Democratic Republic of Congo
The catastrophic five-year war pitting the Congolese government against ever-splintering rebel groups continued through most of the year with belligerents killing, raping and otherwise injuring thousands of civilians. After intensified international efforts to end the war, Angola and Zimbabwe withdrew most of the troops they had deployed to support the Congolese government. Rwanda returned home most of its soldiers backing the Goma branch of the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma), while Burundi, also a supporter of RCD-Goma, and Uganda, backer of three other RCD factions, also announced troop withdrawal plans, albeit in October Rwandan and Burundian forces were reported once more to be in action alongside RCD-Goma as eastern Congo descended further into inter-factional and inter-ethnic conflict. In return for the Rwandan military withdrawal, the Congolese government banned Rwandan rebel groups based in eastern Congo and expelled the leaders of one of them, the Democratic Forces for Rwandan Liberation (FDLR). The government also agreed to facilitate the disarmament and repatriation of Rwandan rebels, but initial efforts at persuading them to return home were largely futile.
In the year or so up to their withdrawal the major foreign actors generally observed a truce, but local forces, some of which received support from the Congolese government or from one of the foreign actors, continued combat behind the front lines in eastern Congo through much of 2002. According to a report by a United Nations (U.N.) Security Council investigating commission released in October, Rwandan, Ugandan, and Zimbabwean army officers and Congolese authorities spurred these local conflicts in order to more easily plunder Congolese resources. It said these high-ranking officials collaborated with "criminal groups" in stealing Congolese wealth, and warned that the withdrawal of foreign troops would not end this exploitation.
Various parties to the conflict met in February 2002 in the inter-Congolese dialogue called for by the Lusaka Peace Accord of 1999, but they reached only a fragile power-sharing agreement that left undecided important questions about national reunification and the political transition. RCD-Goma refused to sign the agreement, as did veteran opposition leaders like Etienne Tshisekedi of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress. RCD-Goma boycotted a scheduled renewal of negotiations in late October.
The government became a state party to the Rome Convention for the International Criminal Court and also called for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal to try crimes against humanity committed in Congo before the date when the ICC came into being. Other actors, too, called for an international tribunal in the agreement reached as a conclusion to the inter-Congolese dialogue, but the international community showed little interest in this.
In May some RCD-Goma troops mutinied in Kisangani. In putting down that uprising, RCD-Goma soldiers, apparently backed by Rwandans, massacred civilians and military personnel: According to a report presented to the U.N. Security Council, more than 160 persons were slain.
In August and September hundreds of civilians were killed in the northeastern province of Ituri, where Ugandan army troops that were supposed to be keeping order there instead gave backing to one side in a conflict between competing rebel factions and ethnic militias. In August the Union of Patriotic Congolese (UPC), a faction predominantly of Hema ethnicity and supported by Ugandan troops, drove forces of the RCD-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML), led by Mbusa Nyamwisi, from the provincial capital, Bunia, and killed members of the Lendu and Ngiti ethnic groups, seen as RCD-ML supporters. RCD-ML forces and predominantly Ngiti militia then attacked the town of Nyankunde and killed hundreds of civilians, including hospital staff and patients, the latter slaughtered in their beds.
In Orientale province Nyamwisi's RCD-ML also lost territory in October to the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC) led by Jean-Pierre Bemba. Advancing eastwards out of Equateur province and reinforced by another RCD splinter, the RCD-National (RCD-N) led by Roger Lumbala, Bemba's forces captured Epulu and Mambasa, driving thousands of frightened civilians before them, and at this writing were bearing down on Beni in North Kivu.
As Rwandan troops left North and South Kivu provinces in October, local forces including groups of Mai-Mai and Banyamulenge (Congolese people of Rwandan ancestry) drove RCD-Goma soldiers from Uvira and surrounding areas, but then yielded before a new RCD-Goma thrust, reportedly reinforced by Burundian and Rwandan forces. RCD-Goma troops and Mai-Mai all reportedly killed civilians and plundered their property during this combat.
Many Banyamulenge originally supported RCD-Goma, but in early 2002 an important group followed former RCD-Goma officer Patrick Mazunzu in rejecting the rebel movement's authority. RCD-Goma troops tried unsuccessfully to suppress Masunzu's group. Rwandan government soldiers then joined in attacking the Banyamulenge, a people whose security had once been a pretext for the Rwandan army presence in Congo. Rwandan and RCD-Goma troops killed scores of civilians, including some shot from helicopter gunships, and forced thousands from their homes.
Combatants from all sides raped and otherwise sexually assaulted women and girls in the October fighting, as throughout the year. In some cases, victims were abducted and held for weeks or months to provide sexual and other services.
According to U.N. figures, some two million persons had been displaced by the conflict in eastern Congo by late October. Humanitarian agencies could meet the needs of relatively few of them and had to reduce even this limited assistance with October's intensified fighting. Combatants sometimes hindered humanitarian work: Mai-Mai took staff of the Merlin nongovernmental organization hostage for three days in January, and UPC authorities prevented humanitarian flights from landing at Bunia airport in October.
On taking power in 2001, President Joseph Kabila had pledged to honor civil and political rights, but throughout 2002 he continued to exercise autocratic powers inherited from his late father and predecessor, Laurent-Desiré Kabila. According to decree-law number 3 of 1997, all executive, legislative and judicial powers are vested in the president. Authorities carried out many abuses under the guise of delivering justice through the Court of Military Order. In October the prosecutor demanded the death penalty for 115 of 135 persons accused of having participated in plotting the late President Kabila's assassination. Shortly before, the government had announced the end to a moratorium on the death penalty in place since March 2001.
In December 2001 authorities beat and otherwise injured hundreds of Kinshasa university students whom they arrested after they had protested against tuition fee increases. According to the government, three policemen were killed during the protests. Leaders accused of organizing the protests were arbitrarily detained for three months, during which time they were severely beaten to induce them to confess to supposed links with political opposition leaders.
During the year authorities arrested fifteen journalists for publishing articles of which they disapproved. The publication director of the daily Alerte Plus reported that he was tortured in detention to force him to reveal sources of a news story published by the paper. The reporter who wrote the story was also arrested. In the East Kasai provincial capital, Mbuji-Mayi, the director of the National Intelligence Agency reportedly ordered three local radio and television stations not to cover news concerning opposition leader Tshisekedi.
In the zone controlled by RCD-Goma, authorities often detained civilians in unofficial places of detention, brought no charges against them, and refused them outside contact. Such detainees included a dozen Banyamulenge whom RCD-Goma agents arrested in Burundi in January with the help of Burundian authorities. They were reportedly transferred to a container located a short distance from Goma; at this writing their whereabouts were unknown.
In August and September, RCD-Goma authorities cooperated with Rwandan officials in forcibly repatriating thousands of Congolese refugees who had sought safety in Rwanda several years earlier. They made no provision for those who returned and initially refused to allow humanitarian workers access to them.
Human rights activists faced harassment, abduction, beatings, and arbitrary arrest in the course of their efforts to work in an extremely hostile environment in both government-held and rebel-controlled areas of Congo.
In April government agents detained N'sii Luanda Shandwe, head of the Committee for the Observation of Human Rights, and charged him with treason and sheltering criminals. N'sii faces trial before the Court of Military Order and a possible death sentence if found guilty. Human Rights Watch and other local and international advocates asked President Kabila to release N'sii or transfer his case to a civilian court to be tried in accordance with international fair trial standards, but at this writing N'sii--who fell ill in prison--remained under military jurisdiction. Willy Wenga Ilombe, a lawyer and member of the nongovernmental Center for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights, detained in February for criticizing the government, was still held at this writing. Golden Misabiko, chairman in Katanga province of the leading national organization the African Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ASADHO), was detained for eight months and tortured in 2001, and in March 2002 was forced to flee the country after the prosecutor of the Court of Military Order ordered his arrest for having criticized government policy in a radio interview.
In the zone controlled by the Ugandan-backed MLC, authorities detained a local correspondent of the U.N.-supported Radio Okapi for a week because he had interviewed child soldiers. In Bunia in early September, agents of RCD-ML, also backed by Uganda, detained Honore Musoko, founding member of the association Justice Plus, because he had criticized the human rights record of the faction during an interview with Voice of America. In late 2001 and early 2002, RCD-ML agents repeatedly detained Hangi Bin Talent, the representative in Beni of ASADHO. By mid-year, he had fled Congo.
Human rights defenders were harassed and arrested also by RCD-Goma authorities. On March 15 agents detained and severely beat Richard Bayunda of the Research Center for Environment, Development and Human Rights (CREDDHO). They were apparently reacting to his efforts to protect detainees whose rights were being abused. After the May mutiny in Kisangani, RCD-Goma authorities threatened several human rights activists. They detained Dunia Ruyenzi, a lawyer, in late May when he sought information about the whereabouts of some detainees. They held Djento Mahundu Bwenge for over a week at the Direction Générale de Migration (DGM) because he gave an interview to Radio France International. Also in May RCD-Goma soldiers raided the office of the Study and Action Group for a Well-Defined Development (GEAD). They seized documents and equipment and, at the time of this writing, were still prohibiting access to the office. Soldiers later attempted to intimidate Delphine Itongwa, a leading member of GEAD, by making a menacing nighttime visit to her house.
In the RCD-Goma-held city of Bukavu, a civil society leader and teacher at the Catholic University, Professor Byamungu, was assassinated by uniformed soldiers in July. As of this writing, no one had been arrested for this crime.
Having spent much effort trying to end the war in the DRC, and satisfied with the withdrawal of foreign troops and Congo's disavowal of Rwandan rebels, the international community appeared willing to mute its calls for accountability in hopes of ensuring the hard-won semblance of stability.
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