“This vote speaks to this issue [the UN experts' report] better than I can do because accusations remain accusations,” said Mushikiwabo, after Rwanda garnered 148 votes from a possible 193 at the UN’s General Assembly.
Earlier in the week, a report from the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts accused Rwanda’s defence minister of commanding a rebellion in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Where Rwanda stands today, as a neighbour that can contribute to peace in the DRC, is a much more important proposition than accusations,” said Mushikiwabo. “We have taken strong exception to the report, to its author and to the manipulation around this report and so we have no doubt that most people are reasonable in this body [the UN],” she added.
The 44-page confidential report that was widely reported on Tuesday accuses Rwanda of coordinating the creation of the M23 rebel group. It claims that General Charles Kayonga, Rwanda’s Chief of Defence, gives direct military orders to the M23.
“Perhaps by being in the Security Council, working closely with the other members we will bring some of our own contribution to peace in the region and share it with others on the Security Council,” said Mushikiwabo in New York.
Before Thursday’s vote, the Congolese delegation had objected to Rwanda’s seat on the Security Council. South Africa, Zimbabwe and the DRC all opposed Rwanda’s candidacy for the African seat.
Mushikiwabo said it is “understandable that frustration can make people do unpleasant things”. She added that “most people have proven to be much more reasonable than the DRC officials and some of our other detractors”.
The M23 rebel group has been fighting against Congolese government forces in North Kivu for the last six months. And with Rwanda’s election to the Security Council, some analysts believe M23 will be in a stronger negotiating position with the Congolese government.
“It’s certainly going to increase Rwanda’s bargaining power, and if you believe the latest UN group of experts report that has been leaked, this will also increase the bargaining power of the M23 rebellion,” said Joseph Lake, a Great Lakes specialist from the Economist Intelligence Unit.
“Quite the paradox, but that’s the politics of the UN,” said Lake. “It’s now going to be really difficult for the UN to get unanimity among the Security Council,” he added.
The M23 group says the Congolese government is not honouring the terms of the 23 March 2009 peace agreement, from which it derives its name. M23 fighters were incorporated into the Congolese army as part of this deal.
Rwanda’s Security Council seat “really has changed the dynamic in the Great Lakes region in terms of what’s going to happen now and what sort of settlement negotiations will lead to in eastern DRC,” said Lake, the EIU’s New York-based analyst.
Other permanent members of the Security Council provided congratulatory statements for the newly elected members.
“Rwanda will bring to the Council the particular perspective of a country that has overcome serious conflict and has done so more successfully than many,” said Philip Parham, the UK’s deputy ambassador to the UN. “We look forward to working with them on issues of international peace and security, including the efforts to try to end the cycle of violence in the eastern DRC,” he added.
The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said they look forward to a “strong and productive partnership with these incoming members to address issues fundamental to international peace and security”.
The DRC’s foreign minister Raymond Tshibanda was unavailable for comment.