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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
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
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.
Congo: M23 Rebels Committing War Crimes, Human Rights Watch (Sept. 11,
Rights Watch says M23 rebels in Congo guilty of executions, rape, widespread
war crimes, Washington Post (Sept. 11, 2012)
M23 rebels 'executing escapee recruits', BBC News (Sept. 11, 2012)
Rebel Group Rejects War Crimes Charges, VOA (Sept. 11, 2012)
Mushikiwabo Refutes Human Rights Watch Report, AllAfrica.com (Sept. 11,
Possible Switch of Legal Tradition?, Library of Congress (June 4, 2009)
Legal System gets a Helping Hand, Law.com (June 9, 2010)