A partial power-sharing pact reached on April 19 at the end of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue between the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebel Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) and most members of the unarmed opposition and civil society groups excluded the mainstream rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma) and failed to secure peace with Rwanda. This inconclusive outcome could set the scene for renewed fighting and abuses against civilians, particularly in the Kivu provinces and in northeastern Congo. Stopping the violence in these areas is a priority, not just in order to save lives, but also to keep the Lusaka peace process on track. Given the massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by all the parties to the conflict in eastern Congo, the already dire situation requires urgent attention.
We strongly support the Secretary-General’s recommendation that the Security Council increase the number of MONUC troops, but the escalating violence in places like Ituri and the Haut Plateau in south Kivu cannot wait for these troops to be authorized and assembled. We therefore call on the Security Council to increase political pressure on all parties to abide by their obligations to the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement as well as their obligations under international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, particularly with respect to the protection of civilians in areas under their control. If such pressure is effectively applied, the governmental actors will more likely insist that local forces under their sway also adopt the necessary measures to end abuses against civilians. A combination of increased pressures on all parties to the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement as well as the redeployment of some of the troops of the U.N. Organization Mission in Congo (MONUC) could help end rampant human rights violations and preempt the risks of military escalation in the broader war.
RCD-Goma and Rwandan Areas
Disappointment in many quarters about the outcome of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue is likely to increase the hostility of the population toward the RCD-Goma. Already, tensions are running high. Recent information received by Human Rights Watch indicates that the Banyamulenge civil society leaders have credible fears of an impending crackdown on their community by the RCD-Goma and the Rwandan army. The insurgency by a Banyamulenge commander and his followers against what they perceived as the exploitation by the RCD-Goma and Rwanda of their community’s cause to perpetuate Rwanda’s occupation of eastern Congo considerably weakened the RCD-Goma ahead of and during the Inter-Congolese Dialogue. Human Rights Watch fears that the deepening isolation of the RCD, even within what used to be its power base, would only increase the vulnerability of the Banyamulenge and the rest of the population to repression.
Human Rights Watch will soon be publishing a report on the widespread but little known problem of the use of sexual violence, particularly rape, against women and girls in eastern Congo. Combatants of the RCD, Rwandan soldiers, as well as combatants of the forces opposed to them -- Mai-Mai, armed groups of Rwandan and Burundian Hutu rebels -- all frequently and sometimes systematically raped women and girls during this conflict.
The RCD-Goma continues to forcibly recruit children for its army, and its officials regularly call on their home constituents to produce a certain number of recruits. There are frequent cases of arbitrary detention and torture. Insecurity is rampant in urban areas, where nocturnal attacks, often by drunken soldiers, are routine.
RCD-Mouvement de Liberation (ML), RCD-National Areas
The situation in northeastern Congo remains extremely precarious. The killing on April 18 in Bunia of a commander loyal to the president of the RCD-ML Mbusa Nyamwisi triggered skirmishes between two factions of the rebel army in which at least a dozen soldiers were killed. The split within the RCD-ML army occurred along ethnic and regional lines, with Hema soldiers reportedly accusing Mbusa loyalists of supporting their archrivals of the Lendu community, and obstructing the autonomous administration of the Ugandan proclaimed Ituri province. The Nande people, whose power base is in Beni in north Kivu, appear thus on the verge of being drawn into the deadly interethnic conflict of Ituri.
As Human Rights Watch has reported, Uganda’s pursuit of its strategic and economic interests in Congo has had deadly consequences for the population in areas under its occupation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Ituri, the scene since mid1999 of communal fighting between Hema and Lendu fueled by Ugandan meddling, in which an estimated twenty thousands people were killed, and another 200,000 people were displaced. In the latest round of violence starting in mid-January, hundreds were killed and thousands were forced to flee their homes. This surge was largely fueled by the leadership rivalries within the RCD-ML that exploded into the open last Thursday. It was also fed by fighting between the RCD-ML and allied MLC and RCD-National forces for the control of mineral rich areas in Oriental province.
Ituri is indeed rich in timber, coffee, gold, diamonds, and coltan, in addition to lucrative daily cash flows from customs posts on the border with Uganda. Much of the proceeds from these resources are funneled by local power brokers to their supporters within the Ugandan establishment as documented in two reports by the U.N. Panel of Experts on resource exploitation in Congo. None of the proceeds is reinvested in the amelioration of the daily lot of the ordinary Congolese who continue to die from malnutrition, and preventable and curable diseases. In the meantime, Kampala continues to expertly maintain its alliance with all the competing local actors through the provision of political, diplomatic, and military backing, even when these allies were locked in deadly feuds.
President Joseph Kabila promises of sweeping democratic, legal, and human rights reforms remain to be fully met. The government has imposed and abided by a moratorium on the execution of death sentences since last March, although death sentences continue to be handed down. The government’s campaign to demobilize child soldiers is gaining ground. But a plethora of competing security agencies continue the numerous abuses for which they were notorious in the past. Horrendous conditions continue to prevail in detention centers and prisons.
Kabila's promises to limit the powers of the abusive Court of Military Order (COM) has brought no reform to date. 135 people accused of involvement in the assassination of former President Kabila are currently facing trial before the COM and are likely to face the death penalty if found guilty. Many in the group were said to have been tortured and to have had no legal counsel before the trial. There is no right of appeal. Human rights defenders who document and publicize abuses by the COM are themselves targeted. Prominent activist N’sii Luanda Shandwe is being held without charge in Kinshasa, following his arrest by agents of the COM on 19 April.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Security Council to:
- Increase political pressure on all parties to the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement to abide by their obligations to the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement as well as their obligations under international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions, particularly with respect to the protection of civilians in areas under their control. If such pressure is effectively applied, the governmental actors will more likely insist that local forces under their sway also adopt the necessary measures to end abuses against civilians.
- Hold the occupying powers in eastern Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, accountable for the conduct of their troops on the ground.
- Direct MONUC military and civilian observers to be more proactive in mitigating local conflicts. In particular, MONUC observers should investigate all credible reports of attacks on civilians by all parties by visiting sites of the alleged attacks and interviewing survivors and relatives of victims. This could be done under the terms of the Mission’s current mandate by redeploying observers to flashpoints, such as Shabunda, Minembwe and in the beleaguered Ituri province and not only its headquarters of Bunia. The Security Council should require state parties to the Lusaka Agreement to guarantee the security of the Mission’s personnel, and facilitate their movement and access.
- Ensure that civilian components of MONUC, particularly child protection and humanitarian affairs advisers and human rights observers, are tasked directly with monitoring and reporting on sexual violence.
- Address the question of impunity for atrocities in the DRC, and in particular, establish a U.N. Commission of Experts to investigate and determine responsibility for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the DRC, including sexual violence. The Commission of Experts should recommend to the Security Council an appropriate mechanism to bring to justice persons responsible for violations.
- Direct the staff of U.N. agencies working in eastern Congo to give priority to programs focused on the rights of women and girls, the elimination of sexual violence, and the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.