Mr. Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations
Department of Peacekeeping Operations
H.E. Prof. Alpha Oumar Konare
African Union Commission
Dear Mr. Guéhenno and Mr. Konare,
Human Rights Watch is writing to follow up on our concerns about General Karenzi Karake, named as Deputy Commander of the United Nations/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).
We appreciate the importance of Rwandan peacekeepers to UN peacekeeping operations. We also appreciate the well publicized difficulties in assembling an operational UNAMID force with all the resources that it requires. As emphasized in the joint NGO report "UNAMID Deployment on the Brink" published by Human Rights Watch and others this week, it is essential that governments provide the equipment that you require and that Khartoum ends its obstructiveness.
We also believe, however, that it is crucial that UN commanders should be above reproach when it comes to the protection of civilians, and that issues of such importance cannot be set aside, whatever the circumstances. We believe that a number of important concerns regarding General Karake's military record with regard to the protection of civilians must be investigated and appropriate action taken following such an investigation.
In this letter, we wish to focus particularly on the killings of civilians in the city of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo in June 2000. Press accounts identify General Karake as the commanding officer of Rwandan troops who fought against Ugandan army forces at Kisangani during that period. His own comments make clear that he had command of those forces at that time.
During that conflict, both sides acted with blatant disregard for the lives of the civilians present in Kisangani, Congo's third largest city. According to a UN inter-agency assessment mission, more than 760 civilians were killed and 1,700 injured during four days of battle. Heavy artillery was used in a populated area of the city by the belligerents resulting in the destruction of schools, health centers, and churches as well as hundred of homes. Then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "There can be no possible justification for this reckless victimization of the civilian population, who are trapped in a conflict not of their own making."
The UN Security Council, in Resolution 1304 adopted on June 16, 2000, expressed "outrage" and "unreserved condemnation," including at the failure of both Rwandan and Ugandan forces to comply with their commitments under international law, and deplored the loss of civilian lives.
The Security Council also called on Rwanda and Uganda to make reparations, including for the loss of civilian life, a recommendation that to our knowledge has never been implemented. The same Security Council resolution, while condemning all massacres and atrocities carried out, directed that an assessment mission be sent to Kisangani to determine the extent of Congolese losses, and urged that an international investigation into the events be carried out with a view to bringing to justice those responsible.
In a December 4, 2000 letter, Secretary-General Annan sent the report of the assessment mission to the Security Council. The report speaks of "systematic violations of international humanitarian law and indiscriminate attacks on civilians" by both sides (UN document S/2000/1153, Report of the Interagency Assessment Mission to Kisangani, December 5, 2000, paragraph 18). While it is not known whether General Karake personally ordered indiscriminate attacks on civilians, General Karake was undoubtedly aware of the impact of Rwandan military operations on the civilian population, and had the authority to end these egregious violations.
As the commanding officer of the Rwandan forces engaged in Kisangani in June 2000, General Karake may bear direct or command responsibility for violations of international humanitarian law committed by Rwandan troops against Congolese civilians and civilian property.
Protection of civilians is at the heart of UN peacekeeping operations, such as that in Darfur. This is one of many reasons why it is imperative that officers of such forces, particularly high-ranking officers, be persons who have demonstrated strict adherence to international humanitarian law, particularly the protection of civilian life and property.
Human Rights Watch believes that it is appropriate and necessary to further investigate the conduct of General Karake and troops under his command at Kisangani in June 2000. If it is found that he bore responsibility for violations of international law, General Karake should be removed from his position as the Deputy Commander of UNAMID.
Further investigations by the United Nations should include contemporary reports by UN Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) staff present during the attack, and material gathered by the assessment mission but not included in its report. The investigation would permit final resolution of this troubling issue, which threatens to diminish the reputation of DPKO and soldiers serving in peacekeeping missions.
We would appreciate learning of steps you are taking in this regard.
UN Advocacy Director
cc: General M. L. Agwai, Force Commander, AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur;
Maj. General Paul Kagame, President of the Rwandese Republic