Global Policy Forum

Presentation to the Arria Formula Briefing - DRC - Amnesty


By Marcel Akpovo

Amnesty International
April 25, 2002


1. Introduction

Amnesty International is grateful to the Security Council for the opportunity to present our views on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We look forward to furthering our cooperation with the Security Council.

The start on 25 February 2002 of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue was welcomed by all interested as an opportunity to end the DRC's human rights and humanitarian crisis. However, governments and armed political groups have done virtually nothing to prevent human rights abuses by their forces. Indeed, in some cases unlawful killings and other abuses against unarmed civilians have escalated. The deployment of several thousand cease-fire monitors of the Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (MONUC), UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, may have largely prevented fighting between DRC Government forces and its armed opponents, but it has clearly failed to deter human rights abuses. Amnesty International is concerned that in the months leading up to, during, and after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda many of the peacekeeping personnel deployed in Rwanda did not gather evidence of serious human rights abuses. Such information would have gone a long way to assist in the prosecution of perpetrators by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Human rights abuses that continue to occur in the DRC include deliberate and arbitrary killings of unarmed civilians, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, including rape, persecution of human rights defenders and the death penalty.

2. Regional dimension of the crisis

Since we last briefed the Security Council in July 2001, the main protagonists have withdrawn their forces from frontline positions under the supervision of the MONUC. However, sporadic outbreaks of fighting between factions of armed political groups continue. In the case of South-Kivu province, long-standing tensions between Congolese Tutsi known as Banyamulenge and Rwandese Government and allied Congolese forces have degenerated into serious armed conflict. Sources in the region had been reporting a deployment of hundreds of Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) troops in Kivu and northern Katanga since late last year, information that the Rwandese Government consistently denied. Dozens of unarmed civilians are reported to have been killed in the fighting and thousands either displaced internally or forced to flee to neighbouring Burundi.

It has often been argued by the Rwandese Government that its withdrawal from the DRC is contingent on an end to a threat on its security by DRC-based Rwandese armed opponents, some of whom were involved in the 1994 genocide. Whereas Amnesty International acknowledges this threat, the organization is concerned that the argument has been used to justify or play down the abuses carried out by RPA and their Congolese allies in the DRC, as well as in Rwanda itself. Amnesty International also believes that Rwanda will continue to be threatened with destabilization and further human rights abuses if the internal repression, including intolerance of peaceful political dissent and denial of the right to freedom of expression and association by the Rwandese Government, does not end. Hundreds of Rwandese civilians and members of the security forces have fled Rwanda and some were either unlawfully detained or even killed for their known or suspected opposition to the government.

Burundi remains a significant player in the DRC crisis, in part because of the presence of its government and armed opposition troops on DRC territory, as well as the military and security cooperation between the Burundian, Rwandese and Goma-based Rassemblent congolais pour la démocratie (RCD-Goma) administrations. A resolution of the DRC crisis is unsustainable without a resolution of the Burundian crisis.

Although Uganda claims to have withdrawn most of its forces from the DRC, it nevertheless maintains a direct or proxy presence there. Its forces are not only involved in economic activities that engender human rights violations, they are also directly involved in local intercommunal violence which has resulted in the unlawful killings of thousands of unarmed civilians. Zimbabwean forces are known to be heavily involved in commercial activities, including mining and timber exploitation, and some have been involved in human rights violations, including in the capital Kinshasa where they have imposed a harsh regime on Congolese political detainees.

3. Specific human rights concerns

3.1 Human rights violations by DRC government agents

3.1.1 Unlawful detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions

In areas under government control the authorities are continuing to use human rights violations as a political tool. Human rights defenders are among those being targeted for detention as prisoners of conscience and ill-treated in attempts to intimidate them and prevent them from carrying out their work. Golden Misabiko Baholelwa, president of the Lubumbashi branch of the Association africaine de défense des droits de l'homme (ASADHO), African Association for the Defence of Human Rights, was tortured while detained without charge from February to September 2001. He was questioned in particular about an ASADHO communiqué which denounced the executions in November 2000 of eight alleged coup conspirators. In March 2002 he was forced to flee the country after he learned that he was being sought by the security forces. N'sii Luanda Shandwe, president of the Comité des observateurs des droits de l'homme (CODHO), Committee of Human Rights Observers, whose case we reported to the Security Council last July, was released without charge in September 2001. He was rearrested on 19 April 2002 and is being held without charge, possibly again in connection with his human rights activities.

Journalist José Feruzi Samwegele of the government radio and television company was detained by the military security service on suspicion of complicity to broadcast an opposition party political statement. Government security agents continue to arrest, beat and detain dozens of opposition supporters seeking to hold public meetings in support of the opposition or talks to end the on-going armed conflict.

Torture of known or suspected government opponents has remained routine. On 9 September Koyese Swako who was being held in connection with the assassination of former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila died of septicaemia, apparently caused by a lung infection contracted through repeated blows to the chest during torture while in the custody of the Détection militaire des activités anti-patrie (DEMIAP), Military Detection of Unpatriotic Activities, military security service.

3.1.2 Human rights violations linked to economic activities

During a visit to Mbuji-Mayi in October 2001 Amnesty International delegates learned from credible local sources that throughout 2001 dozens of civilians suspected of illegal mining of diamonds in and around a mining area belonging to the state-owned Société minií¨re de Bakwanga (MIBA), Bakwanga Mining Company, were shot dead and scores wounded by soldiers and police guarding the mines. One of the surviving victims, 18-year-old Mukeba Muchuba, was reportedly shot in the head by a MIBA guard on 16 September; his speech was severely impaired as a result of his injury. The mine is also guarded by Zimbabwean forces, several of whom threatened to shoot Amnesty International delegates who were visiting the MIBA mining headquarters. Zimbabwean government forces are also reported to have extrajudicially executed suspected illegal diamond miners.

3.1.3 Unfair trials and the death penalty

Another weapon that has been frequently used by the government against threats to its hold on power is the death penalty, despite government assurances in recent years that a moratorium was in force. At least 35 people were executed in 2000. More than 70 people are on death row. Thirteen people were sentenced to death, five of them in absentia, on 13 September 2001 after an unfair trial. They were arrested in and around April and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of President Joseph Kabila. They were convicted by the Cour d'ordre militaire (COM), Military Order Court, in Likasi, Katanga province, a court which does not meet international fair trial standards including the right to appeal. Almost all were reportedly tortured to force them to implicate themselves or their co-defendants. They were denied access to lawyers before their trial. Eighteen others were sentenced to between five and 20 years' imprisonment. In early March a trial by the COM of some 135 people accused of involvement in the January 2001 assassination of former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila started in Kinshasa. Defendants and their legal counsel had not been given an opportunity to prepare their defence. Those convicted would be at risk of being sentenced to death and possibly executed.

3.2 Human rights abuses by armed government opponents

3.2.1 Unlawful detentions, torture and unlawful killings

In areas controlled by opposition groups and allied foreign forces, unlawful killing of civilians, arbitrary and unlawful detentions, and torture, including rape, have continued to be inflicted by Congolese armed political groups, particularly the RCD-Goma and the RCD-Mouvement de libération (RCD-ML), RCD-Liberation Movement, as well as their allies among Rwandese and Ugandan troops present in the DRC.

As the Inter-Congolese Dialogue continued in Sun City, South Africa, fighting escalated in parts of eastern and northeastern DRC, resulting in hundreds of deaths of unarmed civilians. Some of the fighting over control of territory in Oriental province has taken place between on one side combatants of the Mouvement pour la libération du Congo (MLC), Movement for the Liberation of Congo, and the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie - National (RCD-National), Congolese Rally for Democracy - National, and those of the RCD-ML on the other. The three rival armed groups are supported by Uganda. Deliberate and arbitrary killings of unarmed civilians by Hema, Lendu and Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) combatants continue in the Kibali-Ituri province. Hundreds of unarmed civilians are reported to have been killed, some of them reportedly buried alive, in the violence. In February 2002 UPDF are alleged to have killed more than 70 unarmed civilians at Kogoro, Gety and Chakurundu in Irumu territory. Amnesty International has received reports that tensions are rising between Hema and Nande members of the RCD-ML in Bunia, leading to the killing on 18 and 19 April of more than a dozen non-Hema combatants by Hema supported by UPDF soldiers. The fighting is reported to have been sparked off by the replacement of the Hema Roman Catholic bishop by a Nande. It is feared that civilians will be targeted or caught in the cross-fire. Journalists too have been targeted. For example, Norbert Kisanga, a journalist, was beaten during six days' detention in October 2001 by the RCD-Goma's Direction de sécurité et de rensei

Human rights defenders, investigating human rights abuses by armed opposition groups and their foreign backers, are targeted. For example, Jules Nteba Mbakumba, of the Elimu Association, fled in August 2001 to neighbouring Burundi from Uvira, South-Kivu, controlled by RCD-Goma and its Rwandese and Burundian allies, after colleagues were detained by RCD-Goma and accused of distributing leaflets for the mayi-mayi. In October he was arrested by the Burundian authorities, returned to RCD-Goma in DRC, and detained at a Rwandese military camp at Kavimvira near Uvira where he was reportedly bound and severely beaten. He was subsequently transferred to a detention centre in Goma where he is still held. Juma Pili Rumanya, a member of Héritiers de la Justice, was shot dead on 29 October by men in military uniform in Uvira, South-Kivu. It is suspected that he was targeted because of a call by his group for the release of Jules Nteba.

Amnesty International is seriously concerned about the appalling conditions at Ndosho, near Goma, where a freight container is used as a detention centre by RCD-Goma. On 17 April 2002 Weteshe Mirimo, a detainee held there, died from the effects of conditions in the detention centre and severe beatings. Other detainees, including 15-year-old Muhombo Mirimo, continue to be held there. Characteristics of container detention places include insufficient air, food and drink, unhygienic conditions with no toilet facilities, and extreme cold or heat depending on outside temperatures. RCD-Goma and RPA have routinely detained people in freight containers, private houses and pits.

Journalists too have been targeted. For example, Norbert Kisanga, a journalist, was beaten during six days' detention in October 2001 by the RCD-Goma's Direction de securite et de renseignements (DSR), Directorate for Security and Intelligence. His newspaper, Les Coulisses, had reported that RCD-Goma officials were involved in importing counterfeit textiles.

Like in government-held areas, critics of RCD-Goma and foreign troops in eastern DRC were detained, tortured and raped. On 9 August 2001 Pastor Claude Olenga Sumaili, of the Roman Catholic church's Justice and Peace Commission in Kisangani, was stripped and beaten for several hours by members of the DSR. He had reportedly voiced support in a radio broadcast for the demilitarization of Kisangani, which the RCD-Goma has refused to do in violation of Security Council Resolution 1304. Human rights activists are routinely threatened by RCD-Goma, in part for investigating and continuing to express concern about the human rights violations and destruction during and after the 1999 and 2000 battles in Kisangani between RPA and UPDF. Many detainees accused of supporting the DRC Government or its allies have only been released after payment. In September two sons of businessman Bakana Meso, aged about 17 and 30 respectively, were accused of links with the DRC Government and detained overnight in Bukavu by the DSR until their father paid US$500.

In South-Kivu's capital, Bukavu, RCD-Goma and RPA used violence in April 2002 to break up demonstrations in support of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and an end to the occupation of eastern DRC by Rwanda. In the wake of the apparently failed Inter-Congolese Dialogue Amnesty International fears that many more people may be arrested, detained, tortured and even unlawfully killed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and association.

3.2.2 Abuses linked to economic activities

During their visit to eastern DRC, Amnesty International delegates learned that hundreds of civilians were forced by combatants of armed political groups and their foreign backers to work in mines, including in the Masisi territory, North-Kivu. Miners and mineral dealers were frequently subjected to detentions, beatings and other forms of ill-treatment, sometimes to force them to work harder or to extort money or diamonds. In some areas, members of the armed opposition used violence, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment, to force civilians out of their homes or their land which was then seized for mining activities. Mashini Lofofo, Albert Lukumbura and Sherif Mbayi were detained in August by members of RCD-Goma, reportedly in an attempt to force them to sell diamonds to RCD-Goma officials at a low price. They were released in November after intervention by visiting AI delegates.

4. Conclusion

An end to the armed conflict and related human rights abuses in the DRC will remain elusive for as long as the governments and armed political groups involved continue to extort profit from the country and in so doing acquiring weapons which they then use to commit human rights abuses. Amnesty International believes that a clear message from the Security Council to all the warring parties that perpetrators of human rights abuses, as well as their political and military leaders ordering or condoning them, will be brought to justice is likely to have an important deterrent effect.

5. Recommendations

1 Amnesty International urges the Security Council, during its mission to the region, to express concern about specific abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, to remind all parties concerned of their obligation to uphold these standards and to emphasize that the perpetrators of abuses must be held to account;

2 Amnesty International urges that members of MONUC be asked to report in detail about human rights abuses and the manner in which they are dealt with by local authorities. We request that clear channels for communication of reporting be established, including to UN expert bodies dealing with human rights, and that information collected is included in the Secretary-General's reports to the Security Council;

3 In order to complete the work started by the UN Secretary-General's Investigative Team (UNSGIT) that carried out a preliminary investigation from late 1997 to April 1998, the Security Council should ensure that a UN-led international commission of inquiry be set up. All governments, particularly those involved in the armed conflict, should be required to cooperate fully with the investigation and any subsequent prosecutions.



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