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Human Rights Developments

The human rights situation in Zaire continued to deteriorate during 1994, with widespread abuses against a population with no recourse to the rule of law. Extrajudicial execution, arbitrary arrest, illegal detention, torture, rape, looting by government troops, and rampant corruption were the hallmarks of government in President Mobutu Sese Seko's twenty-ninth year in power. The massive influx of Rwandan refugees into Zaire in July and August further complicated Zaire's human rights picture.

An economic crisis, characterized by soaring inflation (estimated at 13,000 percent in Kinshasa), massive unemployment (estimated at 80 percent), nonpayment of civil servants, paralysis of the commercial banking system, and the collapse of the country's copper mining industry, produced starvation, malnutrition, and disease. Shortages of food and medicine were also the result of frequent rioting and massive looting by rampaging troops of the army. Lines of communication broke down, and roads ceased to exist. In urban areas throughout the country, vulnerable populations including children, the elderly, and the handicapped were especially at risk. The World Bank closed its office in Zaire in January 1994 due to the country's failure to pay its debts.

Faced with the breakdown of government services, communications, and the economy, the nongovernmental sector took on many essential functions. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were active in providing health care and education, organizing feeding centers and development projects, and performing a range of other services. This active civil society, which included human rights groups, was one of the only bright spots in Zaire in 1994.

For most of 1994, the general atmosphere of insecurity was intensified by the ongoing political stalemate between President Mobutu and the opposition coalition known as the Sacred Union, headed by former Prime Minister Etienne Tshisekedi, who was elected by the Sovereign National Conference in 1992. Mobutu repeatedly undermined prospects for a transition to multiparty democracy, which he promised to support in April 1990. As long as the army's elite troops and the treasury remain under his personal control, Mobutu may be able to maintain power.

A report on the human rights situation in Zaire by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, published on December 23, 1993, described human rights violations by the security forces as well as their interference in the transition process. The report stated that "[t]he virtual impunity apparently enjoyed by the security forces would seem to indicate that they commit human rights violations with the consent of the highest authorities."

Between late 1993 and early January 1994, an agreement was forged between Mobutu's Political Forces of the Conclave and the Sacred Union, which was to lead to the dissolution of their rival parliaments. On January 14, however, Mobutu unilaterally merged Tshisekedi's transitional parliament, the High Council of the Republic (HCR), with his own National Assembly. Mobutu called the new parliament, which was given the authority to select a new prime minister, the HCR-Parliament of Transition (HCR-PT). The opposition considered this move a "constitutional coup" and on January 19 called for a nationwide strike, which was observed throughout the country.

A new constitution designed to govern the country during the transition period was promulgated by Mobutu on April 9. The transition was supposed to last fifteen months, culminating in presidential and legislative elections.

The battle subsequently focused on the process of selecting a new prime minister under Article 78 of the transitional constitution. The opposition split and did not put forward a consensus candidate. Tshisekedi refused to resubmit his candidacy on the theory that he had already been elected prime minister by the national conference. The HCR-PT proceeded to validate seven other candidates.

On June 14 Kengo Wa Dondo, a former prime minister and businessman, was appointed prime minister by the HCR-PT; he was installed on July 11. The opposition Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) protested this, maintaining that Tshisekedi remained the lawful prime minister; the UDPS subsequently refused to accept three ministerial posts offered by Kengo and threatened to boycott the upcoming general and presidential elections. On August 5 Kengo announced his intention to abide by the transition schedule fixed by the constitution.

As of this writing, the voting majority in the transitional assembly was in the hands of Mobutu supporters. Eighteen out of the twenty-eight most significant ministers, including the Minister of Defense, were also close allies of Mobutu. Moreover, the Zairian armed forces and the national economy remained largely outside the control of the new prime minister. Human rights violations continued; civilians were continually subjected to a range of abuses by the military, including rounds of pillaging, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, and murder.

Independent journalists and opposition politicians were particularly targeted in 1994. In March security forces detained the outspoken Zairian journalist Kalala Mbenga Kalao for eighteen hours and confiscated his possessions before permitting him to leave for the United States, where he was granted political asylum. In June the mutilated corpse of Pierre Kabeya, a journalist with the weekly Kin-Matin, was found near the Loano military camp in Kinshasa. On the previous evening, Kabeya had reportedly submitted for publication an article regarding the 1991 trial that followed the killings of students in Lubumbashi in May 1990 in which security forces were implicated. Other journalists affiliated with newspapers close to the opposition, including Ipakala Abeyi Mobito, editor of La Référence Plus, and Wilfried Owandjankoi, publisher of La Tempête des Tropiques, were arrested and detained by the authorities. A further crackdown on the press was expected from a warning issued by the government in late September, which specified that all writers, publishers, or printers committing a press offense would be tried and eventually sentenced according to the laws of the Republic.

Political opposition members were harassed as well. Joseph Olenghankoy, a member of the High Council of the Republic and a leader of the Radical Opposition Renovation Force, was arrested on June 10 by Mobutu's Special Presidential Division (DSP), detained incommunicado, and reportedly beaten and interrogated about his political activities. He was released on June 22. The elite army troops of the DSP ransacked Olenghankoy's house on September 13 and October 4, reportedly in retaliation against Olenghankoy's organization of a protest against the government.

On June 12 Tshisekedi was arrested by the DSP and detained for ten hours. The DSP also arrested and detained Denis Bazinga, one of Tshisekedi's counselors, stripped him of his clothing, and released him in a cemetery the following day. Troops opened fire on civilians in front of the home of Frederic Kibassa Maliba, President of the UDPS, on June 13. On June 27 an opposition meeting at the UDPS headquarters in Mbuji Mayi was broken up. Lambert Mende, a UDPS spokesman, was arrested and released shortly afterward.

On July 5 the Civil Guard, the paramilitary police force, arrested Léon Muntuntu Kadima, a member of the National Secretariat of the UDPS and one of Tshisekedi's counselors, after he denounced Kengo's election. Muntutu was detained incommunicado and without charge until September 16. While in detention, he was tortured.

Members of the Civil Guard and the DSP opened fire on Tshisekedi's compound on July 11, killing his bodyguard and wounding at least five other people. At least six people are reported to have been taken to Makala Central Prison in Kinshasa, notwithstanding their injuries. Tshisekedi's home and office were ransacked. Some observers say that this raid was intended as a reprisal for a violent confrontation that had occurred on the morning of the same day between UDPS activists and soldiers around Tshisekedi's house, in which four soldiers had been seriously injured.

Soon after Kengo's appointment, the new prime minister reportedly issued an order forbidding all opposition leaders to travel outside the capital, whether abroad or within Zaire. A group of soldiers led by Kengo's brother reportedly seized and beat Lambert Mende so that he was unable to leave as planned on a flight to Brussels on August 25. The Kengo government also restricted access by opposition activists to the broadcast media.

Shaba, Zaire's mineral rich province, continued to offer the clearest case of the government's manipulation of ethnic and regional divisions. A government-inspired campaign of terror that began in August 1992 caused approximately 500,000 Shaba residents to be displaced from their homes in the neighboring region of Kasai. While Kengo denounced the expulsion of Kasaians from their homes, he had taken no action to facilitate their return as of November 1994.

The influx of between 800,000 and 1,400,000 Rwandan refugees into eastern Zaire in mid-July significantly heightened the level of instability in this region. Public infrastructure grew even more overburdened, and cholera and dysentery became widespread. The arrival of thousands of Hutus, many of whom were heavily armed, in the North Kivu region reportedly exacerbated pre-existing tensions between local Zairians and villagers of Rwandan origin (Banyarwanda). Aid agencies estimated that 250 villagers died in ethnic clashes and 32,500 villagers fled their homes between September and November.

The security situation in the refugee camps in Goma, Zaire became increasingly volatile by the end of 1994 due to the activities of former Rwandan army troops and militia members, most of whom were still armed; the failure of the Zairian military to exert control over the refugees, the involvement of Zairian troops in widespread violence and extortion in the camps, and banditry. Members of the defeated Rwandan army and Hutu militia intimidated other refugees through control of the system of distribution of food relief and access to shelter and terrorized those who wanted to return home. Those suspected of seeking to return or of opposing the former government were murdered. One of the most severe incidents occurred in late August in Kibumba camp, where a group of 200 to 300 refugees awaiting transport were attacked by Hutu militia members. Thirty Rwandan boy scouts in Katale camp, who had been charged with organizing security and helping with food distribution, were either murdered or vanished in late September. Militia members also threatened foreign members of the relief community in late 1994. The situation deteriorated so much that by early November international humanitarian groups were threatening to withdraw from the camps. Units of the former army and Hutu militias were reported to have carried out armed incursions into Rwandan border areas and to be training and rearming for military operations on a large scale.

In October the Zairian government prohibited the enrollment of Rwandan children in local schools in an effort to encourage repatriation. The Zairian and Rwandan prime ministers and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees signed a tripartite agreement setting out a framework for repatriation, which will be implemented when security conditions improve and it can be ensured that returning refugees will not be victimized by the new Rwandan authorities.

Zairian soldiers, sent to Goma after the mass influx of refugees in July, looted from both refugees and Zairian residents and were reportedly responsible for a number of killings of civilians in Goma. They committed such abuses with apparent impunity.

The Right to Monitor

The human rights community in Zaire was amazingly vibrant. Recognizing that they have a crucial role to play in the democratization process, Zairian NGOs were planning major initiatives to prepare the terrain for elections. Other activities included education and consciousness-raising efforts relating to human rights and democracy.

The principal human rights groups in Kinshasa included Amos, which emphasized the link between human rights and Christian values; the Association for the Promotion of Responsible and Democratic Broadcasting (APARD); the Zairian Association for the Defense of Human Rights (AZADHO); the Black Robes; the Zairian Human Rights League (LIZADHO); the Voice of the Voiceless for Human Rights (VSV); and Human Rights Now, a coalition of human rights organizations. There were also specialized groups, including the Association of Prison Professionals, the Christian Service for Women's Rights, and the Zairian League of Voters.

Other new human rights groups emerged in various regions. In South Kivu, these included the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (APDH), the Office of Legal Assistance (BAJ), the Union of Young Democrats for Reconstruction, Heirs of Justice, and the Justice and Peace Commission of South Kivu. In North Kivu, they included the Advice and Support Group for the Realization of Internal Development, the Justice and Peace Commission of North Kivu, Muungano, and the Training Center for the Promotion of Human Rights. In Upper Zaire, Justice and Liberation, the umbrella group of which all the functioning human rights groups in Kisangani are members, was the most active organization. In Shaba, the primary groups were the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, the Justice and Peace Commission, and the local branch of LIZADHO.

As in past years, Zairian human rights activists were subject to harassment by the Zairian government and security forces in 1994. At the beginning of the year, Muile Kayembe, who headed the Black Robes, an organization of young lawyers that investigates prison conditions and focuses attention on important court cases, was interrogated by security forces following the distribution of materials claiming that all citizens, from the caporal (a low-ranking soldier) to the maréchal (a clear reference to President Mobutu) were equal before the law. Guillaume Ngefa Atondoko, the President of AZADHO, was reportedly pulled aside by agents of the National Intelligence Service at Ndjili Airport. The authorities confiscated all the AZADHO publications that he was carrying and permitted him to leave the country to attend a human rights seminar only after a week of discussions. Reverend Placide Tshisump Tshiakatumba, the chair of the International Society for Human Rights, was reportedly threatened by the Zairian government in March and has since gone into hiding.

U.S. and E.U. Policy

Since early 1992 the U.S., France, and Belgium have periodically collaborated to support the transition process begun by the National Conference and pursued by Prime Minister Tshisekedi until his ouster by President Mobutu's supporters. These three countries have repeatedly called on the opposition and the Mobutu regime to proceed with the transition.

In 1994 most contacts with the authorities were made privately by the U.S., France, and Belgium. Prior to the appointment of Prime Minister Kengo in June, the U.S. and its allies expressed concern about the deteriorating situation and supported the mediation efforts of Archbishop Monsengwo. Much of their energy was directed toward pressuring the opposition to compromise and urging Tshisekedi to rejoin the government.

The Clinton administration's policy on Zaire, which exemplifies its deference to the French with regard to Francophone Africa, was virtually indistinguishable from that of the Bush administration. Prior to Kengo's appointment, U.S. support for Tshisekedi was lukewarm. As in the past, U.S. policy seemed to turn on the perception that while Mobutu may be the main obstacle to the transition, he must play a crucial role in that process, although senior U.S. officials made statements publicly distancing themselves from Mobutu and criticizing human rights abuses.

The U.S., France, and Belgium viewed the appointment of Prime Minister Kengo with cautious optimism. All three countries issued carefully worded statements implicitly recognizing his appointment and received Kengo in their capitals in late 1994. They announced, however, that they would not renew bilateral aid to Zaire until Kengo demonstrated control of the economy and the security forces, as well as an improved human rights record. A realistic calendar for free and fair elections was also of central concern to the U.S. and its allies.

In the wake of the Rwandan crisis, Mobutu portrayed himself as a regional mediator, and the French government appeared willing to help him assume that role. In return for allowing French troops to operate out of the Zairian border town of Goma, senior French officials reportedly promised to end Mobutu's diplomatic isolation. The French government subsequently invited Mobutu to the Franco-African summit in November. Mobutu also sought to play on the world's fears that the Rwandan tragedy could be replicated in Zaire and that only he could prevent it. Even had it wished to, the U.S. was too disengaged from Zaire to mount any effective challenge to these efforts to rehabilitate Mobutu.

The U.N.'s involvement in Zaire focused on the provision of humanitarian assistance in the refugee camps on the Rwandan border. Special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi conducted an investigatory mission to Zaire from July 31 to August 8. In July Roberto Garreton was appointed special rapporteur on Zaire, and he was scheduled to visit in November.

Zaire's voting rights were suspended at the IMF on June 1, as a result of its failure to pay debt arrears of approximately $315 million. The U.S. strongly supported the suspension; France abstained in the vote. This move had little practical effect since the IMF had already cut off funding to Zaire, but it was symbolically important.

The US provided approximately $6.5 million in humanitarian aid to Zaire in fiscal year 1993 and approximately $11 million in fiscal year 1994, in addition to funds for relief assistance. The last U.S. military forces involved in emergency relief operations for Rwandan refugees pulled out of Zaire on October 1. In late October the U.S. was considering sending an ambassador to Zaire; the last American ambassador was withdrawn in March 1993. U.S. State Department officials were also discussing the possibility of assisting in training the Zairian armed forces to perform a peacekeeping role in the refugee camps on the Rwandan border.

By the end of the year, France had undertaken to increase its humanitarian aid to Zaire in the health, education, and transport sectors. There were indications that the French government might begin providing limited bilateral assistance after the IMF and the World Bank had approved Kengo's program. Like the U.S., Belgium opted to provide humanitarian aid but refused to resume direct assistance. The U.S., France, and Belgium appeared inclined to support Kengo before the multilateral lending institutions.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Africa

In January Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Human Rights Watch Prison Project issued Prison Conditions in Zaire. The report, based on a mission to Zaire in 1993, examines all aspects of Zairian prisons, where the already decrepit and overcrowded system has virtually collapsed under the weight of neglect and corruption. The prisons reflect and magnify the general devastation of Zairian society.

In June Human Rights Watch/Africa issued a special report to coincide with the White House conference on Africa. The report addressed human rights conditions and U.S. policy in ten countries, including Zaire, and made policy recommendations to the Clinton administration.

Human Rights Watch/Africa also engaged in campaigns to raise awareness about human rights in Zaire and to advocate needed remedies, working to attract governmental, congressional, and press attention to the ongoing crisis.

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