Rwanda, the UN and NGOs: Is State Sovereignty under attack?

The process of globalisation with associated spread in communication technologies has ubiquitously changed and shifted the ways in which states and non-state entities function.

The process of globalisation with associated spread in communication technologies has ubiquitously changed and shifted the ways in which states and non-state entities function.

It is no longer easy for states, albeit not impossible, to control a massive amount of information that goes around in print, on airwaves and through the internet, especially when the ideas circulated are highly erroneous and evidently detrimental to the character and interests of the concerned state or person. However, there is a level beyond which what goes on in the media and NGO world cannot be considered merely as business as usual.

Well, Rwanda has seen and had its unfair share because of this unique turn in modern times. The country has received a barrage of criticism in recent times especially from her perennial critics such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders.

Some in the mainstream media too have found something newsworthy, telegenic and photogenic, although their criticisms are often contradictory and based on inaccurate claims.

Moreover, since these organisations seem to be answerable to nobody, issues of credibility and morality regarding the methods and quality of their work are not something they would lose sleep over. It would be fine if they just didn’t care about reputation and ethical principles in their own right, but it raises serious questions when it come to how their work is recognised within inter-governmental organisations such as the United Nations.

While this trend is neither new nor surprising, the United Nation’s links to this kind of behaviour is a sad chapter in the history of the world body. It is one thing for non-state actors to make all sorts reckless allegations against a state, just at whim, but it is quite another when the UN makes unsubstantiated and dangerous claims against some of its independent and sovereign member states.

Unanswered questions

When you read the draft UN report on the DRC that was leaked to the press nearly two weeks ago and Amnesty International’s report entitled Rwandese-controlled eastern DRC: Devastating human toll published on June 19, 2001, you hardly find any difference between the two reports. They are similar both in content and the allegations made and even in the format used, the major difference being in the volume and scope of the two reports.

In fact, you may think the UN draft report is just a new edition of the aforementioned and other reports by Amnesty International. The authors of the leaked UN inconclusive report did not make any efforts to ensure that the readers don’t conclude that the UN report either was co-authored with Amnesty International or at least largely drew its content from the organisation’s various reports and those of its partner organisations in the region.

Given that the data collection methodology of the report is far from empirical, its content highly controversial and the circumstances surrounding its leak to the press extremely questionable, the UN should appreciate that comments and criticisms of its actions in this case are legitimate and not meant in an offensive spirit.

The underhand methods in the whole process of compiling the report that mostly, if not exclusively, involved NGOs, serves to undermine the UN’s credibility. For the UN to accord NGOs political acceptance (and in the DRC case, political and credibility pre-eminence) over state actors is an absurd thing to do and might jeopardise the foundational principles of the United Nations and further damage its already poor record particularly in Rwanda and the DRC.

The UN relied on accounts from hundreds of NGOs and individuals who they claim are victims of the alleged human rights abuses in the DRC, whether or not they include those who are still running away from justice back in Rwanda is to them not an issue.

Can one even assume that the UN is not aware that these non-governmental organisations represent a wide spectrum of political views in the conflict-ridden region? How could the UN neglect its primary duty to respect the normal verification procedures of determining the accuracy and reliability of the massive information from non-state actors against member states, by giving governments concerned an opportunity to provide their own account?

How can the UN justify its impartiality and lack of political bias when the decision to allow governments to comment on the leaked report at all was only ad hoc, apparently largely due to Rwanda’s warning that it would withdraw its troops from UN peacekeeping operations, if the report was published in the form in which it was leaked?

The statements from New York and indeed from Mr. Ban Ki Moon himself, while on his recent impromptu visit to Kigali, have made it clear that concerned governments’ comments will be published “alongside the report itself on 1 October, if they so wish.” How does the UN expect Rwanda and other concerned governments to be as naive and credulous as to be content with the offer to publish their comments only in annex form? If the UN had genuine commitment to get it right at this stage, it would have sent a clear message to its concerned member states that their comments would be used to reconsider the substantive content of the draft report itself.

If Mr. Ban is indeed disappointed that the report by the organisation he heads as  chief diplomat was leaked, why hasn’t he shown the initiative and willingness to propose that the UN launch an investigation to find out who was behind the leak and what the motive was?

In all of these cases, therefore, the UN has once again missed the opportunity to demonstrate expected neutral judgement. While it may be a normal bureaucratic and diplomatic game at the United Nations, it carries serious national security and indeed existential threats for Rwanda and it is the kind of game, which I hope,  the Rwandan government cannot and should not be prepared to tolerate.

Article to be continued...

The author is a graduate student of International Development at  Wageningen University-The Netherlands

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