Home Special Reports DR Congo, Is Human Rights Watch Cynically Contributing To Perpetuation of The Conflict?

DR Congo, Is Human Rights Watch Cynically Contributing To Perpetuation of The Conflict?

by Vincent Gasana
4:57 pm

FDLR fighting alongside FARDC

FDLR elements are fighting alongside government forcesExactly ten years ago, American diplomat, Richard Johnson, was so appalled by the unremittingly, orchestrated crusade against Rwanda, waged by Human Rights Watch (HRW), he published a critique titled, The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda. Seen in light of the intensification of the organisation’s anti Rwanda crusade, Johnson’s paper, so damning at the time, now seems like a gross understatement. From twisting facts to suit its anti Rwanda narrative, HRW has gone on to simply manufacture them.

“What Human Rights Watch (HRW) does on Rwanda is not human rights advocacy” Johnson writes. “It is political advocacy which has become profoundly unscrupulous in both its means and its ends. HRW’s Board of Directors should hold Executive Director Kenneth Roth and the HRW personnel who cover Rwandan issues for this travesty, which has dangerous implications for Western policy towards Rwanda and for the overall of Western human rights advocacy. Donors to HRW should think seriously about what causes their money might serve. Western governments should be careful about following HRW advice, and courageous enough to challenge them public when need be.”

“HRW’s discourse on Rwanda over the past twenty years, has been viscerally hostile to the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), which defeated the genocidal Hutu Power regime in 1994, and systematically biased in favour of letting unrepentant Hutu Power political forces back into Rwandan political life.”

The latest report from HRW demonstrates that if anything, under new Executive Director, Tirana Hassan, the anti Rwanda crusade has become even more shrill, with wild claims against the country getting every more preposterous. Few have been more absurdly tendentious, than HRW’s echoing of DRC head of state, Felix Tshisekedi’s now well honed policy of blaming Rwanda, for everything that happens in his country, under his leadership, and that of his predecessors.

M23 rebels

Reporting from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, HRW dramatically announces that, “Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, have committed unlawful killings, rape, and other apparent war crimes, since late 2022…”

We are told, quite authoritatively, that the “Rwandan army has deployed troops to Eastern Congo to provide direct military support to the M23 rebel group, helping them control Rutshuru…” For this, HRW demands that the “United Nations Security Council, should add M23 leaders, as well as Rwandan officials who are assisting the abusive armed group to the council’s sanctions list.”

“The M23 unrelenting killings and rapes are bolstered by the military support Rwanda commanders provide the rebel armed group” so says a Clementine de Montoya, Africa researcher at HRW.

Rwanda should be subjected to sanctions, on the say so of Ms Montoya, and HRW, because of this alleged deployment in the DRC. Rwanda has consistently rubbished claims that it is supporting the M23 rebel group. The evidence by which HRW stands, apparently without question, is based on what a UN Group of Experts (GoE) report terms “solid evidence” that Rwanda has troops in the DRC.

Any close scrutiny of the much vaunted “solid evidence” explains why it seems to have become a virtual directive to keep repeating the words, lest anyone look at it, and wonder whether we all need to redefine the meaning of the word solid. Part of this evidence includes blurry drone generated images of men, marching in organised columns, which we are assured must be members of the Rwanda military.

Whatever anyone’s view of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), that they are among the most disciplined military on the continent, if not the world, is indisputable. Despite that, the GoE idea of “solid evidence” for the RDF presence on Congolese soil, also amounts to pictures of rusted rifles, grenade launchers, tattered military fatigues, rubber wellington boots, and RDF insignia, all apparently left lying about by this most disciplined of defence forces. Supposedly most convincing of all however, are satellite images of “men in uniforms similar to those worn by the Rwanda military.”

But looking for objective evidence from either HRW, or indeed the GoE reports, is missing the intent of these reports entirely. “DR Congo: Killings, Rapes by Rwanda-Backed M23 Rebels” reads the report headline. The aim is two fold: paint the rebel group as killers, rapists and every other dastardly act, connect them to Rwanda, then call for the world’s wrath upon them both rebel group and their alleged backers.

Interestingly enough, this fulfils exactly the wishes of the Congolese government, a government that the UN itself acknowledges is responsible for hate speech against a section of its population. Hate speech that is carefully calibrated to lead to genocidal murders against the very people whom the rebel group that is demonised, fights to protect. Genocidal murders that have descended to such depravity, the internet is full of perpetrators filming themselves burning their victims alive and cannibalising them.

For HRW however, seemingly virtually hypnotised by the need to demonise Rwanda, all this is overlooked. A determinedly blind eye is turned to the most depraved crimes, in pursuit of cobbled together unsubstantiated allegations of “rapes” “killings”, which are tenuously linked to Rwanda.


The apparent relish with which HRW repeatedly pours out allegations of “rapes and killings” verges on the prurient. In their zealousness to heap condemnations on the M23 group, they resort to almost puerile caricatures of evil.

“Survivors of reported cases of M23 fighters, raping women in front of their children and husbands…”

“A 46-year-old mother of six, who fled Mushaki in Masisi territory on February 25 with her 75-year-old mother, ran into a group of 10 M23 rebels, who took their money. “They wanted to rape us,” she said. “My mother said no, so they shot a bullet into her chest, and she died on the spot. Then four of them raped me. As they were raping me, one said: ‘We’ve come from Rwanda to destroy you.’”

This from a group which in an attempt to bolster accusations that it is supported by Rwanda, the UN has declared that they fight like a conventional military, not like an armed group. There are over 140 armed groups in the DRC, the number fluctuates as more are formed. Unlike the M23, almost all could not give a reason for their insurgency, and all prey on the local population.

The M23 group in contrast, fights only against government forces. The first thing it does on capture of an area, is try to win hearts and minds, by gathering the local population, and reassuring them that their safety is guaranteed. Moreover, the areas the group controls, and those in which, and for which they fight, are their areas of origin, populated by their relatives, people they know and who know them. The same people HRW tells us the group murders, rapes, the same areas they burn and pillage.

Except in passing, HRW barely mentions any the other armed groups, certainly not the so called Democratic Forces for the liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which targets Rwanda, and which together with the Congolese government, can be argued to be cause of the conflict and its continuation. The focus is instead on Rwanda, and M23.

In the often harrowing madness that is the DRC, human rights advocacy is as desperately needed as anywhere in any troubled part of the world. What we get from HRW however, is to paraphrase Johnson, a travesty of the truth, and a political crusade against Rwanda.

In so far as the truth matters for the end of the DRC crisis, HRW are part of the problem, cynically masquerading as a human rights organisation that calls for a solution to the conflict.


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