Connect to share and comment

Opinion: Leaked UN report gives critical view of Paul Kagame

Document exposes pattern of Rwanda violence in Congo.

Rwanda president Paul Kagame
Rwandan President Paul Kagame attends on Aug. 27, 2010, the promulgation of Kenya's new constitution ceremonies in Nairobi. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — The world seemed shocked to hear of alleged political violence by Rwanda’s current government, headed by President Paul Kagame, following the recent leak of U.N. documents.

Since 1994, the world has been exposed to a steady stream of speeches from Kagame and other government officials on the international lecture circuit, journalistic accounts, popular books, including “We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Parents,” scholarly books, such as “When Victims Become Killers,” human rights documents, including “Leave None to Tell the Tale” and, of course, the film “Hotel Rwanda,” all of which portray the Kagame government as the highly professional, rule-of-law oriented, militarily constrained savior of Rwanda.

The Kagame government was not only praised for saving its ethnic kin, the Tutsi, from genocide, but also for not killing its political and ethnic rivals, the Hutu. After the Kagame government came to power, there was still some violence in Rwanda and its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but it was largely blamed on the former genocide participants, known as "genocidaires," who fled to the DRC and who attacked civilians in Rwanda, prompting the new Rwandan government to pursue them.

While in eastern Congo, the Rwandans were again praised for military effectiveness and constraint. To suggest that there was any impropriety in Rwandan behavior resulted in Rwandans accusing critics of promoting divisionism within the country and interfering with their national sovereignty in the international domain. Indeed, Kagame has become adept at countering as well as eliminating any criticism of his government’s actions.

But Kagame's facade is certainly in jeopardy with the expected distribution of a 508-page report detailing 600 violent events that took place in the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003. The leaked report, compiled from more than 1,000 primary documents and 1,000 eyewitness accounts, maintains that Rwandan forces, under the leadership of Kagame, aggressively pursued the genocidaires. More controversially the report alleged that the Rwandans also killed innocent women, children and ethnic Hutu during this pursuit — seemingly without concern for their actual political affiliations or behavior. In this characterization, the Rwandans are not unbiased, effective military saviors, but bloodthirsty killers on the hunt for revenge and riches.

Of course, not everyone is completely surprised by these leaked observations. Close observers of Rwandan politics since 1990 have noted that Kagame government officials have not only been engaged in violent behavior but also that they are rather good at it. It is a largely overlooked fact that the then-rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which essentially became the current government, illegally invaded a sovereign nation. At that time, there was no genocide in Rwanda, only ethnic discrimination with a low level of violence. This is not to legitimate or justify the relevant behavior but merely to identify the context of the invasion.

Immediately after the death of the previous Rwandan president (in which Kagame has been implicated), the rebels continued their move to take over the country. At this point, there was genocide. As the rebels gained more territory, they led people to believe that they simply liberated formerly repressed kin and embraced the ethnic group that had previously persecuted them.