DRC and Rwanda at loggerheads over war victims

Friday, May 21st, 2021 00:00 |
United Nations. Photo/Courtesy

A growing campaign for justice for war victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo has caused fresh tensions with neighbouring Rwanda and its leader Paul Kagame whose troops took part in two invasions in the 1990s. 

In an interview with AFP, DRC leader Felix Tshisekedi threw his weight behind calls for accountability for the more than two decades of devastating violence in the east of the country that has left millions dead or missing.

But he said he did not wish to “pick a dispute” with Kagame.  

Tshisekedi urged the international community to build on the findings of a landmark UN investigation in 2010, known as the Mapping Report, which concluded that atrocities had been committed in his vast, resource-rich country.

“The Mapping (Report) was produced by the international community, they must continue it because we need justice to be delivered to our victims,” Tshisekedi said in Paris on Wednesday after a summit on post-pandemic financing for Africa.

Tshisekedi said that if there were Rwandan war criminals “it’s in the interest of President Kagame to deliver them to justice because it is a question of honour for his country too.”

Kagame caused anger this week in the DRC following an interview he gave on the sidelines of the same African financing conference attended by Tshisekedi.

Asked about the Mapping Report, he rejected it as “extremely politicised” and “highly disputed by people”. 

“There were no crimes,” he told journalists from France 24 television and RFI radio. In response, Congolese politicians and public figures have accused him of “negationism” and insulting the memory of the victims.

“Paul Kagame has never gone so far in his taunting of Congolese people,” Juvenal Munubo, a close ally of Tshisekedi and head of the parliamentary defence and security commission, told AFP.

“Dignity, justice and reparations are the only appropriate responses faced with the negationism of Kagame,” 60 Congolese public figures including artists and scientists wrote in a joint statement published this week.  

The flare-up risks complicating efforts to patch up relations between DR Congo and Rwanda, which have been strained ever since the 1990s wars and by allegations that Rwanda backs militias in eastern DR Congo. 

Tshisekedi has reached out to Kagame since coming to power in 2019.

Good discussions

In the same interview with France 24 and RFI, Kagame had hailed “good discussions” with his Congolese counterpart and “the environment where we can talk to each other which was lacking before.” 

Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta attempted to clarify his comments on the Mapping Report on Wednesday, saying there was “confusion” and that the president had been “interrupted”. 

Civil society groups and Nobel Peace Prize winner Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist specialised in treating victims of sexual violence, have led calls for justice in the region.                – AFP

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