Rwandan soldiers may have committed genocide and six other countries are suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1993 to 2003, the United Nations said.
A so-called mapping report, published by the UN’s human- rights agency today, details more than 600 “gross violations of human rights and/or international law” by rebel groups and the armies of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Zimbabwe and Chad. Rwandan soldiers in particular may be guilty of genocide for the deliberate killing of ethnic Hutu refugees, according to the report.
“There were tens of thousands of serious crimes and perpetrators and hundreds of thousands of victims,” the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in the report. The OHCHR said the nearly 600-page document was “aimed at breaking the cycle of impunity” in Congo and called for a judicial process backed by international and Congolese officials to try perpetrators of the crimes.
Conflict began in eastern Congo in the early 1990s and spread when the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Army crossed into Congo to hunt down the Hutu perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The fighting eventually involved at least eight countries and dozens of armed groups, many of whom fought over Congo’s mineral wealth.
Congo holds 4 percent of global copper reserves, is among the world’s largest producers of cobalt and industrial diamonds, and is Africa’s largest producer of tin ore, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s website.
“The abundance of natural resources in the DRC and the absence of regulation and responsibility in this sector has created a particular dynamic that has clearly contributed directly to widespread violations and to their perpetuation,” the report said. “Both domestic and foreign state-owned or private companies could bear some responsibility for these crimes having been committed.”
Congo’s ambassador to the UN, Ileka Atoki, welcomed the “detailed and credible” report and vowed to prosecute those responsible for crimes committed in the period.
“We are determined that the Congolese government will do what it can to bring justice for the crimes and some degree of reparations for the victims,” Atoki said in an e-mailed statement.
In 2005, Congo won a decision at the International Court of Justice requiring Uganda to pay reparations for its role in the war. Uganda has yet to pay. Congo sought a similar judgment against Rwanda, though Rwanda’s government wouldn’t accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction, Atoki said.
The ambassador called for a conference in Kinshasa to discuss the judicial options set out in the report.
Many of the atrocities included in the report have already been documented in UN reports in 1997 and 1998 and no steps were taken to bring the perpetrators to justice, Filip Reyntjens, an expert on Central Africa at the University of Antwerp, said by phone from Antwerp on Sept. 29.
“The fact that they realized early on that they were not going to be prosecuted emboldened them,” Reyntjens said. “If we let this go this time, you can bet there will be human-rights abuses again.”
Conflict between Congo’s army and numerous Congolese and foreign rebel groups is continuing in the east of the country.
Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi rejected drafts of the report, with both Rwanda and Uganda threatened to remove their forces from UN peacekeeping missions in the region. Rwanda has since withdrawn its threat, according to the UN.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said today the report was an attempt to “prolong instability in the Great Lakes Region.”
The document is “inherently flawed” as it omits historical context, uses “problematic” methodology and inadequate standards of proof to justify its allegations, Kagame’s office said in an e-mailed statement from Kigali, the capital.
Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa in an e-mailed statement yesterday called the report “a compendium of rumors deeply flawed in methodology, sourcing and standard of proof.” Burundi said in a statement last month its forces “had never been in collusion with any of the forces on DRC soil to fight anyone.”
In August, Congo’s Justice Ministry called for help from the international community to reorganize its judicial and security systems and help prosecute the crimes in a 51-page response to the report.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at email@example.com.