Rwanda was elected to the UN Security Council yesterday despite claims that its troops supported a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accused of human rights abuses and attacking UN peacekeepers.
The government in Kigali, which has been accused of commanding an armed Congolese rebellion guilty of rape, murder and recruiting child soldiers, will now join the UN body tasked with solving the crisis in eastern Congo.
Rwanda will take a seat among the 10 non-permanent members, which get a two-year term on the council, after standing unopposed as the African candidate. The central African mountain state won 148 of a possible 193 votes to comfortably take a two-thirds majority at the UN General Assembly. They will now join the five veto-wielding permanent members: the UK, US, China, Russia and France on the council.
Late efforts by the Congolese government to block the Rwandan effort on a technicality were rejected. And a protest letter by the DRC mission calling on members of the UN General Assembly to vote against Rwanda failed to sway enough countries.
The Security Council last month received a confidential report from a UN panel of experts claiming that the M23 rebellion – that has effectively annexed part of eastern Congo – was being run directly from Rwanda's defence ministry and supported by northern neighbours Uganda. Both African governments have denied the accusations in the report. The investigation, which follows an earlier report this year, was leaked in advance of yesterday's vote.
The Rwandan diplomat Olivier Nduhungirehe said prior to the vote that he was not worried that his country's bid would be derailed by the experts' report. "The members of the General Assembly know exactly what our record is and they cannot be deterred or swayed by a baseless report, which has no credibility," he told Reuters. "We are the sixth [biggest] troop-contributing country for peacekeeping [and] we are a leading country in achieving the Millennium Development Goals [anti-poverty targets]."
Rwanda has sought to portray itself as the "Switzerland of Africa" turning aid money into rapid development, fighting corruption and healing the wounds left by the 1994 genocide. Its critics have alleged that its authoritarian government has silenced dissent, murdered dissidents and created a buffer state in eastern Congo led by ethnic allies of President Paul Kagame.
The UK is among major donors whose aid accounts for 50 per cent of Rwanda's annual budget.
UN Security Council: Members' powers
The non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) have all the powers of the big five without the veto.
That means that Rwanda, which is accused by the UN's own experts of a litany of crimes in the neighbouring DR Congo, will now have oversight of any international action in that crisis.
The 10 temporary members cannot block sanctions or other UN action but they can hold up important statements and slow down any unwanted proposals using procedure.
The sanctions committee, which might otherwise be considering action against Kigali, needs consensus to move ahead on any planned embargoes. The UNSC permanent members can decide to override the committee but rarely do so in practice.
Some observers will argue that Kigali's presence will help international efforts in the region. Rwanda was joined on the council last night by Australia and Argentina, while Finland battle it out with Luxembourg, and Cambodia and South Korea also goes to a second round.