How credible are the new UN Group of Experts?

  • By James Karuhanga
  • February 11, 2013
Nduhungirehe (L) and Kabonero (R) have queried the new group of experts that has taken over from Steve Hege (C). The New Times/ File.

The mandate of the former UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) comprising Steven Hege, Nelson Alusala, Ruben de Koning, Marie Plamadiala, Emilie Serralta, and Steven Spittaels, ended last year.

The group, coordinated by Hege, a man known as a long time advocate of the genocidal outfit, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), and personally biased against Rwanda’s government, claimed that Rwanda, and to some extent, Uganda, were supporting DRC’s M23 rebels.

Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said Hege was engaged in a determined political campaign to tarnish Rwanda, when his group first leaked a report to the media alleging that Rwanda and Uganda, which is now leading regional efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in eastern DRC, were supporting the M23 mutiny.

Ugandan officials also refuted and ‘rubbished’ reports by Hege’s team.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a Washington DC-based international law firm, agreed with the assessment that the GoE abused its powers in the course of shifting blame for the mess in eastern DRC.

Among other shortcomings, the law firm found that the GoE members were guilty of “[a] lack of transparency, the reliance on questionable sources and the complete lack of analysis of witness bias, motivation, or contradictory evidence.”

No doubt, the credibility of some members of the previous GoE team was questioned. So is the current one.

‘New wine in an old bottle’

In a December 28, 2012 letter, from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, addressed to the President of the Security Council, the former appointed Nelson Alusala, (Kenya-arms), Henry Fomba, (Cameroon-customs and aviation), Bernard Leloup, (Belgium-regional issues), Marie Plamadiala, (Moldova-armed groups), and Emilie Serralta, (France-natural resources), as the first five members of the new GoE on the DRC.

On January 2, Daniel Fahey, from the US (finance), was added to the group whose mandate, expires on February 1, 2014. The mandate is renewable.

Serralta, who is among the three reappointed from the previous team, is Coordinator of the new Group. Moldova’s Plamadiala and Kenya’s Arusala were also in Hege’s team.


Olivier Nduhungirehe, the Deputy Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN, in New York, is concerned.

“Three experts of the previous group were reappointed. We objected to one of them (Plamadiala) and to a new comer, the Belgian, Bernard Leloup. We provided information on how they are biased against our country,” Nduhungirehe told The New Times.

“However, the SG went on and appointed them. We were disappointed and announced to the DRC Sanctions Committee that the two are not welcome to Rwanda.”

The government’s concerns are not farfetched.

In a June 2003 opinion article – Time to Turn the Heat On President Kagame – published by Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, Leloup did not mince words on his take about Rwanda’s current government and leadership.

In the article, the Belgian, among other things, urged Rwanda’s donors to recognise that the May 2003 constitutional referendum and the subsequent legislative and presidential elections were “meaningless and potentially dangerous.”

“Since RPF’s ascension to power in 1994, the regime has not ceased to harden, particularly during the last few years. Repression has reached great heights, as political instability has increased across the country and within the army,” Leloup wrote.

The government documented most of Leloup’s work indicative of his partiality.

Uganda’s High Commissioner to Rwanda, Richard Kabonero, is also disappointed by the work of the UN GoE, in addition to how it is evaluated and appointed.

However, Kabonero says, the region should not give much attention to the GoE as the current search for home-grown solutions is more important.

“We can’t really spend time worrying about the UN group,” Kabonero added.

Kigali and Kampala have not only strongly criticized reports compiled by the GoE but also the methodology that was used, which they say is flawed.

Mushikiwabo has previously stressed that what is even more disturbing is a moral disgrace committed in the name of the UN when an apologist of genocide perpetrators [Hege] was put in a position to sit in judgment of the victims.

Mushikiwabo has also criticized the UN process for appointment and vetting of experts. It is broken and in desperate need of repair, she is quoted saying.

A submission, by Rwanda’s Permanent Mission to the UN, serving as the Government’s formal objection notice to the candidacies of Leloup and Plamadiala, highlights government’s concerns over the duo’s unfairness, and qualification issues especially on the part of the Moldovan, who, it is believed, does “not meet the professional requirements for an independent expert,” among other considerations.

While they [UN] “lack any substantive guidance on the vetting process” of experts, the UNSC’s investigative guidelines state that experts: be independent; have specialised expertise in the area of competence; have academic qualifications; undergo performance evaluations that are transparent; and have cultural and country-related knowledge relevant to the mandates of monitoring mechanisms.

When The New Times e-mailed the Office of the Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, for comment, a senior UN Spokesperson referred the paper to Kim Sook, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea and President of the Security Council for the month of February.

Sook has not responded to The New Times’ queries.

“These are independent experts who report to the Security Council, and it’s up to the Security Council to evaluate their work,” Eduardo del Buey, the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General responded.

The New Times had, among others, sought comment on why the UNSC would insist on appointing on the GoE individuals whom a UN member country deems biased, as well as the possible downsides to such a decision especially since Plamadiala and new comer, Leloup, are not welcome to Rwanda.

“You may wish to send your query to the President of the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea,” Ki-moon’s Deputy Spokesperson noted. The Security Council which has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security comprises 15 members: five permanent members with veto power, and 10 non-permanent members, elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term.

Rwanda became a non-permanent member starting January 1, a position the country will hold until the end of next year.

Contact email: james.karuhanga[at]


Well said in the article! Lack of moral high ground undermines UN ability and credibility to crucify innocent Rwanda. Rwandans have had more than their share (1960s, 70s, 90s)! and now UN goes ahead? To SG UN, it is now or never to repair the name or never.

06:27:21 Monday 11th, February 2013 Rulindo - Augustus

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Dear editor,In advising you to refer your request for comment to this month's UN Security Council president, Eduardo del Buey, Ban Ki-moon's deputy spokesperson is giving you the classic bureaucratic run-around! The appointment letters to members of the Group of Experts are signed by the SG, not the President of the Security Council. It is therefore those whose signatures are appended to the appointment letter who are accountable for such appointments and who must explain why those particular people were chosen to be included in the group. This is also logical since a person who assumes a one-month rotational responsibility, as is the position of of President of the UN security council, would hardly be in a position to prospect, short-list, interview, recruit and undertake the relevant personnel actions required to appoint experts. The Security Council would therefore relies entirely on the SG and the UN secretariat under the SG for such recruitment and appointment processes. For Mr. del Buey to refer you to this month's UNSC President, Ambassador Kim Sook of the Republic of Korea, for his comment on how they think the Group will be able to fulfil their mandate when Rwanda has clearly stipulated it will not cooperate with some of its key members, is therefore nothing but an exercise in pure obfuscation. And interestingly, we know that Mr. Ban Ki-moon went ahead and appointed at least two of the members AFTER Rwanda had already communicated to him unambiguous objections not to include them, given their well-known animosity to Kigali (Leloup, like Hege before him, is a well-known protegee of rabidly anti-Tutsi Professor Philippe Reyntjens, whose singular claim to fame or notoriety - take your choice - was as the mid-wife of Habyarimana's Constitution codifying anti-Tutsi racism. Like his mentor, his anti-Tutsi and anti Rwanda Government views are no secret). In my view, however, in focussing too much on just Leloup and Palmadiala, we fail to underline that the entire Group of Experts model is fatally flawed. The prospection, short-listing, recruitment and appointment process should be open and transparent and be subject to challenge by representatives of those the Group members will be making pronouncements over. This is even more critical given the fact, as we have seen too often, their claims - frequently without credible substantiation at all but rather than thinly sourced and based on implausible allegations from self-serving sources - are taken as gospel by a UN Security Council badly served by the UN secretariat, itself throughly penetrated and captured by well-financed and media-savvy but unaccountable non-state actors with private agendas (in the case of HRW with a similarly open and particularly virulent anti-Rwanda history and continuing agenda). It isn't just these two; the other members of the Group have also been associated with Hege and should accordingly be disqualified given their co-authorship of a totally implausible and clearly useless list of claims that could never stand serious analysis. Any new members must likewise be subjected to critical investigation to ensure they do not have disqualifying skeletons in their previous associations, often with politicized NGOs or other organizations that make them unsuitable for positions which require complete objectivity and likelihood that they may be driving third party agenda's rather than that of the world body and its entire membership, not just the few powerful members enjoying privileged control of the UN processes. Until we can be guaranteed such objectivity from the Group, the entire process should be scrapped since, instead of contributing to peace, there more likely to poison inter-state relations among neighbouring countries and therefore lead to circumstances conducive to more conflict and are thus a danger to peace.

21:18:47 Monday 11th, February 2013 - Mwene Kalinda

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UG High Commissioner Kabonero is correct! We should focus on our home grown solutions to the ongoing crisis in the DRC. Our concentrated efforts coupled with swift, positive implementation will be the greatest reflection of our true intentions to restore peace and stability to the Congolese people and the region. We will never be able to avoid bureaucracy within the UN.

11:54:10 Wednesday 13th, February 2013 Kigali - Carol Rugege

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