Under fire over Congo rebels, Rwanda lands council seat

Rwanda won the vote at the United Nations General Assembly session unopposed.

UNITED NATIONS: Rwanda – along with Australia, Argentina, Luxembourg and South Korea – won a seat on the U.N. Security Council Thursday, despite accusations by a U.N. panel that Rwanda’s defense minister commands a rebellion in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rwanda was unopposed in its bid for the African seat on the council that South Africa will vacate at the end of December, but still needed approval from two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly members present to secure the two-year term. It won 148 votes in the 193-nation assembly.

Argentina also was elected to the council unopposed, winning 182 votes. Australia won a seat with 140 votes, Luxembourg with 131 votes and South Korea with 149.

Cambodia, Bhutan and Finland failed in their bids to secure two-year seats on the council.

There are five veto-holding permanent members of the council – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – and 10 temporary members without veto power. Thursday’s election was for the term from Jan. 1, 2013, to Dec. 31, 2014.

Rwanda’s government said that it would work with all members of the council to ensure “it is responsive and reflective of the views and aspirations of the developing world.”

“Rwanda’s troubling and tragic past allows it to bring to the UNSC a unique perspective on matters of war and peace,” it posted on a Twitter account created for its Security Council term, @RwandaUNSC.

Before the vote, the Congolese delegation told the General Assembly it objected to Rwanda joining the Security Council, accusing its neighbor of harboring “war criminals operating in the eastern part of the DRC and who are being sought by international justice.”

A confidential U.N. report, seen by Reuters Tuesday, cast a shadow over Rwanda’s election to the 15-member U.N. power center – which has the ability to impose sanctions and authorize military interventions.

The Security Council’s “Group of Experts” said that Rwanda and Uganda – despite their strong denials – continued to support M23 rebels in their six-month fight against Congolese government troops in the east of the country.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame posted a declaration on Twitter welcoming the result: “No matter what haters say ... justice&truth will prevail!!! Sometimes it just requires a bit of good fight for all that ...!!!”

Speaking to reporters in New York, Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo complained about the timing of the leak of the experts’ report to Reuters two days ahead of the Security Council vote, but added that the leak was “predictable.”

She also sought to assure Congo that Rwanda would be a responsible council member. “I believe the Democratic Republic of Congo should see Rwanda on the Security Council as value addition,” she said after the vote.

Philippe Bolopion of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch criticized the inclusion of Rwanda on the Security Council.

“After blatantly violating the Security Council’s arms embargo and undermining the work of the U.N. by propping up the abusive M23 rebels, Rwanda is rewarded with a seat at the table,” he said.

“Kigali is now in a position to try to shield its own officials implicated in abuses from U.N. sanctions, which is a flagrant conflict of interest,” Bolopion said in a statement. “Other Security Council members now have an even greater responsibility to hold Rwanda to account.”

Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham put a more positive spin on Rwanda’s election, saying: “We look forward to working with them on issues of international peace and security including the efforts to try to end the cycle of violence in the eastern DRC.”

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr described Australia’s election as a “big juicy, decisive win” that endorsed the country as a good global citizen.

“For us as a middle power a long way from the centers of clout in the world, the centers of power in the world, this is a lovely moment,” Carr told reporters after the vote.

South Africa, Colombia, Germany, India and Portugal are leaving the Security Council in December. Azerbaijan, Guatemala, Pakistan, Togo and Morocco will remain until the end of 2013.

The last time Rwanda was on the council was in 1994-95. That coincided with a genocide in which 800,000 people were killed when Rwanda’s Hutu-led government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day killing spree, massacring Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The Congolese government Wednesday demanded targeted international sanctions against Rwandan and Ugandan officials named in the U.N. experts’ report.

According to the U.N. experts, who monitor compliance with sanctions and an arms embargo on the Congo, Rwandan Defense Minister General James Kabarebe was ultimately commanding the rebellion and both Rwanda and Uganda were providing weapons, troops and military and political aid to the insurgency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 19, 2012, on page 10.




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