Rwanda: The unresolved FDLR issue

Last January the conflict in North Kivu shifted once again with the arrest of CNDP rebel group leader Laurent Nkunda in Rwanda and the entry of the Rwandan national army (RDF) into the DR Congo to root out the FDLR rebel group in joint operations with the national Congolese army (FARDC). The joint offensive was hailed as a success and as a powerful symbol of a new spirit of collaboration between Congo and Rwanda. As Rebecca Feeley of the Enough Said blog explains, the Congolese Minister of Defense, Charles Mwando Nsimba, even went so far as to say that the FDLR threat had been “neutralized.”

Refugees International, a Washington based advocacy organization specialized on refugee issues, released a report in March on the situation in the Kivus. Their conclusions about the joint RDF-FARDC military operation against the FDLR were:

The attempted military solution to the FDLR appears far from having succeeded in crippling the rebel group, despite the recent disarmament of over 400 combatants by MONUC. Instead, the operations led to serious consequences for the Congolese in North and South Kivu, including significant new displacements.

The blog Stop the War in North Kivu commented on the report:

Not many organizations say publicly that the joint military operation has not been a success. I agree 100% with their analysis.

Refugees International also makes the point on the importance of dialogue as the only path for a durable solution to the FDLR presence in the DRC. Eurac expressed the same opinion a few weeks ago. Military solutions to political problems are, in most of the cases, a recipe for disaster.

The FDLR is a militia formed by the defeated Hutu refugees in the DR Congo, that allegedly counts among its ranks some members of the Interahamwe that carried out the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. According to the Wikipedia, during the 1998-2003 war it received extensive backing from the Congolese government who used the FDLR as a proxy force against the foreign armies operating in the country, in particular the Rwandan Patriotic Army and Rwanda-backed Rally for Congolese Democracy. Following several days of talks with Congolese government representatives held in Rome, in March 2005 the FDLR announced that they were abandoning their armed struggle and returning to Rwanda as a political party. However, the Rwandan government stated that any returning genocidaires would face justice, most probably through the gacaca court system.

Mattew Hugo of the blog Why won't they just go home questions Rwanda's position regarding the FDLR:

Historically, the Rwandan government has sought to implicate the entirety of the FDLR in the genocide. In 2004, the International Crisis Group estimated that the number of genocidaires amongst the rebels was roughly ten percent, with the vast majority having been small children in 1994. However in 2008, the Rwandan government provided the Congolese government with a list of suspected FDLR genocidaires containing 6,974 names, coincidentally the common estimate for the total number of rebels.

Stop the War in North Kivu quotes an article written by Nicolás Dorronsoro for the IECAH (Instituto de Estudios sobre Conflictos y Accion Humanitaria) [Es], that explains how political negotiation with the FDLR is taboo in Rwanda (translation from Spanish by Stop the War in North Kivu):

Desde que la ofensiva diplomática de los Estados Unidos y el Reino Unido propiciara el acercamiento entre la RDC y Ruanda, el único discurso con respecto al FDLR ha sido el del abandono inmediato de las armas y la completa derrota militar. Nadie osa hablar de la posibilidad de una negociación, por limitada que sea, con este grupo. Esto resulta sorprendente si tenemos en cuenta que el país al que los integrantes del FDLR aspiran a volver adolece de un extraordinario déficit democrático.

El pasado 19 de marzo, la experta norteamericana Ruth Wedgwood afirmaba ante el Comité de Derechos Humanos de Naciones Unidas que, a día de hoy, formar un partido político en Ruanda parece virtualmente imposible. Wedgwood hizo una reflexión interesante: recordó que las facciones hutu responsables del genocidio habían sido capaces de fomentar la masacre precisamente porque habían alimentado el miedo de que la población hutu sería oprimida y marginada. Lamentablemente, y con independencia de su indudable desarrollo económico, ese temido escenario se asemeja a la realidad actual de Ruanda, según muchos expertos. Filip Reyntjens, catedrático de la universidad de Amberes y uno de los mayores expertos en la región de los Grandes Lagos, afirmaba recientemente que no sólo las últimas elecciones locales ruandesas fueron manipuladas, sino incluso el informe mismo de los observadores electorales de la UE, que las consideró como válidas. Dado este déficit democrático, organizaciones como el European Network for Central Africa (EURAC), han abogado por una negociación política con el FDLR. Sin embargo, la cuestión continúa siendo tabú.

Since the diplomatic offensive headed by the US and the UK brought about an approach between the DRC and Rwanda, the only discourse regarding the FDLR has been that of immediate surrender and complete military defeat. No one dares to talk about the possibility of a negotiation, no matter how limited it may be, with this group. This seems surprising if we take into consideration that the country the FDLR aspire to return to suffers from an extraordinary democratic deficit.

Last March 19th, the American human rights expert Ruth Wedgwood affirmed at the UN Human Rights Comittee that forming a political party in Rwanda today seems virtually impossible. Wedgwood made an interesting reflection: she reminded that hutu factions responsible for the genocide had been capable of fostering the massacre because they had nourished the fear of hutu population being oppressed and marginalized. Unfortunately, and leaving aside the economic sucess Rwanda is undoubtedly experiencing, that feared scenario seem to be similar to actual Rwanda, according to many experts. Filip Reyntjens, Professor in the University of Antwerp and one of the most respected scholars in the Great Lakes region, recently affirmed that not only the last local elections in Rwanda were manipulated, but even the report of the EU electoral observers itself, which considered them as valid. Given this democratic deficit, organizations like the European Network for Central Africa (EURAC), have advocated for a political negotiation with the FDLR. However, this issue continues to be a taboo.

Congolese diaspora blogger Colored Opinions, quoted a former Force Commander of MONUC (UN peacekeeping in the DRC) that was also advocating for a political solution to the FDLR problem:

Former MONUC Force Commander, General Patrick Cammaert, was interviewed recently on dutch tv concerning the war in Congo. He said: “The problems have to be solved politicallly. That is true also concerning the genocidal hutus. President Kagame is strongly (involved) in that. The president of Rwanda sees the genocide-hutus as a threat to his country, I don't agree with that, I don't think that those genocide-hutus represent a threat to his country at all […]”

FDLR combattant in South Kivu wishing to enter the DDDR programme (picture by Steve Hege)

A young FDLR combatant wishing to demobilize speaking with Amani from South Kivu (picture by Steve Hege)

Matthew Hugo, who has worked in the Great Lakes region for a few years, illustrates the taboo that the FDLR issue is in Rwanda and the difficulties of the return and reintegration programs of FDLR combattants, with the story of former FDLR General Seraphin Bizimungu, known as Amani Amahoro, that he followed first-hand:

I first met Gen. Amani while I was conducting research on Rwandan refugees in 2005. He was the widely celebrated leader of an internal mutiny within the FDLR. Just five months prior, the FDLR’s political leadership surprisingly declared that they would unilaterally disarm and return en masse to Rwanda.

Amani emerged with the support of the Congolese government, and promised to lead the return movement despite the lack of security guarantees. In a press conference, he accused the group’s leadership of sabotaging the historic opportunity to remove themselves from the military equation of the region. The pretext of the rebel threat is what permitted the Rwandan government to continue to wage a proxy war against the Congo according to him.

By all accounts, including the Rwandan government itself, Amani was not suspected of any participation in the genocide and was widely considered a political moderate. During an interview I had with him, he claimed that fighting non-violently for political opening from within Rwanda was the only path to truly sustainable peace for the region.

[…] in December [2005] Amani fulfilled his promise and returned to Rwanda with over 150 loyal soldiers, one of the largest groups of ex-combatants since the inception of the UN’s demobilization and repatriation program (DDRRR). […]

Following his departure, Gen. Amani was rapidly transformed into the poster child of the UN’s sensitization efforts to promote future desertion amongst the FDLR. He was featured prominently in numerous pamphlets distributed to rebels throughout remote mountains and jungles as the quintessential example of how warmly Rwanda welcomed its brethren who chose to return home.

So compelling was Amani’s message that when I began working with DDRRR, I frequently put FDLR combatants in touch with him directly by Satellite phone from isolated areas of the Congolese jungle. His personal testimony was often enough to put to rest their fears of reprisals and incarcerations in Rwanda which were widely shared amongst the young rebels. Amani always sounded quite eager to respond to these calls and he often reiterated to the FDLR that real political change could only be achieved from within Rwanda.

And so compelling was Amani's message that, according to Matthew Hugo, Amani was featured in numerous DDRRR pamphlets distributed to rebels throughout remote mountains and jungles “as the quintessential example of how warmly Rwanda welcomed its brethren who chose to return home” and became “the poster child of the UN’s sensitization efforts to promote future desertion amongst the FDLR”. However, and in spite of the good example Amani set, genocide charges were brought against him in late 2008 and he was then summoned before the traditional Gacaca courts conducted by village elders. On January 22nd, two days after the Rwandan army began its joint military operations against the FDLR in the eastern Congo, the Gacaca elders condemned Amani to life in prison.

Matthew Hugo concludes his story expressing frustration at the seemingly permanent stalemate on the FDLR issue:

Thanks to this strategy of associating all political opposition with the genocide, the RPF’s Ugandan clique has managed to systematically tighten their stranglehold over power in Kigali. Not only did informal EU electoral observer reports suggest that they might have won as much as 98% of the vote in recent local elections, but even the U.S.’s legal expert on the UN Human Rights Committee stated that it is “virtually impossible to set up a political party in Rwanda“.

Nevertheless, despite resounding support for peace processes with the ruthless rebel groups in the region like the LRA and the FNL, the mere notion of political dialogue between Rwanda and the FDLR remains utterly inconceivable.

The blog Mo’dernity, Mo’problems recently commented on an article written by the director of Human Rights Watch on the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide:

In memory of the Rwanda genocide, Ken Roth keeps up the quality of Human Rights Watch Rwanda analysis after Allison Des Forge’s passing and writes:

[…] “The best way to prevent another genocide is to insist that Kagame stop manipulating the last one”.

As memories of the genocide turn 15, it seems like Rwanda is facing a tumultuous media anniversary. Recent coverage of the anniversary have attacked the ways in which the current Rwandan administration abuses the genocide as a form of political repression and a justification of warmongering.

le blog aboumashimango [Fr], a Rwandese diaspora blogger, calls for an end to civil and political rights violations in Rwanda :

Le génocide des Tutsi et massacres des Hutus démocrates (opposants politiques, défenseurs des droits de l'homme, journalistes… et populations civiles innocentes) de 1994 trouvent leur racines dans l'histoire politico-ethnique du pays, la fracture sociale, l'angoisse et la terreur, ainsi que la mauvaise gestion politique de la question ethnique. A cela s'ajoute l'absence de l'espace démocratique et de la culture des droits de l'homme.

[…] En ces moments où nous commémorons le 15ème anniversaire de Génocide des Tutsi et massacres des Hutus démocrates, j'appelle à la conscience de la Communauté internationale de faire preuve de courage pour mettre fin à des situations des violations flagrantes des droits civils et politiques que connaît le Rwanda, notamment le droit d'avoir une justice équitable…

The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and the massacres of democrat Hutu (political opponents, human rights defenders, journalists… and innocent civilian peoples) have their roots in the political and ethnic history of the country, the social dislocation, the fear and the terror, as well as the bad political management of ethnic issues. Added to all that is the absence of democratic space and of a human rights culture.

[…] At this moment when we commemorate the 15th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi and the massacres of democrat Hutu, I appeal at the conscience of the international community to show the courage to put an end to the blatant situations of civil and political rights violations happening in Rwanda, especially the right to a fair trial…


  • Hello all,
    Think that the only way to bring everesting peace in great lake scountries is to have a dialogue.
    And lets understand that not all the hutu have taken part in genocide, however if current Rwandan government want to demolish dialogue , it will say that FDLR are genocidias, hence rwandan army is made by both tribes.
    The problem is Western world , UN, Human Right , Amnesty and other strong NGOs, that doesnt want to tell the truth, the only solution for rwanda is not to understand that not every hutu has commited genocide, and when this is well understood, then dialogue and then peace.

  • Let peace be premordial inCentral Africa, especially in great lakes region of Africa. I am always surprised to see how these Western powerfull democratic countries could not provide a democratic processus to Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, and Uganda and other african countries I could not state here. When there is a conflict in africa. Almost the rest of the world do not care. When they wonna show they care , they are not interested in resolving fully the Rwanda conflicts. As I understand when the conflict erupts in family, school, and country ; it takes two or more parties in conflict. When you want resolve the conflicts , people in conflicts should be listened by the intervation parties in order to find the lasting peace within these parties in conflicts. Otherwise, peace will be always be artificial. Rwanda is facing the same situation now. Some people have better life. Otherones are being deprived of their human rights and do not have access to economic opportunities that are available in Rwanda. Africa needs democracy. It is the only way out of poverty, illeteracy, overpopulation, and war conflicts.

  • Women have led the world-renowned “gacaca,” community-based trials for more than 100,000 alleged perpetrators of the genocide. Read more about their actions to help Rwanda recover in a series of publications from The Institute for Inclusive Security:

  • hellol,i would like to say that kagame regime have been manipulated the whole world about rwandan tragedy,kagame participated in genocide in Rwanda and in congo but no one wants to talk about or do something about Kagame is crime ,Kagame is government using th Rwandan Genocide to silence everybody who dare to talk about RPF’s crimes,and crimes against humanity.we honesty Rwandan we are very tired of injustice and corrupt western countries which pretend to be democratic.we believe in peace,justice,a flank dialogue between Rwandans

  • Karen Patrick

    Twenty years since the genocide that brought them to DR Congo, FDLR leaders have found not only shelter, but status and riches.


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