the mysterious case of the misisng GoE report
Normally at this time of year, we have a plethora of new-to-us data about what's happened in the Congo over the last few months. That's because typically, in late May or early June, the United Nations Group of Experts on the DRC releases its interim report. This has been the pattern of the last few years, though certainly there are always variations in when the report is released, and, of course, what it contains.
The Group of Experts (GoE) reports are well-known as among the best sources of information about conflict in the DRC. It is fastidiously researched and documented, usually having annexes containing incredibly valuable (and damning) data (eg, receipts for illicit mineral transactions, photos of destroyed villages, load lists for cargo planes carrying weapons). The members of the GoE really know their stuff, most live in the region while conducting research, and they have connections and usually manage to talk to members of most of the armed groups operating in the Kivus and beyond. The reports are not perfect, but they are generally about as good as data gets when it comes to the DRC.
This year, however, the GoE interim report has yet to be released. It's not because it isn't ready. I've been trying to piece together why for the last couple of weeks. What follows seems not to be published anywhere, but is based on information from multiple reliable sources who are well positioned to know what's going on. Take it as you will, and if you have better information, feel free to comment or to email me.
This year, the M23 rebellion broke out shortly before the usual deadline for publication of the GoE interim report. As is their charge, the GoE researched and traced the dynamics of the mutiny as they do every other conflict. As part of these efforts, the GoE prepared an annex detailing Rwandan involvement in the crisis. (Remember, Rwanda's alleged involvement in supporting M23 has been reported by a BBC journalist who claimed to have seen a leaked UN report (ahem) and by Human Rights Watch in recent weeks. The UN later denied that it has evidence for these claims.) Rwanda reacted furiously to both reports and denies its involvement in the crisis.
And therein seems to lie the holdup on the GoE report's release. The Group wants the annex detailing Rwanda's alleged involvement to be published along with the rest of the report (which I am assured will be published one way or the other). Someone (or multiple someones) at the United Nations does not want the annex on Rwanda's involvement included. I have no idea whether the leaked report that provoked so much controversy a couple of weeks ago is the annex or is about the annex, but by all reliable accounts, this is the key issue holding everything up.
It would be easy to speculate on the reasons that the publication of factual information about the M23 mutiny is somehow controversial; it would strain the relationship with Rwanda (which the UN needs to cooperate with on everything from housing Congolese refugees to running country-based programs to allowing MONUSCO staff to pass to Kigali airport without being harrassed), the powers that be might want more solid sourcing of information, it could be a number of issues.
Making things even more bizarre, the Security Council on Friday released a statement condemning the mutiny and calling for investigation into "credible reports" of outside groups funding the crisis. As analyst Jason Stearns noted in a tweet on Saturday, why is the Security Council asking for an investigation while blocking the one the GoE already prepared for them?
If the motivation for withholding the annex is political, then it's easy to see why the GoE is fighting behind the scenes to include it; the GoE's mission has never been to bow to the political whims of anyone. Their purpose is to collect and analyze facts. If we've reached a day where facts are problematic for the United Nations, then we are in real trouble indeed.