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Arbitrary Arrest, Illegal Detention and Torture

The RCD and its Rwandan allies have used arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, torture, and ill-treatment to harass and intimidate members of human rights groups, women's associations, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as described below. They have also arrested soldiers and police thought to have sympathized with recent strikes in Goma and Bukavu. Authorities have also tortured and ill-treated persons arrested for criminal offenses and have disregarded judicial due process.

The RCD authorities are claiming that they are applying Congolese national law.70 According to Congolese law, authorities may detain a person for forty-eight hours without charge and, once charges are filed, may hold the accused for another two weeks in a jail before transfer to the central prison.71 Those exercising authority may carry out arrests for reasons related to the armed conflict but they are bound by the provisions laid down in international humanitarian law. In particular, court proceedings must be regular and respect the right of the accused to be informed without delay of the offence he is alleged to have committed, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to choose his own defense lawyer, the principle that a confession can never be obtained through coercion, and that there cannot be double jeopardy.

Detainees are often not informed of the reasons for their arrest and held for weeks or months without being charged. Local human rights workers recounted the case of Alphonse Karibu, for example, who was arrested on June 8, 1999 and detained until August 28. He was arrested again on October 10 and held until December. After his second release, he went into hiding.72

Soldiers detain both civilians and soldiers in a number of detention centers; while their existence is not illegal, their sheer number is very confusing for any relatives who are trying to find an arrested family member. In Goma, the National Information Agency (Agence National de Renseignments, ANR) uses the kitchen of a former residence as a jail; it is known universally as "Chien Méchant" (Vicious Dog), because of a sign on the front gate. Soldiers confine both civilians and other soldiers in a military lockup known as Bureau II, once a private house. Of six persons heldthere on the day of a visit by Human Rights Watch researchers, three were civilians.73 Authorities detain civilians also at the Direction Générale de Migration in Goma, at the Auditorat Militaire in Goma and Bukavu, and at the Agence Nationale de Renseignements in Bukavu.74 In some cases, military authorities have transferred detainees across the border to lockups in Rwanda, further complicating the task of locating them.75

Local human rights organizations have also reported irregular places of detention, many of them in the homes of military officers. According to the staff of one Congolese NGO, private security guards from the Center for Natural Science Research in Lwiro and the Formulac Hospital have set up private jails as a way to extort money from local people. Although they obviously have no right to arrest others, authorities have not intervened to halt this practice.76

Human Rights Watch researchers visited several centers of detention. Conditions at the Central Prison in Goma are relatively good, but those in other centers of detention, are much worse. There was only one prisoner in "Chien Méchant" when Human Rights Watch researchers visited, but former detainees testified that in the past there had been many more persons held in this small space.77 At Bureau II, Human Rights Watch researchers found six men confined in a small part of the basement. The detainees said that twenty others had been transferred that morning just hours before the scheduled visit.78 According to witnesses, the number of persons held at Bureau II often exceeded thirty. In Bukavu, three NGO activists were arrested on January 29, 2000 and held for a day at the Agence Nationale de Renseignment detention center in a cabinet measuring less than one meter square. They had no space to sit and, for ventilation, had only one small vent which opened on the toilet.79 According to a report by a local human rights NGO, Baharame Buhendwa suffocated to death in a similar cabinet, itself used as a toilet, at the central prison of Bukavu in June 1999.80 Metal containers ordinarily used to transport goods are reportedly being used as detention cells in Burale center in Walungu, in Minova in Kalehe, and at Panzi.81 Brigit Bilhakabulirwa is said to have died in such a container in Irhundwe, Walungu, after she was arrested and tortured on July 25, 1999.82

Prisoners are frequently subjected to beatings, torture, and other forms of ill-treatment. During a visit to "Chien Méchant," Human Rights Watch saw blood clearly visible on the wall of the cell where former prisoners said they had been beaten. Some persons are beaten or tortured at the time of their arrest. One woman told Human Rights Watch researchers that when she was arrested in Matanda, Masisi, accused of "poisoning," soldiers cut her with a knife on her feet and legs and beat her, particularly on the soles of her feet, before transferring her to the Central Prison in Goma.83 Two persons detained in Goma, one a prisoner in Chien Méchant, said that soldiers had beat them the day of their arrests.84

Less fortunate persons suffered regular beatings and torture throughout their period of detention. A man arrested in Goma for armed robbery, told Human Rights Watch researchers that he was detained at Bureau II for one and a half months, where he was regularly whipped and was burned with lighters on his legs. He was said to have been tortured every night from midnight to 3 a.m. and was accused of being an Interahamwe. His wounds were never treated. Hespent two months in another military prison before being transferred to the Central Prison.85 A former detainee reported that during the week he spent at "Chien Méchant," detainees were beaten every morning.86 Ndelema, who was released from "Chien Méchant" in August 1999 after five months of detention, has lost most of the use of his left arm and has problems with his right knee which he attributes to numerous beatings he received while in the lockup.87 Persons detained at the ANR lockup in Bukavu are also beaten. One young man from Uvira named Mizumbi said he was beaten there every day for a month. Another, accused of supporting the Mai-Mai, was also said to have regularly beaten with an iron rod.88

Women have reported being raped and otherwise sexually abused during detention in urban areas under RCD and Rwandan army control. According to staff of a local non-governmental organization, soldiers arrested a seventeen-year-old girl on June 2, 1999 when looking for supporters of Hutu combatants in Goma. They took her to a container at the airport and three soldiers raped her there before releasing her the next morning. Local activists also reported that two Rwandan women were arrested on charges of supporting the enemy and held from May to December 1999. During that time, both were sexually abused.89

Lack of Due Process

The RCD has taken over the existing judicial institutions and retained most of their personnel. Many government employees, including magistrates, prison guards, and others have been paid only twice since the beginning of the current war.90 In an increasingly desperate economic situation, judicial personnel frequently demand bribes to do their work and citizens are forced to pay to obtain justice. Magistrates and other judicial personnel currently serving in North and South Kivu who were supposed to have been removed for corruption after Kabila took office have retained their posts under the RCD. As one civil society activist told Human Rights Watch researchers, "Now that magistrates are not paid, you have to buy services. Those who bring cases have to pay for the legal papers, for subpoenas, for the transport of agents who carry out investigations. People who receive summonses usually have to pay."91 Another activist added, "In court cases today, whoever has the most money wins."92 According to many detainees, family members had to pay bribes in order to be allowed to visit or to bring them food and prisoners had to pay bribes in order to receive better treatment. For example, the three NGO activists arrested in Bukavu on February 29 had to pay a bribe to be removed from the cabinet where they were held the first night.93 Guards are reportedly sometimes reluctant to release prisoners because they will then lose part of their income.

Many people deplore the reluctance of authorities to act on criminal complaints, particularly when crimes involve RCD or Rwandan soldiers or police. Several victims of crime told Human Rights Watch that their complaints to authorities had never resulted in serious investigations or arrests. In cases where soldiers have been arrested for committing crimes, they have often been released shortly thereafter. After the torture and killings of women in Mwenga gained wide publicity, military authorities arrested Commander Franck Kasereka, but he was free two weeks later. Authorities claimed that he had escaped, but others assert that he was quietly liberated. Other officers identified by witnesses as involved in the Mwenga atrocities were never arrested.94

Some citizens hesitate to report crimes committed by soldiers because of fear of possible retribution. The case of Sébastien Balolebwami, president of the Bukavu money changers' association, suggests that such fears are well-founded. Three men "wearing Ninja masks" came to his house in the Kadutu section of Bukavu on December 27, 1999, around 8 p.m. and threatened to kill Balolebwami if he did not hand over his money. After taking nearly U.S. $500, they left. Because the mask of one of the robbers' came off during the attack, a family member was able to identify him as a RCD soldier. The family registered a complaint with Commandant Serge Rutahazi. The soldier in question was arrested and interrogated and provided the names of two others reportedly involved, one of whom was arrested. Two weeks later, however, both were released.

On February 10, 2000, there was a knock on the door of Balolebwami's home. A family member who looked out saw five RCD soldiers on the front stoop unscrewing the light bulb that hung over the stoop. He cried out that it was soldiers, and the others went into the kitchen and began to bang pots to sound an alarm to the neighborhood. The soldiers forced open the front door. Neighbors who went to help said that there were soldiers posted in front of their doors who told them to go back inside, because they had come to kill the chief of the moneylenders. Balolebwami's wife fled out the kitchen door and ran to the nearby police station, where she succeeded in getting a few police to respond. As she arrived with them at the house, she heard a single gunshot from within. The police fired in the air, and the soldiers ran out, firing back at the police. During the attack, a soldier shot Balolebwami, piercing his intestine seven times. He died a short time later. Witnesses said the soldier who had been recognized and arrested after the first attack was present and urged the others to kill Balolebwami's young brother-in-law, whom he suspected of having identified him. When the others in the group refused, he struck the brother-in-law in the head with his bayonet, cutting him badly.95

Given the current state of the justice system, many RCD and Rwandan soldiers and others feel that they can act with impunity, even in cities. They expect that even if they are arrested, they will be quickly released. The absence of a state of law has encouraged growing criminality both in areas of combat and elsewhere: local human rights NGOs record hundreds of attacks by armed men, sometimes in uniform, sometimes not.

The failure of the justice system also encourages people to take justice into their own hands. In January, an RCD official sent a soldier to retake a house from a man named Bahati to whom he had sold it. By mistake, the soldier entered the wrong home, that of a man named Bahizire. Frightened by the appearance of the soldier, Bahizire called for help. Neighbors came and stoned the soldier to death. Other soldiers came looking for Bahazire on January 18, 2000, seeking revenge. Now both Bahati and Bahizire fear retribution from soldiers.96

70 Human Rights watch in Goma, March 17, 2000.

71 Information provided by APRODEPED, a legal aid organization in Bukavu. Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, Bukavu, March 16, 2000.

72 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 17, 2000.

73 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bureau II, Goma, March 9, 2000.

74 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma and Bukavu, March 9, 12 and 15, 2000.

75 Human Rights Watch, "Rwanda: The Search for Security and Human Rights Abuse," April 2000.

76 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 15, 2000.

77 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma, March 9, 2000.

78 One human rights activist told Human Rights Watch researchers that he had seen soldiers moving prisoners out of Bureau II that morning.

79 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 15, 2000.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with staff of a local non-governmental organization, Bukavu, March 16, 2000.

81 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, March 2000.

82 Human Rights Watch interview, March 16, 2000.

83 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma Central Prison, March 8, 2000.

84 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma, March 9 and 17, 2000. One of these persons bears scars, apparently from the beating, on his arms and back.

85 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 8, 2000. The witness bears scars on his legs from the burns.

86 Human Rights Watch, interview, Goma, March 10, 2000.

87 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 17, 2000.

88 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 15, 2000.

89 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 18, 2000.

90 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma and Bukavu, March 2000.

91 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 15, 2000.

92 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 17, 2000.

93 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 15, 2000.

94 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, March 13 and 15, 2000.

95 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 14, 2000.

96 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 17, 2000.

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