Leaked U.N. Report Implicates Rwandan Troops in Possible Genocide

Posters of Rwandan President Paul Kagame a few days before the Aug. 9, 2010, elections. Marc Hofer / AP

Rwandan President Paul Kagame was reelected with 93 percent of the vote in the country's elections earlier this month, but there were widespread reports that journalists and opposition politicians had been imprisoned or killed. Now a leaked U.N. report suggests that Rwandan troops may have committed war crimes and massacred tens of thousands of people in the late 1990s.

Kagame is widely respected for bringing peace and progress to a country scarred by a brutal 1994 genocide in which Hutus, the ethnic majority, slaughtered nearly a million minority Tutsis and more moderate Hutus. Under Kagame, who is a Tutsi and a former military commander, Rwanda is now a safe place, widely held to be among Africa's least corrupt nations. As a result it gets hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid to continue rebuilding.

But according to The New York Times, one of Kagame's rivals was found dead before the Aug. 9 elections "with his head nearly chopped off." And other "leading opposition politicians who have spoken out against Kagame and might have actually tested his popularity were barred from competing," for technical reasons. Kagame has justified past crackdowns, according to the Times, by pointing out that peace in Rwanda is still fragile.

How fragile exactly is revealed in a report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, obtained before publication by the newspaper Le Monde in France. It reveals, according to The Guardian, that in 1996, as Tutsi forces chased Hutus into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called Zaire), and in 1998, during a subsequent invasion aimed once more at Hutu rebels, "Rwandan forces and local allies rounded up hundreds of men, women and children at a time and butchered them with hoes and axes. On other occasions Hutu refugees were bayoneted, burned alive or killed with hammer blows in large numbers." It may amount, says the report, to genocide.

The Rwandan government rejects the findings, and reportedly even threatened to remove its troops from peacekeeping missions in Darfur and elsewhere if the report were ever released. The U.N. says the leaked version is only a draft. It remains to be seen whether the international community will bow to pressure from Kagame's government to tamp down the controversy and will tone down the language in the final version.