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Glaring Western Hypocrisy on Human Rights in Africa: Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo

The US and EU are complicit in the continued Rwandan and Ugandan incursions into the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as in their support of their TPLF proxies against Ethiopia.

2 Nov 2022 – On October 31st, thousands of Congolese in Goma, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu Province, protested the war of aggression waged by Rwanda and Uganda’s M23 militia, which has reportedly tightened its grip on surrounding countryside. One sign read “Rwanda and Ouganda Is Killing in DR Congo,” and Congolese activists are using the hashtag #RwandaIsKilling. Mambo Kawaya, a civil society representative, told AFP, “We denounce the hypocrisy of the international community in the face of Rwanda’s aggression.”

US and EU hypocrisy

Nowhere is this hypocrisy more vivid than in the contrast between the US/Canadian/EU engagement in the Ethiopian and Congolese conflicts. As Ethiopia nears victory in its war with the US-backed, insurrectionist Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), huge crowds of Ethiopians have taken to the streets to protest US intervention and demand respect for Ethiopian sovereignty. The US has nevertheless muscled its way into “peace talks” in South Africa, with the US State Department gloating that US Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer “is both an observer and a participant to these talks.” The US has given political, diplomatic, and narrative support to the TPLF, its longtime client, throughout the war and has quite likely provided arms and logistical support.

US and EU officialdom and press now repeat a daily refrain that Ethiopia and Eritrea are guilty of mass atrocities, that Eritrean troops must leave Ethiopia and that they are violating Ethiopian sovereignty, even though Ethiopia is perfectly within its sovereign right to ask Eritrea for help.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres parrots the US and EU talking points, although China, Russia, and African nations on the UN Security Council have consistently refused to agree to any resolutions to condemn or otherwise intervene in Ethiopia.

The West’s weaponization of human rights against Ethiopia is as glaring as it is against Russia, with threats of IMF and World Bank strangulation, draconian sanctions, ICC indictments, and ad hoc criminal tribunals.

The West’s objection to Rwandan and Ugandan aggression in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is by contrast tepid at best, even though Rwanda and Uganda have violated DRC’s national sovereignty for the past 26 years. They invaded and occupied the country, toppled two governments, committed decades of atrocities, seized territory, looted resources, and displaced so many Congolese that Congo has one of the world’s highest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs), 5.53 million, and large refugee populations in neighboring nations.

There’s abundant evidence of all this, decades of evidence in UN Group of Experts reports, and if the UN Security Council did what it’s supposed to do, it would tell Rwanda and Uganda that they have to get out of DRC and, if necessary, take measures to force them to leave. Instead they’ve sustained an ineffective and often corrupt UN Peacekeeping operation, MONUSCO, that essentially manages the conflict in a way that enriches Rwanda and Uganda’s ruling elites and makes Congo’s resource wealth available to the major industrial powers at minimal cost.

The UNSC did form the Combat Intervention Brigade to drive M23 out of Congo in 2013, but they weren’t serious about defending Congolese sovereignty. It was a charade organized because reports of M23 atrocities had become so shocking that they had to appear to do something. Congolese sovereignty was not restored, but the international press moved on to new headlines.

Now, the UK and Denmark are both determined to use Rwanda to outsource migrants who reach their shores for processing, despite the outcry and legal battles of European immigrant rights groups. The UK’s new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has said that he will do “whatever it takes ” to succeed in sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, and he’s certainly not going to criticize Rwanda’s M23 war in DRC. The EU appears to be too busy hurling all its human rights weapons at Ethiopia and Eritrea to notice the horrific escalation in M23 atrocities in DRC.
During Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visit to Rwanda, he released a statement about his conversation with President Paul Kagame in which he said:

“. . . we just came from a meeting with President Kagame, where we covered a wide range of issues, including many of the ones that I’ve just discussed. I also raised issues where we have real concerns. On those, our discussions were direct, candid, respectful. The president candidly conveyed his views as well. I discussed the credible reports indicating that Rwanda continues to support the M23 rebel group and has its armed forces inside the DRC. We recognize that Rwanda has security concerns of its own, including reports of cooperation between the Congolese military and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, the DFLR, an armed group.”

In other words, he expressed a bit of obligatory concern about M23, while condoning Kagame’s decades-old excuse, that the DFLR, a Rwandan refugee group, threatens Rwanda.

There has been some faint objection in Congress, where, in May, New Jersey Senator Gregory Menendez, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent Blinken a letter calling for a comprehensive review of US policy towards Rwanda, and said he would place a hold on several million dollars in support for Rwandan peacekeepers participating in UN missions.

Menendez is also the author of a draconian sanctions bill, S. 3199, that aims to control every aspect of Ethiopian society, its politics, economy, and even its public discourse, which it threatens with sanctions on anyone spreading disinformation about Ethiopia, including the diaspora.

On October 26th, Ambassador Robert Wood, US Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs to the UN, delivered a statement in support of ongoing UN management of the conflict in Congo, which included one mild paragraph about Rwanda’s presence in Congo:

“This violence is unacceptable, and the United States calls on armed groups to discontinue their assaults on the DRC’s most vulnerable populations. We also call on state actors to stop their support for these groups, including the Rwandan Defense Forces’ assistance to M23.”

Menendez tweeted Ambassador Wood’s remarks with a somewhat more forceful statement:

Illinois Senator Dick Durban, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, and Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen voiced an extremely timid concern, also in a letter to Blinken , in which they noted that, “Credible reports by established human rights organizations indicate that M23 has a regular supply of modem arms and munitions that allows its members to regularly strike targets over long distances and execute precision fires against aircraft, suggesting direct state sponsored support. Given the years and degree of human suffering in eastern Congo we ask for an update on ongoing enforcement of U.S. sanctions against M23 as required by Public Law 112-239 [the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, written while M23 was rampaging through Congo’s Kivu Provinces, committing atrocities so horrifying that the international press took heed.]

The letter does not name Kagame, Museveni, or Rwanda, but concludes,

“we respectfully request an update on persons and officials of foreign governments your departments believe to be providing support to M23, which can be by classified annex if needed. We also request you detail your current efforts to further identify and sanction persons and officials engaged in supporting M23.”

That could hardly be a more timid statement, given that the identity of persons and officials behind M23 have been known since they emerged in 2012 and 2013. This is how the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo began their January 14 Final Report :

“The most significant event of the year was the military defeat of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebel movement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its flight to Rwanda and Uganda. The Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo documented human rights abuses by M23 during 2013 and confirmed that M23 received various forms of support from Rwandan territory, including recruitment, troop reinforcement, ammunition deliveries and fire support. At the time of writing the present report, the Group had received credible information that sanctioned M23 leaders were moving freely in Uganda and that M23 continued to recruit in Rwanda.”

On a positive note, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Congolese, Rwandans, and Ugandans are speaking out about the West’s hypocrisy and interference in their countries and building PanAfrican ties .

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Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended Stanford University and is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. In 2014 she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at @AnnGarrisonann@kpfa.org, ann@anngarrison.com.

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