The DRC conflict continues to present the biggest security crisis in the continent, contributing to the worsening of the humanitarian situation in much of central and southern Africa.
The crisis in the DRC embodies the critical need for justice and accountability. Given the past slaughter of Hutu refugees in the DRC and the current fear and hatred between those identified with Tutsi and those identified with Hutu in the Kivu provinces of the DRC, the international community must show that genocide and crimes against humanity will be punished no matter where or by whom they are committed. To leave allegations of such crimes unaddressed in any part of this region will undermine the potential deterrent effect of judgments by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). By creating a jurisdiction able to prosecute crimes not yet committed as well as those of the past, the international community would deliver a clear warning to extremists of all kinds who might otherwise be tempted to organize ethnic violence in order to disrupt any peace accords.
Southern African Development Community
Zambia took the lead in mediating the conflict in the DRC on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U.). After protracted negotiations, the government and rebels, and their respective foreign allies, signed a cease-fire accord in July and August 1999. The agreement addresses Congo's internal political crisis by providing for a national dialogue by the government, the rebels, and the nonviolent political opposition to agree on new political order for the country. It also addresses the security concerns of Rwanda, Uganda, and Angola by committing all parties to identifying and disarming members of armed groups from these countries operating in the DRC and to hand over suspected "genocidal" elements to international prosecutors. The agreement does not provide for accountability for ongoing abuses by the RCD rebels and their backers. It also fails to recognize or take into account the grievances of the Mai-Mai. The accord provides for a Joint Military Commission (J.M.C.) to oversee its implementation, and for a peacekeeping force with a significant U.N. participation to enforce it on the ground.
The U.N. appeared ill-disposed to a peace-enforcement role as initially requested by the mediators. Up until the signing of the Lusaka accord, the U.N. Security Council repeatedly expressed concern about the continuing war in the DRC in resolutions and presidential statements, but failed to take concrete action to stop it. The council viewed the conflict as threatening to regional peace, security, and stability and deplored its disastrous humanitarian consequences. This recognition notwithstanding, the U.N. persisted in keeping a low profile in the search for peace, and in the peacemission once the belligerents reached a truce. The council expressed strong support in its communications for the regional mediation process led by Zambia on behalf of SADC and the OAU.
Following the signing of the Lusaka cease-fire agreement, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on August 6, 1999 authorizing the deployment for three months of up to ninety U.N. military liaison personnel in the capitals of the belligerent states. Their mandate included the establishment of contacts with the joint military commission formed by the belligerents to oversee the implementation of the truce. The limited mandate reflected the reluctance in the U.N. to consider a peace enforcement operation under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, and a certain preference for a military observation mission. This measured approach again prevailed in the course of the intensive deliberations that occurred during the U.N. Security Council's special session on the DRC from 24-26 January, 2000. The session prepared the ground for the adoption of U.N. Security Council resolution 1291 on February 24 extending the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to August 31, and authorizing its expansion by a 500 military observer force, plus another 5,537 troops for logistical backup. The Council placed the force under a newly established joint structure with the J.M.C., and gave it a limited Chapter VII mandate by authorizing it to take action to protect U.N. and J.M.C. personnel and infrastructure, and civilians facing imminent threats of attack.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights maintained its efforts to positively influence human rights developments on the ground. Roberto Garreton, the U.N. special rapporteur for the DRC, returned to the country in February and August 1999 at the invitation of President Kabila's government. He had been banned since March 1997 after implicating forces of then rebel leader Kabila and their Rwandan Patriotic Army allies in the massacre of thousands of Hutu refugees. The government thereafter systematically obstructed the work of the Investigative Team set up by the U.N. secretary-general to circumvent the ban on the special rapporteur, leading to the premature closure of that investigation as well. The fallout between the DRC and Rwanda appeared to have disposed the DRC government to more cooperation with the U.N. In his first meeting with the special rapporteur, on August 28, 1999, President Kabila agreed that the investigation could proceed when the security situation allowed, and promised his country's cooperation. However, despite the concrete steps that the government took during the year to resume its cooperation with the U.N. and to engage leading international human rights organizations in dialogue, this and similar pledges by the government failed to translate into tangible human rights improvements.
Rebel leaders of the main rebel faction, the RCD, on both occasions received the special rapporteur, who was able to travel to Goma twice and to Bukavu once. The rapporteur secured the rebels' agreement to the establishment, as of August 1999, of a branch office at Goma, under the U.N. Human Rights Commission's Field Office in Kinshasa, to monitor the human rights situation in the region. The office was closed for security reasons soon after its inauguration, but was poised to reopen in April 2000.
In his September 1999 report to the General Assembly, the special rapporteur denounced RCD reprisals that ultimately forced five human rights activists who had met with him during his February visit to Goma to flee the country. In presenting his findings before the 56th session of the Human Rights Commission in March 2000, the rapporteur concluded that a climate of terror, humiliation and rejection of those in power reigns in areas controlled by the rebels and their foreign backers. These forces constantly violated the right to life, he found, but also repressed the right to freedom of association, assembly, expression and opinion. The rapporteur denounced the continued application by President Kabila's government of the death penalty and its systematic use of torture, enforced "disappearances," and summary executions. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April 2000 renewed the mandate of the special rapporteur for the DRC for another year.
The United States
The U.S. has directed its energy toward supporting the Lusaka peace process. Lingering skepticism in regional circles about more direct U.S. involvement in the mediation effort has been fueled by the perception that the U.S. had for too long unconditionally supported the leaders of Uganda and Rwanda. U.S. reluctance to press for accountability and human rights improvements by all sides grew as the DRC plunged further into chaos, making peace and regionalsecurity the primary focus in U.S. public diplomacy. Statements issued by the Department of State in support of the regional peace process contained scant references to abuses by all the belligerents and to their obligations to abide by international human rights and humanitarian standards. Although the U.S. has presented detailed information on the human rights abuses committed by the Kabila government, it says very little about those committed by rebel factions opposed to that government.
The U.S. has failed to hold Rwanda and Uganda directly and unequivocally responsible for abuses committed by their own troops or by the forces of the factions they support in areas under their respective control. While U.S. public statements issued in March 2000 acknowledged the RCD and the Rwandan role in eastern Congo, for example the March 15 State Department statement which urged RCD-Goma and the Government of Rwanda to facilitate the return of the archbishop to Bukavu immediately, there has been a no public denunciations of the conduct of the rebel factions headed by Professor Wamba-dia-Wamba and Jean-Pierre Bemba's MLC and their Ugandan army backers in areas under their respective control in North Kivu and Equateur province. This disparity is also evident in the country chapters on Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo in the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999.
In recent months, high-level administration officials have publicly weighed in to support Lusaka. In February 2000, President Clinton lauded the Lusaka cease-fire agreement, saying that "[i]t is more than a cease-fire; it is a blueprint for building peace. Best of all, it is a genuinely African solution to an African problem." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and especially U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke have also publicly committed to Lusaka.
Holbrooke traveled to Africa in December 1999 largely to focus on the Congo conflict. In January 2000, he used the opportunity of the U.S. holding the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council to address problems in Africa, in what was termed "the month of Africa." Congo was a principal concern which was dealt with at a special summit attended by seven African heads of state and a special session of the Security Council, chaired by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. This activity helped build momentum for the establishment of the United Nations Observer Mission in the DRC (MONUC) on February 24. The U.S. advocated a three phased approach to the mission, each step of which would be tied to concrete progress toward the implementation of Lusaka. No U.S. troops would be involved in the operation. The U.S. provided $1 million in assistance to the Joint Military Commission and $1 million to support President Masire's effort to facilitate the Congolese national dialogue.
In testimony before the House Subcommittee on Africa of the International Relations Committee on February 15, Holbrooke addressed the issue of U.S. national interest in the Congo crisis as follows: "The U.S. has an interest in upholding regional stability and in preventing the resurgence of genocide and mass killing in Central Africa. In particular, the former Rwandan Army (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe militia, who are implicated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide are still operating in the region, significantly contributing to instability. More than a half dozen regional states have been involved in the fighting. Congo is a contagion of crisis: if the conflict there is allowed to fester, efforts to resolve conflicts and promote stability throughout the region-in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan-will be even more difficult." He also noted the looming humanitarian crisis that threatened the area. What Holbrooke failed to mention was the other actors responsible for crimes against humanity in eastern Congo, and how the U.S. and the international community could attempt to halt the massive killing of civilians by all sides.
The notable exception to the pattern of U.S. silence on abuses in the east occurred during the month of Africa. Secretary Albright's remarks at the Security Council on January 24 included: "The most disturbing aspect of the conflict in the Congo has been the horrific abuse of fundamental human rights by all sides. We have even heard credible reports recently of women being buried alive in Eastern Congo." This reference to the killings in Mwenge literally caused a diplomatic incident, and showed how powerfully public exposure of abuses by the U.S. can be felt in the region.
Albright went on to say "[t]here is no rationale of past grievance, political allegiance or ethnic difference that excuses murder, torture, rape or other abuse. Here, today, together, we must vow to halt these crimes and to bring those who commit them to justice under due process of law." However, this strong rhetoric has not yet translated into firm U.S. support for expanding the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in order to try crimes against humanity committed in Congo.
The European Union
On the condition that the belligerent parties themselves respected their own accord, the E.U. pledged in several public statements support for its implementation, particularly for resettling civilians displaced by the war, fostering national reconciliation in the DRC, and supporting the country's rehabilitation plans. However, the E.U. also failed to emphasize the need for justice and accountability to end the abuses by all sides in the conflict.
In June 1999 the European Commission issued a communication to the E.U. Council of Ministers and Parliament reviewing the E.U.'s economic cooperation with countries at war in the DRC. The report was intended to avoid the misuse of development funds provided by the E.U. for military purposes. Also in June a presidential declaration expressed concern at the continuing flow of arms and military equipment to the Great Lakes and Central Africa regions. The statement called on member states to strictly adhere to the E.U.'s own Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, and recalled that, under the E.U. code, countries agree not to authorize arms exports that might "aggravate existing tensions or armed conflicts in the country of final destination" or risk fueling human rights abuses.
The first Africa-Europe Summit was held in April 2000 under the aegis of the OAU and the EU. As expected, the summit was long on rhetoric and short on concrete action. Although the summit did not address the Congo crisis per se, the summit's declaration expressed "our deepest concern over the massive violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and, in particular, the phenomena of racism, genocide and ethnic cleansing. We condemn all such acts and pledge to co-operate with relevant institutions set up to prosecute and try the perpetrators." This implies that existing institutions have the mandate to hold accountable those who violate human rights and humanitarian law, which is clearly not the case in Congo. The Cairo Plan of Action "urge[s] States to implement international humanitarian law in full, in particular by adopting national legislation to tackle the culture of impunity and to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, by ensuring that international humanitarian law is fully integrated into the training programmes and operational procedures of armed forces and the police force and by ensuring during armed conflicts that impartial humanitarian organizations have secure, rapid and unimpeded access to the civilian population." While this is a welcome call for states to act to end impunity, it will remain hollow rhetoric if the E.U. and its member states fail to integrate these plans into their policies toward countries in conflict, notably those involved in the Congo crisis.