WASHINGTON — Advocacy groups and human rights activists are expressing concern that the United States and other governments are not doing enough to hold Rwanda accountable in the wake of a United Nations report alleging Rwandan support of Tutsi rebels in eastern DR Congo.
Witnesses told members of the House of Representatives that the U.S. must press Rwanda do more to restore stability in the Great Lakes region and help bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Methodist bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda from the DRC was among the witnesses.
“Congo (DRC) government has done what it can do. This problem is Rwanda’s problem. Once Rwanda stops the war in Congo, once the Rwandese are required to maintain democracy in their own country, we will end this war,” Ntambo said.
The hearing Wednesday before the House Subcommittee on Africa comes three months after a United Nations report denounced what it called Rwandan involvement in the eastern Congolese conflict.
The reported alleged that Rwanda has supported a rebel group known as M23, which has dealt government forces a series of setbacks this year, allegedly to protect the rights of the region’s ethnic Tutsis.
Rwanda has rejected the allegations.
A high-level meeting on the situation in eastern Congo is expected next week on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration, reacting to the U.N. report, suspended some military aid to Rwanda, while other Western countries reduce development assistance.
Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group testified that the international community should consider expanding sanctions if necessary.
“And that would include by adding names to the U.N. sanctions list of any individual and entities responsible for supporting the M23, including Rwandan officials, if they’re found to be supporting the M23,” Schneider said.
Jason Stearns, an American expert on Congo, testified that M23 is manipulating anti-Tutsi prejudice in the eastern Congo to justify taking control of much of the region - and controlling its economy.
Stearns said the United States should take the lead in exerting economic pressure on Kigali, especially in light of Rwanda’s sensitivity about its international reputation.
“If the Rwandan government today attracts Starbucks and Rick Warren and Tony Blair, it’s not because it’s such a great economic opportunity, it’s because people see it as a symbolic beacon of hope in Central Africa. That storyline needs to change and the U.S. government can help change that storyline as well. As I’ve said before, the Rwandan government has made enormous progress internally on development indicators, but that can’t be separated, as it has been so far, from its involvement in the eastern Congo,” Stearns said.
Rwanda's ambassador to the U.S., James Kimonyo, sat in on the hearing. Afterward, he reiterated his government’s dismissal of the allegations in the U.N. report.
“What we have said, we want peace in Rwanda, we want peace in the Congo, we want peace in the region and there is no reason why we should foment any unrest in the region because in the end, the dividends of a peaceful region are known,” Kimonyo said.
The United Nations is caring for more than a half-million people who have fled their homes since the fighting with the M23 began earlier this year. In all, more than 2 million people have been displaced by years of instability and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.