Human Rights Watch today deplored the weak presidential statement issued by the United Nations Security Council late last night on massacres in the Congo.

The U.N. statement condemned massacres and other crimes against humanity committed in 1996-97 in the former Zaire, currently the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), but it stopped short of authorizing an independent investigation and prosecution of those responsible for these crimes. "Simply calling on the Congolese and Rwandan governments to investigate and prosecute their own officials makes no sense," said Peter Takirambudde, the Africa Director of Human Rights Watch. "It's an insult to the victims. Both governments have already failed to cooperate with previous U.N. probes of these crimesThe Security Council has promised to review the issue again in three months.

The June 30 report by the Secretary-General's investigative team (SGIT) concludes that the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo, and its Rwandan and other allies, committed massacres of displaced Rwandan Hutus, including thousands of women and children, during the swift 1996-97 military campaign that installed President Kabila in power in the DRC. The report asserts that these massacres and the denial of humanitarian assistance to displaced Rwandan Hutus were "systematic practices involving murder and extermination, which constitute crimes against humanity." These were cold-blooded murders of thousands of unarmed people. The SGIT, whose probe was frustrated by DRC obstruction, has recommended that the next step is identifying the killers and bringing them to justice.

The SGIT has suggested, in particular, that an appropriate judicial body, possibly the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, be endowed with the authority to investigate these tragic events and to determine individual responsibility for them. In letters to member states of the Security Council in advance of last night's meeting, Human Rights Watch has endorsed this recommendation as the most effective means to punish those guilty of violations.

Alternatively, the Security Council could create an independent Commission of Inquiry with the resources to establish individual and command responsibility for the massacres. This would include fact-finding and political and military intelligence capabilities. States which contributed troops to the military campaign to overthrow Mobutu, as well as those with information, would be expected to cooperate with the investigation. The commission of investigation or the appropriate tribunal could pursue these key questions from outside the DRC and, if the government of the DRC decides to cooperate, from inside the country as well.

"Unfortunately, the Security Council has made its choice, and it's a bad one," said Takirambudde. He urged the Security Council to commission an independent investigation and prosecution of these crimes, since the Congolese and Rwandan governments are likely to prove, three months from today, as unwilling as ever to assume their responsibilities in accounting for these massacres.

Mr. Takirambudde noted that the Congo crisis has underscored the need for an International Criminal Court (ICC) with permanent responsibility for investigating and prosecuting precisely these types of crimes. "The case of Congo shows that you can't rely on the Security Council to dispense justice," he said. Delegates at the conference to establish an ICC in Rome have come under heavy pressure from the United States and other governments to weaken the court's powers, and to allow the Security Council to have some control over the court's docket. Mr. Takirambudde urged the nations of Africa and other regions of the world to withstand such pressure and create an independent and effective ICC.