Roundtable Discussion with Rwandan JournalistsJendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
April 8, 2006
Assistant Secretary: Thank you (To Ambassador Arietti)
Assistant Secretary: Good morning. I want just spend at least one minute giving you the purpose of my visit and some of the issues that were discussed over the course of the last seven days. I have traveled to four countries; Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, Burundi and to Rwanda, to look at the issues of regional stability and security in the Great Lakes and also to assess the usefulness of our Tripartite Plus mechanism which was intended to bring together the governments of Rwanda, Congo, Burundi and Uganda to support regional cooperation and increase diplomatic relations among the countries. Also our new cell, which is located in Kisangani, which has the intelligence officers of each of the countries working together to identify issues in eastern Congo that threaten regional stability; and to talk to MONUC and the UN about what role they are playing, how they see the state of affairs in terms of stability of the region.
In Rwanda, I also had an opportunity to meet with a broad spectrum of officials and civil society members looking at the questions of social and economic development, to work on strengthening US/RWANDAN cooperation and also to attend the national genocide commemoration in Nyamasheke yesterday.
And here in Rwanda I had an opportunity to go to Gisenyi to look at COOPAC which is working on specialty coffee, and which USAID is helping to fund and assist. We also had an opportunity to meet with Rwandan parliamentarians, to discuss the development of parliament as a reflection of constituents and the promotion of democracy. And I have met with various senior Rwandan officials, including President Kagame.
But it has been a great week of travel. I have learned a lot, I am very encouraged by what I have seen here in Rwanda, over the past at least three years since I was last here. There seems to be remarkable change and progress, especially on the economic side, but also in terms of stability within this region, the relationship with Congo seems to be improving significantly. I think the dialogue among the leadership of this region is looking to a future of peace and prosperity for their people.
And with that, I will take any questions that you might have.
Questions: My name is Théophile Ndizihiwe, working for Radio 10. And my first question is about the Human Rights Report about Rwanda. I would like to know, because you are here I think since the day before yesterday. And I think may be you have talked to some people here in Rwanda, how did you find the situation and what can you say about that report?
Assistant Secretary: Well, I think that, as you know the human rights report is a report that we do with other countries around the world. The human rights report, when it was first established under, I believe, Jimmy Carter's presidency, with our Congress, we did not look sufficiently at human rights in the conduct of our foreign policy. So they wanted to mandate that we do this human rights report, so they would be ensured that the US Government was addressing human rights, in our considerations of our bilateral relations.
In the case of the report, I think the most important thing is that we have established a dialogue with the Government of Rwanda. The Government has established a high level group to examine human rights issues and in that regard the is taken very seriously, and is having the effect that we would want, which is to lay out what are the issues…you know, investigations are based on many, many different sources; and then to engage the government on these issues. What I think is important is that since the last report in 2004, this new report noted many areas of improvements, including the absence of politically motivated disappearances, better prisons conditions, increased judicial independence and fewer reports of police abuse of suspects. So I think there are areas of improvement. Clearly our countries have areas where they can further improve, and I think that again the most important thing is that we now have a mechanism, and the Government of Rwanda has shown the willingness to establish this high level dialogue between our two governments on the issues.
Question: I am Eugene Mutara, from Contact FM; I just wanted to know the American position twelve years later, when you look back upon when the Genocide was taking place.
Assistant Secretary: The American position after twelve years?
Eugene Mutara: Yes.
Assistant Secretary: Well, I think first it is important to remember the great tragedy that occurred twelve years ago and to recognize the continuing suffering of the people of Rwanda, as a result of that legacy. I also think it is important that this government is attempting to reconcile communities, to work on…you know, bring together those survivors as well as perpetrators of violence. So, it is a huge challenge. And I think, no country can underestimate the difficulties of bringing communities back together, living in close borders. The United States will continue to work with the Government of Rwanda in grappling with the many challenges, whether they will be social, psychological, the health challenges—there are many women who have been raped and abused during the genocide. But also I think it is important that Rwanda stands as a symbol to the world of what we must not allow to occur again. And in this regard, I think that Rwanda's participation in the efforts to stop the genocide occurring in Darfur are extremely important and symbolic; and we all need to pay increased attention to Sudan and work to end the crisis, the war that is taking place there.
Question: I am Julius Mwesigye, from the New Times. What is your view on reparations for genocide survivors?
Assistant Secretary: Well, the US Government wouldn't have a position on issues of reparation. That is an internal matter for the government to deal with with its citizens. What we will do is support the government and civil society in trying to assist survivors. But also trying to build the economy, to build the politic more broadly. So, I think that, you know this issue specifically of reparations is really an internal matter. Again what we need to do is increase the prosperity of all Rwandan citizens, including that of survivors.
Question: Arthur Assimwe, from Reuters. How did you view the remarks from President Paul Kagame at the national genocide commemoration? Also, there are questions on Sudan. Do you think the refusal of the Government of Sudan of UN troops in Darfur will increase the suffering in Darfur?
Assistant Secretary: I think it is very…it is disappointing to say the least, because there is already a UN Mission in Southern Sudan. This is the government that took steps to negotiate a peace agreement after 22 years of war with the southerners and it is almost inexplicable they say that there shouldn't be a UN force in Darfur to protect the lives of the citizens there. This is a government that unleashed the Janjaweed against its own population to try to crush a rebellion; that was a miscalculation; it is a crime against humanity; and they should not be refusing assistance from the international community--as reflected in a UN Mission--to operate to bring about an to end to the humanitarian crisis that is taking place there; to assist the African Union mission that is working hard to protect the lives of various people. So it is tremendously disappointing and hard to understand. And we in the United States, we will certainly continue to engage the Government of Sudan to push them to change their position and we will continue to work with the UN, which took as a decision of the UN Security Council Resolution 1663 which authorizes UN Mission in Darfur, as well as a Security Council communiqué of March 10 th which said that the AMIS force should be integrated in to the UN force. I think the international community has spoken. And there should not be any delay from the Government of Sudan; and it is difficult for anyone to understand how they would not want the helpless people in Darfur to be protected and be provided the humanitarian assistance that they need.
Assistant Secretary on the question of President Kagame's remarks:
I think it is very evident when you listen to the survivors. He has…the country has a very difficult path ahead, even after twelve years following the Genocide. The process of reconciliation and remembrance is always difficult. I was asked a question about how can you assist the survivors, the children of survivors. This is really a difficult issue to grapple with; where is the sense of remorse of the perpetrators of the Genocide? And also ownership. Do they actually take responsibility of the actions that they carried out? So I think in the context of that difficult national healing, President Kagame was stating that it is not helpful for outsiders to criticize the government. What he is seeking is our assistance. And I think he was also saying that no government is perfect. And these difficult issues do not have easy solutions. Also he wants the international community's assistance and support and partnership, not standing apart from and criticizing when the international community itself had a certain responsibility for the genocide by standing aside while it occurred. .
So, I took his remarks very positively and I took them as reaching out hands to all communities, both internally as well as externally.
Question: I am Isaac Mugabi from Radio Rwanda. Why is the U.S. taking so long to intervene in Darfur? And what kind of definition do you give it? Is it genocide, ethnic cleansing…or…
Assistant Secretary: The United States is clearly saying that what is taking place in Darfur is genocide. President Bush has said that many times. The United States is taking a lot of proactive steps to try to end the situation. We are the major provider of humanitarian assistance there; we are the major provider of assistance to the African Union Mission there; we have been in the lead in trying to push for a peace keeping operation there; we have been active in trying to push for a peace agreement; in Abuja we have a senior level representative, assisting the AU mediator; we have military experts assisting the AU mediator, as well as various parties. So we are very very actively involved on a diplomatic plan; on the humanitarian plan and in terms of trying to provide stability and peace trough peacekeeping operations.
Question: When hundreds thousands of Rwandans were being killed, I mean during the 1994 genocide, your country did not send troops to stop that genocide, but, later you were able to send hundreds of soldiers. What can you say to some Rwandans who may think that may be they have been victims of not having oil in their country?
Assistant Secretary: First of all let me say that the genocide in Rwanda taught a lesson to the United Nations and to the international community that we can't stand by while atrocities are occurring. U.S. interests in Sudan are not about oil. We have sanctions on the Government of Sudan. I personally sign off on licenses for any U.S. company that would want to do business in Sudan. I have not signed a single license for an oil company. You are not buying any American oil from a company operating in southern Sudan. And that is because we are not in Sudan because of oil. We are in Sudan for one purpose only and we have been there since 2001. And that is to stop the killings. Initially it was in southern Sudan, when President Bush took Office in 2001, the Government of Sudan was bombing innocent people in the south. They were bombing churches; they were bombing medical centers; we negotiated an agreement, we worked with the Kenyans to mediate an agreement between the government and SPLM. We had hoped that in the process of negotiating an agreement the Government of Sudan would change its nature. But what we found is that it is exactly the same tactics now being used in Darfur. And we are involved in Darfur just as we were involved in southern Sudan--to stop the killing.
I believe it is extremely important to say that it is not just the international community that needs to speak out against this atrocity. African countries themselves need to speak out. They have taken a lot of leadership in terms of Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and some other countries contributing troops. But now it is time to give those troops the capability, actually to end the violence, and to do that you need those troops to become a blue helmeted force. We have done this before. We did it in Burundi-- Mozambique, South Africa, and in Ethiopia. We went there as an AU force, eventually they were blue helmeted. We did it in Liberia; we have done it in Cote d'Ivoire. We have excellent success in this model of a regional force going in first and then the UN force coming in and building up its capability. We cannot understand why this is not a model that would succeed in Sudan and why the African Union and the international community would essentially allow the Government of Sudan a veto over the international response to stop the killing.
Question: Millions of dollars are used to bring just one criminal to justice in Arusha [at the ICTR]. So many millions are used. Some of the beneficiaries (the end of the question is not audible)
Assistant Secretary: Okay, I understand. You are asking about a particular case?
Assistant Secretary: A particular case of a Rwandan lawyer who is himself a suspect. Is he indicted by the ICTR?
Journalist: Rwanda has said about this (not audible)………many many times….
Assistant Secretary: Our tax dollars are there to support the ICTR. This issue of impunity is one we as an international community are still grappling with. There are many different matters of bringing these people to justice. Our tax…you asked about tax dollars paid. Our tax dollars are there because this court has indicted certain individuals. If it doesn't indict this defense lawyer, our tax paid dollars would still be there. But I think the rule of law has to develop. It is…because I don't know the particular case you are talking about, because I know… I would assume that this defense lawyer is not indicted otherwise he wouldn't be allowed to be a defense lawyer. I mean …I am speaking in general terms not on this particular case, because I don't know the individual and the particular case. But…you know, we have the ICTR, we have supported ICTY; we just brought Charles Taylor before a special court for Sierra Leone; we obviously are grappling with matters to address the issue of impunity. So if this individual investigation was done and he was found indictable, then I think, the rule of law would follow.
Question: Helen Vesperini from AFP. I have two questions. How concerned are you about the recent deterioration in Rwanda – Uganda relations? Concerning what you said on the common intelligence cell in Kisangani. I am trying to talk about the political head of FDLR Murwanashayaka, who surrendered himself and was arrested yesterday by the German Police. If confirmed, how significant is situation going to be?
Assistant Secretary : Thank you. Not too concerned about the deterioration of relations between Uganda and Rwanda. Because I think that they have an exchange of Ambassadors; so the issues that are raised can be addressed in one or more diplomatic channels; they also continue to participate in the Tripartite process; so it helps to build confidence; so I think between countries there are always diplomatic challenges; diplomatic events, you know …I don't know how you would call it…incidences. But I think that these two countries are able to address those incidences.
I am much more concerned from the point of view of regional stability about what is taking place in Ituri. There is a report about some negative forces in Ituri receiving weapons through Uganda, through a border of Uganda. I am not saying the Government of Uganda is supplying weapons. I am saying the border is close and weapons seem to be flowing from that direction.
That is the report I received when I was in Congo. That is something of much greater concern I think, to all of the countries in the region. You know…diplomatic scandals between… I don't know if we call it scandal, but the diplomatic incidents between Uganda and Rwanda, they will occur and we do have a Tripartite process to try to build confidence whenever the two countries start having chilly relations. You remember that over the course of the last six years, and I say six years because that is when I started this process under President's Bush leadership, there were times when Uganda and Congo had very warm relations, and Congo and Rwanda had chilly relations.
On the question of the FDLR, I haven't received that report. So I have no confirmation if that is the case. If it is the case, then I think it could be significant if it leads to the leadership of the FDLR allowing the young soldiers that they basically are holding hostage in Congo to return home and to become part, to reintegrate to Rwandan society. I had a chance to visit the Mutobo reintegration center. And I had a chance to talk extensively to some of the young soldiers who were part of FDLR; they spoke about basically being held hostage there by the FDLR leaders. And that they were being shot when they tried to reach MONUC positions so that they could be repatriated home. Most of them say that life is hard in the jungle there in the eastern Congo and they would like to come home. Most of these young people at Mutobo were kids during the genocide, you know, and the FDLR leaders insist they stay there. One of the young returnees said that, you know, they [the FDLR leadership] need to justify their own presence there by having a large number of youth around them. So this is one part in a big process of ending the FDLR extremist ideology and criminality both against Congolese citizens in eastern Congo as well as against Rwandans who have been basically held hostage. I think it is a very significant start.
Question: Evan Weinberger from Focus . Does the US support sending Charles Taylor to The Hague and a change of jurisdiction to the ICC or having a trial in Freetown?
Assistant Secretary: The issue of Charles Taylor going to The Hague is not an issue of change of jurisdictions of the court. The special court for Sierra Leone would be the court that will try Charles Taylor. It is a matter of assessment of his impact on stability in the neighboring states in West Africa. President Johnson-Sirleaf and others have said that he is a destabilizing factor, and that they would propose that the trial venue be held elsewhere. The Hague has the court; they have the jail cells; they have the infrastructure to conduct an international trial with international standards. And so that is why The Hague is seen as a venue that the special prosecutor has made a request. The United States supports the special prosecutor and the Government of Liberia's assessment of the impact of the trial on regional stability; so we have no objection to the change of the venue while the jurisdiction of the trial remains under the special court for Sierra Leone.
Question: Maybe another question to Ituri. What do you think of the implication of having Thomas Lubanga brought to the international court?
Assistant Secretary : I think that the issue of Lubanga is a start not a finish. And I think it is extremely important. I think Thomas Lubanga, Charles Taylor and many others should serve as a warning to the Government of Sudan officials that we are not going to accept impunity; that those people who are carrying out responsibility for atrocities have to understand that they will be held accountable. So I think Thomas Lubanga would be among those who may go…who may be sent …you know, to the ICC. But I think what is important is that in Africa, there is increasingly justice for the people who have been victimized by these individuals. And I think that this is the important lesson.
Question: Do you think (not audible) would lead to the implication of Ugandans and Rwandan officials for the fighting in Ituri.
Assistant Secretary : I think you can't speak in abstraction, I think you have to look specifically at the investigation and evidence on a case. And certainly officials are responsible for atrocities as well. Let's look at the particulars of any investigation. But there is no reason to rule out officials who are responsible; I mean we learned that in Rwanda where genocide was conducted, it was organized and conducted by many officials. And they have to be held accountable when they abuse the trust of the public. They used their official positions to organize atrocities. But I think we have a standard rule of law, where there has to be an investigation. Even Charles Taylor, who the United States clearly believes has conducted many many atrocities in causing instability with Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and elsewhere. He has the right to a defense. It is necessary to ensure the rule of law.
Question: Is the United States encouraged as regards developments with the DRC?
Assistant Secretary : Well, Yes. We are actually encouraged by the progress of the elections. Twenty-six million Congolese registered to vote; they were successful in carrying out a referendum on the constitution; candidates have registered to stand, both for parliament and the presidency; the independent electoral commission is working hard and well according to everyone's assessment to try to carry out these elections; MONUC is providing security and assuring the people; even the people of the east turned out in number to vote for the referendum which we think suggested there will be a successful national election. So, yes, we are encouraged by the progress.
Now the accord that was written in Sun City provide for a very tight schedule of things that have to happen before elections occur. And so, clearly we are concerned about the June 18 date, whether they would be able to make it by that day. The goal is obviously to conduct those elections on June 18, but given the necessary steps that have to be taken, if the date slips, we hope it won't slip very far. That was the nature of the discussion when I was in Congo of the possibility, because of the delay; they have delayed certain elements at the deadline to register to give more chance for all of the provinces to have candidates to stand for parliamentary elections. There were some delays in registration. We also hoped that Tsishekedi's party would also register. Unfortunately that didn't happen. But I think every chance was given to UDPS to field a candidate for president. But in general, yes, we are quite satisfied and we will continue to support the efforts.
Question: So, you are saying elections will be held on June eightieth?
Assistant Secretary: The effort…everybody's effort must be focused on getting those elections held on June 18. It is just there are many things that have to happen before June 18, in order to conduct the elections in a fair and free way. Ballots have to be printed. The UN has to go through all its internal processes of deciding who might print those ballots. You know to get the contract. So they are just…there are so many things on the calendar …you know, it is just an assessment that…if those things …there are so many things it might not be possible to get them all done before June 18.
Question: The US Government is supporting coffee from Rwanda. After your visit to COOPAC in Gisenyi, what is your assessment? What would you tell them in order to be competitive in the US market?
Assistant Secretary: I think Rwanda's coffee growers have adopted a very smart strategy of trying to get into the high end of the US market and to do so through quality control. And the process that I saw was transformation. The fact that Rwandan coffee is being sold in Starbarks around the world is very significant. The fact that many members of their community now are getting the benefit of that new economic trade relationship is…you know allowing people to go to school, it allows people to have a bank account, allowing people to get credit; I think it is a very transformative role, I think you know, when you compete in the international market, you have to find your niche and coffee growers all around this continent--around the world--the goal is to really seek out that niche market. I think it was a very smart strategy of one of the partners of your government.
Do you want to add something to that? (Asking the Ambassador)
Ambassador Arietti: No, just to say that I think you find people's income is going up significantly, because they get so much more in return for coffee. Obviously it has a real impact on each person's well being.
Assistant Secretary: You are asking me question there? (Laugh)
Question: Yes, Julius Mwesigye f rom the New Times.
Assistant Secretary: Go ahead.
Julius Mwesigye: Back on the other issue of Congo. Why is it for the UN to choose who prints the ballots?
Assistant Secretary: Well, the UN has to go trough its own on internal procurement process. And it is assisting in the conduct of these elections. And you know, providing financial assistance as has the European Union and many other international partners. And so, you know the UN, in my understanding they have that part, they are helping the national independent electoral commission to provide the materials for the elections. So they have to go trough their internal procurement to do so. They have to be there to vet …you know who might be …you know …I think there is a Canadian company that is competing, I think South Africa has offered…and so they have to go trough a process to get the material. So this is not unusual, they provide the ballot boxes; they provide printed materials for elections around the world. They have an expertise there.
Question: The Chadian government has accused the Sudanese Government of supporting rebel groups going to Chad. Have there been any reports of forces going there or from Chad to Sudan?
Assistant Secretary: Well, yes. Rebel groups are going to Chad and Chadian rebel groups are going to Sudan. Unfortunately you have internal conflict taking place in Chad, where you have mass defections from its military and you have atrocities taking place in Darfur, where the government is backing various militias and rebels, and so you definitely have the movement of rebels between that border. The regional countries have tried to bring about some type of rapprochement between Chad and Sudan. They had a meeting in Tripoli; and they had a meeting in N'Djamena; and I think they are continuing to have this discussion. Others are in other places to try to lower the tension between these two countries. But the fact is that it is in an extremely loose border with conflict on both sides.
Any other questions?
Question: My question is about prisoners who are in Guantanamo. A UN special commission published a report saying that …it is about their rights. The report says their rights are not respected. So I don't know what is your position, if you are going to close that prison and …I don't know…
Assistant Secretary: No, we are not going to close the prison. I think our position has been very clear that the UN clearly has a role to play in investigating the conditions in prisons. But it would be helpful, if they write the report, to actually visit the prisons that they write the report about. And so, I think we are not satisfied with that report in terms of investigations. And no I don't think there is any intention at this point to close Guantanamo; as well the war on terrorism. We have to detain terror suspects who attack the United States as well as you may know, other countries we are partnering with around the world, like Kenya and Tanzania. So, no, we are not planning to close it that any time soon.
Ambassador Arietti: Thank you very much.