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Poland’s arms deal with Rwanda: strategic partnership or fuelling atrocities?

Poland’s recent presidential tour across the African continent has culminated in a series of controversial agreements with various governments, notably Rwanda. Central to these accords is the provision of advanced military technology to Kigali, with military drones and anti-drone systems as a key component.[1][2] However, these dealings have raised eyebrows internationally, given questions over Rwanda’s alleged backing of militant factions such as the M23,[3][4][5][6] which have been implicated in numerous atrocities within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The M23 group, which has drawn sharp criticism from human rights organisations such as Amnesty International,[7] Human Rights Watch,[8] and the United Nations,[9] stands accused of a litany of war crimes — from summary executions to sexual violence in the DRC. An ongoing UN inquiry is delving into the massacre of 131 civilians attributed to M23[10], an event that highlights the broader humanitarian crisis wherein over six million people have been displaced in eastern Congo.[11][12][13] UN experts also suspect the Rwandan military’s direct involvement in the conflict.[14]

Given this, the implications of Poland’s military tech transfer to Rwanda are under justifiable intense scrutiny. Questions loom over Rwanda’s potential use of this technology, especially considering its past support of M23. With the UN peacekeeping mission’s tenure in the DRC possibly drawing to a close[15], concerns are mounting over the ramifications for regional stability.

The UN peacekeepers have reported that M23 wields advanced weaponry, presumed supplied by Rwanda.[16] These include surface-to-air missiles capable of downing drones—such as those provided by China to the DRC,[17] which Congo asserts are for counterinsurgency operations,[18] though M23 alleges they could be wielded for war crimes.[19][20]

The concerns are further added to following allegations from Rwandan (mainly Tutsi) M23 factions and several media entities, which accuse the DRC government of genocidal acts against Hutus.[21] Conversely, organisations like Genocide Watch are also monitoring M23’s activities closely, raising the spectre of potential genocide involvement by the group or by Rwanda itself.[22]

Regional dynamics are also in flux, with recent discussions among East African nations and exiled Congolese politicians, some of whom have been sanctioned, hinting at possible collusion with M23.[23] These dialogues prompted Kenyan authorities to distance themselves,[24][25] while reports from the US suggest such alliances precipitated the recall of Congolese diplomats from Kenya and Tanzania.[26]

Human Rights Watch has cautioned that diplomatic engagement with Rwanda should not overlook the plight of M23’s victims, advocating for the prosecution of alleged war criminals.[27] Meanwhile, there are calls from various quarters for Western nations to impose sanctions on the Rwandan government.[28] This debate gains additional complexity in light of the UN’s criticism around Denmark’s [29][30] and UK’s consideration of Rwanda as a destination for asylum seeker deportations,[31][32] a move that some have reported as linked to significant financial incentives.[33][34][35] The ethical and geopolitical repercussions of these developments are poised to reverberate well beyond the region.

As Dr Iain Overton of Action on Armed Violence says: “While nations have the sovereign right to forge military alliances, such deals must be scrutinised against the backdrop of human rights — the Poland-Rwanda agreement is no exception, and it behooves the international community to ensure that such exchanges do not fuel further violence.”

It is something this charity, at least, will be keeping an eye on.


[1] https://www.president.pl/news/poland-rwanda-sign-deals-on-technology-environment-says-president,81065
[2] https://www.therwandan.com/rwanda-bolsters-aerial-defense-with-advanced-anti-drone-systems-from-poland/
[3] https://www.voaafrica.com/a/rwanda-army-fires-surface-to-air-missile-at-un-drone/7483867.html
[4] https://www.military.africa/2024/02/rwanda-fires-anti-aircraft-missile-again-in-drc/
[5] https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/analysis/2023/05/31/m23-ceasefire-fear-conflict-drc
[6] https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1533/materials/summaries/entity/m23 
[7] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2023/02/dr-congo-rwandan-backed-m23-rebels-perpetrating-summary-killings-and-rapes/
[8] https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/06/13/dr-congo-killings-rapes-rwanda-backed-m23-rebels
[9] https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15426.doc.htm
[10] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-63899461
[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/17/world/africa/democratic-republic-of-congo-elections.html
[12] https://www.genocidewatch.com/single-post/thousands-flee-in-eastern-dr-congo-as-m23-rebels-advance-nea
[13] https://peoplesdispatch.org/2023/11/03/7-million-displaced-in-the-drc-as-m23-attacks-continue/
[14] https://apnews.com/article/rwanda-united-nations-genocide-2bafa78733edc678d53fdb3b9dc52403
[15] https://www.africanews.com/2023/12/19/drc-the-un-prepares-the-early-departure-of-the-blue-helmets//
[16] https://www.therwandan.com/m23-claims-to-down-ch-4-drone-amid-escalating-tensions-in-eastern-con
[17] tps://www.military.africa/2023/06/drc-receives-ch-4-drones-from-china
[18] https://chimpreports.com/big-story-drcs-combat-drones-strik
[19] ilians-killed-in-clashes-between-the-army-and-m23-rebels-in-mweso-north-kivu
[20] https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/around-20-civilians-killed-congo-attack-army-rebels-trade-blame-2024-0
[21] https://www.agenzianova.com/en/news/congo-kinshasa-m23-genocidio-contro-i-tutsi/
[22] https://www.genocidewatch.com/single-post/m23-rebels-retake-drc-village-where-they-re-accused-of-massacre
[23] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-67758635
[24] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/12/17/kenya-disassociates-with-dr-congo-rebels-alliance-after-diplomatic-row
[25] https://www.trtafrika.com/africa/kenya-denies-backing-drcs-new-rebel-alliance-16275045
[26] https://www.voanews.com/a/congo-recalls-envoys-to-kenya-and-tanzania-over-alliance-launch-in-nairobi/7400997.html
[27] https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/06/30/normalizing-france-rwanda-relations-should-not-come-expense-m23-victims
[28] https://www.voanews.com/a/western-donors-pressed-to-sanction-rwanda-as-drc-violence-escalates-/7010244.html
[29] https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/denmark-talks-with-rwanda-transfer-asylum-seekers-2022-04-20/
[30] https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/un-committee-criticizes-denmark-third-country-plans-asylum-seekers-2023-11-28/
[31] https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/uk-rwanda-asylum-agreement-why-is-it-a-memorandum-of-understanding-and-not-a-treaty/
[32] https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9568/
[33] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/dec/05/uk-taxpayers-to-bear-extra-cost-over-rwanda-treaty
[34] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/dec/08/sunak-didnt-mislead-mps-over-costs-of-rwanda-deportation-plan-says-no-10
[35] https://apnews.com/article/uk-rwanda-migrants-plan-cost-02d54129d0c53a457c22e936d26939a3