Last week Australia wasn’t the only winner in the race for the five non-permanent seats on offer at the UN Security Council. Rwanda was also elected — despite a UN report leaked earlier in the week claiming that the African nation was supporting a rebellion in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Easily overcoming a formal objection from the Congo, Rwanda won the seat from incumbent South Africa unopposed, with 148 of 192 votes.
According to Reuters reports last week, Rwandan defence minister General James Kabarebe is the de facto leader of the Congolese M23 militia, which has been accused of killings, rapes and other atrocities. Thanks to the M23 rebellion, more than 200,000 villagers in the province of North Kivu have fled their homes this year.
It claims that the militia’s leader on the ground, former Congolese General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for the use of child soldiers, answers directly to Kabarebe.
Rwanda is widely viewed as a post-genocide success story. Still the country is also accused of supplying weapons to M23, and even recruiting out-of-work Rwandan soldiers and Congolese refugees for the militia. The experts also accused Uganda of having an active role in the rebellion.
The report also claimed that the rebellion is being financed through the sale of "conflict minerals". Tin, tungsten and tantalum are illegally mined in Eastern Congo and smuggled via Rwanda and Burundi, enriching leaders and allowing rebel groups to buy more guns. Australia, unlike the United States, currently does not require companies to disclose if their products contain minerals from the DRC.
"Both Rwanda and Uganda have been supporting M23," states the report. "While Rwandan officials co-ordinated the creation of the rebel movement, as well as its major military operations, Uganda’s more subtle support to M23 allowed the rebel group’s political branch to operate from within Kampala and boost its external relations."
On Wednesday, the DRC government demanded sanctions against the Rwandan and Ugandan officials involved. Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende told Reuters:
"It’s more important than ever, as now we have proof that the drama in North Kivu is being manipulated by criminals who hold positions of power.
"We’ve taken note of this report, which confirms what we already know about Rwanda and contains new information about Uganda … We’re in contact with our neighbours in Uganda over these very serious allegations."
Civil war has seemingly become the default state in the DRC, which has suffered through several internal conflicts since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. One of the most resource-rich countries in the world, it is also one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden.
According to BBC UN correspondent Barbara Plett, there is a well-established pattern of rotation for the African UNSC seat, and it was East Africa’s turn this time around. Countries in the region agreed to put Rwanda forward, so it was elected unopposed.
To put this dilemma in context, the last time Rwanda was on the council was 1993-4. The Rwandan Genocide took place in 1994.
The revelation also brings to the fore question about giving aid to bad governments. Britain, Rwanda’s largest donor, has come under pressure to suspend its annual £37 million ($47m) direct aid budget to Rwanda.
But David Cameron, despite having raised concerns with Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, said, "I continue to believe that investing in Rwanda’s success, as one of those countries in Africa that is showing that the cycle of poverty can be broken and that conditions for its people can be improved, is something we are right to do."
While foreign aid is very often used by corrupt governments to strengthen their hold on power, if the West stopped giving money to every nation with a crooked regime they would struggle to find countries to support. The same goes for the Security Council — current members include Togo and Azerbaijan, both of whose governments are seen to be highly oppressive and have a history of serious human rights abuses.
Although having a seat at the UNSC may encourage the Rwandans to behave more responsibly, Philippe Bolopion, UN Director of New York-based campaign group Human Rights Watch, said that Rwanda could easily abuse its position to block sanctions against its own officials.
"If they were, after being elected to the UN Security Council, to immediately stop all their support to M23 that would be great news. But nothing in their recent behaviour would suggest that it would happen," Bolopion told the BBC.
The Security Council, more than any other part of the organisation, demonstrates the underlying power politics of the UN. While Australia has increased its aid spending and international commitments in pursuit of a two-year seat at the table, the five permanent members — China, Russia, France, Britain and the United States — remain in their unelected positions as veto-holders over any initiative before the UNSC.
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