Wednesday 24 April 2013

Why did Rwandan War Lord Accused of Crimes in Congo, Give Himself Up to the ICC?

Maurice Carney: Rwanda hands over one warlord to ICC and props up others as it continues plunder of Congo's resources -  

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay.

On March 18, Bosco Ntaganda, accused of being a war criminal for his activities in the Congo--he's a warlord and, as we understand it, working mostly with Rwanda. He's of Rwandan descent. Any rate, he walks into a U.S. embassy in Rwanda and gives himself up. He's then flown to the Netherlands. And he's going to face charges for war crimes before the International Criminal Court.

So just why did he give himself up? And does this reflect any change in Rwandan policy towards the Congo or U.S. policy?

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Maurice Carney. He's the executive director and cofounder of Friends of the Congo. He joins us from Washington, D.C.

Thanks for joining us again, Maurice.

MAURICE CARNEY, EXEC. DIR. AND COFOUNDER, FRIENDS OF THE CONGO: Hi. It's a pleasure being with you, Paul.

JAY: So tell us a little bit about this guy. And then why on earth would he give himself up?

CARNEY: Yeah. The claim that Bosco Ntaganda gave himself up is dubious at best. However, the best way to look at the situation is that Bosco represents the third high-level Rwandan proxy who have committed crimes in the Congo and then fled back into Rwanda.

Back in 2004, you have a gentleman by the name of [aZu.@mutubisi] who committed crimes in the Congo, and as a result of pressure fled back into Rwanda.

In 2008, end of 2008, start of 2009, you had Laurent Nkunda, who headed up the National Congress for the Defense of the People. There was global pressure put on Rwanda for its support of Nkunda and his rebel militia inside of the Congo. And Rwanda basically took him off the playing field, put him under house arrest, and--.

JAY: Give us a brief history of Ntaganda and just why he is considered a war criminal.

CARNEY: Well, he's got seven counts of charges against him by the International Criminal Court for abducting of children, making them child soldiers, forms of slavery in terms of enslaving girls to be booty in his rampage in the east of the Congo. He's committed heinous crimes. One example in 2008, for example, in a place called Kiwanja, he pretty much moved in with his troops and wiped out the entire village. So he has a long history, dating back over a decade, of committing heinous crimes in the Congo itself.

He's a former or a veteran of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, fought with the Rwandans in 1994 when they took power in Rwanda, fought with Rwandans when they invaded Congo in 1996, and then subsequently he served as a rebel proxy militia inside the Congo from mid-2000 to the present.

JAY: Now, just to put this in some big context again for people who aren't following the story, we've talked about this before. The Congo is perhaps one of the greatest deposits of natural riches on the planet. And Rwanda and Uganda, more or less in alliance with the U.S. policy, have been sponsoring these rebel groups in the Congo. And Ntaganda himself, he hasn't been at odds with Rwanda, right? So why hand him over?

CARNEY: Yeah. He was handed over largely because of global pressure. As you stated, Rwanda and Uganda, with the full backing of the United States, since 1996 have invaded the Congo twice. They've fought each other--that is, Rwanda and Uganda fought each other on Congolese soil. And they have supported proxy militia in the Congo for the last 16 years.

And what happens is whenever there's global pressure put on Rwanda for its support of the elicit network that's in the eastern provinces of the DRC, the way Rwanda responds is to remove the leader of that militia and replace him with another leader. So, as I shared a little earlier, in 2004, [Zu.mutubiti], a Rwandan proxy inside of the Congo, pressure came on, and he fled back into Rwanda, where--he's still there today.

In 2008, 2009, Laurent Nkunda headed up the rebel militia called the National Congress for the Defense of the People. Pressure was put on Rwanda as a result of UN reports and other documentation of Rwanda's complicity in destabilizing the Congo, and Laurent Nkunda was put under house arrest by the Rwandan government. And the Rwandan chief of defense or defense minister, James Kabarebe, replaced Laurent Nkunda with Bosco Ntaganda, and Bosco Ntaganda took over the leadership of the CNDP.

Now, today, we have pressure put on Rwanda again for its continuing destabilizing of the eastern provinces of the DRC, and Bosco was taken off the playing field, ostensibly to be replaced by another rebel militia, named Sultani Makenga.

JAY: Now, hang on. Bosco says he's not guilty. He says he gave himself up, but he also says he's not guilty. He says, I'm just a soldier. So isn't Rwanda a little worried that when Bosco gets in front of the ICC he's going to point the finger at Rwanda and say, I was just a soldier for them?

CARNEY: I don't think Rwanda's--that's what many analysts are saying, but I don't think that's a major concern of Rwanda. Paul, there is no dearth of evidence in terms of Rwanda's complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity, the destabilizing, the pillaging of the Congo. So there's just an abundance of evidence. The evidence of Rwanda's complicity in the Congo is not the issue.

What is the issue is that in spite of Rwanda's crimes in the Congo, it continues to get cover from the United States, from the United Nations, from the United Kingdom. And this is where the problem lies. There's a lack of political will on the part of the world powers that are protecting Rwanda to act against Rwanda. When I say act, I mean sanctioning Rwanda at the UN. Rwanda's violated UN embargoes. Putting high-level officials, Rwandan officials, on the sanctions list--they've been identified and named for their role in destabilizing the Congo. So this is where the issue lies today.

That illicit network that Rwanda has in the eastern provinces of DRC is still intact, and that's where we really need to focus. If we focus on Bosco at the Hague and what he's going to say and what he's not going to say about Rwanda, we'll be missing the ball. We need to dismantle that illicit network that is in place in the eastern provinces of the DRC destabilizing the region, pilfering the resources, and--.

JAY: Right. Now, didn't President Obama as senator--we've talked about this before, but didn't he actually sponsor a bill that would require the United States to sanction countries like Uganda and Rwanda--and actually that's what they had in mind was Uganda and Rwanda--for interfering in Congolese affairs? So as president, what's been the followup?

CARNEY: Until June 2012, he hadn't acted. It was in June 2012 that United States finally withheld $200,000, which is a pittance in terms of what the U.S. gives to Rwanda each year, in some exceeding over $200 million a year. So there has been a lack of action on the part of the Obama administration. And that's why we say we need to keep the pressure up.

It's important to note the administration is represented by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. They acknowledge the role that Rwanda has played. In fact, Susan Rice is quoted recently, within the last couple of weeks, as saying Rwanda's played a negative--or is negatively involved in the Congo. When asked, well, why don't you do something about it, then she says it's complicated. The reason why it's complicated: because this is a U.S. ally that is sponsoring war crimes, war criminals inside the Congo, and the United States is reluctant to act. So that's where the problem lies, the reluctance on the part of the United States, the lack of political will for the U.S. to act against a proxy or a client state in Rwanda.

JAY: Now, where's the Congolese government in all this? They're not innocents in all of this.

CARNEY: No, no, they're not. And the Congolese government is a part of the problem, because it's a government that lacks legitimacy among the population. It's a government that appropriated the last elections and really doesn't represent the will of the people. And for all intents and purposes, its diplomatic effort has been lackluster. So you have a situation where you have aggressive neighbors in Rwanda and Uganda destabilizing the Congo, a weak and inept government that's headed up by Joseph Kabila. So that leaves the Congolese people to their own devices with little protection at all.

And this is part of the reason why we see the United Nations having so much of a say in Congolese affairs, because of the weakness of the Congolese state. Just this past week, the United Nations proposed what they called a intervention force, made up of about 2,500 troops, that would ostensibly go after rebel militia inside the Congo. In addition to that, they appointed Mary Robinson, the former Irish prime minister, as special envoy to the Great Lakes region to carry out a peace framework for the region that was signed by 11 African nations and some of the regional bodies in late February. So really you're seeing a situation where for all intents and purposes Congo is under tutelage by the United Nations and members of the international community.

And that's been the crux of Congo's problems from day one, in that the people of the Congo haven't been in control and haven't been able to determine the affairs of the Congo, and Congo has been kept weak, Congo has been kept dependent, and Congo has been kept impoverished, and all this happening in the heart of Africa, which is vital to the future of the African continent. So if you have this type of weakness in the heart of Africa, it doesn't bode well for the continent as a whole.

JAY: And in terms of international mining companies that are active in Congo--and I assume many would like to be there or be there more--do they benefit from the instability, which some people have argued, because it's harder for the Congolese people to assert sort of any kind of sovereignty or regulatory environment or get royalties? Or would they not benefit from a somewhat more stable environment because, you know, chaos isn't always good for business?

CARNEY: No. Well, we can look at the evidence. The United Nations from 2001 to 2003 named some 85 companies that are illegally exploiting Congo's riches. We have companies such as Banro Corporation out of Canada. They have gold concessions in the very area where the fighting is taking place that's valued over $10 billion. And they own these concessions outright--100 percent ownership of these concessions, a ten-year tax holiday. So they've definitely benefited. We have another company, AngloGold Ashanti, for example--.

JAY: Well, back up for one sec. So how would this company mine when there's, you know, militias and fighting taking place? I mean, are they essentially having private armies that protect these mines? What do they do?

CARNEY: Well, in the case of Banro, in the area that they have, they are protected. They don't have to be concerned about the militia. Militia are not infringing upon their concession at this stage. In the case of AngloGold Ashanti, for example, Human Rights Watch had published a report entitled, around 2005, The Curse of Gold, where you had AngloGold Ashanti officials paying off militias in order for them to get access and control the areas where AngloGold Ashanti wanted to do the gold mining. So you have a situation where these international mining companies have worked with militia groups.

And eventually, at a certain point, once they get up to production levels--The Toronto Star had run a piece on Banro where they indicated at some point they're going to have to have some kind of security, private military corporations or some security to protect their investments, because you have a situation where they're displacing local Congolese population in order to get access to those mineral resources for industrial mining. And that doesn't sit well with the local population. So they're going to have to protect their investment not just from militia, but also from the local population, who may have grievances because they've been displaced and not properly compensated for the land that they've lost.

JAY: So a weak Congolese government and chaos in the countryside, if you can afford your own army, ain't so bad.

CARNEY: Exactly. It's good for business.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Maurice.

CARNEY: Alright. Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.




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