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Briefing to the UN Security Council on the Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The most dramatic horrors of eastern Congo — the killings and rapes — have victimized thousands of ordinary Congolese in the last year. The daily, less dramatic horrors have made life a misery for more than a million — having no place to sleep and not enough food to eat. It is this daily struggle that has cost the lives of most of the five million people who have died in eastern Congo in the last decade.

Consider the case of Jean. After the resumption of combat in August, he and his wife fled with their seven children to a displaced persons camp, but there was no food available. Jean took the risk of returning to his farm to try to feed his family. He and eleven others were caught by eight National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) soldiers. One soldier said he would kill them all and put his machete to Jean's ear. Jean said:

He cut at my ear, slowly, slowly, back and forth. He said he would cut me, part by part, until I die. The others started to cry out, and the soldier left me to hit them on their heads with the back of his machete. He then came back to me and started to cut at the back of my neck. When the others cried out even louder, the soldier forced another man to lie naked on the ground and sliced his buttocks with a machete.

Jean escaped and found help at a health center. He returned to his family in the camp, still without food.

Or consider the case of three young students who happened to be Tutsi and were thought to be supporters of the CNDP. They went to the market in Goma to buy a pair of shoes and were set upon by a crowd, arrested, beaten and humiliated by police officers in Goma.

These incidents killed no one but created terror and provoked anger and hatred-thus fueling the conflict that everyone says they want to end.

Supporting the Belligerents

Human Rights Watch field investigations have shown that the mosaic of hundreds of thousands of acts of violence and consequent suffering reflects larger patterns of political and economic forces at the national, regional, and international level.

The conflicts are driven locally by struggles to expand political power and to control resources and trade routes, but they draw on active or passive support from Rwanda on one side and the Congolese government on the other.

Rwanda has permitted the recruitment of combatants for Laurent Nkunda's forces. We know this because MONUC has facilitated the repatriation of dozens of Rwandans, including some 30 children, from Nkunda's ranks back to Rwanda. Some of these combatants commit abuses, like those that made Jean suffer. In addition, Rwanda permits the transit of money and supplies that enable Nkunda's forces to keep fighting.

Congo has allowed its soldiers to collaborate with the very Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) combatants they are supposed to disarm. Some Congolese authorities make speeches inciting hatred against Tutsi, spurring the mistreatment of Tutsi like the students beaten and arrested in Goma.

Businesspersons as well as politicians from outside North Kivu play a role in perpetuating this war. The CNDP thrives on the customs duties collected at the border stations, transforming duties paid by businesspeople into supplies for combat. The FDLR illegally trades minerals to buy arms, a commerce supported by all those corporations which value their own profits more than human lives.

The Security Council has recognized the unfortunate role played by governments and corporations in perpetuating the conflict. The study expected soon from the UN panel of experts will certainly provide further evidence of these links.

Impunity

Conflicts recur in Congo in part because of the weakness of the state and the related weakness and corruption of its army. There have been efforts to improve the performance of the army but beneath questions of technical competence as a fighting force lie the more fundamental questions of lawful conduct. All the training programs in the world will not convince soldiers to obey the law if they know their officers to be criminals. For example, MONUC has documented the alleged involvement of Commander Jerome Kakwavu in extensive abuses-including torture and rape-in Ituri. Yet he has now been named a general in the Congolese army, a substantial reward for accepting national political authority. General Gabriel Amisi, known as Tango Four, is another fighter whose alleged crimes have been documented by MONUC, including involvement in the brutal suppression of a mutiny in 2002. Such apparent misconduct did not keep him from becoming at one time commander of the Congolese army ground forces.

So long as warlords are rewarded with desirable military or political posts, it is not surprising to see other ambitious fighters try to build themselves a base for negotiation on the backs of a suffering civilian population. So long as military officers can violate the law with impunity, it should not surprise anyone to see men under their command engaging in killings, rapes, pillage, and destruction.

The obligation to obey international humanitarian law rests upon rebel movements as well as on governments. In total disregard of a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, Bosco Ntaganda continues to serve as chief of staff of the CNDP military forces. So long as he fills that position, how can we expect to see CNDP combatants respect international humanitarian law?

Recommendations

We welcome the Security Council's decision to increase the number of troops available to MONUC. To ensure that these troops can better protect civilians, they will need a mandate clearly establishing that protection of civilians takes precedence over other objectives. The Council should also consider immediately authorizing a multinational bridging force to provide this protection in the period before the additional troops arrive. Such steps are essential if the Council is to move towards implementing the Responsibility to Protect agreed to by world leaders three years ago.

Solutions to complex problems are invariably complex, but here are some further concrete and practical measures that the Security Council can take now to reduce abuses and increase protection of civilians:

  1. Use information from the anticipated report of the UN panel of experts to promptly condemn those who are supporting abusive forces in eastern Congo. Intensify and expand pressures on governments responsible for actively or passively assisting belligerents who violate international law. Intensify and expand measures on traders and corporations engaged in commerce with such belligerents.
  2. Direct the MONUC human rights unit to investigate and to publish prompt and full accounts of serious abuses committed in eastern Congo.
  3. Encourage donor countries to continue and expand assistance to the Congo judicial system.
  4. Urge the CNDP to deliver Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC, and urge the Congolese government and the FDLR to deliver any persons sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
  5. Direct MONUC to end any support to or collaboration with Congolese army units headed by officers against whom there are serious allegations of grave violations of international humanitarian law.

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