International Law

Congo War Crimes, Rwandan Complicity, and the Rule of Law

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, M23 rebels are committing war crimes and other human rights abuses. Both adults and minors are conscripted to serve in the rebel militia. If they attempt to flee, they are killed. Pregnant women and even preteen girls are raped. Civilians are massacred.

The M23 rebels would not be a viable fighting force without the military and financial support they receive from Rwanda. To aid and abet M23 means that those Rwandan officials involved must be held accountable too.

What should be done?

The international community must apply additional diplomatic and economic sanctions on Rwanda until the country cuts its support of M23. This includes rejecting Rwanda's attempt to gain a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

As a sign of good faith, the Rwandan government should provide military intelligence that will enable the capture and prosecution of M23 General Bosco Ntaganda and Colonel Sultani Makenga. These men are eluding prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. In addition, those Rwandan leaders responsible for supporting M23 should be prosecuted both as punishment for their crimes and as a deterrent to future support of those who commit human rights violations.

In addition, the rest of M23's leadership should be captured and brought to the ICC to face the rule law for their current and past participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Justice must be meted out to answer for the atrocities committed against their victims.

With regard to the hundreds of thousands of Congolese refugees, the international community should work through NGOs to provide humanitarian relief and to assist with repatriation of these victims to their homes after hostilities have ended.

Ironically, after Rwanda's own long and brutal tribal/ethnic civil wars, the new Rwandan government decided to distance itself from its Civil Law heritage, a legacy of its Belgian colonial days, by turning to the UK to provide instruction and aid in the adoption of the common law tradition, ostensibly on the ground that this tradition would provide better protections for observance of the rule of law and against the violations of human rights.  This effort, allegedly spurred by national sadness and disgust at the violence and slaughters that had taken place, was clearly entirely misinformed, as the above facts illustrate. 

It is not one's legal tradition itself that guarantees the rule of law and the protection of human rights, but rather the personal acceptance by most, if not all, citizens of the moral imperative of the rule of law in their own lives and as a fundamental condition of their society's overall behavior.  Rwanda's military and financial support for M23 betrays the fact that the Rwandan government and its society has failed to internalize this basic requirement of respect for the rule of law and concern to protect human rights.  Its conscious shift to adopt a new legal system is exposed by this behavior as a now-transparent failure to mask the more sinister reality that Rwanda's leaders have learned nothing from their country's suffering over the past 30 years, and their stated goals and desires in adopting the common law were but empty rhetoric.

Recommended Reading

DR Congo: M23 Rebels Committing War Crimes, Human Rights Watch (Sept. 11, 2012)

Human Rights Watch says M23 rebels in Congo guilty of executions, rape, widespread war crimes, Washington Post (Sept. 11, 2012)

DR Congo M23 rebels 'executing escapee recruits', BBC News (Sept. 11, 2012)

DRC Rebel Group Rejects War Crimes Charges, VOA (Sept. 11, 2012)

Rwanda: Mushikiwabo Refutes Human Rights Watch Report, (Sept. 11, 2012)

Burundi/Rwanda: Possible Switch of Legal Tradition?, Library of Congress (June 4, 2009)

Rwanda's Legal System gets a Helping Hand, (June 9, 2010)

Rwanda: Progress in Judicial Reforms Falls Short , Human Rights Watch (July 25, 2008)