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DR CONGO: Mapping Road Towards Ending Impunity

BUKAVU, DR Congo, Oct 4 2010 (IPS) - Rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo are encouraged by the publication of a report detailing grave violations of human rights in the DRC. The report, covering more than 600 incidents in the ten years between March 1993 and June 2003, has drawn criticism from several governments in the region.

“Very few Congolese and foreign civilians living on the territory of the DRC managed to escape the violence, and were victims of murder, mutilation, rape, forced displacement, pillage, destruction of property or economic and social rights violations,” underlines the report.

“Aside from its historical contribution to documenting these serious violations and fact-finding during this period, the ultimate purpose of this inventory is to provide the Congolese authorities with the elements they need to help them decide on the best approach to adopt to achieve justice for the many victims and fight widespread impunity for these crimes.”

Charles-M. Mushizi, a Congolese legal expert who worked on the mapping exercise led by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, says its publication coincides with preparations for the DRC’s general elections in 2011, and the response from the Congolese authorities will be a measure of their future commitment to and engagement with human rights.

“This assumes that the Congolese authorities will accept [the need to] strengthen a national justice system that continues to bend to the will of parliament and the executive and which does not have the material resources to function properly and respond to the demands for justice by victims [of such crimes].”

Emmanuel Luzolo Bambi, the Congolese Minister for Justice and Human Rights, said, “the Congolese government will do everything possible to bring those responsible before the courts and to obtain compensation for the victims.”

Among those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide in the report are Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, three countries whose armed forces were involved in the different wars that racked the DRC between 1995 and 2003.

Uganda rejected the report in an official communiqué released on Sep. 30, saying its findings are based simply on the statements by NGOs and that Kampala should have been consulted before publication.

Rwanda and Burundi have also rejected the report. Statements by their respective foreign affairs ministries said the United Nations was risking gains of integration and reconciliation in the heart of the Great Lakes region.

Several Rwandan students who cross the border each day to attend university in the Congolese city of Bukavu, unanimously expressed the view that the report was a conspiracy against their country.

Student Dusabu Muremi made no effort to hide his anger from IPS. “MONUSCO and the U.N. have failed DRC and the world. They should leave us alone to build our country instead of distracting us.”

The Rwandan government, which had threatened to withdraw its troops serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions in Sudan if the report was published, characterised the document as dangerous. According to the country’s foreign affairs minister, Louise Mushikiwabo told the press, the report is “a moral and intellectual failure, and an insult to history.”

Rwanda, which suffered a genocide in 1994, refuses to accept that its army could be accused of having committed acts of genocide in eastern DRC just a few years later. The report’s methodology, with human rights officers drawing on meetings with more than 1,200 witnesses from across the country, and excluding incidents that could not be corroborated by at least two independent sources, cannot be easily dismissed.

Alan Stam, a political science professor at the University of Michigan in the United States, who has done extensive research on the Rwanda’s civil war violence and its aftermath in the Great Lakes region, believes the report will change how the government of Paul Kagame is perceived.

“This is the largest, most systematic effort to catalogue the abuses that have taken place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to link them back to people [connected to] the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front].”

The events documented by the Mapping Project are well known he says, but the report presents them in a systematic way that INDICTS the perpetrators.

Stam says that President Kagame has been praised internationally for his role in ending the 1994 genocide and stabilising Rwanda since the RPF took control in 1994; and for progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. In Stam’s view, Kagame and the RPF won the war rather than ending the genocide.

But human rights groups have accused his administration of suppressing independent media and his political opposition, most recently in elections held in August.

“History may look back at this as the tipping point in the international community’s perception of the Kagame government.”

Martin Nesirky, a spokesperson for U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, said the report is a preliminary exercise to help break the cycle of impunity.

“It’s for the DRC to take a look at those options. The U.N. and this report is simply trying to help with a process that obviously has not succeeded so far… The whole point is to help them break this cycle.”

*Additional reporting by Aprille Muscara at the United Nations.

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