- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2010

A draft U.N. report accusing the Rwandan army of massacring Hutus in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s is corroborated by findings of an international human rights group.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) postponed the release of the report on Thursday after leaked sections of the document prompted angry protests from Rwanda.

The draft report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, notes the “devastating consequences of the Rwandan genocide on the declining Zairian state” between March 1993 and June 1996. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was known as Zaire at the time.

It accuses Rwanda’s Tutsi-led army of killing tens of thousands of Hutus, including women, children and the elderly.

The period July 1996 to July 1998 was marked by the “relentless pursuit and mass killing” of Hutu refugees by members of the former Armed Forces of Rwanda and affiliated militias, the draft report says.

The report covers a period from March of 1993 to June of 2003.

“The period covered by this report is probably one of the most tragic chapters in the recent history of the DRC. Indeed, this decade was marked by a string of major political crises, wars and multiple ethnic and regional conflicts that brought about the deaths of thousands, if not millions, of people. Very few Congolese and foreign civilians living on the territory of the DRC managed to escape the violence, and were victims of murder, mutilation, rape, forced displacement, pillage, destruction of property or economic and social rights violations,” the draft report says.

Rwandan officials say their troops entered the former Zaire in pursuit of Hutu militias responsible for the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

The international watchdog Human Rights Watch extensively documented abuses that took place in former Zaire in the late 1990s.

The group’s researchers are familiar with most of the incidents document in the draft report, said Rona Peligal, acting director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “But even they are still shocked and horrified by the extent of the abuses perpetrated against the Congolese people, particularly by the Rwandan army and its Congolese allies,” she added.

“This is a very uncomfortable issue for the Rwandans because the report is quite a damning investigation of abuses committed in part by Rwandans and their Congolese allies,” Ms. Peligal said in a phone interview on Friday.

Rwanda has threatened to pull its troops out of U.N. peacekeeping missions in protest.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Thursday that she had postponed publication of the report to Oct. 1.

“Following requests, we have decided to give concerned states a further month to comment on the draft and I have offered to publish any comments alongside the report itself on 1 October, if they so wish,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement.

The U.N. has been under political pressure not to undertake this report.

“We had heard that the Rwandans were very much trying to dilute the report and prevent its publication and the fact that it has taken this long to publish is a testament to that,” Ms. Peligal said.

She said she initially had concerns that the report would be watered down, but added, “we believe that the delay will make possible the full publication of the report with Rwanda’s comments.”

Ms. Peligal said she was somewhat disappointed by the delay.

“But we also look forward to the report being published in full. That is the most important thing. And that proper action is taken on the report’s recommendation,” she added.

The report results from interviews and meetings with several hundred Congolese men and women.

“[N]o report could adequately describe the horrors experienced by civilian populations in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Ms. Pillay says in an introduction to the draft report. “Every individual has at least one story to tell of suffering and loss.”