Blair: is he helping a
regime mired
in conflict
diamonds and
conflict minerals?

By his friends shall you know the man. Tony Blair found infamy for saying “I’m a pretty straight sort of guy”. That was, like most of his bluster, a lot of tommyrot, the former Prime Minister being as sinuous as snake in the savannah. But what of his long-standing friend Paul Kagame? How straight is he?

I ask the question because of, first, the announcement in January that Blair was to become an unpaid adviser to the government of Rwanda. According to the Daily Mail, Blair will now use his international status to promote the opportunities on offer there to foreign investors. and secondly, his arrival in Rwanda over the weekend to begin that role of which the Telegraph told us:

“Tony Blair is a long standing friend of Paul Kagame, and this is a part of his unpaid role for the presidency,” said a spokesman for Mr Blair.

“Rwanda has transformed itself since the genocide into a vibrant and stable country, and the two of them have discussed ways in which we can help them in terms of the government’s capability and capacity building.”

It was the phrase ‘long-standing friend’ that caught my eye. One knew that Paul Kagame had been in and out of Downing Street as an official visitor in the Blair years, but then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has to let, as part of the job, some pretty rum characters through the front door of Number 10 to whom he has to be nice on our behalf. He does not, however, have to have them round to share a fondue with himself and his ghastly wife.


I find this assertion of ‘friendship’ with Paul Kagame deeply troubling, even for a man with his track record. So I thought it might be time to return once more to the case of Mr. Kagame (I have previously posted on this individual (7-07, 9-07 9-07 and 10-07) as the relationship of our politicians with him seems to deepen rather than weaken.

In order for you better to understand the case against befriending this man, I must digress into a brief discussion of Mr. Kagame’s position (a) as an individual; (b) as President of Rwanda; and (c) under Article 45 of the Rwanda Constitution, as Commander-in-Chief of Rwanda’s armed forces and, as such, the duties which international law places upon him.

As an individual there is a simple duty upon him not to commit, inter alia, any of the following offences:

Genocide

Torture

Crimes against humanity

Grave breaches of the laws and customs of war (“war crimes”)

As President and Commander-in-Chief, he is under a duty to prevent the commission of such offences by military forces under his command or authority, which can include militias that operate independently of the Rwandan Patriotic Army. If he knows or ought to know that such offences area bout to be committed, he is under a duty to take steps to prevent them from being committed. If he knows or ought to know that such offences have been committed, he is under a duty to take steps to ensure that the perpetrators are apprehended, prosecuted and subjected to appropriate punishment.

The phrase ‘ought to know’ ensures that no person in authority can simply close his eyes to the reality of what is going on and the law will impute constructive knowledge to an individual in a wide range of circumstances. Thus Milosević was bound to have been convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of offences charging him with failing to prevent or punish crimes by forces under his de facto or de jure control, if only because the likes of Paddy Ashdown had told him to his face of the appalling crimes being committed by the Yugoslav National Army and a variety of militias supported by Milosević which put him on notice that he was under a duty to act.

There are three sets of allegations which lie against Mr. Kagame.

Firstly he is charged with participation in the murder of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and his counterpart President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi in 1994, who were shot down by a surface-to-air missile in an event which effectively triggered off the genocide of that year. An investigation was carried out by Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French judge, who concluded that the shooting down of the plane was ordered by Kagame. In November 2006 Bruguière signed international indictments against nine of President Kagame’s senior aides and accused Kagame of ordering the assassination of the two African presidents. Kagame cannot be indicted under French law: as a head-of-state he has immunity from prosecution.

Whilst these indictments have been attacked as having been politically motivated, on the basis that France has a substantial axe to grind against Kagame, it should be noted (a) that Bruguière is noted for his independence from the French Government (often to the latter’s considerable frustration) and (b) the fact of the matter is that one of our principal European allies to whom we are bound by a plethora of treaties has made the allegation and has warrants outstanding.

Secondly we must consider the role and conduct of Mr. Kagame in the war which led to the defeat of the Hutu-led government which is alleged to have presided over and orchestrated the genocide. In that conflict he was the commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the Tutsi-dominated armed forces which defeated the Hutus. This force is alleged by many to have been engaged in the widespread and systematic commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, the totality of which may also, as a matter of law (particularly in the light of the Srebrenica Judgement) amount, ironically, to genocide.


The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is in possession of a veritable mountain of evidence (and has been for many years) which establishes a more than sufficient prima facie case for Article 17 (4) of the Tribunal’s Statute to kick in:

4. Upon a determination that a prima facie case exists, the Prosecutor shall prepare an indictment containing a concise statement of the facts and the crime or crimes with which the accused is charged under the Statute. The indictment shall be transmitted to a judge of the Trial Chamber.

It will be seen that legally, once a prima facie case is established, the Prosecutor is under an obligation to prepare an indictment. That such a case exists but that an indictment has yet to be issued is one of the principal reasons why the ICTR is an affront to justice. The suspicion is that the prosecutor has, for reasons which will become evident below, been nobbled by powers with an interest in the continued survival as President of Paul Kagame.

The third matter which impinges upon the suitability of Paul Kagame as a friend of Blair or, indeed, as a partner of any civilised state, concerns the activities of armed forces under the control of Kagame in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since 1994 Rwanda has exercised de facto control over a substantial area of the eastern DRC wherein lie considerable important mineral reserves, potentially large oil reserves and in which are to be found the remnants of the Interahamwe militias who were at the forefront of the 1994 genocide.

Whilst the business of hunting down the latter remains of considerable importance to Kagame in order to secure his position as President (he is of the 15% Tutsi minority which lords it over the 85% Hutu majority without holding genuinely free and fair elections which would see him ejected from power), it is the reserves of minerals and oil which are the real prize. In this regard there is a considerable equivalence between the situation in Darfur (where the prize is oil) and that in DRC. For, in order to assert effective suzerainty over the eastern DRC Kagame maintains considerable armed forces there and these forces have been involved in armed conflict during which crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture have been endemic. In the course of such operations, Kagame’s forces, assisted by his ally Uganda, have been responsible for anything up to 3.5 million deaths.

I cite by way of example an article by George Monbiot (not normally a correspondent for whom I find it possible to evince any enthusiasm whatsoever) in he Guardian of 13th. April 2004:

After the genocide in Rwanda, many of the perpetrators – assisted, disgracefully, by French soldiers – fled to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) chased them over the border, helped Congolese rebels to capture much of the east of the country, and, in 1997, overthrew President Mobutu. Hunting down the genocidaires and deposing the President who sheltered them could both be judged legitimate means of securing peace in Rwanda, but Paul Kagame’s army also had other interests.

The misfortune of the Congolese is that they possess tremendous natural wealth. This means, as it has meant in all such places, that they are perpetually exposed to theft, expulsion, slavery and murder. We know all about the crimes of men like King Leopold II of Belgium and President Mobutu. We are less ready to notice the crimes of Paul Kagame.

Six foreign armies have been involved in the theft of the DRC’s resources over the past 10 years, but Rwanda’s was singled out by the UN’s report on the catastrophe there for the “institutional” nature of its piracy. The plunder was not caused by an ill-disciplined army running out of control. It was a deliberate policy, commissioned and implemented by the Rwandan government.

By 1999, the “Congo Desk” of the Rwandan army was generating 80% of the Rwandan military budget – some $320m. This is the equivalent of 20% of Rwanda’s gross national product. The money came principally from two sources: diamonds and coltan. Coltan is the ore from which tantalum, the expensive metal used in mobile phones, is extracted, and almost all of it comes from the DRC.

Sixty to 70% of the coltan exported from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations reported in 2002, has been mined “under the direct surveillance” of the Rwandan army. Most of the rest was produced by subcontractors and companies answerable to the army or to other departments of the Rwandan government. Kagame’s people, in other words, had a near-monopoly on global coltan production.

After fighting off the Ugandan army in June 2000, the Rwandan forces managed “to funnel all the diamonds in Kisangani [in eastern DRC] through the Congo Desk”. Local diamond traders were forced to sell to the contractor nominated by the Rwandan army, and at prices set by the desk. The Rwandans appear to have been stealing about $2m worth of diamonds a month. The army also captured almost all the eastern Congo’s public funds, taxing the people and seizing the revenues from water, electricity, roads and airports.

The RPF’s original excuse for intervention disappeared pretty rapidly – in fact it soon linked up with the Hutu killers it was supposed to be hunting, and used them to help control the region. Instead, according to the UN: “With minor exceptions, the objective of [its] military activity is to secure access to mining sites or ensure a supply of captive labour.” On the shores of Lake Tanganyika, according to a report by the Catholic church, Rwandan soldiers tortured, raped and murdered local people.

Ten days ago, Alison des Forges wrote for the Guardian that: “There is no equivalence, of course, in the kind of crimes charged to the RPF and the crime of genocide.” It’s true that the Rwandan army never sought to exterminate the people of the eastern Congo. It is also true that its displacement of local people, who fled as it burned their villages and seized their resources, caused more deaths than the Interahamwe. The militias murdered around 800,000. In the DRC, the UN suggests, more than 3.5 million deaths in excess of previous levels of mortality “occurred from the beginning of the war up to September 2002. These deaths are a direct result of the occupation by Rwanda and Uganda”.

Kagame formally withdrew his troops from the DRC in 2002, but before doing so he made sure that its wealth continued to flow into Rwanda. He replaced the Congolese bosses of public utilities with his own people, put the soldiers running the coltan mines in civilian clothes and inserted his troops into local forces. The prosperity which has helped to secure peace in Rwanda derives in large part from the plunder which has helped to sustain war in the DRC.

It will be appreciated therefore, that the man to whom Tony Blair is so kindly lending his aid is engaged in the business of looting the mineral wealth of a Sovereign independent state, a process which forces under his control facilitate by the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes. In short Blair is aiding and abetting the DRC equivalent of ‘conflict diamonds’ to be plundered. As such he is in breach of the duties as president which I set out above and, on the face of it, is guilty of egregious braches of international criminal law, up to and including genocide (as defined by the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunals)

I would also commend the reading of reports by the UN (html) and Amnesty International (pdf or html file) which set out at length what has been going on.

I should add that the Conservative party is by no means immune from having an enthusiasm for Mr. Kagame. David Cameron’s difficulties in the summer of 2007 were in part caused by a visit to Rwanda where he too was cosying up to this appalling regime but that said, their relationship is as nothing compared with the closeness of Blair and Kagame who are now able to think of themselves as ‘longstanding’ friends.

Place this relationship and the fact that Kagame’s suzerainty holds sway over an area of the DRC rich in minerals, gem and oil alongside Blair’s contract with the Wall Street giant JP Morgan, worth £2.5 million and his closeness to the Bush-Cheney administration which has such an interest in oil and its exploitation and one begins to see a quite different Blair from the nice boy who could claim I’m a pretty straight sort of guy”.

The problem for Blair is that he is now seen to be hand in glove with a man who has a significant background of involvement in serious international crimes and in the looting of property belonging to the DRC.

Is that really appropriate for an ex-Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?

More to the point, is there a danger that a Blair will find himself aiding and abetting serious international crimes if he continues to pursue this relationship?

The time has come for Mr. Blair to explain why his relationship with this man is an appropriate one.

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