By William Church
Director, GLCSS
 

 

The countries of the Central Africa are attempting to recover from one of the Africa’s bloodiest wars; however, false or misleading media reports continue to fan the flames of ethnic or national hatred. The most recent disturbance in the diplomatic community is a Toronto Star (Canada) article claiming that two university professors developed evidence that Uganda and Rwanda intentionally sent HIV infected soldiers, with orders to rape women, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the 1998 war.
 

“Virus as a Weapon in Congo War” (14 August 2006 Toronto Star) claimed:
 

“About 2,000 rebels infected with the deadly HIV virus were conscripted to rape women and children in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998-99 in a bid to spread the lethal virus, a new report alleges.
The allegations leveled at the African countries of Uganda and Rwanda are contained in a report written by McMaster University professor Ed Mills and Johns Hopkins University professor Jean Nachega that is being circulated at the 16th annual AIDS conference in Toronto.
The report includes a copy of a complaint filed by Congo’s government in 1999 with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in the war with the two countries.
In its 16-page complaint, Congo alleged that “about 2,000 AIDS-suffering or HIV-positive Ugandan soldiers were sent to the front in the eastern province of Congo with the mission of raping girls and women so as to propagate an AIDS pandemic among the local population and, thereby, decimate it.” (Rich Westhead, Toronto Star)
 

 

The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies (GLCSS), as part of its ongoing media monitoring service, has developed evidence from different sources which refutes the Toronto Star news story in three crucial areas. First, Professors Mills and Nachega did not publish or circulate a paper on this subject. Second, it was not presented at the XVI International AIDS Conference, and finally, this issue was examined by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and was later withdrawn by the DRC in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) claim.
 

 GLCSS contacted Professor Mills and he provided the following statement:
 

“The journalist took us out of context.  We didn’t circulate a report. We simply referred people to the African Commission’s decision.” 14 September 2006 email between GLCSS and Edward Mills
 

It is clear that the journalist inaccurately reported that Professor Mills and his colleague had researched the topic and published a paper and the paper was presented at the AIDS conference. GLCSS also reviewed the program of the XVI International AIDS Conference (www.aids2006.org) and determined that the professors were not scheduled to present nor did they present a paper that charged Uganda and Rwanda with sending HIV infected soldiers to the Congo with the purpose of raping women.

 

Westhead also gave the impression that this was still an open issue and Rwanda and Uganda had blocked its review by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Westhead wrote, “Rwanda and Uganda have each claimed that Congo did not have the right to file a complaint with the human rights commission.”
In fact, the commission did rule on the issue of rape in the Congo and did not confirm this specific allegation in their extensive ruling. This would be the last time this claim was mentioned. When the DRC filed its claim with the ICJ charging violations of international law on 23 June 1999, it did not mention the claim that the Ugandan troops invaded its territory in a bid to spread the virus among its citizen. In addition, no such claim was filed against Rwanda at the ICJ.
 

In terms of validating the story, it appears the only element that is accurate is that Westhead had a conversation with Professor Mills and the DRC made a claim that the African commission did not validate and that the DRC later withdrew. This story by Westhead is a prime example of inaccurate reporting by Western journalists that is repeated in Africa and increases the level of hate and violence.
 

GLCSS urges both Ugandans and Rwandans to send an email to Sharon Burnside (publiced@thestar.ca) and voice their concerns over inaccurate journalism that hinders the peace process and could promote violence in the region.
 

 

William Church is director of the Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies, a London-based think tank with offices in Central and East Africa. You may contact William Church at wchurch@glcss.org. GLCSS trains African journalists, offers an on-site internship to African studies students, and manages an exchange program with journalists from the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe.
GLCSS monitors the media for false or misleading news stories and publishes a weekly newsletter.
 

Be Sociable, Share!