Human Rights Watch today welcomed a new United Nations report on massacres of refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the campaign that brought President Laurent Kabila's to power in May 1997.
Although the DRC government systematically obstructed the work of the Secretary General's Investigative Team (SGIT), and the team had its own internal difficulties, the investigators were able to confirm that troops loyal to Kabila perpetrated gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the then-Republic of Zaire. The SGIT's report concluded that Kabila's troops may have committed "crimes against humanity" as they hunted down and killed hundreds of unarmed Rwandan civilians who were fleeing refugee camps under attack.
Human Rights Watch also commended the U.N. report for providing evidence that the Rwandan government may share responsibility for these heinous crimes. The report concluded that, in May 1997, hundreds of unarmed Hutu refugees were massacred in the town of Mbandaka by soldiers of Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL), operating "under apparent Rwandan Army (RPA) command." In a report last October ("What Kabila is Hiding: Civilian Killings and Impunity in Congo"), Human Rights Watch also concluded that Rwandan troops had a role in some of the killings of Rwandan Hutu refugees on Zairean territory.
"The international community has yet to probe the role of Rwanda and other regional allies of the ADFL in these killings," noted Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. He called on the United Nations and the international community to continue the inquiry into the refugee massacres, to identify more precisely the individuals responsible for the killings, and to bring them to justice. The SGIT also recommended that an international criminal tribunal, possibly the Arusha tribunal examining the Rwanda genocide, should be designated to deal with these terrible crimes in Congo.
In a June 24 statement, the DRC government summarily rejected the findings of the U.N. investigation. Human Rights Watch today called on the DRC government to cooperate fully with any renewed investigation, and to express its full commitment to prosecute those responsible for gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law in these tragic episodes.