In the complex conflict in eastern Congo, all the many combatant forces have attacked civilians, killing, injuring and raping thousands of persons and causing more than half a million others to flee their homes. During investigations carried out in March 2000 in areas controlled by the Goma-based Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie, RCD) and its allies, Human Rights Watch researchers documented cases of murder, rape, and pillage carried out by all of the armed groups now fighting in the region.
The RCD launched a rebellion against the government headed by Laurent Kabila in August 1998. They vowed to restore democracy and respect for human rights within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) but the RCD-Goma and its Rwandese allies have regularly slaughtered civilians in massacres and extrajudicial executions. In cases where the RCD or its allies admit that the killings took place, they often seek to justify them as unintended consequences of combat with armed groups, but they seem in many cases to have committed the abuses deliberately to punish civilians for their supposed support of enemies of the RCD. They have illegally detained hundreds of others, often ill-treating or torturing them. Although claiming to be the legitimate local authorities, the RCD has failed to prevent or punish common crimes committed by its soldiers or other persons.
Armed groups, known generally as Mai-Mai or Interahamwe, fight against the RCD, sometimes with apparent support from the Kabila government. These armed groups have targeted civilians in massacres and extrajudicial executions and have engaged in widespread pillage and rape. In many cases, they perpetrate abuses against those whom they believe are supporting the RCD or its allies.
Fourteen months after Kabila overthrew President Mobutu Sese-Sekou, a coalition of groups formed the RCD and rebelled against him. The new movement included some former supporters of Kabila, particularly Congolese members of the Tutsi ethnic group, former political and military supporters of Mobutu, and a number of intellectuals. The RCD received support from the governments of Rwanda and Uganda as it moved westward, attempting to replicate the rapid success of the forces that had installed Kabila in power. But the governments of Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Chad came to Kabila's aid and slowed their advance.
As peace negotiations between the two sides took place, the RCD split. Jean-Pierre Bemba left to found the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (Mouvement de Liberation du Congo, MLC), which took control of much of Equateur province. The RCD ousted its president Wamba-dia-Wamba who, with a small part of the RCD, moved north to Bunia where his group claims to control parts of North Kivu and Orientale provinces. The main part of the RCD, based in Goma under Emile Ilunga, exercises its control over parts of South Kivu, Maniema, North Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga. RCD-Goma has created an administration, divided into a series of "departments," each with a "head," and has named governors and other officials. It does not call itself a government but claims to administer this area according to Congolese law.1
Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi all have troops in eastern Congo, both to aid local allies and to achieve their own objectives. The Ugandans back both Bemba and Wamba. The Rwandans back the RCD-Goma and exercise considerable influence over its political and military decisions. Burundi operates in the southern part of the RCD-Goma zone but has not been so closely linked with this group as have the Rwandans.
The armed groups opposed to the RCD fall generally into two categories: the Mai-Mai-who are Congolese- and the Interahamwe-who are mostly Rwandan Hutu. In the past frequently joined in opposition to the RCD, it appears that the Mai-Mai have increasingly distanced themselves from the other group in the last months.
During the rebellions of the 1960s, the term Mai-Mai described fighters who used traditional rituals and charms which were supposed to protect them in battle. The name now refers to a range of irregular forces from different ethnic groups, including local people with no previous military experience and soldiers who once served either with Mobutu or Kabila.
The Interahamwe, originally a Rwandan Hutu militia which helped lead the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, now include the remnants of that group plus others, both Rwandan and Congolese Hutu, who have joined with them in fighting the current government of Rwanda. Although Rwandan authorities and many others speak of the group as if it were composed exclusively of persons guilty of genocide, it is impossible to know how many of present-day Interahamwe were part of the force in 1994. Some are certainly former soldiers of the Rwandan army (Forces Armées Rwandaises, FAR) and of the original Interahamwe militias, while others are former civilians with no previous military experience. To make clear that these bands include persons who likely did not participate in the genocide, this report will not use the term Interahamwe, except in direct quotations, but instead will speak of predominantly Hutu armed groups.
For some time, these predominantly Hutu groups and the Mai-Mai have reportedly been receiving assistance from Kabila. In September 1999, Kabila named a Mai-Mai commander, Sylvestre Louetcha, as head of the army general staff, lending substance to this report. In parts of South Kivu, Congolese and predominantly Hutu armed groups also cooperate with rebel groups from Burundi, particularly the Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, FDD).
The Kabila government, the rebel groups opposed to it, and the foreign governments allied to these parties signed a peace accord in Lusaka in July and August 1999, but they have failed to implement it. They signed a new cease-fire in mid-April 2000, which appears to be more generally observed. The Mai-Mai, the predominantly Hutu combatants, and the Burundian FDD were not invited to participate in either the first or the second agreement.1 When not indicated otherwise, this report refers to the RCD-Goma as RCD.