Skip to main content

What is this report about?
The UN mapping report has been prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and describes the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between March 1993 and June 2003. It is a solid, detailed document, based on extensive and credible research by a team of about 20 international and Congolese human rights professionals over the course of 12 months. The report focuses on 617 of the most serious incidents across Congo during the 10-year period and provides details of grave cases of mass killings, sexual violence, attacks on children, and other abuses by a range of armed actors, including foreign armies, rebel groups, and Congolese government forces.

The report says that women and children were the main victims of much of the violence the team documented. To "appropriately reflect the scale of the violence practised by all armed groups" against the most vulnerable, the report devotes specific chapters to crimes of sexual violence against women and girls and violence against children. It also devotes a chapter to the role played by natural resource exploitation in relation to the crimes committed in Congo.

The report concludes that the majority of the crimes documented qualify as crimes against humanity and war crimes. With reference to one particular series of events between 1996 and 1997, the report raises the question of whether certain crimes committed by the Rwandan army and its Congolese ally, the Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL) rebel group, against Rwandan Hutu refugees and Congolese Hutu citizens (see below for further details) could be classified as crimes of genocide. The report specifies that it would be up to a competent court to make such a judgment.

The aim of the mapping exercise was not "to establish individual responsibility, nor lay blame." Instead, the report says that the mapping exercise was "intended as a first step towards the sometimes painful but nonetheless essential process of truth-telling after violent conflict" and that the report "looks to the future by identifying a number of paths that could be pursued by Congolese society to come to terms with its past, to fight impunity, and to face its contemporary challenges in a manner that prevents the re-occurrence of such atrocities." A significant part of the report is devoted to an assessment of the current Congolese justice system, the legal framework for trying these crimes, and options for transitional justice.

Why is this report significant?
The UN mapping report is a powerful reminder of the gravity of the crimes committed in Congo and the shocking absence of justice. The report notes that the period covered by the mapping exercise is "probably one of the most tragic chapters in the recent history of Congo." This decade, it says, "was marked by a string of major political crises, wars and multiple ethnic and regional conflicts that brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people." It notes that "very few Congolese and foreign civilians living on the territory of the DRC managed to escape the violence."

The mapping report is the first time that these crimes, perpetrated by a variety of actors, have been comprehensively analyzed, compiled, and systematically organized in an official UN report. Many of the events have been documented before, including by the UN itself and by nongovernmental organizations, but others had gone largely unreported. If followed up by strong action nationally and internationally, the report could make a critical contribution to ending impunity and breaking the cycle of violence in Congo and the wider Great Lakes region.

Is there any difference between the version that was leaked to the press in August and the official version published by the UN on October 1?
There is no substantive difference. The report has not been significantly altered. The official version published on October 1 includes additional clarification on the legal definition of the crime of genocide and arguments for and against qualifying some of the events of 1996 and 1997 as crimes of genocide. It sets out some of the factors that could lead a court to characterize some of these crimes as crimes of genocide, as well as countervailing factors that could lead a court to find that the requisite intent to commit genocide was lacking and that the crime of genocide may not have been committed. It concludes that "a full judicial investigation into the events that occurred in Zaire in 1996 to 1997 will be necessary, in order to permit a competent court to decide on the matter."

The official version incorporates comments from the Congolese government. Other governments have been given an opportunity to publish their responses on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Rwandan government, in particular, strongly objected to the report and threatened to pull its 3,000 peacekeepers out of the African Union-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur if the report was published and the allegation of crimes of genocide committed by its troops in Congo was not removed from the document. The UN resisted this pressure and on September 24, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda backed away from the threat.

What is the origin of this report? Why did the UN decide to look at the past crimes committed in Congo now?
The UN previously investigated some of the crimes described in the report, notably in 1997 when Kofi Annan, then the secretary-general, appointed an investigation team to look into serious crimes committed in Congo from March 1993 to December 1997. But these investigations were repeatedly blocked by the Congolese government, headed at that time by Laurent Désiré Kabila (father of Joseph Kabila, the current president), who had come to power with the assistance of Rwanda and Uganda.

Despite these attempts to block the investigation team, the UN did publish the team's preliminary findings in 1998, which concluded that some of the killings in 1996 and 1997 by the Rwandan army and its Congolese rebel allies, the AFDL, might constitute genocide. Because their work had been seriously hindered, the team called for further investigations and requested that evidence and other sensitive information it had obtained be stored in a secure place until a more thorough investigation was possible.

In September 2005, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUC, discovered three mass graves in Rutshuru, in North Kivu province of eastern Congo, relating to crimes committed in 1996 and 1997. The gruesome discovery was a reminder of the horrors that had taken place and of the continuing absence of justice. It acted as a trigger to re-open investigations. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the support of the UN Secretary General, initiated the mapping exercise, so-called because it was to document the most serious crimes over a specific time frame and geographical area, and broadened the mandate to include violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during Congo's second war, from 1998 to 2003.

In May 2007, President Joseph Kabila approved the mapping exercise and in July 2008, a team arrived in Congo to begin the work. This time the team was able to operate without hindrance.

Why is the Rwandan government so angry about this report?
The Rwandan government, and other governments named in the report, are understandably sensitive to allegations of crimes committed by their troops. While the report documents horrific crimes by many armed groups in Congo, some of the most serious crimes, the report says, were committed by the Rwandan army (the Rwandan Patriotic Army, RPA) and its allies, the AFDL Congolese rebel group in Congo in 1996 and 1997.

The report says that the attacks committed by the RPA and the AFDL "reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide." At the very least, it concludes, "The information gathered to date makes it possible to confirm quite clearly that these [attacks] were indeed crimes against humanity."

The Rwandan government received an advance copy of the report in July and has since sought to dismiss and discredit it, claiming that the genocide charges are absurd and irresponsible and that the report was instigated by people who oppose the Rwandan government. The Rwandan government has put significant pressure on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to stop the report's publication, in addition to its threat to pull its 3,000 peacekeepers out of Darfur. It has also encouraged other African countries to denounce the report. In a statement dated September 24, the Ugandan government also rejected the report and said that it undermined Uganda's resolve to continue contributing to peacekeeping operations.

Such reactions only hinder efforts to end impunity in the Great Lakes region and to find a lasting solution to the continuing conflict in Congo. By seeking to prevent publication of such an important report through threats and intimidation, the Rwandan and Ugandan governments only raise further questions about the conduct of their troops and give the impression that they have something to hide. The report merits a serious response, not blanket denials that crimes that already have been well-documented ever took place.

But wasn't there a genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda? How can there also have been a genocide against Hutu?
In 1994, over 500,000 people were brutally slaughtered in a genocide in Rwanda planned by extremist Hutu politicians and other officials against the Tutsi minority. The extremists were defeated in 1994 by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame, the current Rwandan president, ending the genocide. Fearing revenge attacks, more than a million Rwandan Hutu fled Rwanda into eastern Congo [then called Zaire]. The refugees were accompanied by perpetrators of the genocide - including members of the former Rwandan army and interahamwe militia - who established control over the refugee camps set up by the international aid community near the border between Rwanda and Congo. In 1996, the Rwandan government, backed by Uganda, invaded eastern Congo to destroy the camps, and together with the hastily constituted Congolese rebel group, the AFDL, marched on the capital, Kinshasa, overthrowing President Mobutu Sese Seko, who had backed the Hutu extremists.

The mapping report says that after the Rwandan army and its Congolese allies crossed the border into eastern Congo in 1996, they carried out "apparent systematic and widespread attacks" against Hutu in what the report describes as an "apparently relentless pursuit and mass killing of Hutu refugees," resulting in the deaths of "several tens of thousands." The report states that "the extensive use of edged weapons (primarily hammers) and the apparently systematic nature of the massacres of survivors after the [refugee] camps had been taken suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage." It adds that "the majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces."

The report also describes the systematic killing of Congolese Hutu who played no part in the genocide in Rwanda but who were targeted at public meetings and roadblocks established by the Rwandan army or their Congolese AFDL allies, then taken aside and killed. The report states that "the numerous attacks against the Hutus in Zaire [Congo], who were not part of the refugees, seem to confirm that it was all Hutus, as such, who were targeted." The report concludes that the research revealed "a number of inculpatory elements that, if they were proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide."

It is this alleged targeting of individuals on the basis of their ethnicity - regardless of whether they were Rwandan or Congolese, combatants or civilians - which raises the question of the possible commission of "crimes of genocide" in Congo. The crime of genocide has a very specific legal definition, namely the commission of a number of acts (including killings and serious bodily or mental harm) "with the intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".[1] The term "genocide" does not refer to the scale of the crimes, but to the intentional targeting of a group with the specific objective of eliminating it partly or fully.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front has been rightly credited with ending the genocide in Rwanda, but this does not absolve it of responsibility for crimes its own forces may have committed in the months and years that followed, both in Rwanda and Congo. Justice for tens of thousands of Congolese citizens and Rwandan refugees is critical to finding a lasting peace in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Is this report more about Rwanda than Congo?
This is a report about Congo and the terrible atrocities that Congolese people have suffered at the hands of both foreign and Congolese actors. It covers many other atrocities, apart from those committed by the Rwandan army and its allies. The report includes considerable information on crimes committed by Congolese rebel groups and Congo's national armed forces as well as the Ugandan, Burundian, Angolan, Chadian, and Zimbabwean armed forces and other foreign rebel groups.

It is often said that at least 5 million people died in Congo. Does the report cover these deaths?

Detailed mortality surveys conducted by the International Rescue Committee have found that nearly five million people have died in Congo since 1998 as a result of the conflict, the vast majority due to malnutrition and lack of access to medical treatment. The mapping report focuses specifically on killings and other abuses inflicted deliberately on civilians. It does not document the many hundreds of thousands of other deaths that were an indirect consequence of the violence.

Does this report document crimes of sexual violence?
The UN mapping report found that women and children were the main victims of much of the violence and devotes a chapter to the crime of sexual violence against women and girls. It found that: "Between 1993 and 2003, sexual violence was a daily reality from which Congolese women gained no respite. Whether schoolgirls or mothers, engaged, married or widowed; simple farmers or wives of political leaders, former army members or civil servants; opposition party activists, humanitarian workers or members of non-governmental organisations, they were all subjected, regardless of social class or age, and for a variety of reasons, to the most diverse forms of sexual violence."

The mapping team was also able to confirm massive incidents of sexual violence that had previously been undocumented or documented only to a limited extent, particularly the rape of Hutu refugee women and children in 1996 and 1997.

Does the report make any reference to natural resource exploitation?
Yes, the report devotes a chapter to this issue. As the report notes, "it would have been unthinkable to produce an inventory of the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003 without considering, however briefly, the role played by natural resource exploitation in the perpetration of these crimes. In a significant number of cases, the struggle between different armed groups for access to, and control over, the DRC's resources served as a backdrop to the violations perpetrated against the civilian population." The chapter documents the way in which the desire to control minerals, timber, and other resources acted as a powerful motivating factor for Congolese and foreign parties to the conflict.

This is a historical report. What is its relevance to present-day Congo?
The report has an immediate relevance to the situation in Congo today and is a stark reminder of the consequences of impunity. Many of the types of atrocities against civilians documented in this report continue. The Congolese security forces and a multitude of armed groups still use the same tactics and strategies of abuse, emboldened by the fact that there has been no accountability for previous atrocities.

This was particularly evident in the mass rape of over 300 women and girls in Walikale, eastern Congo, in August 2010, which was widely reported by the news media. The UN report highlights the direct link between the lack of accountability for perpetrators and the continuation of serious crimes against the civilian population. The creation of justice mechanisms to begin to hold perpetrators to account for these crimes will be crucial to ending this cycle of violence.

What is the Congolese government's response to the report?
The UN submitted a draft of the report to the Congolese government in June 2010. The Congolese government provided detailed comments to the UN, which have been incorporated into the final version. On October 1, the Congolese government issued a statement saying it welcomed the publication of the report and was "appalled at the horrific nature and scope of crimes documented in this report that the people of the Congo have suffered." The statement said, "The victims deserve justice and they deserve that their voices are heard by [the Congolese government] and by the international community." The government said it was "determined that the Congolese Government will do what it can to bring justice for the crimes and some degree of reparations for the victims" and called for a meeting in Congo with legal experts and international donors to further discuss the judicial options set out by the mapping report to determine a way forward.

Congolese civil society has strongly supported the report. On September 3, a coalition of 220 human rights organizations from across the country issued a news release endorsing the report and requesting that appropriate judicial mechanisms be put in place to hold the perpetrators to account and bring justice for the victims. In the words of one human rights activist, "[The report] responds to the lobbying we have done for a long time to re-establish moral equilibrium in Congolese society based on the noble ideas of justice, equality, peace, fraternity and national solidarity as defined by our constitution of February 18, 2006, in favor of all Congolese and all human beings who live in the DRC."

Why hasn't anyone been brought to justice for these crimes if they were already well known at the time?
The lack of justice for these crimes has been a major failing of governments in the Great Lakes region and the international community and has undoubtedly contributed to the continuation of attacks on civilians in Congo. Successive attempts to investigate these crimes were blocked, and reports by national and international human rights organizations about the scale of the crimes were ignored. Guilt about failing to take action to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 led many governments to turn a blind eye to horrific crimes committed by Rwandan forces in Congo and, by extension, crimes committed by other armed forces on Congolese soil. The civilian population has paid a heavy price for this flawed policy.

The Congolese government has attempted to seek some recourse through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for crimes of aggression and major violations of international humanitarian law by Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi during Congo's second war, from 1998 to 2003. The ICJ issued a judgment in December 2005, which found that Ugandan armed forces had perpetrated widespread violations of human rights in Congo between 1998 and 2003 and violated the principle of non-use of force in international relations and the principle of non-intervention. The court ordered Uganda to pay reparations of about $6 billion to Congo. No money has yet been paid.

The same court said it could not rule on a similar case the Congolese government brought against Rwanda since Rwanda does not recognize the ICJ and is not a party to UN conventions against torture and other human rights instruments. In particular, Rwanda referred to its reservation to Article IX of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide[2]. The ICJ can only accept a case if it has the consent of both parties. Rwanda did not consent, thereby shielding itself from what would probably have been a similar finding to the court's conclusion on Uganda.

In 2003 at the UN General Assembly, President Joseph Kabila called for an international criminal tribunal for Congo to investigate the crimes and to hold the perpetrators to account. His call was echoed by Congolese civil society groups. The appeals were ignored.

Can the International Criminal Court (ICC) try the crimes described in the mapping report?
The ICC was set up to try cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes that occurred from July 2002 onwards when the Rome Statute, which established the court, came into effect. Many of the events described in the mapping report occurred before this date. However, some of the crimes committed in the second half of 2002 and in 2003, such as those in the Ituri District, do fall within the ICC's mandate. In April 2004, the Congolese government referred the situation in Congo to the ICC. The Office of the Prosecutor determined, two months later, that he had jurisdiction over the crimes committed in Congo after July 1, 2002, and investigations have been ongoing since then. Three Congolese armed group leaders have been arrested following indictments by the ICC and are on trial in The Hague. The ICC prosecutor is also conducting further investigations in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo of crimes committed since July 2002.

Can the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) investigate these crimes?
The mandate of the ICTR is to try crimes of genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda in 1994. It is also able to try crimes committed by Rwandans in neighboring states during the same period, but most of the crimes committed by Rwandan forces documented in the UN mapping report took place after 1994 and therefore do not fall within the tribunal's mandate. Enabling the tribunal to take on these cases would require changing its mandate. Furthermore, the tribunal is due to complete its trials by the end of 2011 in the first instance and is not taking on new cases. It seems unlikely that there would be sufficient international interest to expand the tribunal's mandate and keep it in operation beyond its current completion date.

So which court should try these crimes?
This is one of the key questions the UN mapping report seeks to address, and it sets out several options. The mapping team found that the Congolese justice system lacks the capacity in the short- or medium- term to prosecute the crimes it documented, despite recent judicial reforms initiated by the government with international donors' support. Among the options it set out, the report expresses a strong preference for creating a hybrid model: a mixed judicial chamber embedded in the Congolese justice system with international and Congolese judges and other personnel to bring justice to the victims. This follows similar recommendations from numerous UN special rapporteurs and Congolese civil society organizations. Human Rights Watch also supports such a model.

The proposed "mixed chamber" would in large part follow the model of the Bosnian war crimes chamber established in early 2005 as part of the Bosnian State Court.[3] It would be a national institution embedded in the Congolese justice system and apply Congolese laws and procedures, but with its own bench, investigation and prosecution services, registry, and victims and defense offices. It would deal exclusively with past and present war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and would temporarily include non-Congolese staff. Establishing a "mixed chamber" within the domestic judicial system would be in accordance with the principle that states have the primary responsibility to prosecute serious violations of human rights committed on their territory. Created by the Congolese authorities and embedded in the domestic justice system, the "mixed chamber" would have Congolese ownership. It could also benefit the Congolese justice system in the longer term through capacity-building and would not divert current international efforts to strengthen the rule of law in Congo. The addition of a mixed chamber in the Congolese justice system with support from international judicial experts could provide the national justice system with the boost it needs to tackle rampant impunity for the worst crimes.

Moreover, given the tense political context surrounding the crimes documented in the UN mapping report, the presence of international staff in the "mixed chamber" would lend the necessary credibility and legitimacy to its investigations of crimes allegedly committed by non-Congolese perpetrators.

What should happen now that this report has been published?
The grave crimes documented in the mapping report can no longer be ignored. The report requires a serious response from the UN and its member states, including the Congolese government and other African governments whose armed forces participated in the atrocities. Until now, such a response has been sadly lacking.

The UN Security Council, as the primary UN body responsible for threats to international peace and security, should formally discuss the report and insist that all countries whose nationals participated in the crimes assist in efforts to bring justice. The Congolese government should act quickly on its proposal to hold a meeting with relevant experts and donors in Congo to consider the judicial and non-judicial options the report sets out and decide on a way forward.

Was Human Rights Watch involved in the mapping exercise?
No. The mapping exercise and the drafting of the report was carried out exclusively by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The UN team consulted many international and national nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and referred to their publications relating to the events in question. These included reports published by Human Rights Watch, some of which are listed in the mapping report annex. The mapping team also used a broad range of other sources and conducted detailed investigations of its own, interviewing 1,280 witnesses. In many cases, Human Rights Watch's own findings are consistent with those of the UN mapping report.

[1] Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on Genocide.

[2] Five judges commented at the time: "It is a matter for serious concern that at the beginning of the twenty-first century it is still for States to choose whether they consent to the Court adjudicating claims that they have committed genocide. It must be regarded as a very grave matter that a state should be in a position to shield from international judicial scrutiny any claim that might be made against it concerning genocide. A State so doing shows the world scant confidence that it would never, ever, commit genocide." International Court of Justice, Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Rwanda), Joint separate opinion of Judges Higgins, Kooijmans, Elaraby, Owada and Simma, February 3, 2006.

[3] For more information about the Bosnian war crimes chamber, see Human Rights Watch, Looking for Justice: The War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 2006,

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Most Viewed