(New York) - Human Rights Watch today deplored the failure of the governments of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to submit official reports on their progress in investigating the 1997 atrocities in Congo.
The United Nations Security Council set a deadline of October 15 for Rwanda and Congo to submit progress reports on steps they had taken to investigate and prosecute massacres, atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law at the time the current Congo government took power in 1997.
In a letter to Amb. Jeremy Greenstock, president of the Security Council, Human Rights Watch today urged the council to press ahead with steps to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes and atrocities are brought to justice.
On June 30, the Secretary-General's Investigative Team (SGIT) released a report partially documenting the crimes in the Congo and calling for further investigations. At the time, Human Rights Watch criticized the decision to ask Rwanda and Congo, governments accused of massive human rights abuses, to investigate their own alleged crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to consider creating an independent commission of inquiry for that purpose.
A copy of the letter is attached.
October 21, 1998
His Excellency Sir Jeremy Greenstock
President of the Security Council
United Nations Headquarters
New York, N.Y. 10017
In a Presidential Statement dated July 13 (S/PRST/1998/20), the Security Council requested the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda to provide by October 15 an initial progress report on the steps being taken by them to investigate and prosecute those responsible for massacres, atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law that took place in the Congo, and especially in its eastern provinces. These crimes were partially documented by the Secretary-General's Investigative Team (SGIT) in its June 30 report to the Security Council. In particular, the SGIT's report implicated President Kabila's forces and their allies of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) in the wide scale massacres of Hutu refugees which took place in the former Zaire during their 1996/97 military campaign for power.
To our knowledge, this deadline has not been met and no reports were submitted by either government. Human Rights Watch is deeply disappointed that the Security Council has yet to react to their failure to meet the deadline the Council itself has put forward. Furthermore, as we stated in our July 14 letter to the Security Council, we consider the course of action the Council adopted in its July 13 statement too weak because it stopped short of authorizing an independent investigation and prosecution of those responsible for these crimes, as the SGIT had recommended.
Because the 1996/97 killings remain unaccounted for, the climate of impunity that for so long has permeated the Great Lakes Region has only been strengthened. Impunity for all these crimes has, in turn, fed into the devastating civil war currently gripping Congo which is fast spreading to the region and the continent.
The international community should hold all the protagonists responsible for the alarming disregard of the basic humanitarian and human rights principles that fighters on both sides have displayed. All parties have resorted to arbitrary detention and extrajudicial executions of their perceived ethnic adversaries. The use of hate propaganda directed at Tutsis in government-run radio and television is a matter of grave concern given the proven efficiency of that ploy in paving the way for mass killings. The conflict has forced the flight of thousands of civilians from their homes in rebel-controlled eastern Congo, while in Kinshasa and other cities hundreds of ethnic Tutsi have been rounded up, detained, executed, or forced to flee for their lives. Both parties to the conflict recruit child soldiers and send them to the front.
The governments of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo who are now at odds remain as unlikely as before to assume full responsibility for past and current massacres. Following the deterioration of his government's relations with Rwanda, Congo's Foreign Minister Jean-Charles Okoto Lolakombe, in an address to the U.N. General Assembly on September 24, said current rebel crimes against innocent civilians "remind us of the killing perpetrated against Hutu refuced in a joint communiqué on October 7 "state-inspired genocide" against the DRC's Tutsi minority, and accused President Kabilagees by the elements of the same Rwandan Patriotic Army." This official admission echoed an earlier statement by Minister of State Victor Mpoyo who charged in addition that the RPA was solely responsible for his government's systematic obstruction of the United Nation's probe into the refugee killings. Rwanda and Uganda, for their part, denoun of supporting Rwandan Hutu extremists. Although the Congolese and Rwandan governments should be encouraged to come forward with whatever information they have on this matter, the task of fully verifying such information should be assigned to independent investigators so that the search for facts may not be subordinated to political considerations.
The punishment of the perpetrators of past as well as current atrocities and crimes against humanity committed in the Congo remains a matter of utmost urgency if the cycle of mass killings is ever to be interrupted. Human Rights Watch therefore calls on the Security Council to:
- press ahead with steps to ensure that the perpetrators of the 1996/97 crimes and atrocities are brought to justice, in line with the July 13 statement, taking measures to:
o endow an appropriate judicial body, possibly the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, with the authority to investigate the massacres and to determine individual responsibility for them;
o alternatively, consider creating an independent commission of inquiry with the resources to establish individual and command responsibilities for the massacres, and with the mandate to report its findings publicly and by a specified date.
In the context of the current war in the Congo and the efforts by the international community to put an end to the conflict, Human Rights Watch urges the Security Council to press all parties to the conflict to:
- observe the prohibition of incitement to violence, discrimination, crimes against humanity, and genocide under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Geneva Conventions, and the Genocide Convention;
- observe the right of civilians to humanitarian protection and therefore guarantee their access to humanitarian assistance, in particular from the ICRC and other international agencies;
- allow the deployment, by or in close collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), of human rights monitors throughout the country. The monitoring of hate media / propaganda, particularly in local languages, should be a priority.
Any attempt to achieve a ceasefire without at the same time addressing the need to stop the cycle of violence and abuse, will be a temporary measure at best and will not provide a meaningful and lasting solution.