The war that erupted in October 1996 followed months of increasing violence in the region, much of which was aimed at Zaire's Tutsi population. The Banyarwanda-Tutsis and Hutus living in Zaire-constitute powerful and wealthy communities in North and South Kivu. In parts of North Kivu they are estimated to constitute as much as 80 percent of the population. Successive nationality laws in 1972 and 1981 recognized and then effectively withdrew citizenship from all ethnic Rwandans in Zaire.26 Because of this ethnic discrimination, Zairians of Rwandan origin were kept from participating in local elections during the 1980s and the National Sovereign Conference.
Zairians of other ethnic groups attacked these Banyarwanda in North Kivu in March 1993. In the ensuing violence, as many as 7,000 people were killed in the space of several weeks and an estimated 300,000 weredisplaced.27 In South Kivu, local officials launched a campaign of intimidation against the Banyamulenge-ethnic Zairian Tutsi-backed by the transitional parliament in Kinshasa. On April 28, 1995, the parliament adopted a series of bombastic resolutions targeting ethnic Rwandans and treating them all, including Banyamulenge, in the same category as recent refugees. The resolutions suggested that Banyamulenge had fraudulently secured Zairian citizenship and called for the expulsion of named Banyamulenge, annulment of land contracts and banning of associations. Soon afterwards, the zone commissioner in Uvira ordered a survey of all relevant property.28 Some reports indicated that the Banyamulenge had been arming since the violence began in 1993, however. They went on the attack as the implementation of these measures became imminent. For its part, the Zairian government had insisted from the outset that the war was a foreign invasion originating in Uganda and Rwanda. At times, the government also accused Burundi. Both France and the United States also publicly accused Zaire's neighbors of supporting the rebels, while stopping short of characterizing the larger war as one of invasion.
The rebels seized the major town of Uvira on October 24, 1996, and a week later captured Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu Region. Goma, the main town in the east, fell to the rebels on November 1, and on November 14, the rebels bombarded Mugunga, the biggest refugee camp in the east. An estimated 600,000 frightened refugees surged out of Mugunga and other camps and returned to Rwanda. An estimated 300,000 refugees from the disbanded camps fled further westward into Zaire: among them were reportedly thousands of former members of the Hutu-dominated Rwandan army and militia responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in that country.
In the face of a string of military successes by the rebel forces in the last quarter of 1996 and the first months of 1997, the Zairian armed forces typically fled rather than fight, but not before turning their anger on the local populations before fleeing with looted property, often in vehicles they seized from humanitarian organizations. By late-March 1997, less than six months after the initial confrontations, the rebels had captured an estimated one third of the country, including Kisangani, the third largest city in Zaire. As they acquired more territory, they had reportedly won an estimated 20,000 troops to their cause from local recruits.
The Spreading Violence
Outside of eastern Zaire, the war led to waves of xenophobic protests, particularly in late 1996 and early 1997. Attacks were carried out on anyone believed to be ethnic Rwandan, and acts of arbitrary arrest and repression increased across the country. Significant numbers of ethnic Rwandans were forced to flee by both government and popular pressure. In Kinshasa, several popular opposition figures were arrested in part because of their ethnicity as were three human rights activists seeking to investigate government claims about prisoners of war.29 Similar arrests accompanied by attacks by mobs occurred in the region of Shaba just to the south of the war zone.
The war by March 1997 had displaced hundreds of thousands of Zairians and Rwandan refugees, preventing humanitarian organizations from reaching them. The war also broke the nonviolence that had characterized Zaire's transition and threatened to hasten the feared breakdown of the country into rule by warlords and militias. Previously, despite the absence of effective government structures and the withering impact of systematic military depredations,including often random military violence, there was surprisingly little organized armed violence.30 This was true despite the easy availability of weapons in the region and the guerrilla wars that have affected at least five of Zaire's nine immediate neighbors. In fact, previous reports of arming by Banyamulenge were not taken seriously, in part, because of this phenomenon.31
Both the Zairian government and the rebel forces employed ethnically-based militias to fight the war. The government has reportedly recruited Rwandans, almost exclusively Hutu, made up largely of troops of the former Rwandan army (the Rwandan Armed Forces, Forces Armées Rwandaises, Ex-FAR) and Hutu militias who were mobilized in the refugee camps in the border areas. The Zairian authorities also mobilized fighters primarily from the Bembe ethnic group in south Kivu, known as the "Combattants," who previously fought with rebel leader Laurent Kabila. Humanitarian aid workers who visited the port city of Kalemie in north Shaba before the rebel takeover in early February reported that Zairian government boats were used to systematically supply the "Combattants" with weapons.
The rebels, in turn, rely on a coalition of ethnically-based militias that include the Banyamulenge (Zairian Tutsis), the Mai-Mai (primarily Nande) and Ngalima (Hunde and Nyanga) in addition to a core of ADFL fighters who come from a variety of ethnic groups. The increased flow of weapons and the continuation of the war is creating incentives for new militias to arise.
The Role of Foreign Forces
The conflict has also been notable for the role of foreign forces on both sides. The most visible foreign presence has been that of mercenaries recruited by the government of Zaire. The single largest and best-known contingent, a group of Serbian fighters, has also been the most notorious for its disregard of human rights and humanitarian standards. Western press and local human rights groups' reports have detailed atrocities by these forces, in conjunction with Zairian army troops, including torture and summary executions of civilians suspected of sympathies with rebel forces. In addition, General Mahele Lieko Bokungo, at the time Zaire's army chief of staff, was quoted in January as having said that East European mercenaries were flying newly acquired Soviet-era Mi24 helicopter gunships.32 Mercenaries were also reported to have piloted Yugoslav-built fighter jets that bombed, in mid-February, Bukavu, Shabunda, and Walikale.33
The raids targeted market places and residential areas and resulted in many civilian casualties. While the ministry of defense in Kinshasa maintained that it hit only military targets in "surgical" air strikes,34 in Bukavu alone nineteen civilians were killed and about fifty others, including women and children, were injured, when, on February17, three military planes bombed the city. A spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program said the attack came at four in the afternoon, and the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said some bombs hit the marketplace.35 A joint statement by local rights groups from Bukavu issued on February 20 stated that bombs also fell on densely populated residential areas in the center of the city.36 Thousands of panic-stricken residents left the city following the raid, which appeared thus to have achieved the objective of demoralizing civilians in rebel-held areas at a time when support for the rebels was reportedly rising. A statement by the ministry of defense had told residents to leave rebel centers. The attack on Shabunda left eight people dead, and many wounded.37
While the atrocious acts of the mercenaries have drawn the focus of the international media, reports of continuing flights of armament reaching Zairian government forces and allied militia in the first months of 1997 suggested continued foreign support, although this could not be confirmed. The Republic of Serbia and other Yugoslav republics were reportedly among the main suppliers of the government of Zaire. Arms and mercenaries deals were reportedly handled by front companies, with the involvement of a number of high-ranking officials. The secrecy was hard to maintain, however, particularly when television footage from Zaire reportedly showed Yugoslav-made Galeb tactical jets still with inscriptions in Serbo-Croatian on their fuselage.38 In Belgium, customs officials blocked in late December 1996 a shipment of used military trucks, which reportedly originated in France, from being exported to Kisangani. The director of customs at Ostende airport, where the incident occurred, said that an internal investigation had established that the vehicles were not going to "humanitarian organizations" as their French exporter stated in official documents but were to be delivered to the "presidency" in Kisangani, at the time the headquarter of the Zairian government's military effort.39
The involvement of Rwandan forces in the conflict, in particular in the initial months in which largely-Banyamulenge forces dispersed the refugees and militarized encampments in the Zairian border area, has been broadly established, although this has not been acknowledged by Rwandan authorities in any way formally or informally. The military training of Zairian Banyamulenge refugees inside Rwanda, as well as their arming by Rwanda, has also been widely reported, although this has not been publicly acknowledged or conclusively documented. A degree of Ugandan involvement has also been alleged, notably by the Zairian government, but little evidence of such involvement has emerged. Citing unnamed diplomats and political analysts, The Washington Post said in a March 4, 1997 article that Uganda has aided the ADFL with money, arms, equipment and tactical and communications support, and referred to "aerial photographs," which reportedly have shown Ugandan military trucks crossing into Zaire.40 Uganda also reportedly allowed the ADFL to recruit Ugandan veterans as mercenaries.41
Furthermore, as the war intensified, fighters from Angola, another of Zaire's neighbors, appeared to have joined both sides in the conflict. The Angolan government reportedly transported exiled Zairians living inAngola-and possibly Angolan troops-to fight with the ADFL. On the other side, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Uniao Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola, UNITA), which has long been supported by Mobutu, reportedly sent fighters to back the Zairian government's forces.42
Violations of the Laws of War by All Parties to the Conflict
Human Rights Watch/Africa investigations and independent reports from other local and international rights groups, international news services, and aid agencies have found both the Zairian government and its militia and mercenary allies and the armed opposition forces responsible for large scale violations of the rules of war in eastern Zaire. Human Rights Watch/Africa, in a joint report with the International Federation of Human Rights, (Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, FIDH), published in March 1997, exposed some of these violations and called on the government of Zaire and the ADFL to investigate the conduct of their own forces and bring to justice those alleged to have perpetrated deliberate attacks on civilians, the murder of prisoners, and other gross violations.43 The report also called on the international community to insist that an independent and thorough investigation be undertaken to examine deliberate killings of civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law. The joint report highlighted the pattern of attacks on the Banyamulenge before open conflict broke out; the continuing abuses by Zairian government forces in alliance with Interahamwe and former Rwandan government forces; the disregard for the protection of civilians in ADFL and allied attacks on the refugee camps in the border areas; and the denial of access to humanitarian relief initiatives by all parties to the conflict. These issues are discussed further below.
Zairian Armed Forces (FAZ) and Militia Attacks on the Banyamulenge
In early September 1996 Zairian local authorities in the province of South Kivu ordered all Banyamulenge to leave the country within a week,44 Bembe militia, supported by soldiers of the Zairian army-the Zairian Armed Forces (Forces Armées Zairoises, FAZ), began attacking Banyamulenge villages, killing and raping, and forcing survivors to flee. A woman driven from Uvira Zone reported:
My husband remained in Uvira. I don't know if he is still living. Zairian soldiers came to the house to take him, then they left with him. When the Zairian soldiers came, they raped us, down to a ten-year-old girl. The other girls were tied, for example children a year old, less than a year old, were tied up, too. . . . Many women were threatened, some of them were nearly dead.45
Another woman survivor reported that on September 15, Bembe militia and FAZ soldiers rounded up the people from her village, Bibogobogo, and several other villages in Fizi Zone and forced them to march down out of the hills toward Rwanda:
We arrived at Mbogo, it was around 4 p.m. Under their orders, we climbed down the slope. We spent the night along the [Ruzizi]river. It was midnight and they came to take all of the men, and the women were put apart, with two young boys. . . . They took the men on the river and far fromthe shore they pushed them over into the water, everyone from a boat that was full. They took all the other young boys, refilled the boat and went another time to push them overboard.46
A witness named Jean-de-Dieu from Uvira Zone narrowly escaped drowning in a similar incident. On September 9, 1996, a group of Bembe militia took Jean-de-Dieu and approximately 180 other Banyamulenge men, women, and children from their village and detained them in the nearby Shabani Hotel. The men and boys fifteen years and older were selected out and taken by truck to Uvira where they were shown to the Civil Guard, the police, and the army. The prisoners were then taken on to Bugera, near Kamanyola, where the borders of Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire converge. They were imprisoned in a warehouse for six days without food and hardly any water. According to Jean-de-Dieu, hunger forced the men to eat bat excrement. On September 15, militia came to drown them in the Ruzizi River.
Before throwing us in the water, they tied us up with our arms behind our backs, our legs tied, and our mouths and eyes covered. To kill us, all of us, we were put in a truck. Then they drove the truck into water . . . [to] a flat place . . . and the truck poured us out like sand. We were poured directly into the water. We were thirty-seven people.47
After he was dumped into the water, Jean-de-Dieu was able to break the ropes binding his legs and to get to shore. He knocked on two doors and was refused entry. Then at the third house, a family helped him cut the ropes from his arms. He immediately went back to the river and swam across to Burundi, then made his way to Rwanda. According to Jean-de-Dieu, the militia also took three Tutsi families from Kamanyola, threw the men and boys in the river and sent the women of the families to Rwanda.
Zairian soldiers cooperated in attacks on the Banyamulenge with the former government of Rwanda's "Hutu Power" militia, the Interahamwe, which with troops of the former Rwandan army continued to dominate the refugee camps in Zaire until their dispersal. Nyirantore was one of a group of women from Fizi zone who watched as their husbands were drowned in Lake Tanganyika. The women were then taken by boat down shore in the direction of Rwanda. After some distance, the women were brought to shore and put in a house where, soon after, they were attacked by Interahamwe militia. According to Nyirantore,
I saw with my own eyes how the forty-four women were killed. The Interahamwe came with arms. They entered into the house, and then they started to fire on us. The people who were seriously injured, they went to throw them in the river. For myself, I think that God had not decided that I should die that day. Even though I was with the other women when they came to fire on us, there were three women who were left. . . . They shot at us during the night, then they left, and in the morning we left the house.48
Another witness reported that Zairian soldiers and Interahamwe attacked his area on September 11. "They lined people up to shoot them-that's when I ran."49
According to many of the Banyamulenge refugees interviewed for the Human Rights Watch/Africa and FIDH report, Zairian soldiers and border guards robbed them of their money and all other possessions before expelling theminto Rwanda. As one reported: "When we encountered the police, it was they who stripped us of our goods, saying we had no right to leave [the camp]. But sometimes you could escape. With the Zairian soldiers, though, it was difficult. They would take everything, down to your pants."50
As the Zairian army was driven back steadily by ADFL forces, the government relied increasingly on ex-FAR and Interahamwe to try to halt the advance of the rebels. To this end, it delivered large amounts of arms to Tingi-Tingi refugee camp in February 1997, at times taking over the single airstrip and interrupting the delivery of needed humanitarian supplies. This practice put at risk the lives of civilians in the camp, both by delaying food and medicines that they needed and by increasing the likelihood that the camp would be treated as a military target.51 The source of these arms shipments, whether from Zairian arms stocks or new shipments from abroad, merits further investigation.
Attacks by the ADFL and its Allies on Refugee Camps
From the beginning of its campaign, the ADFL and its allies have made dispersing refugee populations-and the ex-FAR and militia shielded among them-one of their primary objectives. Because a number of camps were protected by Zairian army troops, the ADFL occasionally engaged in exchanges of fire with these military forces, causing them to flee the camps. They also drove away Interahamwe and ex-FAR, who had exercised control over the camps and prevented refugees from returning home, so making it possible for those who wanted to return home to do so. But they went beyond simply opening a path for those who wanted to return; they also fired on patently undefended camps, after armed militia and soldiers had fled, to force people in the camps to return to Rwanda. These attacks on civilians, described by witnesses from Mpanzi, Inera, Kahindo, Katale, Mugunga, and Sake camps, clearly violated international humanitarian law. Most witnesses reported seeing persons wounded or killed by such unprovoked and unwarranted fire from the ADFL and its allies. Even more disturbing reports were received that individuals among the refugees were seized while returning to Rwanda and taken from transit camps and columns by ADFL forces to unknown destinations.
There is no doubt that in the early stages of the campaign in South Kivu the ADFL attacked undefended refugee camps with gunfire and, according to some witnesses, mortar fire. The experience of Françoise, a young Rwandan girl who became separated from her mother during a rebel attack, is typical of that of many refugees. She reported that in November she fled from one camp to another along the western shore of Lake Kivu as the rebel attack advanced:
Very early in the morning we heard a lot of gunfire. We woke up. We followed the others. We went to Kamanyola. When we got there, a man said "If you stay here, the Inkotanyi [i.e., Rwandan soldiers] will come and find you here." Others left, so we followed. We went on to Inera. At Inera, very early in the morning, they started firing bombs there, too. It was then that I lost my mother.52
Another witness corroborated this account, reporting "At Inera they fired lots of bombs at us, and killed lots of people there."53 According to U.N. reports, the ADFL pursued refugees from the South Kivu camps, driving them deeper into the forest.54
In evacuating camps in North Kivu, the ADFL soldiers and allied militia began to force refugees back to Rwanda. Apparently in contrast to their practice further south, they threatened and even attacked those who attempted to head into the interior of Zaire. Ndabahweje was among a group of refugees who remained in Kahindo Camp after it was overrun by the ADFL. According to him, ADFL soldiers came on November 11 to convince the refugees to return to Rwanda:
Sunday they came to encourage us to go home, to go to Nkamira. They came to tell us that on the return path and in Rwanda there was peace, while in the camp there was nothing to eat. . . . They told us that it would be better to return, that it should not be necessary for them to shed blood. . . . [I]f we did not return, it would be considered a provocation.55
Other refugees who returned to Rwanda in October and November confirmed that they had been warned that they would be attacked if they refused to return.
According to witnesses, ADFL forces and allied militia did in fact attack refugees who tried to move toward the interior of Zaire. Narcisse, a Rwandan refugee from Kigali, was at Katale Camp when it was struck by mortar and small arms fire on Saturday, October 26. Zairian soldiers along with some among the Rwandans put up a defense until Tuesday, October 29, when they ran out of ammunition. The following day, Narcisse fled Katale with his family, heading through the forest toward the town of Tongo. According to Narcisse, the group he was traveling with stopped before arriving at Tongo, when they saw militia allied with the ADFL attacking refugees ahead of them.
There was a small encampment of about fifty families. . . . They destroyed it the day I arrived there. I was about ten kilometers away, but I could see it well, because I was on a high mountain. They fired [on the refugees] and so we stopped where we were. We watched the scene of destruction. This was the only group that had left the forest to go to Tongo. . . . When they [the militia] saw that we were not going to continue on, they began to come to chase us from the forest. That is why when they would see some sheeting or tents, they would send soldiers to destroy them.56
According to Narcisse, if ADFL soldiers or militia found refugees attempting to approach Tongo or other Zairian communities to find food or water, they would attack them with guns and knives. Some days later, Narcisse's own wife was killed in such an attack.
It was during the day, around 3 p.m. We heard gunfire, two shots far from us, and we were afraid it was the start of an operation. We took the possessions we could carry and fled. . . . We left a group of women in a small woods and went to get the rest of our things. We did not know that the soldiers knew the women had been left. When we arrived at the camp where we had been, they started to fire heavily on us. A number of people were injured in that attack. I ran toward a smallforest near there and I tried to hide myself. Others ran in another direction and were shot. But in the meantime, the soldiers encircled the group left in the forest with the children and took them away to massacre them, even the babies! We went to the place where this [massacre] happened. We even found a baby there that was still alive.57
Every time refugees erected camps, others would come to destroy them. There was a little camp near Kibumba where I found many dead. The Banyamulenge destroyed all the camps to disperse the refugees. All the dead [in Kibumba] had been shot.58
By forcing refugees to return to Rwanda, when they had well-founded fear of being persecuted there, ADFL forces violated the international convention protecting refugees. Human Rights Watch and FIDH stressed in the report the urgency of distinguishing genuine refugees from those suspected of responsibility for the genocide and those involved in military activities in order to accord the refugees the full protection of international law.
The treatment of refugees by the ADFL after the dispersal of camps, and during the return of many of the refugees to Rwanda, was the object of disturbing reports from many parts of the border area. Allegations were made that many of the young men who had fled further into Zaire with the bulk of the Interahamwe and ex-FAR were separated out from the other refugees by the rebel forces, or by Rwandan troops operating with them. The fate of those taken from the camps and columns is unknown. The ADFL was accused of having massacred refugees both in the camps and during their long trek home.
The New York Times of February 12, 1997, for example, cited "credible witnesses" who claimed that as the rebels swept into the small town of Shabunda, they separated out the young Hutu men from the group of refugees they were able to encircle, and machine-gunned an unknown number.59 A correspondent for the Associated Press in mid-March described in gruesome details a mass grave of about a hundred Rwandan refugees, mostly women and children, which he visited near the village of Musenge, some seventy-five miles northwest of Bukavu. A Zairian Red Cross official told the correspondent that the killings occurred in December and January. As the rebels were advancing further west toward the front, he said, they encountered this group of refugees moving in the opposite direction, toward Rwanda, and killed them all indiscriminately. Laurent Karumuna, a doctor working for the rebels, told the correspondent that the killings in Musenge occurred during two battles between the rebels and armed Hutu. "The fighters were mixed in with the women and children," he said, a version which another Zairian Red Cross official corroborated. A traditional village leader, however, told the correspondent, on condition of anonymity, that the rebels told refugees to gather near a compound outside the village where they promised them trucks would be waiting to take them home. When they arrived, they were all killed.60
AZADHO, which is known for its harsh criticism of the government's human rights record, released a report on March 1, 1997 in which it alleged that the rebels of the ADFL had perpetrated large-scale massacres against refugees in eastern Zaire. AZADHO cited grave sites near Mugunga, Kibumba, and Katale camps in the east, andgave dates and testimonies to back its charges. Reports in the European press, citing an anonymous report, raised allegations of systematic killings of refugees by the ADFL.61
That atrocities on a large scale occurred at the time the refugee camps were dispersed was further confirmed during a visit to the area in late March 1997, by Roberto Garretón, the special rapporteur on Zaire, to look into allegations of ADFL massacres of Rwandan refugees. In a press conference in Geneva on April 2, he called for a U.N. investigation, saying that he had "indubitable evidence of mass graves and massacres." He said he could not confirm the numbers killed, but said "what is certain is that there was a massacre. We cannot deny that."62 He personally visited three mass graves near empty refugee camps, but his attempts to visit others were thwarted, he said, by the ADFL on grounds of security risks. He told reporters that based on what he saw and testimonies by eyewitnesses he concluded the ADFL was responsible for the killings.
A spokesman for the ADFL in Geneva denied the charges of ADFL responsibility. He said victims in the mass graves visited by the U.N. investigator were killed by other refugees who wanted to prevent them from returning to Rwanda. The ADFL, he said, will cooperate with any future U.N. probe into the massacres, pending the improvement of security conditions.63
Investigations must look into both indiscriminate killings in the course of attacks on the camps, and allegations that adult men were systematically removed by the ADFL from groups of returnees heading home to Rwanda. Humanitarian organizations reported disproportionately high numbers of women, children and the elderly among many of the groups of refugees forced to return to Rwanda. Although it cannot be discounted that some adult men among the refugees remained in Zaire to join the combat, the reports of relatively few young men returning to Rwanda were also consistent with press reports that many of the men among the refugees had been taken away and were feared to have been killed.64 Investigations of the mass graves near the refugee camps, by the United Nations and other independent bodies, may provide the key to establishing the truth behind these killings and to establishing accountability for them.
Human Rights Abuses by the Interahamwe and Ex-FAR
Even after the beginning of the flood of returnees to Rwanda, Interahamwe militia, ex-FAR soldiers and former government officials continued to use force, intimidation and misinformation to stop refugees from returning to Rwanda, according to returning refugees. This practice was documented previously by Human Rights Watch and FIDH. 65 Even as the ADFL and its allies drove thousands of refugees across the border into Rwanda, thousands of others remained under the control of the forces responsible for the genocide.
Nubaha, a woman who was at Kibumba camp, reported that the Interahamwe fired on refugees in the camp in order to frighten them into fleeing with them:
Around 3 p.m., it was getting ready to rain, and we heard the sound of guns. The Interahamwe were organizing, saying to the soldiers from Kibumba Camp and soldiers from other camps, "Gather your things and come!" And then we saw them climbing the mountains and they fired down on us. They were the first to fire on us. They cried loudly: "See! The Inkotanyi, they are coming! See!" They manipulated us too much. Our hearts were truly traumatized. So people believed them and said, "Yes, it's them, it's them!" . . . A young boy Interahamwe told me "Gather your things! Gather your cooking pot and put your things together. Things are getting serious, this is serious combat." . . . They told us that those who remained would be killed. The Inkotanyi would kill them.66
One witness saw an ex-FAR soldier going through Mugunga camp with a machine gun mounted in a wheelbarrow, threatening refugees who did not immediately follow the retreating troops. According to a refugee from Kahindo,
They made us afraid, the old leaders and the militia. They came in full buses to make us afraid, telling us that in this country [Rwanda], they did nothing but kill. . . . You know that the mouth can be very, very dangerous. . . . [If you talked about leaving], the militia would rush to come talk to you, saying, 'Ha! If you leave, what are you going to do?' Sometimes, people were beaten.67
Another woman grew tired of the Interahamwe's frequent attempts at deception:
The people are fooled, because there is no one else to inform them and show them other things. Every time a person tells them something else, the Interahamwe say that this person is bad and that she wants to destroy them. In this way, it was difficult to determine the truth in the camps. [But] after the long march in the volcanoes, everyone has become vigilant. We have discovered that the Interahamwe were using us. . . . It is a shame for someone who is born with human intelligence. They take us for cows that they can drive where they want and how they want. . . . And now they want to make the population prisoners, hostages!68
In its January 20 update, the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs reported that a large group of refugees came forward at Kingulube, 170 kilometers east of Shabunda, requesting repatriation, after a group of 1,500 Interahamwe and ex-FAR left their camp to move inland. According to the report, "The refugees alleged they had been controlled and intimidated against repatriating by the ex-FAR. Free of ex-FAR control, they were now requesting assistance to repatriate to Rwanda."69
Interference with Humanitarian Aid
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other aid organizations, Zairian soldiers have regularly commandeered aircraft and trucks needed to transport food, water, and medicine to the refugees in Tingi-Tingi, Amisi, and elsewhere. The Zairian military limited the amount of fuel available to UNHCR and other groups, severely limiting their ability to use even those vehicles available to them. In addition, the Zairian militaryperiodically limited access to Amisi, Tingi-Tingi, and other areas in which refugees are concentrated.70 In turn, when ADFL forces first took control of eastern Zaire, they excluded humanitarian agencies for several weeks, making it impossible for them to deliver needed aid to the refugees who were fleeing the camps.
Attacks on Other Zairian Civilians
Information on abuses against Zairian civilians apart from Banyamulenge, including those displaced by the conflict, is limited but it is enough to indicate that citizens other than Kinyarwanda-speakers also suffered at the hands of armed elements from both sides. A witness present in Bukavu when the town was taken by ADFL forces reported seeing many bodies in the streets, but did not know who was responsible for the deaths. In Goma, FAZ soldiers killed a number of civilians in the market on October 20. When the fighting in the town was finished, a local nongovernmental organization buried more than 2,700 bodies, a considerable number of them civilians. It is not known how many were deliberately killed by the incoming ADFL forces and militia or by the FAZ and allied militia who were fleeing the town. According to a report by AZADHO, ex-FAR and Interahamwe attacked an unarmed convoy of civilians who were fleeing fighting in Goma, heading toward Kitshanga, and killed hundreds of people on November 17, 1996. Zairian planes bombed civilians in Goma on February 17, 1997, killing at least six people and injuring twenty more.
Since the publication of the March 1997 Human Rights Watch/Africa and FIDH report on the war in the east more reports surfaced of widespread abuses against civilians by all parties to the conflict. Newsweek International reported that its correspondent saw mass graves left behind by mostly Serb mercenaries and others who fled Kisangani before its fall to the ADFL. Eyewitnesses told the correspondent and others reporters that the mercenaries, whose leader called himself Dominic Yugo, imprisoned young men suspected of sympathizing with the rebels, and executed citizens at random for not possessing identity papers. They said Yugo personally took part in torturing suspects, and shot and killed in cold blood two evangelical pastors while they held their bibles and begged him to spare their lives. Other residents said they saw him herding fifteen young men into a building and later heard gunfire and screams.71
Both government and rebel forces recruited child soldiers in total disregard of the prohibition of this practice by international humanitarian law.72 In early 1997 the Zairian minister of defense carried out a conscription campaignaimed at recruiting thousands of youths between the ages of fifteen and eighteen years to beef up its embattled forces.73 In April, eyewitnesses in Lubumbashi reported seeing Angolan boy soldiers who had been forced to serve the government forces, some as young as twelve years of age, who were evacuated to the town and housed in a local hotel after deserting the front line.74 Correspondents from ADFL-held areas reported on and photographed a number of graduation ceremonies of new recruits in which the rebel alliance inducted boy soldiers. A report on one of the first such graduation which took place in Goma on February 6, 1997, referred to recruits who were "relatively young," and said some of them were "less than fifteen years old."75
The treatment by both sides in the conflict of prisoners from the front is of concern. Reporting on the arrest and detention of three of its own representatives by the military intelligence branch, SARM, the rights group Voice of the Voiceless said the lives and dignity of these prisoners were at risk because SARM systematically ill-treated them and denied them food and access to medical care. V.S.V. officials, who initially went to SARM headquarters in Kinshasa to inquire about this particular issue, and ended up being detained themselves, reported that the prisoners from the front were all crowded in a small cell. They were constantly intimidated and left without medical attention. One of them was hit on the arm by an iron bar in the SARM detention center, and left in terrible pain for days. Another trembled during the night from the effects of untreated malaria. Prisoners from the front, V.S.V. reported, passed days at length without food, and those who did not have clothes were left naked.76 On the rebel side, the International Committee of the Red Cross complained in late March that although the ADFL had given it earlier in the year a general authorization to visit detainees in ADFL-held areas, such visits had still not been permitted at the end of March. The ICRC referred to a "large number" of people who were detained following the fall of Kisangani on March 15, 1997 and whom it could not visit because of lack of access.77
The Transitional Agenda of the ADFL
The string of ADFL military successes from the first day of the rebellion dramatically changed the configuration of the political landscape in Zaire and irrevocably altered the transitional agenda. In particular, the ADFL's capture on March 15, 1997 of Kisangani, the third largest city in the country, and the base of the government's military counteroffensive, was largely viewed by observers as marking a point of no return to the earlier transitional program of a shift to multiparty democracy following a constitutional referendum and parliamentary and presidential elections.
For their part, the rebels did not explain what political system they planned for the country as they expanded their military and political control over the eastern third of Zaire in less than six months. The ADFL gained inpopularity as populations weary of extortion and rampant violence perpetrated by soldiers fleeing the rebel advance welcomed the prospects of change that the rebel takeover brought.
When asked, however, about the definition of their national political agenda, and the type of political system they envisaged for Zaire, rebel leaders issued a number of vague and sometimes conflicting statements. During his first visit to Kisangani after its fall to his troops, and in front of a huge rally, Laurent Kabila announced the suspension of political parties until the war ends: "[w]e are in the process of liberation. If we accept political parties, they will tell lies to stop the advance of the Alliance."78 A provisional government would be formed, he added, exclusively by the ADFL.
This position was, however, different from the one he stated shortly afterwards before a press conference in which he outlined the ADFL's plans for transitional government. He told reporters that any transition should not last beyond one year. An ADFL transitional government, he said, should include, in addition to members of the ADFL, "only anti-Mobutist and anti-regime people who have never been in power and who never shared power."79 If strictly applied, this dividing line would effectively have barred a sizeable majority of the political class in Zaire from participation in the new transitional institutions, including such important opposition leaders as Etienne Tshisekedi. Political expediency and opportunism have blurred the divide between Mobutu's supporters and opponents.
The rebels allowed a measure of participation by the population in the selection of local civilian and municipal administrators in areas under their control. The actual installation of civilian administrations in towns that the Alliance came to occupy indicated a more subtle awareness of the need to accommodate to local politics and sensitivities. The rebel alliance established an expanding civilian base, with civilian supporters of the rebellion attending a series of short seminars on the political program of the ADFL. With teachings emphasizing free and fair elections, basic civil rights, lower taxes, clean government and a military controlled by the civilian arm of the rebellion, the ADFL's program was reportedly effective in winning over scores of converts who have only experienced the contrary under Mobutu's rule. Following its take over of Kisangani, the ADFL flew in 117 supporters to begin spreading the political message of the alliance among the population of the city.80 Kabila told reporters that the Zairian people needed this brand of political education because Zairians "have no political education and have been deprived of that education for so long that they could not make a real choice of [their] own."81
To prove their seriousness about democracy, officials of the civilian arm of the alliance organized elections for the local government of Kisangani days after the capture of the city by the ADFL. Local political and community leaders were asked to nominate delegates from their neighborhoods, as well as candidates for borough leader, mayor and governor. A group of randomly selected delegates elected the officials. This provisional local government was to remain in office until the end of the war.82 A spokesperson for the opposition UDPS in Kisangani reportedly shrugged off the proclaimed exclusion of non-ADFL elements from political participation, saying "we're all partsof the Alliance now," and his party reportedly won the leadership of all six boroughs in the local elections.83 In other captured cities, the ADFL installed governors and local officials elected by delegates drawn from the local elite: clergy, businessmen, civil servants and intelligentsia.84 Members of the president's party, the Popular Movement for the Revolution (MPR), were, however, excluded.
The opposition parties in Kinshasa expressed worry at Kabila's threat to exclude political figures who had shared power with Mobutu from any provisional national government set up by ADFL. The president of the Christian Democratic Party, which backs opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, said of the opposition "[w]e are the ones who have brought down Mobutu, the man who used to consider himself the colleague of the gods. We were defeating him with the pen. Is it fair to come in now with the gun and say you're shutting out those who have fought for democracy?"85
Some leaders of the president's party, too, hoped not to be left out from any provisional government which would emerge in the event of a political settlement of the crisis. Banza Mukalay, vice-chairman of President Mobutu's party, the MPR, who was also deputy prime minister, offered to share power with the rebels: "we shall meet and after dialogue we will share power. First we will talk to find the mechanism for a cease-fire and then we will share power before elections."86 He explained later that the offer meant the formation of a government of national unity to work out a consensus that would lead to the organization of democratic elections. The rebel leader would have the possibility of campaigning and gaining the presidency in the polls, according to the MPR vice-president, instead of reaching it through "the paths of revolution."87 A spokesperson for the rebels categorically rejected the offer of power-sharing, adding that this was not what the ADFL had fought for.88
Raphael Ghenda, information, communications and propaganda commissioner of the ADFL, offered a rare insight into the political demands and goals of the alliance in a February 25, 1997 press interview. Asked if the ADFL would accept the constitution adopted following the National Sovereign Conference, Ghenda pointed to the existence of several constitutional texts and promised the formation of specialized groups to study which text was most suitable for the new situation. He characterized the relationship of ADFL with the organizations of civil society as excellent, adding that, with the help of these groups, "[w]e have already set up base cells which allow us to control the infiltration of people from the other side. Each cell manager knows the names of the people who live in his street and this will make the census [of the population] easier."89 He denied the suggestion that the neighborhood cells couldsignal the start of a police state. The ADFL, he said, was "seeking more flexible structures, so that there can be more checks but not surveillance."90
Human Rights Watch/Africa has not itself investigated the political and human rights practices in areas under ADFL control. The banning of political activities described by journalists reporting from ADFL-held areas,91 and the statements by official spokespersons of the ADFL pointing to the alliance's intention of barring whole sectors of the population from political participation in transitional arrangements where the ADFL would be the leading actor is of concern. The stalled transitional process that began with the National Sovereign Conference, however flawed, still produced solid benchmarks for the assessment of government performance and for progress toward democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights. The preconditions for elections and the principles of basic rights identified by the National Sovereign Conference are no less valid in this new era of transition. As the ADFL extends its control over the country, it will be held accountable for its actions by the Zairian public and international observers in accord with the same criteria to which the proponents of democratization in 1991 first sought to hold Mobutu Sese Seko.26
The 1981 Nationality Law (Loi no. 81-002 du 29 Juin 1981 sur la nationalité zaïroise), which supplanted the law of 1972, created an ambiguous standard that recognizes citizenship for "any person whose ancestors are, or have been, members of one of the established tribes on the territory of the Republic of Zaire within its borders of 1 August 1885." Zairian government
officials, including the former hard-line foreign minister, Kamanda wa Kamanda, have interpreted the law as excluding ethnic Rwandans, the majority of whom are descendants from people who came in waves of migration that began in colonial times. A smaller portion, including the Banyamulenge, are descended from migrants of the late 18th or early 19th century, or from people who lived in parts of the precolonial Rwandan kingdoms which are now part of eastern Zaire.27 For more details, see: Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de L'Homme, (FIDH), "Zaire, Forced to Flee, Violence Against the Tutsis in Zaire," A Human Rights Watch/Africa Short Report, vol. 8, no. 2 (A), July 1996. 28 "Inventaire des parcelles et terrains sis à Uvira appartenant aux ressortissants Rwandais et Burundais," letter of Shweka Mutabazi, office of the Commissaire de Zone, addressed to the Chef de Service de l'Urbanisme et Habitat/Zone d'Uvira. 29 See details in the section "Rights Denied," below. 30 The primary exception was the region of Masisi in North Kivu. See Human Rights Watch/Africa and FIDH, "Zaire, Forced to Flee,...." and Amnesty International, "Zaire: lawlessness and Insecurity in North and South Kivu," AI INDEX: AFR 62/14/96, November 1996. Even the massive expulsion of Kasaiens from Shaba was largely unaccompanied by armed conflict. See: Africa Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Africa), "Zaire: Inciting Hatred, Violence Against Kasaiens in Shaba," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 5, no. 10, June 1993. 31 Banyamulenge leaders openly acknowledged that families were arming themselves in conversations with western human rights groups and U.N. Special Rapporteur for Zaire Roberto Garretón, at least as early as October 1995. 32 See: Sam Kiley, "Gunships May Give Mercenaries Edge in Zaire Civil War," The Times, January 28, 1997. 33 James C. McKinley Jr., "Zairian Military Jets Bomb Civilians in Rebel-Held Town," The New York Times, February 18, 1997. 34 Voix du Zaïre, Kinshasa, Foreign Broadcasts Information Service (FBIS), "Zaire: Defense Ministry Says Air Force to Intensify Bombing Raids," February, 18, 1997. 35 Agence France Presse (AFP), FBIS, "Zaire: Aid Agency Says Army Planes Bomb Bukavu, Several Wounded," February 17, 1997. 36 AZADHO, "Nouvelles du Zaïre," Kinshasa, vol. 1, no. 2, February 17 to 22, 1997. 37 "Thousands Flee East Zaire Air Raids, Twenty-One Dead," Reuter, Goma, February 18, 1997. 38 Jonathan C. Randal, "Serb Troops Paid to Go to War -- in Zaire," The Washington Post, March 18, 1997. 39 "La douane bloque des véhicules militaires pour le Zaïre," Le Soir, Brussels, December 31, 1997. 40 Stephen Buckley, "Uganda Reportedly Aids Rebels in Zairian War, Sources Say Arms, Money, Advice Provided," The Washington Post, March 4, 1997. 41 Ibid. 42 James Rupert and Lynne Duke, "Angolan Role Raises Ante in Zairian Strife, Conflict Could Cross Borders, Diplomats Say," The Washington Post, March 16, 1997. 43 Human Rights Watch/Africa and the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme, "Zaire: "Attacked by All Sides,"Civilians and the War in Eastern Zaire," A Human Rights Watch/Africa and FIDH Short Report, vol. 9, no. 1, March 1997. 44 Sam Ngoza, "Zaire's People of Tutsi Origin Say `Enough is Enough,'" All Africa Press Service, November 12, 1996. 45 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at Bugarama Transit Camp, Cyangugu, November 4, 1996. 46 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview in Cyangugu Hospital, Cyangugu, November 6, 1996. 47 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at Bugarama Transit Camp, Cyangugu, November 4, 1996. 48 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at Bugarama Transit Camp, Cyangugu, November 4, 1996. 49 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview, Gisenyi, December 17, 1996. 50 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at Nkamira Transit Camp, Gisenyi, November 13, 1996. 51 Howard W. French, "Zaire Government Is Arming Hutu, Making Human Shields of Refugees," The New York Times, February 19, 1997. 52 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at SOS Children's Village, Gikongoro, December 6, 1996. 53 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at SOS Children's Village, Gikongoro, December 6, 1996. 54 U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs, "Emergency Update No. 80 on the Great Lakes," January 20, 1997; Lynne Duke, "Rwandans Driven Deep into Zaire, Villagers Report," The Washington Post, November 22, 1996. 55 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at Nkamira Transit Camp, Gisenyi, November 13, 1996. 56 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interviews in Kigali on November 26, 1996 and in Butare on December 3, 1996. 57 Ibid. 58 Ibid. 59 Howard W. French, "In Zaire's Unconventional War, Serbs Train Refugees for Combat," The New York Times, February 12, 1997. 60 Karin Davies, "Refugees in Zaire Said Slain," Associated Press, Musenge (Zaire), AP, March 14, 1997. See also, on the Musenge "field of death," Scott Stearns, "Zaire Unrest," Voice of America, March 14, 1997. 61 See: "Zaire: Anonymous Report Provides Details of Refugees Massacres," Le Soir, Brussels, February 25, 1997, (in FBIS-AFR-97-037). See also, "Les Nations Unies face à leurs responsabilités, Zaire: un témoin raconte les massacres," L'Évènement, Paris, March 10, 1997. 62 Lynne Duke, "Mobutu's Foes Jockeying for Position," The Washington Post, April 3, 1997. 63 Douglas Roberts, "U.N./Zaire /Massacres," The Voice of America, Geneva, April 3, 1997, 7:23 AM EST. 64 See, French, "In Zaire's Unconventional War,... " The New York Times. 65 See Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Press Release, November 25, 1996; Human Rights Watch Arms Project, "Rwanda/Zaire: Rearming with Impunity, International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide," May, 1995. 66 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at the Petite Barrière, Gisenyi, November 15, 1996. 67 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at Nkamira Transit Camp, Gisenyi, November 13, 1996. 68 Human Rights Watch/FIDH interview at the Petite Barrière, Gisenyi, November 15, 1996. 69 U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs, "Emergency Update No. 80 on the Great Lakes, January 20, 1997. 70 U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs, "Emergency Update No. 85 on the Great Lakes," January 23, 1997; UNHCR, "UNHCR Worried About Refugees in Eastern Zaire," January 28, 1997; Medecins Sans Frontières, "Situation of the Rwandan Refugees in Tingi-Tingi," January 16, 1997; U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs, "Emergency Update No. 91 on the Great Lakes, " January 31, 1997. 71 "Serb mercenaries leave mass graves in Zaire - report," Reuter, New York, March 23, 1997. See also: "Serb mercenaries terrorized Zairians - residents," Reuter, Kisangani, March 18. 72 International humanitarian law-notably the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the two additional protocols of 1977-accord special protection and treatment to children in armed conflict. Protocol II to the Geneva Convention forbids the use of child soldiers under the age of fifteen in internal armed conflicts:
Children who have not attained the age of fifteen years shall neither be recruited in the armed forces or groups nor allowed to take part in hostilities (Article 4(3)(c)).
International human rights law has also taken on the question of child soldiers. Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides:
2. States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.
3. States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavor to give priority to those who are oldest.
Human Rights Watch's position is that no one under the age of eighteen should take part in armed conflict.73 "Zairian Army Sets Up New Brigades," Panafrican News Agency, Kinshasa, February 4, 1997. 74 "Zairians Mob Hotel to See `Angolan' Boy Soldiers," Reuter, Lubumbashi, April 2, 1997. 75 AFP, FBIS, "Zaire: Rebel Leader Reviews `Several Thousands' of New Recruits," Paris, February 12, 1997. 76 Voice of the Voiceless, "Les atrocités au SARM en rapport avec l'état de guerre à l'est du Zaire," Kinshasa, November 5, 1996. 77 The ICRC, "Update No. 4 on ICRC Activities Related to the Zairian Conflict," March 29, 1997. 78 "Rebel Leader Vows No Cease Fire," the Associated Press, Kisangani, March 22, 1997. 79 "Kabila Says He Has No Designs on Zaire Presidency," Reuter, Kisangani, March 22, 1997. 80 James C. McKinley Jr., "Zaire Rebels Try to Find Way to People's Hearts, They Seek to Win Trust of Civil Servants," The New York Times, March 21, 1997, p. A14. 81 Lynne Duke, "Violent Echoes of Zaire's Past," The Washington Post, March 13, 1997, p. A01. 82 Ibid. 83 "Rebel Leader...," AP, March 22, 1997. 84 James C. McKinley Jr., "Zaire's Rebels Now Face Rebuilding of Their Country," The New York Times, March 18, 1997. 85 Garry Pierre-Pierre, "Mobutu, Emerging, Vows to Unite Zaire but Doesn't Say How," The New York Times, March 24, 1997, p. A9. 86 "Zaire Government Ready to Share Power Before Polls," Reuter, Kinshasa, March 25, 1997. 87 La Une Radio Network, Brussels, FBIS, "Zaire: MPR's Mukalay: Kabila Can Stand in Free Elections," FBIS-AFR-97-085, March 26, 1997. 88 "Zaire Rebels Reject Power-Sharing With Mobutu," Reuter, Lome, March 26, 1997. 89 Collette Braeckman, "Interview With Raphael Ghenda, General Information Officer of Laurent Kabila," Le Soir, Brussels, February 25, 1997. 90 Ibid. 91 See, for example, James C. McKinley Jr., "Mobutu's Nemesis Keeps His Plans to Himself," The New York Times, April 1, 1997, p. A01.