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In early August 1998 another war of “liberation” broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—less than two years since President Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) fought to rid the country of the dictatorial and corrupt rule of Mobutu Sese Seko. Civilians bore the brunt of the conflict as both sides resorted to extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions, with their perceived ethnic adversaries the main victims. The government maintained a policy of exclusion by strictly enforcing a ban on political activities introduced in 1997.

The Banyamulenge, ethnic Tutsis settled for generations in south Kivu, had spearheaded the ADFL rebellion in 1996 to assert citizenship rights that Mobutu’s government moved to deny them. They again rose in August, this time against their former ally President Kabila, claiming that he had usurped power and failed to resolve their nationality concerns. Neighboring Rwanda and Uganda intervened on their side, as they did during the first war, exposing a dramatic falling out between them and the man they helped carry to power.

The continued violence during 1997 and 1998 in the eastern provinces of north and south Kivu accelerated the slide to war. During the ADFL’s rebellion, its allies from the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Army massacred thousands of Hutu refugees, including women and children. The systematic obstruction by the Congolese government of United Nations investigations into the killings contributed to the country’s diplomatic isolation and prevented the revival of its economy. Extremist Hutus responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which more than half a million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, regrouped, and used the Kivus as springboards to launch devastating raids on their country. The Ugandan rebel Alliance of Democratic Forces similarly fought its own government out of north Kivu. The exiled groups had increasingly allied themselves with the Mayi-Mayi, traditional warrior groups opposed to the Rwandan presence and influence in their region, in joint attacks against government troops and ethnic Tutsis. Joint military operations by forces from the three countries failed to flush out the insurgents. The triggering factor in the second war was president Kabila’s decision in late July ordering Rwandan troops home.

The rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy drew troops from disenchanted brigades of the Congolese Armed Forces. Its political branch brought together a diverse coalition of anti-Kabila groups, including, in addition to the Banyamulenge, figures from the national opposition and former dignitaries of the Mobutu era. Accusing President Kabila of corruption, nepotism, and failure to bring about democratic reforms, ethnic harmony, and regional stability the rebels vowed to correct these ills and to open the democratization process to other political forces. Their bid to remove the government in a lightening campaign was, however, thwarted when forces sent by the governments of Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia came to President Kabila’s rescue. Their intervention saved the capital Kinshasa from an imminent fall to rebels attacking it from bases in western Congo.

Labeling the rebellion an invasion of his country by Rwanda and Uganda, President Kabila accused ethnic Tutsis collectively of supporting the aggression on his country. Other officials amplified the accusation by resorting to hate propaganda as they urged the population to help in tracking Tutsis. In the capital and other government-held areas police and the army arrested and arbitrarily detained hundreds of civilians in connection with the conflict, most of them ethnic Tutsis. According to relatives, soldiers raped dozens of detained women. Those picked up at random and later released said afterwards that they were briefly held in overcrowded and filthy lockups. Soldiers denied inmates food and medical care, they said, and tortured and summarily executed some detainees.

In the face of a growing international outcry at the arrests, the government formed an inter-ministerial commission to oversee the detainees and after some delay allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross regular access to those held in the capital. By mid-September, the government said it had reached a decision to expel many of the detainees to countries willing to grant them asylum.

Rebels also targeted civilians. Many humanitarian agencies operating in eastern Congo and the public complained about the confiscation of their vehicles and communications equipment by the rebels. In advance of their attack on the capital, rebels cut its power supply, interrupting the distribution of drinking water to its five million inhabitants, and disrupting health and other essential services, breaching international humanitarian law provisions prohibiting the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population..

All parties to the conflict subjected prisoners detained in connection to the conflict to ill-treatment and extrajudicial executions. When the attack on the capital was pushed back in August, soldiers and angry mobs summarily executed dozens of captured orsuspected rebels. Retreating government soldiers in late August reportedly killed dozens of detained civilians in the town of Kisangani, Congo’s third largest city. In reprisal for the killing of six of their colleagues in an ambush near Bukavu in August, rebel soldiers rounded up and summarily executed hundreds of villagers including six priests and nuns, in the locality of Kasika and surrounding villages.

Government and rebels systematically recruited child soldiers into their armies. The government mobilized for its counteroffensive thousands of child soldiers already enlisted in the army since the first civil war. It launched a recruitment drive in August that enlisted thousands, many of them as young as twelve. The rebels reenlisted hundreds of former child soldiers they found in transit camps run by humanitarian agencies in Bukavu and Kisangani where they were following skill-upgrading programs prior to their planned reunification with their families. On both sides of the conflict, children typically were attracted into joining armies because of the appeal of the gun and the uniform and the promises of a regular pay and meals.

The year was marked by the escalation of the government’s repression of the civil and political rights of the Congolese. The enforcement of a ban on political activities by parties other the ruling ADFL was tightened following a warning in January by the minister of interior to politicians to either abide by the ban or risk trial before a special military court. Authorities dispersed a meeting on January 17 of the youth branch of the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress - UDPS, shortly before a scheduled address by Etienne Tshisekedi, the party’s leader. The police arrested dozens of participants, and subjected them to ill-treatment and torture in its headquarters. Citing Tshisekedi’s persistent defiance, the government in mid-February exiled him to his home village where he was held in conditions of virtual detention. Forty-eight party militants and twelve senior advisors arrested in two raids on his home after his release in mid-July, were ill-treated during their brief detention. During one of many attacks on political parties, police on January 20 stormed the headquarters of the opposition Innovative Forces for Union and Solidarity (FONUS) and arrested its outspoken leader Joseph Olenghankoy.

By late October, about sixty soldiers and civilians convicted mainly of armed robbery were publicly executed following sentences passed by the Court of Military Order and the rejection of their appeals for presidential clemency. Trials before this court lacked the minimum guarantees of fairness since its decisions could not be appealed to a higher court. Initially established in 1997 to discipline Congo’s unruly military and try civilians charged with armed robbery, the court increasingly became part of the government’s arsenal for the intimidation of its political opponents. In January it condemned Kabila Kalele and Jean-Francois Kabanda, both prominent members of the UDPS, to two years imprisonment for a press article critical of the government. In May the court sentenced Joseph Olenghankoy to fifteen years in prison for “threatening state security,” following hearings in which prosecutors argued for the death penalty.

The government continued to routinely detain journalists and writers for articles on topics it deemed sensitive, such as official corruption and security matters. The editor of the leading Kinshasa daily La Référence Plus was briefly detained in late April for covering a claim by a local rights group that the private residences of some military commanders doubled as secret detention places where detainees were tortured and “disappeared.” He was released only after being obliged to lead other journalists under military escort to one of the houses mentioned to demonstrate that no prisoners were held there. An editorial on the internal exile of the UDPS leader and the publication of a “message to the people” from him led to brief detentions of the editors of Le Potentiel and Le Palmerès in February and April respectively. The government prevented private radios from broadcasting press reviews and political commentaries. For challenging that restriction, and its alleged “complicity with the BBC,” the government in April shut down Radio Amani (peace), which is run by the Catholic archdiocese of Kisangani.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001

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