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The deadline for disarmament of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) has passed without the Congo-based rebel group surrendering. The FDLR’s future is uncertain, but there are a number of reasons why these anti-Kagame rebels are reluctant to disarm.

2 January 2015 marked the deadline laid down by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) for the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to voluntarily disarm. What will happen? There has been no apparent movement toward the so-called ‘transition camps’.

As this deadline has been approaching, there have been contradictory messages regarding what would happen to FDLR combatants who disarmed. Mr Russ Feingold, US special envoy for the Great Lakes region, had announced: ‘those who will disarm will be taken in transition camps where they will be taken in a third country’ while Martin Kobler, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to the DRC and Head of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), called for the FDLR to ‘disarm and go back to Rwanda peacefully’.

Since its inception, the FDLR has made several requests to have a dialogue with the Rwandan government in order to find a peaceful solution. However, none of the interlocutors – the UN, the SADC, or the Kagame government - has responded to such overtures. The government has repeatedly rejected all FDLR requests to engage in dialogue, arguing it would not negotiate with ‘genocidal forces’.

In fact, far from encouraging dialogue, the UN has advocated the forcible disarmament and repatriation of FLDR combatants. This, despite the general knowledge that the vast majority of FDLR combatants are orphans and survivors of several massacres of Rwandan Hutu refugees that occurred in the DRC between October 1996 and June 2003 and that these were perpetrated by the current Rwandan army. These massacres and possible genocide of the Rwandan Hutu refugees in the DRC were documented in the UN report called DRC Mapping Exercise report.

The UN at least should have understood the unwillingness of the FDLR combatants to return to Rwanda in view of their experiences with the Rwandan government forces coupled with the lack of any effort of the international community to hold Rwanda accountable for the crimes against humanity that they have personally experienced.

There are (according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR">) more than 200,000 unarmed Rwandan refugees in DRC. What prevents these civilians from going back home? If they feel unsafe to return to Rwanda, it is unlikely that those who are armed will feel safe.


If the FDLR does not comply with the deadline, the DRC army is expected to be part of the force that is supposed to attack and forcibly disarm FDLR combatants. In the past, the government of the DRC has sought and received effective support from FDLR combatants to fight against the Rwandan government forces and the Rwanda-backed Congolese rebels of the Rally for the Congolese Democracy (RCD) which invaded Congo and resulted in a war known as the Second Congo war or Great War of Africa.

As documented in a report by the UN group of experts’ reports, the DRC government is very much aware that it is the current Rwandan government that has fuelled conflicts in its Eastern Provinces that have resulted in humanitarian crises and the loss of thousands of lives. The DRC government is also aware of how Rwanda has been systematically looting its minerals.

These actions by the Rwandan government have undoubtedly created sympathy for the FDLR cause (of freedom and democracy in Rwanda) within the Congolese population, army and political leadership. Those unfortunate Rwandan actions have no doubt also created strong feelings of hatred and resentment amongst the Congolese populace towards the Rwandan government and its leaders for causing unbearable suffering in the DRC.

This negative feeling toward Rwanda was demonstrated by several protests by DRC citizens against the armed actions by the Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in north Kivu province. This was also demonstrated by the spontaneous eruption of joy and celebration by thousands of the Congolese after hearing the rumour of the death of the Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

Furthermore, it is also important to note that the Congolese population, particularly those living in the east, have never protested against the FDLR, despite all the UN and Rwandan government allegations of war crimes and rape against the FDLR.


Tanzania is one of the main contributors of troops to the UN Force Intervention Brigade, which was supposed to attack the FDLR and forcibly disarm them if they failed to comply with the 2 January 2015 deadline. In trying to find a solution to the FDLR and other armed groups in the east of the DRC, the Tanzanian President Kikwete has called for dialogue between the Rwandan government and the FDLR. The government of Rwanda’s response was a furious attack on President Kikwete, with Kagame calling President Kikwete’s proposal ‘hit him' for daring even to express that idea. Who would blame Tanzanian if it is reluctant to participate in the disarmament?

Who would blame Tanzania if it decides not to attack or demonstrates reluctance to attack the FDLR considering that the peaceful pathway of ending conflict that President Kikwete has proposed was rejected without being given a chance.

Who wold blame Tanzania if it decides not to attack or is reluctant to attack the FDLR considering that its long term and extensive experience in facilitating negotiations and dialogues between belligerent groups in the region has not been taken into consideration in the case of the FDLR and the Rwandan government. In fact, Tanzania has effectively and successfully facilitated peaceful negotiations between the previous Rwandan government and armed rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front – it has also successfully facilitated peaceful negotiations between the previous government of Burundi and armed rebels.

Who would blame Tanzania if it decides not to attack or demonstrates reluctance to attack the FDLR considering that FDLR combatants who would be disarmed and forcibly repatriated to Rwanda are more likely to receive treatment that might be harsher than the ‘hitting’ that Rwandan President Kagame had promised the Tanzanian President Kikwete.


South Africa is also another major contributor of troops to the UN Force Intervention Brigade which is supposed to forcibly disarm the FDLR now that the deadline has elapsed.

In the last four years, South Africa has been privy to Rwanda’s intolerance of its critics. The assassination attempt on South African soil of General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who is a former Rwandan army chief of staff, has infuriated South African authorities. The judge sentencing those who were accused of being part of the plot said that the ‘plot was politically motivated from a certain group of people from Rwanda’. The South African authorities were even more enraged when another Rwandan government opponent, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, was brutally murdered in South Africa; Rwandan government operatives are the main suspects. Who would blame South Africa should it decide not to participate in the disarming of the FDLR? Forcibly repatriating FDLR combatants who have been opposing the Rwandan government without a negotiated settlement would be, for the South African government, a fundamental breach to the values upon which its own governance system is based.


In a press conference held on 30 December 2014, the US special envoy for the Great Lakes region, Russell Feingold, announced ‘We all have a deep interest in ensuring accountability for those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide’. This unfortunately suggests that such ‘interest’ in ensuring accountability for those responsible of war crimes does not extend to those committed against Hutu refugees in Congo in the as described in the UN Mapping report, which documented more than 300,000 Hutu killed.

If the US had a genuine interest in ensuring justice for all the crimes committed in the Great Lakes region, particularly in the east of Congo, we would not be talking about FDLR today. As the vast majority of the current FDLR combatants only took up arms in order to protect themselves against the Rwandan government’s determination to wipe them out after they had endured assassinations, even massacres, by the Rwandan troops.

Both the US and the UN know that the vast majority of FDLR combatants are aged between 18 and 40; it would have been impossible for them to have masterminded the genocide that occurred in Rwanda 20 years ago, as the Rwandan government claims.

It can be agreed that it is important to end the threat of armed groups in the region, but this cannot be achieved by ignoring the grievances that have driven the FDLR to take up arms. It is ironic that while the US is punishing Rwanda by halting military aid as result of a UN report that documented the Rwandan government’s support to rebels that destabilised the DRC, it considers that the same government has the ability and the genuine willingness to provide justice and to effectively integrate its former armed enemies without an internationally-facilitated dialogue.


For its part, the FDLR has not made it clear whether it intended to disarm in full or whether it had its own timetable for achieving a peaceful solution. It was surprising to note that already a small number of combatants have officially handed in their weapons and joined the UN transition camps. But at this rate, the FDLR disarmament might take five years to complete.

The UN’s role in the FDLR disarmament should have been guided by its founding principles – that of maintaining peace and human rights. This could have been achieved by facilitating all initiatives that would have promoted dialogue between all the actors. Furthermore, the UN should have considered all the grievances and ensured that they were addressed long in advance of the deadline. Instead, it has been responsible for worsening the situation.

On many occasions when speaking about FDLR issues, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has ignored their calls for dialogue that could have resolved the issue peacefully. On 25 September 2014 in Kinshasa, The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ‘emphasised the importance of completing the disarmament of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, as soon as possible, noting that military action should remain an option, if necessary’.

Furthermore, he has refused to implement UN mapping report recommendations for the ‘creation of a mixed judicial mechanism made up of national and international personnel as one of various transitional justice measures to be considered to address the numerous international crimes committed in the DRC’. (Recall that most of the current FDLR combatants are too young to have participated in the genocide, have survived subsequent massacres by the Rwandan government and have lost many of their relatives.) If the UN had implemented the recommendations of its Report of the Mapping Exercise, the FDLR would now be history.

In the meantime, survivors of Rwandan government massacres and current FDLR combatants who will refuse to disarm peacefully might be attacked and some of them will undoubtedly lose their lives in what has been internationally-coordinated injustice against them and their rights since October 1996.

We fear that the FDLR will be attacked and many will lose their lives. And, as history has taught us, those who survive will undoubtedly continue to take up arms and keep dying until the UN and Rwanda decide to effectively honour their responsibilities.

*Rene Claudel Mugenzi is the founder and chairman of the Global Campaign for Rwandan's Human Rights and current CEO of the London Centre Social Impact, a social innovation and community development think tank.

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