The government of Paul Kagame continues to relentlessly support, arm and command rebel groups such as the M23, which commit war crimes and human rights violations in Congo
The Rwandan Genocide was 19 years ago. Though the genocide ended in 1994, its consequences are still deeply felt today. For myself and other survivors, those memories are ever present. We have never forgotten the horrors we lived through as unimaginable violence overtook our country. We grapple with mixed emotions, trying to process and come to terms with today’s reality. Our struggle has evolved from physical survival to that of the emotional turmoil caused by our trauma. Some days, we are grateful to be alive, to breathe, and to feel. Other days are fraught with anger, guilt, and sadness. We wrestle with endless, unanswerable questions. Many days we feel unworthy to be alive. We cannot comprehend why we are still alive and why many others perished. Why me, we wonder? Why not my family or friends? We wonder why we had to witness their demise and are angry because we felt so helpless. Try as we might, we can never reverse the darkest moments of our lives. We cannot undo the damage, no matter how hard we wish we could. The genocide was real, it happened, and we live with its consequences to this very day. I was a powerless child, but still, what if there was something I could have done? And what if it happened again?
It is precisely this fear of another genocide carried out by the perpetrators of the genocide of 1994 that motivated the current Rwandan government’s first invasion of Congo in 1996. It is this fear that has sustained the Rwandan government’s justification for repeated intervention in the Congo over the last 16 years. And it is precisely why the world continues to live with the consequences of the Rwandan Genocide. Even though as survivors of the Rwandan Genocide we understood the security the Rwandan government sought when they first invaded Congo, we did not sanction the human catastrophe they triggered. We did not sanction the torture, rape, and possible genocide of women, children, and the elderly that were targeted in Congo when the Rwandan Government sent troops inside of Congo for ‘our protection’. And we certainly did not sanction the government of Rwanda’s ‘Six-Day War’ against Uganda over a diamond mine inside Congo, leaving significant numbers of Congolese people dead, injured, and displaced. And even now, we do not sanction the violation of the United Nations arms embargo, undermining of peace deals and processes, and commanding proxy rebel groups who kill, torture, rape, and displace people, while illegally capturing cities in Congo. And most of all, we do not sanction any attempt to annex any part of Congo in our name.
Since the first invasion, more than five million people have died in Congo, making it the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. And many of those deaths lie at the hands of the Rwandan government. These are hard truths we must swallow. Not only must we come to terms with crimes that were committed against us, we must now deal with crimes committed in our names. These crimes are not simply committed in our names, the survivors of the Rwandan Genocide, but in the name of the entire global community that stands still, providing tacit approval. They are also committed for the same international community that justifies, excuses, and protects the Rwandan government, as it continues to wreak havoc in the Congo. Though we could not stop or stand up against the violent acts that were committed against us during the Rwandan genocide, we can and we must stop and stand up against crimes committed against others, crimes committed in our name in Congo.
After sixteen years of invasion and intervention through proxy groups, it is still difficult for people in the international community to accept that the Rwandan government is guilty of anything but justified intervention in Congo. But members of the international community must look past the glowing economic reviews, look past the constant denials and well-oiled public relations machine, and deal with the hard truths. The Rwandan government is committing unspeakable crimes against humanity in the Congo under false pretenses, and we must stop it. U.S. President Barack Obama understood this when as senator, he authored and passed into law the Democratic Republic of Congo Relief, Security and Democracy Promotion Act, PL 109-456 in 2006 that called for accountability for those of Congo's neighbors that destabilize the country. And he understood it last summer when he cut $200,000 in military aid to Rwanda. And he understood it last December when he personally made a call to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and asked him to cease support of the M23 rebel group, currently wreaking havoc in Congo.
Despite all these steps from the Obama administration to address the conflict, the Rwandan government continues to relentlessly support, arm, and command rebel groups such as the M23, while these groups continue to commit war crimes and human rights violations in Congo. It is precisely because we refuse to swallow these hard truths that the Rwandan government continues to commit such atrocities unchallenged and with impunity. If we can muster the courage to face these truths, we can impose accountability measures consistent with the degree of suffering and instability wrought by the Rwandan government against the Congolese people. We can and we should sanction and impose travel bans on and freeze the assets of identified Rwandan military personnel responsible for committing atrocities in Congo. And we should cut or withhold military aid to a dangerous regime that wages and sponsors war and conflict in the territory of another nation.
Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide mourned and commemorate the 19th anniversary of the genocide this past spring. As we commemorate our loved ones, we continue to grapple with traumas of our past, and issues of our present. Our responsibility lies in what we do with our future, and how we stand up to evil perpetrated against our neighbors. We, along with the rest of the world, must no longer refuse to swallow difficult and painful truths, and dedicate consistent focus and action towards resolving the deadliest conflict since the Second World War in Congo.
* Alice Gatebuke is a Rwandan genocide and war survivor, Cornell University graduate, and a human rights activist. She is a co-founder of African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN).