Human Rights Developments
Defending Human Rights
The Role of the International Community
The U.N. in April pulled out from the Congo the Secretary-Generals Investigative Team (SGIT) which was probing massacres of Rwandan Hutu refugees there during President Kabilas rise to power. The decision followed months of government obstruction of the SGITs work, including harassment of witnesses and the detention of an investigator. The Investigative Teams June 30 report, admittedly incomplete, cited individual massacres of refugees and called for more investigations and a tribunal to try the perpetrators. In a weak response, the Security Council issued a presidential statement on July 13 condemning the massacres, but stopped short of authorizing an independent investigation and prosecution of perpetrators. It referred these tasks to the Congolese and Rwandan governments and required them to report back to the council by mid-October. When his countrys relations deteriorated with Rwandain August, the Congolese Foreign Minister Jean-Charles Okoto Lolakombe in an address before the U.N. General Assembly admitted for the first time that massacres did occur during the 1996-97 war, and entirely attributed these to the Rwandan Patriotic Army.
For the second consecutive year, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Congo, Roberto Garretón, appointed under a 1994 resolution of the Commission on Human Rights, remained persona non grata in Kinshasa. His January 1998 report to the commission concluded that President Kabilas government has eliminated the civil rights to life, liberty, physical integrity, etc.; and that the rights of political participation have been suspended. The commission voted in April to continue the special rapporteurs mandate for another year.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights maintained a field office in Congo, with a focus on monitoring, cooperating with the authorities in implementing the relevant international instruments, strengthening NGOs, and reporting to the special rapporteur. In March, several ministers and high officials participated in a three day seminar organized by the field office and hammered out an official national plan for the defense of human rights. The severity of the governments attack on ASAHDO and other national rights groups which coincided with the announcement made a mockery of that promise.
The U.N. backed regional initiatives seeking a peaceful resolution to the renewed Congolese conflict. On August 31, the Security Council issued a presidential statement that expressed alarm at the plight of the civilian population throughout the country and urged all parties to respect and protect human rights and respect humanitarian law. The statement also called for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of foreign forces, and the engagement of a political dialogue to end the war in the Congo.
Donors pledged U.S.$ 32 million by mid-year to a Trust Fund set up by the World Bank to support the health, education, and transportation sectors.
In presidential statements on August 11 and 27, the E.U. expressed its concern about the growing crisis in the Congo, called for political dialogue among all the parties involved, and strongly condemned human rights violations by all of the forces involved. The E.U.s special envoy to the Great Lakes, Aldo Ajello, toured the troubled region in an evaluation mission in September. Although he did not dwell on the human rights aspects of the crisis, he called in public statements for a solution that would guarantee the long term security of the Congo and its neighbors. At the political level, he called for dialogue between all the Congolese political factions, and their participation in the transitional process.
Secretary Albright announced during her visit that the administration would pledge $10 million for the World Banks Trust Fund for Congo, and would seek an additional $35-40 million in aid to the government. In fact, the administration faced legislative constraints on providing significant aid to the Congo, including the Faircloth amendment to the Foreign Assistance Appropriation Act tying any assistance to the Congolese government to its full cooperation with the U.N. probe in accounting for civilian massacres in Congo. A waiver obtained under the authority of the secretary of state, for aid going to the central government, allowed the U.S. to provide the $10 million it had pledged to the World Bank Trust Fund in addition to $10 million for the regional small-scale development programs overseen by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and another $10 million for heath, environment,and private sector activities. The U.S. also earmarked $500,000 for eventual constitution drafting, elections, or judicial reform initiatives.
During President Clintons Africa trip in March, he held a short, private meeting with President Kabila at the summit in Entebbe, Uganda, attended by other African leaders. Clinton reportedly told Kabila that he had followed Kabilas march across Zaire with great interest, and that he had come too far to fail. Apparently, no specifics were discussed. However, no sooner did Kabila return to Kinshasa than he began spinning his participation in the Entebbe summit and his short meeting with Clinton as an endorsement of his policies. This further soured his relations with the U.S. Relations continued to slide following the withdrawal of the U.N. investigative team in April. On April 23, the White House press secretary issued a statement expressing concern about the withdrawal of the team. It went on to note that the lack of progress on political reform, including the banning of political parties and of a leading human rights organization, the exiling of a prominent opposition leader, and the trial of civilians before military courts, calls into question the commitment of the government to democratic principles. Despite the stronger rhetoric, the U.S. failed in July to push for a stronger Security Council resolution on the investigative teams report.
The rules of quiet diplomacy still governed U.S. relations with Rwanda and Uganda, its staunchest allies in the region. At the outbreak of the current Congo crisis, the administration initially adopted a remarkable silence on the two countries military involvement, even faced with evidence that their troops were part of the rebellion which was feared to be responsible for serious abuses against civilians. It was not until August 19 that a State Department spokesman acknowledged Rwandan and Ugandan military intervention, and even then it was couched in terms apparently intended to justify their actions. Countering genocide is in the national security interest of Rwanda and other countries in the region. The failure of the Congolese government to deal with border security and citizenship for the Banyamulenge population has undermined regional security. Nevertheless, we can in no way condone or accept military intervention into Congo by Rwanda, Uganda or any other government in the region. The statement called on the Congolese government, the rebel leadership, and foreign forces to prevent human rights abuses in areas under their control, and to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers.
At the same time, U.S. policy toward the Congolese government was increasingly forceful, focusing not only on the protection of Americans but also on the protection of other civilians caught in the conflict. The U.S. quickly condemned abuses perpetrated by government forces against Tutsis in Kinshasa, and pushed for access to the detainees by the ICRC.
The policy of the United States came under increasing attack in many parts of Africa, with many voicesincluding heads of state like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabweaccusing the U.S. of supporting the Rwandan and Ugandan actions in Congo. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice responded to such allegations in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Africa on September 15, calling them specious and ridiculous. She reiterated that the U.S. fully understands their legitimate security interests in countering insurgent attacks from Congolese soil, and shared regional and international frustration with the Kinshasa governments failures with respect to both democratization and human rights. Nevertheless, she contended that foreign intervention to overthrow the government was not acceptable. Rice said nothing about reports that Rwandan or Ugandan troops might have themselves been implicated in rebel abuses against civilians. She went on to state that the U.S. considered Angolan, Namibian, and Zimbabwean intervention as destabilizing and very dangerous as well.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
Abduction and Enslavement of Ugandan Children
Human Rights Causes of the Famine in Sudan
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Human RIghts Watch