Human Rights Watch today expressed alarm about the increasing use of ethnic hate propaganda by officials of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Radio broadcasts on August 8 from a government regional radio in the eastern town of Bunia monitored by the BBC called on the local population to use "a machete, a spear, an arrow, a hoe, spades, rakes, nails, truncheons, electric irons, barbed wire, stones, and the like, in order, dear listeners, to kill the Rwandan Tutsis." On Wednesday the 12th, a local commander of the Congolese army called on Bunia residents to "take revenge" on the Rwandans and "massacre them without mercy."
The DRC government has accused the small minority of Congolese ethnic Tutsis of leading the current rebellion and credibly alleges that Rwanda has invaded its territory in support of the rebels. This stimulation of ethnic hatred by government officials raises serious human rights concerns because of its sadly well-proven record for triggering large-scale killings. Hate radio broadcasts prepared the stage for the 1994 Hutu-led genocide in neighboring Rwanda against the minority Tutsi population in which at least half a million were killed. The conflict spilled over in neighboring DRC, contributing to the destabilization of the country and the spread of political violence in its eastern provinces ever since. Ethnic bloodletting continued on Congolese territory during the 1996-97 military campaign that brought President Kabila to power when his former allies reportedly massacred thousands of unarmed Hutu refugees in apparent retribution for the 1994 killings in Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch views with deep concern the continuation of the ethnic witch hunt in the capital Kinshasa. Hundreds of ethnic Tutsis continue to be detained in Kokolo military camp in Kinshasa, and hundreds more are held in unknown places. The increasing use of hate propaganda by DRC officials exposes these detainees and other Tutsis to potential ill-treatment and even random killings as the public may interpret these messages as prior approval or a guarantee of impunity if they were to engage in such atrocities.
Human Rights Watch received credible reports from rebel-held Bukavu about atrocities committed by rebel soldiers against residents during a house-to-house search in the "Essence" neighborhood. Rebel soldiers were looking for alleged infiltrators from the anti-rebel Mayi-Mayi warrior groups. Wide-scale looting and armed robbery were also reported by town residents as well as by departing humanitarian workers. The offices and warehouses of a humanitarian agency in Bukavu were looted by soldiers who held employees at gunpoint and threatened to kill them.
Human Rights Watch calls on the government of the DRC to guarantee the rights and protect the safety of ethnic Tutsis who are in its custody or are living in areas under its control. We urge the government to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the DRC Field Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights full access to the detainees in accordance with international standards. The government should also facilitate the departure of ethnic Tutsis who wish to leave the country. We urge the rebel authorities to guarantee the rights and safety of civilian populations in areas under their control and to abstain from any attacks on rights defenders and community leaders in these areas.
Human Rights Watch calls on the international community to assume its full responsibility in taking firm steps to denounce abuses against civilians by all parties to the present conflict in the DRC, and to hold perpetrators of such abuses responsible.