Rwanda Peacekeeping: Goodwill or Blackmail?

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Human Rights Watch has criticized Rwanda for threatening to withdraw its peacekeepers from African Union/United Nation missions in Sudan, accusing President Paul Kagame’s government of using its contribution of peacekeepers as a shield against scrutiny, and a buffer against criticisms.

According to Carina Tertsakian, a Rwanda researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch: “We can understand that Rwanda is sensitive to the allegations that crimes were committed by its troops in DRC, but we think that this kind of threat and intimidation is really not helpful and even counterproductive,”

“It would give the impression that Rwanda has something to hide by preventing the publication of this report,” Tertsakian was quoted.

Rwanda Provides some 3,000 peacekeepers for the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur and the United Nations Mission in Sudan to boost its international image.

But following a leaked United Nations report last week that its troops had committed genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo sometime between 1996 and 1997, Rwanda threatened to pull out its soldiers from Darfur if the UN document was published.

“It is clear that by contributing troops to peacekeeping missions, Rwanda wants to get a positive image at the international level. I do think they hoped that because they are appreciated at the international level it may mean they get less criticism of their human rights record back home or elsewhere,” Tertsakian added.

“Saying ‘if you publish the report, we pull out’ is pure blackmail and another sign of political hooliganism. The report is there. Published or not, the content and the facts described in it must be addressed, honestly.

“A responsible government would say: ‘We want our name cleared as quickly as possible, and as long as these genocide accusations are there, we will not participate in any UN-backed peacekeeping operation” analyzes Rwanda info.

But Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said the UN cannot have it both ways: “You cannot accuse our army… and want the same army to be a disciplined moral army to protect civilians around the world.”

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay announced Thursday last week that the report would be published in October, after concerned states were given time to comment.

In the wake of accusations regarding arbitrary arrests, torture and other violations including a lack of political freedom, and disregard for human rights some African nations have relied on their contributions of peacekeepers to certain AU/UN missions as a shield.

Rwanda joins nations like Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi that have played politics with their peacekeepers contributions to the AU/UN in the face of criticisms as a shield against scrutiny.

However, Ej Hogendoorn, a Nairobi-based analyst with the International Crisis Group argues that seeking to deflect international criticism may not be the key reason states such as Rwanda deploy peacekeepers.

“Countries contribute forces for a variety of reasons. One of them is to generate goodwill with the international community. Financial benefits and military experience are among the motivations,” Hogendoorn told reporters.

Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Rwanda not to withdraw peacekeepers from Sudan, as it has threatened because of war crimes claims, and highlighted their role in regional stability.

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