more exible measures in cases of mass atrocities might be more appropriate. On the other hand, there were fears that genocidaire leaders and those responsible for war crimes would escape punishment.

There was no resolution to the conundrum. Article 53(1)(c) was deliberately vague leaving it up to the ICC prosecutor, not the political and military negotiators, to decide “taking into account the gravity of the crime and interests of the victim” and balancing those factors against the interest in justice. The 1948 Genocide Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions had the same problem. They resolved the issue in the same way by creating a binding obligation to prosecute egregious crimes such as genocide, but taking into consideration the context of international armed conflict. It did so by an even vaguer phrasing, both with respect to the responsibility of the ICC, the extent of its reach, and the applicability and timing of its actions.

This discretional provision for jurisdiction from one perspective, seemed to provide wiggle room for political negotiators while keeping the principle of justice for perpetrators intact. After all, since Museveni referred the issue of indictments to the ICC, a number of former rebels and a high-ranking LRA brigadier did surrender under the Amnesty Act of 2000. In fact, it was argued, the fear of being indicted pushed those fighters to surrender while amnesty was still available.

Even though Kony had been pushed into a corner by the end of 2008, even though the peace negotiations between long-term the LRA and the African Union Forces had come a long way, the ICC believed that the cause of justice could not be sacrificed for the immediate gain of a promise of peace. Besides, almost no one trusted Kony to keep the peace. After all, he even had his chief peace negotiator and deputy killed for becoming too susceptible to the entreaties of the peace negotiators.

There were two other major tensions resulting from the ICC charges against Kony and his cronies. On the one hand, there were the charges of victor’s justice. On the other hand, there were the complementary accusations that the meting out of justice was unjust, for Museveni had himself been guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity or, the very least, widely alleged to have committed such crimes. Why had a warrant of arrest not been issued against Yoweri Museveni? At the same time as the actions of the ICC were widely lauded, many organizations criticized the ICC for its failure to take broader action against human rights violations perpetrated by the government in Kampala.

In the effort to decimate the LRA, the Ugandan army, the UPDF (United People’s Defense Forces), “bombed and burned down villages, thus fueling the displacement of the Acholi.” Further, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative and the Refugee Law Project documented numerous accounts of rapes and sexual attacks against women by UPDF soldiers and of killing civilians found outside IDP camps. In effect, Uganda was accused of setting up forced internment camps in the guise of “protection camps” or “protected villages.” These “protected villages,” which often lacked food, clean water, sanitation, and medicines, were safeguarded by local militias or the Ugandan national army. Nevertheless, the inhabitants remained easy targets. They continued to be maimed, raped, murdered, and abducted by the LRA—and reportedly mistreated by un-disciplined UPDF soldiers as well.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, defended his decision not to lay any charges against individuals in the Museveni government and only charge LRA top commanders by insisting that, “[w]e analyzed the gravity of all crimes in Northern Uganda committed by the LRA and Ugandan forces. Crimes committed by the LRA were much more numerous and of much higher gravity. . .We therefore started with an investigation of the LRA.” It was the number of crimes and the gravity of the crimes not the fact that some crimes were committed by the Ugandan government that determined that only the LRA leaders were indicted. However, the appearance of one-sided justice undercut the credibility of the ICC in the eyes of Acholi leaders and the Acholi community.

Finally, there was a debate over the nature of justice itself. Critics of the ICC, especially those favouring traditional Ugandan community modes of meting out justice, stressed restorative justice that emphasized the primacy to healing and reconciliation, the restoration of the unity of the community rather than the punishment of any one individual. Odama, and other Acholi religious and political leaders, argued in favour of traditional justice, a process based on public confessions of guilt, cleansing rituals, and the eventual acceptance of LRA members back into communities. This was parallel to the way the vast number of those charged with crimes in the Rwanda genocide were dealt with in the gacaca process.

How are the interests of victims served by either process? Perhaps by neither. After all, reconciliation is generally not rooted in justice systems at all, but in narratives of the women and spiritual and evangelical religious practices. The process of ICC justice, however, was rooted in detachment and universal abstract principles both divorced from everyday practices, especially a belief in the importance of invisible forces in fostering a healing process. Enchantment was necessary to offset disenchantment. How else could relationships be restored except by concepts such as Christian forgiveness and the metaphysics of redemption? But is the abstract principle of “natural” law and “human’ rights any less invisible and magical?

At the same time, Acholi “traditional” justice is inconsistent in its practices and both violent or humiliating. The fact is that any system of justice is infused with politics and tensions. In traditional justice, there are tensions between elders and religious leaders, between the older leadership and the young. Thus, the tensions between modern international justice and traditional justice systems are but a manifestation of the reality that reasonable judgment must be exercised in mediating the multi-dimensional conflicts on all levels between justice and politics, between state and international jurisdiction, between purity of principle and the messiness of any application. In the end, there is no avoidance of the need for reasonable judgment.

XI: Samantha Power, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony

XI: Samantha Power, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony

by

Howard Adelman

There is one area where there has been real progress in reducing atrocities – the changing status of the marauding, plundering, abducting and murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Defections of personnel from the LRA are way up; the number of atrocities is way down. A week ago (14.01.2015), the last of Joseph Kony’s lieutenants alive, 34-year-old Dominic Ongwen, originally a 10-year old LRA abductee, was handed over to Ugandan troops in the Central African Republic. He is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and, since his capture, he has been transferred to the ICC.

It is still unclear whether Ongwen defected to U.S. Special Forces troops working in collaboration with Ugandan army units or was captured by Mounir Ahmat, commander of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group. The latter claimed they had captured Ongwen near the eastern town of Sam Ouandja when he was trying to escape and Mounir claimed the $5 million U.S. reward on offer since 2013. The U.S. forces said that Ongwen defected. Uganda, which initially wanted to try him, under pressure, agreed to transfer him to the ICC that had issued his arrest warrant in 2005. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni conceded that the LRA had also committed atrocities in neighbouring countries and, therefore, Ongwen should face international justice.

Last year, Okot Odhiambo, then LRA’s second in command, was killed in CAR by African Union forces near the town of Djema, On 12 May 2012, Caesar Achellam was captured by the Ugandan military in the CAR. In 2011, “Brigadier” Bok Abudema was killed by the Ugandan army. Vincent Otti was killed on Kony’s orders in November 2007 for wanting to sign the peace deal offered by the Ugandan government and that he, Otti, had personally negotiated. In August 2006, the first of Kony’s lieutenants to be taken out was killed by the Ugandan army just before Kony signed a Cessation of Hostilities agreement that initiated two years of peace talks. After the collapse of the peace negotiations, the LRA left Uganda and never returned.

As background, the north and south of Uganda have been at odds throughout the colonial period with a de facto peace imposed by the British by allowing the Acholi in the north to predominate in the army and the Buganda in the south to become predominant in the civil service and the professions. Between Idi Amin’s assumption of rule in 1971, when he and his West-Nilers overthrew the democratic government made almost impotent by north-south divisions, until he himself was overthrown in 1979, 300,000 Ugandans had been slaughtered by his regime. However, the 1979 intervention by Tanzanian troops backing former Prime Minister Milton Obote in partnership with General Tito Okello leading an army of purged Acholi ex-soldiers, the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army (UNLF/A), proved to be even more murderous than Idi Amin. Frustrated by the lack of peace and reconciliation, in July 1985 Okello led a revolt that overthrew Obote only to be overthrown in turn six months later by Yoweri Museveni’s combination of Bugandans and Rwandan Tutsis.

Now, neither the government nor the army had a significant presence of Acholi after a short period in which they had dominated both. Disaffected Acholi soldiers returned north and became engaged in a struggle with tribal elders who viewed the soldiers as “contaminated’ by the spirits of their dead enemies. Modernity vied with traditionalism only to yield to the leadership of a charismatic Joan of Arc, Alice Auma (Lakwena), a spiritualist claiming to have been possessed by a dead Italian general. Alice rallied both ex-soldiers and elders behind the reconstituted Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF), or Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), that initially had considerable success against Museveni’s Ugandan National Resistance Army. The HSM with its new-found discipline and messianic fervour (the resurrection of Jesus Christ had been promised), in spite of its initial victories, was decisively defeated in November 1987 after coming within 50 km of Kampala.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, taking advantage of both the defeat of Alice Lakwena whose spirit he claimed to have inherited, and the availability of disaffected former soldiers who refused to accede to the peace agreement between northern insurgents and the new Ugandan army, Joesph Kony initiated his so-called rebellion. He was aided and abetted by the continuing alienation of northern Uganda from the Yoweri Museveni regime. The LRA (originally the United Holy Salvation Army/Uganda Christian Army/Movement) under Joseph Kony emerged as a dangerous extremist Christian cult that kidnapped children and sent fear throughout the Acholi people who populated the north of Uganda. Supported initially by the Sudanese government in Khartoum, which then viewed Museveni as an upstart who aided the rebellious south Sudanese, the LRA’s ostensible purpose was the overthrow of Museveni. However, the primary victims of its campaign of pillaging, rape and abductions were the Acholi people. The latter were caught between the LRA, which they learned to fear, and the Museveni regime, which they loathed.

Though the LRA was both a spiritualist and an evangelical Christian organization as well as a personality cult, with the support of Sudan it also developed a strong political agenda, but its methods of intimidation and maiming, mutilations and abductions soon alienated Kony from the local Acholi population and eventually Khartoum. After failed peace talks that began in 1994 and a resumption of the war, in 2002, Museveni decided to bring the LRA reign of terror in the north to an end by launching a full-scale military action to hunt Kony down. He had obtained the agreement of the Sudanese government to allow Ugandan troops to invade southern Sudan in Operation Iron Fist. However, Kony counterattacked against IDP camps and escaped the pincer efforts of the government. Mediation in 2004 by both the Carter Centre in Atlanta and Pope John Paul II failed. Subsequently, Joseph Kony was made an international pariah, having been accused of crimes against humanity by the ICC. In 2005, the U.S. placed Joseph Kony on a list of most wanted terrorists. By 2006, UNICEF estimated that in the previous 15 years, the LRA had abducted 25,000 children (many became kadogo – child soldiers) and others estimated numbers as high as 60,000 including porters, sex slaves, etc. 95% of the Acholi population was living in over 200 IDP camps in the north of Uganda in February of that year, in part to protect them and in part to deprive Kony of a support base. Initially, a UN special forces operation to capture Kony failed abysmally at a cost of 8 Guatemalan commandos.

Peace talks began in 2006 and lasted until the end of 2008. As with previous efforts, they also ended in failure, according to Kony, because he and his lieutenants were not promised amnesty from the charges laid by the ICC. Operation Lightning Thunder (OLT) was then launched by Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CAR and Sudan. The U.S. supplied intelligence and logistical support. Kony escaped. Led by Dominic Ongwen, the LRA attacked villages in DRC on 24 December 2008, killing 865 civilians and abducting 160 more over the next several weeks. Just before the next Christmas in 2009, the LRA launched attacks in the northeast of DRC in the Makombo region, killing 321 and abducting 250. Human Rights Watch broke the news three months later.

Since then, however, as described in the third paragraph above, the whole of the command structure of the LRA has been eliminated. The only leader of the LRA left is Joseph Kony himself, the former Catholic altar boy, athlete (he played football) and reputedly brilliant dancer. He survives with an estimated 200 followers hiding in northeastern CAR. He is being hunted down by four African armies supported by 100 U.S. special forces troops, Navy Seals, who were featured in the movie American Sniper, reviewed last week. As I will try to make clear, this is not the only overlap between the Kony story and that of Chris Kyle, the top American sniper in American military history. However, unlike Iraq, the U.S. special forces in CAR only provide logistical, medical, training and intelligence support. In March 2014, the mission obtained four V-22 Ospreys and the total force authorized was expanded to 300, though evidently only 150 have been deployed.

Can Samantha Power (SP) and/or Barack Obama claim any credit? After all, when SP was Obama’s adviser on reducing atrocities, in May 2010, President Obama signed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Recovery Act” that authorized the deployment of U.S. troops to the region. Obama said to the Invisible Children (IC), an activist group launched to bring attention to LRA atrocities and in attendance when the bill was signed, “We have seen your reporting, your websites, your blogs, and your video postcards—you have made the plight of the children visible to us all.” Obama gave IC enormous credit. Samantha Power had been an active promoter and backer of IC.

The first American military units arrived in October 2011. There is evidence that suggests that SP deserves some and perhaps considerable credit. After all, she has over the years been the main spokesperson arguing that NGOs who engage in activism and pressure their government are the main, if not the exclusive determinants, of foreign policy. This theme was echoed both in what she said and who she addressed in her first speech after she was named UN ambassador.

On 10 August 2013, SP addressed the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit in Los Angeles sponsored by Invisible Children (IC), the anti-Kony activist group credited by Obama. IC was started in 2004 by Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole and Jason Russell. Since then, IC has campaigned to stop the LRA warlord, Joseph Kony. Convinced (erroneously) that the world was unaware of the havoc of the LRA and Joseph Kony, they produced their first film, Invisible Children: Rough Cut. SP said, “Invisible Children doesn’t just lobby policymakers to go after the LRA, it designs fliers that tell LRA fighters how they might defect, and it distributes them – more than 400,000 so far – into LRA-affected areas in DRC and the Central African Republic…It has also built six locally-run FM radio stations in areas of high LRA activity. These stations now reach an audience covering more than 29,000 square miles.” For example, Radio Zereda (Zereda means peace in Zande) in Obo, broadcasts advice and information on UN camps and appeals by former abductees, such as Emmanuel Daba, to help those trying to flee the LRA.

If defections are way up and IC has had a significant responsibility for that result, and if SP has been a major champion of IC, then surely she deserves considerable credit for the diminution of the LRA threat. For IC’s effects went further. After all, the activism operates on two fronts – in the education of politicians in Washington and in the information spread in the field to undermine Joseph Kony. Further, there is a double effect in America for the media campaign in Africa reverberates back on the politics and policies in Washington.

In 2012, IC produced a video, Stop Kony, that went viral with more than 5 million views. It became the number one topic on Twitter, multiplied many times over by Facebook references. IC made a follow-up film, Beyond Kony, emphasizing post-conflict reconstruction. Yet, although the LRA was on its last legs, the objectives of IC remained, not only to publicize the evils about LRA, but also to pressure the U.S. government “To intervene militarily in Central Africa.” At the end of 2014, when IC announced that it was ending the bulk of its mass mobilization programs, it remained committed to the priority of political advocacy in America and its on-the-ground programs in Africa. When the poster child for grass roots political pressure, as both the necessary and sufficient cause of policy change, throws grass roots organizing out the window, the delusionary belief in its efficaciousness should be thrown out with it.

IC started making films about Joseph Kony and the abductees back in 2004. High school students in Massachusetts sent one of the films to their Senator. He and his colleagues then wrote a law directed at the LRA and modelled on the rewards offered for narco-traffickers. President Obama signed that anti-LRA bill in 2010 that created a rewards program to bring Kony and his thugs to justice. That Senator from Massachusetts was John Kerry who is now the Secretary of State. Based on that law, the State Department offered rewards of up to $5 million that lead to the arrest of LRA leaders.

In addition to its first 2004 film and famous 2012 film, Stop Kony, IC has produced many other films such as: Innocent: The Story of a Night (2005); Groce: The Story of a Child Mother (2006); and The Story of an Orphan (2006). Further, IC has won numerous awards over the years for its films:

  • 2007 Progressive Source Awards for best fundraising podcast
  • 2008 Human Security Award
  • 2008 People’s Voice Webby Award
  • 2008 American Advertisement Federation award
  • 2008 Summit Creative Award for its School for Schools and its Display Me websites
  • 2009 Interactive Media Award for The Rescue website
  • 2009 nominated for the Think Social Award
  • 2010 and 2011 Stay Classy Award for Most Effective Awareness
  • 2011 LRA Crisis Tracker for MediaPost Creative Media Filmography Award
  • 2013 Digital Campaign of the Year Award for Interactive Media

In an open letter IC sent to SP after she became ambassador to the UN concerning Joseph Kony, the following appeal was made:

Joseph Kony has been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity for nearly 30 years. And this month marks the nine year anniversary of his indictment by the International Criminal Court. But Kony still remains at large and the fact that he has, quite literally, gotten away with mass murder for this long is completely unacceptable. We know you agree.

We also know that for the last few years, Kony has regularly received safe haven in the Sudanese-controlled region of Kafia Kingi, but this area is largely out of the reach of African Union and U.S. forces that are pursuing him.

Most importantly, we know that you are among the few people who can do something about it. Ambassador Power, you, along with nine other U.S. and world leaders, have the unique power to help end Kony’s impunity and finally stop decades of LRA violence. We’re asking you to publicly reaffirm your commitment to bringing Kony to justice and stopping LRA violence.

More specifically, your commitment to stopping LRA violence must include the following actions during the upcoming U.S. Security Council Briefing on the LRA crisis:

Ask the new UN special envoy on the LRA, Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily, direct questions about what the UN is doing to prevent Kony from a) enjoying safe haven in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave and b) poaching elephants in D.R. Congo.

–Ensure that the UN Security Council’s statement on the LRA in response to the briefing highlights deep concern about Kony’s safe haven and elephant poaching by the LRA, and clearly directs the UN to do more to address these issues.

Thank you for all that you’ve already done to help end LRA violence and arrest Joseph Kony. We’re so grateful for your committed leadership on this issue. With these additional actions, you can help us make sure the 10-year anniversary of Joseph Kony’s ICC indictment is a celebration of justice — not only for Kony, but also for the millions that have been affected by his crimes.

The letter clearly acknowledges SP’s past influence on and efforts on behalf of the campaign of IC to capture Joseph Kony and beseeches her to do more now that she is the American ambassador to the UN. SP clearly comes across as the go-to person in the Obama administration with respect to Joseph Kony, even though John Kerry, the Secretary of State, authored the bill that created the reward program for capturing Kony and his lieutenants. To what extent can SP claim and be awarded credit for the decline in the LRA?

Tomorrow: Samantha Power and the Diminution of the LRA

“Crisis in The Congo: Uncovering the Truth” A Comment.21.05.13

“Crisis in The Congo: Uncovering the Truth” A Comment                                   21.05.13

by

Howard Adelman

I took the weekend off to open the cottage. When I opened my email this morning, Roberta Morris, a former PhD student of mine who has been working in film in California, emailed me in response to my blog on Dan Gertler, and presumably the parts referring to his role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Roberta asked if I would comment on the DRC knowing that I had written extensively on both Rwanda and the DRC. She had just returned from a one-man show on “Heart of Darkness” by Actors’ Gang Theater (Tim Robbins’ company) and a screening of “Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth” released by Friends of the Congo. She had been asked and was considering committing her organization to sponsoring screenings far and wide, but wanted my input on the situation in the Congo and my views of this video. My comments follow. Though I started writing on Harper and Ford this morning, I set that material aside to comment on the film.

 

The plight of the people of the Congo remains dire. The Congolese people have been subjected to enormous miscarriages of justices at least since King Leopold of Belgium received a trusteeship over the territory in 1885 and treated the country as a resource for building his own personal fortune on the backs of the Congolese. Adam Hochschild, author of the very moving and upsetting, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa and who is interviewed in the film, depicts the colonization and exploitation of the Congo’s resources. The film is correct that the DRC is rich in an enormous variety for minerals, some both necessary to modern cell phones (coltan) and available uniquely in the Congo. The DRC has been exploited for over a century for its wealth. The Congolese people have not benefitted from that wealth but, instead, have suffered as the victims of that exploitation time and time again.

 

In the film, Dedy Mbepongo Bilamba, a Congolese author commented two years ago on the UN Mapping Report primarily to assert that reports without any follow up action are inadequate. Action must follow. Secondly, he insisted that focusing on “half of truth is lying”.  I will have more to say on the UN Mapping Report within this blog but for now I want to concentrate on the film. The documentary has two major theses in addition to the claim of exploitation of the Congo which I believe is indisputable. First, the agents primarily held responsible are Western powers, primarily the USA, UK and France but certainly also Belgium. Canadian mining companies are also charged with responsibility. There is no mention of the role of Israelis. More directly, the so-called proxies of the United States, Rwanda and Uganda, have provided the military muscle for these exploitive Western imperial powers. Secondly, the motivation for the involvement is the mineral wealth of the DRC. These two theses hold half the truth, and if half the truth is lying, then the film lies. For the mineral resources were used primarily to finance the conflict, to enrich locals, to repay loans for and also the purchase of additional military equipment. If the film distorts, it is a terrible shame because the injustices brought against the Congolese, the war crimes and crimes against humanity need to be emphasized and broadly disseminated.

 

Is that simple story of the agents responsible correct? Is the account of the motivations of external actors accurate and adequate? I think not. In the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the USSR, the USA through the CIA opposed Patrice Lumumba, can be held responsible in part for his assassination and can be charged with installing their own selected candidate, Joseph Desire Mobutu, as President of the country that he renamed Zaire. However, this is only part of the truth. The film in its timeline states that from 1965 to 1997 “The United States installed and maintained Joseph Desire Mobutu in power for over thirty years in spite of a number of attempts by the Congolese people to overthrow him.” There were few serious efforts to overthrow Mobutu. More importantly, as Dan Fahey himself noted in the film, contradicting the film’s own claim, the USA, followed subsequently by other Western powers, abandoned Mobutu at the end of the Cold War in 1989 and did not support Mobutu from 1990 until his overthrow in 1997. The humanitarian crises has many intersecting causes and involves many diverse agents, including competing aims by the countries named. As Fahey has written in his studies of the current situation, comments not included in the film:

  

Over the second half of 2012 and the early months of 2013, Mambasa territory in Province Orientale, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been the scene of escalating violence that is a consequence of brutal gangs running illegal poaching and mining operations coming into conflict with militarized conservation forces. Local politicians, prosecutors, conservationists, former militiamen and civilians tell the story of a devastating conflict driven by armed groups backed by powerful figures in the Congolese army. The violence in Mambasa territory “involved murder, rape, torture, beheading, setting people on fire, cannibalism, kidnapping, sexual slavery, pillaging, arson, threatened assassinations, and the killing of animals.” The principal perpetrators are in a newly formed militia known as Mai Mai Morgan, led by an elephant poacher called Paul Sadala. They are driven, they say, by a desire to protect the land from conservation efforts that give locals limited land use rights and access to resources; however they have committed astonishingly brutal attacks. They are supported, according to the UN Group of Experts and others, by a powerful Congolese army general in the region.

 

Local military forces and acquisitive ambitions of locals are and have been involved. Further, the divisions are often along ethnic lines so, except as an abstraction, it is difficult to speak of a Congolese people as if there is an identifiable group with a common purpose. In the advertisements for the film, the copy states that, “Analysts in the film examine whether U.S. corporate and government policies that support strongmen and prioritize profit over the people have contributed to and exacerbated the tragic instability in the heart of Africa.” In fact, the film has no analysis. Individuals testify that US corporate and government policies are primarily responsible for the support of strongmen in the interests of profits, but this is not a conclusion drawn from any analysis. It is simply a repeatedly expressed opinion. Is the assertion correct? Partially! But insofar as the film claims to uncover the truth by exploring “the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century,” it has more untruth than truth.

 

Let’s begin with the two claims made in the film abut the Rwanda genocide itself. One claim is made by Gregory Stanton after he notes that Hilary Clinton stated that she had one regret with respect to the Clinton presidency, that nothing was done to stop the Rwandan genocide. Stanton goes further and makes two further accusations: 1) Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright knew about the genocide; 2) they did everything to prevent the UN from doing anything to stop the genocide. The first is universally accepted as true but only three weeks after the systematic genocide started on 6 April 1994. In the first three weeks, there is no evidence that Clinton, or anyone else high in the administration, took any serious note about Rwanda so why would they know? The filmmakers or Robert Stanton could have read the writings of or interviewed Michael Barnett who is a professor in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They could also have read Holly Burkhalter, Director of Human Rights Watch, who published a reasonably balanced account of the failures of the Clinton administration with respect to the Rwandan genocide. (“The Question of Genocide: The Clinton Administration and Rwanda,” World Policy Journal) My file of US confidential emails undermines Stanton’s exaggerations.  (On April 15, the US advocated withdrawal of UNAMIR from Rwanda “for their safety” and because it could not fulfill its mandate.) Though we strongly criticized the American position, we did not misinterpret American motives or intentions.

 

During the 1993-1994 year, Barnett spent the year as an exchange government bureaucrat at the United Nations. Barnett was assigned to the Rwandan desk – where else would you put a famous political science theorist but on what was considered the least relevant political desk? He, as he admits in his analysis of his own actions and motives, participated in the decision to keep the US uninvolved in Rwanda when the crisis began to unfold. The explanation was that America had no geo-political interests in Rwanda. Further, as Barnett and as I and Astri Suhrke separately documented, the US did not have to force Boutros Boutros Ghali, then the Secretary General of the United Nations, or Kofi Annan, a subsequent Secretary-General and then in charge of Peacekeeping at the UN, to stay out of Rwanda. The UN had followed that path systematically on their own, though certainly reinforced by the position of the Clinton administration to stay out of wars in Africa, a position itself reified by the Mogadishu syndrome and the disaster in Somalia the previous year. When the Clinton administration did find out and agreed to a peacekeeping force, the American military petty bureaucracy effectively sabotaged the efforts to supply the UN with armoured personnel carriers in a timely fashion. To say the least, Clinton did not do everything he could have to prevent stopping the genocide. He was just sufficiently neglectful to have made the USA complicit as a bystander.

 

Is this a nuance without a substantial difference? Not at all! There is a major difference between the irresponsibility of bystanders, the responsibility of backers of genocidaires and the responsibility of the genocidaires themselves. Further, analysis requires attending to differences and not silly simplifications. There were many agents involved at different levels of responsibility. Some of the agents included the Rwandan Catholic Church – as distinct in this case from the papal nuncio who was one of the exceptional persons who kept warning about the immanence of a massive humanitarian slaughter. See for example, one of the experts on the Rwandan genocide, Tom Lanagan, a colleague of Michael Barnett who has written extensively on the role of the church and has a new book forthcoming on the subject. However, by and large, experts are interviewed who, by and large, reinforce the view that the crises in the DRC is a fallout from the Rwandan genocide and responsibility can be attributed primarily to Rwanda and Uganda as proxies of the USA. Another scholar who could have been used to complicate the picture would have been Scott Straus who has also studied the area and written extensively on it. There are many others.

 

However, there are a minority of scholars and many ideologues who have assiduously worked to shift the blame for the genocide in Rwanda at least significantly onto the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front that invaded Rwanda in 1990. Alan Stam followed the lead of Alan Cooperman, an excellent scholar, and stood against the dominant voices who tended to view Paul Kagame through rose coloured glasses. Stam has upped the critical ante against Paul Kagame. Not only has he joined the genocidaire chorus in suggesting elements of Kagame’s RPF set off the genocide by downing Habyarimana’s plane but he insisted that the RPF not only could have stopped the genocide but deliberately decided not to. This is another half truth that amounts to a lie.

 

Allan Stam has done an excellent scholarly job of tracing and mapping in detail the movements of the RPF troops and claims that Paul Kagame could have moved much faster and saved Tutsis but failed to do so. Further, he claims that the RPF represented a foreign force invading Rwanda. The latter claim should make one suspicious abut his interpretation of his mapping exercise. For it is like calling the PLO working first out of Jordan and then out of Lebanon a foreign force invading Palestine.

 

The RPF was made up of Tutsis who had escaped or been expelled from Rwanda when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi monarchy thirty years earlier. They had not been allowed to acquire citizenship elsewhere. Even after serving Museveni in his overthrow of the regime in Uganda, the Ugandan parliament refused to allow them to gain citizenship in Uganda. They were not a foreign army but refugees from Rwanda who adopted military means to insist on their return and overthrow the Habyarimana regime, a common behaviour pattern among stateless refugees. 

 

Secondly, could the RPF have saved many more lives by advancing much more quickly? In my own interviews with American military experts and with Paul Kagame himself, it seems clear that he made a choice. He was a very cautious military strategist. His use of pincer movements by a better disciplined but inferior army in both manpower and armaments to defeat a stronger foe is taught in military schools. It requires proceeding from two sides but allowing an escape route for the fleeing soldiers and then keeping them off balance and preventing their regrouping for a counter-attack.

 

Stam makes much of the fact in his scholarship that Kagame then paused on a crucial line for three weeks when he could have advanced much quicker. The implication was that the pause was responsible for allowing the interahamwe to execute their genocide with impunity. What Stam leaves out was the extended negotiations with the French to prevent a French-RPF clash so that when Operation Tourquoise launched by the French takes place, the two armies would not come into conflict. Further, Stam also leaves out the failure of the French themselves to go beyond the main roads and go into the surrounding hills to save Tutsis who were being slaughtered. Finally, Stam makes much of the claim about both the indefiniteness of the numbers killed while disabusing anyone that only Tutsis were killed. That is a red herring. For the leading scholars on the Rwandan genocide refer to Tutsi and moderate Hutu who were slaughtered in the genocide. 

 

I believe Kagame should have moved quickly to save innocent civilians. Kagame is a hard nosed military man, however, was unwilling to risk his army and the military progress he made to save civilians. That does not make him complicit in their killing and certainly does not lend weight to the charge that Kagame welcomed the genocide of Tutsi to provide a moral cover for his won dictatorial regime.

That was 1994. What about the operations in 1996-1997 with respect to the invasion of Zaire? After the genocide, the defeated FAR (the former army of Rwanda) and their families along with the interahamwe militias fled primarily into Zaire. They took up residency in and control of the refugee camps. As The Democratic Republic of the Congo 1993-2003 UN Mapping Report noted,

After moving into North and South Kivu in July 1994, the ex-FAR/Interahamwe used the refugee camps along the Rwanda and Burundi borders as bases and training camps. Using the decades-old strategic alliance with President Mobutu and the widespread corruption within the FAZ to their advantage, the ex-FAR bought back or recovered the military equipment confiscated on their arrival in Zaire and resumed war against the army of the Front patriotique rwandais, which was now the national army of Rwanda, the Armée patriotique rwandaise (APR). (para. 191)

 

The ex-FAR used that control of the camps to milk the international system by enhancing by 25% the number of claimed refugees in the camps and then selling the extra rations on the black market in order to buy more ammunition and some additional arms. They used the camps to launch raids into Rwanda. When these efforts were futile or were defeated, they turned against the indigenous Tutsi in Zaire, the Banyamulenge, and launched a second genocide. This crucial information is missing from the film.  As everyone familiar with Rwanda at the time or through subsequent scholarship knows, Paul Kagame repeatedly warned the international community that if they did not intervene to prevent the ex-FAR and interahamwe from raiding Rwanda and from their new killing spree within Zaire, he would take action. The international community stood by, kept feeding and taking care of the genocidaires along with the other 600,000 plus civilian Hutu refugees from Rwanda. In November of 1996, Rwanda and Uganda launched a full scale invasion against the refugee camps, destroyed them and sent the ex-FAR and interahamwe and their families fleeing east while the greatest part of the civilian refugee population that had been held hostage by the genocidaires walked home back to Rwanda.

 

Laurent-Désiré Kabila had been an old colleague of Lumumba’s and had survived over the decades as a smuggler and self-promoter. Museveni of Uganda knew him and persuaded Paul Kagame to use him as the spokesperson for the invading force to provide a smokescreen that the invaders were Zairean rebels when the most were “volunteers” from the Rwandan and Uganda armies. Kabila promoted himself gradually from spokesperson to the leader of the rebellion. Without the detail, this account is in line with the story of the film. There are, however, several major differences. The United States did not back the invasion of Zaire. Secondly, the three parties – Rwanda, Uganda and Kabila – quickly fell out. When Kabila wanted to go beyond the overthrow of the camps and attack Kisingani, the Ugandans and Rwandese governments said no. He paused and was lucky. The Zairean army fled before he got there so he conquered Kisingani anyway and then went on the long march to capture Kinshasha and set himself up as the dictator. By this time he was not only at odds with both Uganda and Rwanda but those two countries also fell out. In the meantime a new exploitive regime had been installed in Zaire, now renamed the Democratic   Republic of the Congo.

 

Other than the absence of any significant role of the United States in either promoting or stopping the invasion, and the disagreements among the allies, the main difference in this account is in the numbers killed. At the time, based on the inflated numbers in the camps, assertions were made that 600,000 men, women and children had been killed by the Rwanda-Uganda invasion. (Stam at least kept his figure down to a more credible 150,000.) The 600,000 was a ghost number. The death toll was horrendous, with numerous massacres of groups of civilian refugees, many killed deliberately by army units and others killed for revenge by Mayi-Mayi and Tutsi who had earlier been victims of the Hutu, and others murdered by the ex-FAR as documented at length in The Democratic Republic of the Congo 1993-2003 UN Mapping Report, but no where near the hundreds of thousands claimed at the time.

 

The repeated figure of six million killed in the DRC to echo the Holocaust figure includes all those who died as a result of  both the first and the second Congo War based on what the expected population might have been starting with inflated figures and then inflated the numbers killed further in this way to claim there was a second genocide perpetrated by the proxies of America, particularly Paul Kagame, who was already held to be responsible for allowing the Tutsi to be slaughtered in Rwanda and was now accused of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Congolese in another far worse genocide. The Rwandan and Ugandan forces can be accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and there were a significant number of civilian slaughters, but there is no evidence that an attempt was made to exterminate the Rwandan Hutu otherwise why were over 600,000 encouraged and allowed to march back to Rwanda and reclaim their homes? In fact, 13,000 were flown back to Rwanda on 22 May 1997 from MbandakaAirport.

 

I could go on. I just find it a double horror to see humanitarian crises and crimes hijacked by ideologues and propagandists. This film does precisely that. Though Friends of the Congo have been a leading organization opposing the exploitation of the wealth of the Congo and the imposition of another dictatorship in that country, and though the organization has been strident in unveiling the role of both Rwanda and Uganda in that exploitation, it has also, as in this film, done so through distortion of the historical record and by a simplistic and neo-marxist interpretation of what occurred, ignoring in particular the deep geographic divide between east and west and the deepened ethnic divisions that have coincided with the long wars. They have also ignored dissident scholarly voices that do not line up with their simplistic message that the invasion of the Congo was organized by the United States and the UK using their proxies, Rwanda and Uganda. They have also exploited the Holocaust by repeatedly asserting that six million have died since 1996.  

 

As advertised, “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering The Truth explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. The film is a short version of a feature length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social and political context. It unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public. The film is a call to conscience and action.” Unfortunately, because of the lack of analysis, the distortion in the presentation and its utter failure to place the conflict in an adequate historical, social and political context, calls to conscience and action will be largely ignored, not to say that they would not be if a more objective and more penetrating documentary had been produced. This is just another way of exploiting the Congo.