Rwanda: The UN and NGOs – Is State Sovereignty under attack? Part III

My previous contributions in this series have pointed out how a select group of western international non-governmental Rights organisations have engaged in what appears to be a sustained mission to undermine the strongholds of Rwanda’s political independence as a sovereign state by attacking its most vital governance policies.

My previous contributions in this series have pointed out how a select group of western international non-governmental Rights organisations have engaged in what appears to be a sustained mission to undermine the strongholds of Rwanda’s political independence as a sovereign state by attacking its most vital governance policies.

I have pointed out the highly unusual and absurd nature of the collaboration between these “Rights” organisations and the United Nations particularly in circumstances surrounding the so-called mapping exercise report on the DR Congo which accuses Rwanda of possible serious crimes there, and how the mainstream western media have helped to advance the discourse of these negative forces.

The DR Congo ‘amateurish’ mapping report might go down in history as a symbol of how the UN has moved further away from its founding principles given that it has clearly accorded non-state actors vital political preeminence over its sovereign member states in the process of carrying out and publishing the results of the DRC report.

From the way Western human rights organisations and mainstream media have parroted and characterised political conditions and events in Rwanda, and how the UN has joined these forces with some Western governments and have oddly mimicked the same allegations about Rwanda, it becomes extremely difficult to believe how these NGOs are actually non-governmental at all.

That is when nothing is said about the channels through which this so-called Human Rights Organisations are actually funded to carry out their work; evidence indicating that governments are not without a firm hand in their financing.

It becomes very unconvincing to argue that the Western media is indeed free and independent, and it makes the relationship and collaboration between these Western “non-state actors” and some Western governments’ approach to Africa and the rest of the developing world is highly questionable.

Clearly, the application of the newfound means of influencing other countries’ policies – the use of soft power particularly through the work of NGOs, could have been softer and more subtle than Rwanda’s case has shown in recent months, at least for the sake of pretence.

But the new ‘marriage’ relationship between western governments, NGOs and the media regarding their behaviour in and about Rwanda is not actually new.

It can be seen as a celebration of longstanding bond that was established at the height of the Cold War purposely to support the use of soft power in order to avoid aggression in a clear act of circumventing the provisions of the UN charter.

By using NGOs, states would not be accused of aggressing other sovereign states as the definition of Aggression does not cover acts by international organisations, and the determination of whether any acts of aggression have been committed at all is an exclusive mandate of the very undemocratic Security Council.

That is a smart move, isn’t it? Well, not if it goes against the fundamental principles of justice and fairness for which the UN was founded to promote in the first place, and it’s definitely neither smart nor ethical at all when it endangers other countries’ peace, security and stability as the case of the international negative forces against Rwanda indicates.

The making and workings of the UN, international human rights law

The charter of the United Nations recognises sovereignty as the hallmark of statehood and it was intended to avert war while ensuring international peace and security by recognising every country’s independence and competence.

In the system of international relations and obligations, the principle of noninterference in affairs that are within the domestic jurisdiction of states is an important component of state sovereignty.

Under the UN charter and related conventions, sovereign states have “prescriptive” and “enforcement” powers, competence and authority to make laws and enforce them within their jurisdictions.

Some of the cases in which the international community can intervene in domestic affairs of a state include when the state fails to maintain peace and security or when it abuses human rights within its jurisdiction.

The latter scenario, though, is a norm that evolved after the establishment of the charter and its meaning and interpretation continue to expand even to this day partly through the work of human rights organisations.

At the height of the cold war in the 1960s and 70s, a number of countries found an indirect way to bypass the UN charter noninterference obligations; and so some of the most powerful human rights organisations we have today were set up primarily to promote the balance of power policies.

Non-governmental organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were later given access and observer status at the United Nations, and their “expert” inputs in the UN processes came to be given important attention.

It is on record how these and other NGOs collaborate in the drafting of reports and resolutions at the UN and how they have been instrumental in the emergency of new human rights norms which form part of the current international human rights law. 

As the debate about the UN mapping exercise report on the violation of international human rights law within the DR Congo goes on, it is important to remember that the undemocratic UN Security Council enjoys the exclusive right to interpret, define, frame, decide and declare whether or not a sovereign state has violated its human rights obligations. 

Thus, even as Rwanda should not relent in the efforts to challenge the flawed report that is clearly a political ploy, it is important to recognise that the underlying challenges actually go deeper that technical issues in the making of documents.

The real issue and important question to be addressed, probably in the long run is to demystify the claims that the UN is just and fair to all countries and peoples when only a few countries enjoy interpretative powers on issues affecting other countries.

And this is something countries could do by giving up some of the short-term benefits and coming together to strongly challenge such a patronising system. It is not something that one country could achieve acting alone.

The way forward for Rwanda
The people of Rwanda need to understand that the onslaught on the country by human rights groups, the mainstream media and the UN might be a deliberate political ploy or a patronising experiment at best that is designed to divide the society by encouraging ethnic politics under the guise of human rights.

Its purpose might be to undermine Rwanda’s increasingly lofty standing both at home and abroad for some unspecified foreign interests. For this reason, Rwandans need to stay united against this challenge and rise above the diversion.

The Rwandan government should refuse to be put on the defensive for doing the right thing for its people and for the country; neither should it be detracted from pursuing the country’s pragmatic foreign engagement that seeks to promote common interests and mutual respect.

These coordinated negative forces and interests have had successes elsewhere in destabilising countries by pressuring governments into abandoning policies that were indeed working for their countries, and it came with devastating consequences and so they seem to believe they can carry out the same experiment in Rwanda today.

Even though there are complex politics at play in the international system, Rwanda must firmly refuse to go down that road because the international community, even when it is at its best, is inherently reckless.

This is because despite praises about embracing multilateralism, democracy and freedoms, the struggle for strategic influence and pursuit of self-interest by states has not weathered away.

Real actions have not matched rhetoric. The fluid concepts of democracy, human rights and press freedoms are promoted as if they were a specific brand of commodities that developing countries must purchase, rather than theoretical and controversial concepts to be applied contextually.

They are, to all intents and purposes, mere instruments for domination. What else could possibly explain the kind of elusive behaviour these interests have manifested in Rwanda in recent months?

For now, Rwanda should continue to firmly challenge the procedural, methodological and all other technical deficiencies of the UN report and demand that these and other substantive issues be systematically revisited as Rwanda holds the obligations of membership in too high regard to let irresponsible mistakes go unquestioned.

The UN has a history of acting inconsistently and there is a possibility that it may realise its grave mistake regarding the mapping exercise report on the DRC and decide to set itself on its feet again. The benefit of time might enable the UN to realise that indeed, in the words of a famous scientist, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Although the UN has created an unnecessary diplomatic crisis for an otherwise purely technical issue, Rwanda might want to give the diplomatic initiative by the UN a chance.

However, that would be only if the postponement was not an opportunistic move to help persuade Rwanda to keep its troops in the UN’s peacekeeping missions in Sudan, Chad, Haiti, and Liberia and to ensure the smooth running of last week’s UN General Assembly in which President Paul Kagame had prominent roles to play in various UN initiatives.

Now that the report was published with negligible changes to the baseless allegations, Rwanda should not shy away from taking appropriate retaliatory actions in accordance with international law based on UN’s record in/on Rwanda and on the detrimental impact the report could have on the character, legitimacy and reputation of the country.

Even so, as a UN member state, Rwanda would seek that the UN act out of moral obligations and based on its founding principles rather than out of contingency and opportunism.

Standing up to injustices directed against Rwandans regardless of who the aggressors has been, perhaps one of the most distinguishing features of Rwanda’s character as a nation today and it can be seen as one of the key reasons behind its rapid social change as well as the increasing lofty standing abroad.

These ideals have brought the country thus far – winning through the power of ideas and actively promoting justice and fairness. It is the same ideals that must defeat the new wave of attacks that are seeking to hijack Rwanda’s right for self-determination as an exercise of its sovereignty.

The shotgun...To Whom It May Concern approach in characterising Rwanda’s governance landscape and strategic intentions should be met with strong resistance.

The author is a graduate student of International Development, Wageningen University – The Netherlands

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