Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


The major powers with an interest in Africa have long professed a desire to see an end to the war in the DRC. They have invested diplomatic efforts and some financial resources in facilitating negotiations among the national governments and the rebel movements with national pretensions that are the parties to the war. Members of the UN Security Council and missions from various heads of state have toured the region, attempting to rally support for an end to the conflict. But these efforts dealt with only the top layer of conflict and failed to address the smaller, local wars, themselves sustained by the larger war, which have killed tens of thousands of people248 and wrecked the lives of thousands of others who have been raped, injured, and deprived of home and property. The failure to address the conflict in Ituri finally produced a crisis that required an international intervention force. Unless that force is adequately supported and able to ensure the protection of the civilian population in Ituri, that conflict and others like it in the Kivus, will endanger all the carefully engineered arrangements meant to end the war at national level.

The United Nations and MONUC
UN pronouncements about ending the DRC war notwithstanding, the UN Security Council was slow to authorize a force to supervise the initial Lusaka Peace Accords and the force it mustered was small and inadequately equipped. The Security Council initially authorized some 5,537 troops-including 550 UN military observers with the rest being troops to protect them and UN installations-but it took years for the MONUC forces to reach this level. Charged with monitoring implementation of agreements ending combat between national forces, MONUC concentrated its first small troop deployment of fewer than 2,000 troops along the ceasefire line, where it recorded general compliance with the terms of the treaties. But far from the front, fighting continued in the Kivus and Ituri where proxy forces and local militias picked up the guns put down by the main actors.

Information about the local war in Ituri was available both from UN agencies and from independent sources. A UN agency with an active presence in Ituri, warned in an internal report in February 2001: "The situation in Ituri today is highly explosive. Individuals and groups on all sides are said to be preparing new massacres, arms are being bought and distributed within and around Bunia. If actions are not undertaken immediately to diffuse tensions, larger-scale, more violent and uncontrollable confrontations are to be feared."249 In March 2001, the then UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Congo, Roberto Garreton published a report that described the ethnically targeted violence in Ituri and linked it with the exploitation of natural resources.250 The final report in 2002 from the UN Panel of Experts on Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the DRC depicted in more detail the link between the ethnic violence and the desire by Uganda to exploit the natural resources of Ituri.251 The Security Council invited analysts from nongovernmental associations, including Human Rights Watch, to brief members on the local wars. In September 2002, the UN Secretary General, in a Special Report on the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC), termed the situation "explosive."

Despite the amount of information available, some UN members and officials did not recognize the complex connections between the local and the larger war and treated Ituri as a "tribal war," not suitable for UN action. The Special Representative of the Secretary General for DRC, Amos Ngongi, was cited as having said that in Ituri, "Congolese are fighting among themselves," a conclusion that falls far short of describing the complexities of the conflict. 252

Unwilling to get further involved in the local facet of the war, the UN acquiesced in continued Ugandan control of Ituri, whether directly or through its various surrogates. After the establishment of the IPC in September 2002, MONUC undertook to support the new institution, but with only ten observers, it lacked the means to back the commission and to oblige the UPC to cooperate with it.

At the end of 2002, MONUC did indeed move quickly when the MLC and RCD-N advanced against the RCD-ML positions in Mambasa and further south towards Beni. It denounced this violation of the ceasefire and eventually brokered a new ceasefire that stopped further fighting. It then placed a MONUC team in Mambasa to observe its implementation. Perhaps finally forced to recognize that arrangements to end the larger war would be constantly threatened if the local wars were not addressed, the Security Council passed Resolution 1445 enlarging the UN peacekeeping force from 5,527253 to 8,700 troops and requested the Secretary-General to place more MONUC resources in the Ituri region, security permitting. Nearly two years after the first warnings of the impending violence, the resolution expressed the Security Council's "deep concerns over the intensification of ethnically targeted violence in the Ituri region," condemned the violence and incitement to violence taking place, and called on combatant forces in the region to take immediate actions to ensure the protection of civilians and end violations of human rights.

It proved difficult, however, to find troops for the DRC mission. No European or North American government would contribute, nor were many African states enthusiastic about participating. While awaiting action from headquarters, the small MONUC team in Bunia attempted where possible to defuse tensions and assist civilians. It was an apparently impossible task, but on occasion the arrival of the MONUC observers on the scene helped avoid confrontations. The mandate for the force authorized soldiers to protect civilians if in imminent danger of harm. The conduct of this small team showed what a courageous interpretation of the mandate could achieve.254

In January 2003 MONUC carried out one of its first extensive human rights investigations, looking into accusations against the MLC and RCD-N during their military activities in the last months of 2002. MONUC reported that some of these troops had committed systematic rapes, looting, summary executions and ten confirmed cases of cannibalism against persons of the Nande ethnic group.255 On January 15 the Security Council condemned "in the strongest terms" the systematic massacres and violations perpetrated by Bemba's MLC and the RCD-N. Declaring sentiments presumably shared by other council members, the US representative expressed revulsion that members of an armed faction meant to take power in a future government could engage in these acts of torture, rape, killing and cannibalism.0

Meanwhile both bilateral and multilateral pressure increased on Uganda to withdraw its troops from Ituri. But the departure of Ugandan troops without an international force to replace it would create a power vacuum that could then be filled by local armed groups. In resolution 1468 on March 20, 2003, the Security Council called on Uganda to withdraw and expressed its concern that it had failed to leave by previous deadlines. It also stressed to Rwanda that any return of its forces "would be unacceptable". The Council also again asked the Secretary-General to increase MONUC in Ituri and support the Ituri Pacification Commission.1

After a massacre at Drodro made headlines2 and with the Ugandan army withdrawal impending, MONUC announced on April 23 that its troops in Ituri would be increased to 850, of whom 200 would be sent immediately to Bunia. The Ugandan withdrawal on May 6, 2003 resulted in the power vacuum that had been feared. The newly arrived MONUC troops consisting of Uruguayan guard units had no capacity to prevent the fighting in Bunia as Hema and Lendu armed groups vied for control of the town throughout May. On May 30, 2003 the Security Council authorized an Interim Emergency Multinational Force for Ituri with a Chapter VII mandate, so acknowledging the urgent need to protect civilians, including by the use of force if necessary. But this short-term measure ends on September 1, 2003 when a contingent of Bangladeshi troops is due to reinforce MONUC forces in Bunia. As of this writing there is no clear indication how MONUC, with a much weaker Chapter VI mandate, will be able to protect civilians either in or outside of Bunia after the departure of the emergency force.

In its March 20, 2003 resolution, the Security Council condemned the human rights violations committed in the DRC, and particularly in Ituri. It said that members of the MLC, RCD-ML and the UPC had perpetrated these crimes and that they would be held accountable for them. The ICC will have jurisdiction to initiate an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed after July 2002. Far less clear is what mechanism - if any - will be put in place to investigate and prosecute those international crimes committed before this date. The Security Council has requested the Secretary-General, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to make recommendations to the council on how to address the issue of justice for these crimes.

International Donors

The Ugandan, Rwandan and the DRC governments depend heavily on donor assistance, a situation that presumably gives major donors significant leverage in influencing their policy decisions. These donors often say they are committed individually, as U.N. members, and as members of multilateral financial institutions to ending the DRC war, in part because they know that the conflict and attendant military spending hampers the reduction of poverty and the economic development that they seek to promote. Donors also know that the assistance they give for economic development or for humanitarian relief is fungible-that is, funds given for one purpose, such as education, frees up money that can then be spent for another purpose, such as buying weapons. Donors must find effective ways to monitor the use of the money they deliver; otherwise they may end up funding further war and the human rights violations that it has entailed.

In fiscal year 2000 to 2001, for example, international donors financed 55 percent of Uganda's budget, a total of US$582.2 million. Since 2000, Uganda also received about $2 billion in debt relief from various sources. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in September 2002 approved a further three-year arrangement under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility for US$17.8 million for Uganda. At the same time as these new commitments were being made, Uganda overspent its defense budget by more than 30 percent, according to estimates by the International Institute of Strategic Studies.3 It also moved expenditure from other ministries to its defense and security budgets.4 The Defense Minister in 1999 admitted during an inquiry that the Defense Ministry hid its spending within other budget lines to avoid pressure from donors.5

Despite their stated desire to end the DRC war, donors failed to use their leverage effectively and for years made little progress in persuading the parties to halt the conflict. In 2002 both bilateral and multilateral donors took stronger stands. In May the International Monetary Fund (IMF) linked resumption of aid to DRC to further progress in the peace process (and also to progress in pursuing economic reforms).6 The U.S. also refused to support a Rwandan bid for renewal of its IMF assistance and, according to State Department sources, told Rwandan authorities that their stand was a response to continued Rwandan presence in the DRC and to human rights abuses committed by its forces there.7 The Danish government cut its aid to Uganda in early 2002 as a result of concerns about Ugandan military activity in the DRC.8 Faced with these and presumably other instances of increased pressure, Rwanda and Uganda withdrew their regular military units in 2003, thus meeting a major policy objective of many donors. Both retained sufficient influence with Congolese actors to protect their interests, both in Ituri and elsewhere.

Donors have raised human rights concerns but have used their leverage even less effectively on these issues than for bringing an end to the war. Sufficiently well informed about human rights abuses in the DRC by their own embassies, by U.N. agencies, and by national and international human rights organizations, donors have not succeeded in getting governments and other actors to end their abuses in the DRC nor to punish the perpetrators in their ranks.

The European Union
Until mid-2002, the European Union (EU) proved largely ineffective in influencing developments in DRC because leading member states were divided over which side to support: the United Kingdom-generally supported by Germany and the Netherlands-backed Rwandan and Uganda while France-often together with Belgium-backed the DRC government. Throughout the war the EU issued several statements denouncing violence against civilians, including one in February 2001 that identified the role of Uganda in exacerbating the conflict between Hema and Lendu. It noted, "the continued military presence of the Ugandan army in this part of the DRC ... hampers the efforts to re-establish peace there."9 Yet apart from this reprimand, the EU did little publicly to pressure Uganda for a change in behavior.

EU members subscribe to a Code of Conduct on Arms Exports that prohibits arms transfers that might "aggravate existing tensions or armed conflicts in the country of final destination" or risk fuelling human rights abuses. Yet they did nothing to halt the delivery of arms to the Great Lakes, a region where the plethora of arms was certainly contributing to human rights abuses. In June 1999 an EU presidential statement reminded members of their obligation to uphold the Code of Conduct, but a year later, in May 2000, members still failed to agree on a suspension of arms shipments to the Great Lakes region, some arguing that any such embargo would always be violated. But by January 22 and 23, 2001, the General Affairs Council had decided to ask relevant EU bodies to facilitate early recommendations on "a possible embargo and its modalities to stem the flow of arms fuelling and protracting the conflict in the DRC and the Great Lakes region."

In the past year, efforts have reportedly been made to secure a more coherent EU policy on the Great Lakes. In January 2002, the French and British Foreign Minister made a joint mission to the Great Lakes, meant to promote peace in the region as well as to attempt to unify EU policy on the area, with a repeat visit due in 2003. The EU role in DRC, and specifically Ituri, got a substantial boost with the agreement that the EU would lead the Interim Emergency Multinational Force to Ituri under its European Security and Defense Pact - the first time such a force has been authorized outside of Europe. Although France is taking a leading role in the multinational force, the UK will also send a small number of troops.

The United Kingdom
Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly stated in October 2001 that "The international community could..., with our help, sort out the blight that is the continuing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where three million people have died through war or famine in the last decade."10 As the largest bilateral donor to Uganda and the second largest to Rwanda, the UK appears well-placed to bring pressure to bear on those governments to change their conduct in the DRC. Former Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short expended considerable effort in trying to minimize tensions and avoid a possible war between Rwanda and Uganda but did not invest similar effort in trying to bring about an end to human rights abuses in parts of the DRC controlled by Uganda or Rwanda.

The UK government, like many other donors, has moved towards delivering assistance through balance of payment support to the Ugandan and Rwandan governments, meaning that funds are given without being linked to specific projects. Acknowledging the possibility that such open-ended contributions might end up covering military expenditures, the UK urged Ugandan authorities to review defense spending and in 2001 began examining such expenditures with a view to ensuring greater transparency. To date the outcome of this review is unknown. Meanwhile, the British government has continued to support Uganda and Rwanda politically and financially. British authorities generally abstained from any open criticism of either Uganda or Rwanda. If they exerted private pressure to persuade them to halt human rights violations by their soldiers or groups controlled by their soldiers in the DRC, such pressure produced little visible result.

The UK parliament has been more critical of the continuing war and its toll on civilians. In a November 2002 report, the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Great Lakes and Genocide Prevention expressed concern about the role of Uganda in the DRC and urged that "allegations about the Ugandan army's role in resource exploitation and human rights violations, especially in the Ituri region" be fully appraised in measuring the success of UK assistance to Uganda.

The United States
The U.S. has long provided substantial support to Uganda, not just because of its ostensible success in economic development and combating HIV/AIDS, but also because it offered assistance in curbing the power of the Sudan, regarded by the U.S. as a major threat to stability in northeastern Africa. In the fiscal year 2001, the U.S. delivered some $81 million in development assistance and food aid to Uganda; in the fiscal year 2002, U.S. assistance totalled approximately $71.8 million; and approximately $70 million was requested for 2003.

In December 2002, the Bush administration certified that Uganda was eligible for preferential trading status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a program which supposedly includes human rights performance among its criteria for selection. In 2001 the U.S. Department of State in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices criticized Ugandan soldiers for human rights abuses in the DRC, but the next year it said that there were "no confirmed reports" of further abuses there in 2002. The 2002 report did note that thousands of civilians had been killed in violence between Hema and Lendu in areas under Ugandan army influence.

In March 2003 U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter H. Kansteiner III met with President Museveni in Uganda to discuss bilateral and regional issues but he made no public reference to abuses associated with the Ugandan presence in DRC. Similarly the White House issued no statement critical of Ugandan actions in the DRC after a June 2003 meeting between Presidents Bush and Museveni. According to press accounts and other sources, however, Bush was said to have privately criticized the Ugandan role in Ituri.

In testimony about the Great Lakes before the Africa Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee on April 3, 2003, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charles Snyder focused largely on political and humanitarian developments in DRC. He stressed the need for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops and said only that the U.S. has a "constant and active" engagement on human rights issues, not providing any details.

In a March 2003 document on AGOA, U.S. authorities described the Rwandan human rights record as "poor," an assessment echoed in recent years in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices which criticized the conduct of Rwandan troops in the DRC. In Snyder's April 2003 testimony, he called on Rwanda to cease support for Congolese groups, including the UPC, and to keep its soldiers out of the DRC. The State Department decision to refuse support for the renewal of IMF assistance to Rwanda would have delivered a stronger message to Rwandan authorities had it not been undermined by a more lenient attitude towards Rwanda at the National Security Council, the foreign policy arm of the White House. In a similar case, the State Department attempted to suspend Rwandan participation in the International Militiary Education and Training (IMET) program run by the U.S. military because of Rwandan activities in the DRC, but was overruled by the Bush administration. The decision to admit Rwanda to the AGOA program despite its "poor" human rights record was also taken by the administration.

248 International Rescue Committee, "Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from a Nationwide Survey, April 2003. According to this report estimates vary from 3.0 to 4.7 million deaths throughout the Congo since the start of the war in 1998.

249 UN internal paper, February 2001.

250 Commission on Human Rights, Report from the Special Rapporteur on the Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in the DRC, E/CN.4/2001/40/Add.1, March 27, 2001.

251 U.N. Security Council, "Final Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC," S/2002/1146, October 16, 2002.

252 Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN), Special Report on Ituri, December 2002.

253 Although the UN Security Council had initially authorized a troop force of 5,537 this maximum figure was not reached in initial deployment.

254 Human Rights Watch interview, Bunia, February 2003.

255 "North Kivu: MONUC Investigation", MONUC press release, February 18, 2003.

0 Remarks by Ambassador Richard S. Williamson, United States Representative to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Security Council, February 13, 2003. To date the report of the investigation has not been published.

1 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1468, March 20, 2003.

2 The initial death toll of this massacre were widely exaggerated with reports claiming nearly 1,000 dead. Later investigations revealed a much lower number of deaths. But it was symptomatic of the killings taking place in Ituri.

3 IISS make estimates of military spending as opposed to using reported figures. This figure is based on estimates from various IISS Military Balance publications, 1997 - 2001.

4 Republic of Uganda: Semi-annual Budget Performance Report FY 2001 / 02, MFPED, April 2002.

5 "Creative Accounting in Africa: Hidden skills", The Economist, October 9, 1999.

6 "IMF dangles aid carrot for Congo", BBC New Online, May 1, 2002.

7 Human Rights Watch interviews, Washington, July 23 and October 8, 2002.

8 "Denmark cuts Aid to Kampala," The New Vision, Kampala, February 1, 2002.

9 European Union, "Declaration of the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the Hema-Lendu conflict in north-eastern DRC," Brussels, February 1, 2001.

10 Prime Minister Tony Blair, to the Labour Party Conference, October 2001.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page