By Paul Ndiho
October 7, 2010
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights last week released a 550-page report listing more than 600 of the most serious violations of human committed by both state and non-state actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In the late 90s and early 2000s I was a reporter embedded with both Ugandan and Rwandan troops in Eastern Congo and I recorded some of the killings that took place. Please be advised that some video is very graphic and viewer discretion is advised.
After interviewing more than 1200 witnesses, analyzing more than 1500 documents, over the course of two years, the United Nations released a report last Friday, detailing massive human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003.The report said, tens of thousands of people were killed, and numerous others were raped, mutilated or otherwise victimized during the decade of War.
“The mapping of the events that occurred during that 10 year period are significant because the consequences are still evident today. Because these crimes have never been addressed justice has not been delivered but there has been impunity and lawlessness so very many rebel groups have cropped up who continue to take the law into their own hands and rape and pillage. Most recent example is the rapes that occurred in eastern DRC in August over which my office and the joint Human Rights office issued a report a few days ago.”
Seven Africa countries are named in the report but Rwanda and Uganda are singled out for committing mass killings, rapes and possible genocide of Hutus as they pursued them into the Congo. Rwanda reacted angrily to the report and said that they reserve right to review U.N. relations. Rwanda’s foreign Affairs minister.
“In fact the eventual pull out of our troops will not be only thing we will do, if Rwanda was ever to find in this report that there are accusations of deliberate killings by our troops who are keeping peace all over the world, we intend to take a serious actions starting by disengagement with UN.”
Impetus for the probe came after UN peacekeepers in the DRC discovered three mass graves in the country’s Northern Kivu province in 2005. The report also examined in detail various options for truth and reconciliation, as well as for bringing those responsible for serious crimes to justice. Jonathan Elliott, Africa Advocacy director, Human Rights watch says ending a climate of near-total impunity and bringing Justice to the victims is very critical.
“There is great evidence that impunity creates more violence. If you look at sexual violence for example it’s a major problem now in eastern Congo and probably worse now than way back in the 1990’s…. if the international community prosecutes those responsible for sexual violence perhaps the next generation or next commander might have think twice about committing those crimes.”
From 1998 – 2001, I was embedded on and off with the Ugandan and Rwandan forces in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But nothing prepared me for the violence I witnessed there in 2000 and 2001. One morning I was caught in the middle of the Lendu militia attacks against the Hema in Nyakunde, south of Bunia. A village that is also mentioned in the U.N report where hundreds of people were killed and thousands were driven from their homes.
What started as a land dispute between two normally peaceful groups grew into a larger clash when foreign forces entered the region. Some forces sided with
the Hema, and this favoritism caused a backlash from the Lendu, leading to the widespread killing.
“Crimes against women, children, the elderly or against ethnic groups it’s a horrific story in some ways the findings weren’t a surprise because there been previous studies on what happened in the 1990s there was a U.N report in 1997 which eluded to some of the crimes we see described now in the report.”
A cloud of heavy smoke covered the village. The stench from the burning bodies was unbearable. That same night, the Lendu militia also invaded Nyekunde hospital, where hundreds of people were hiding and cut them into pieces. Scores of other nearby villages were burned to the ground. I saw several mass graves where a hundreds of people were being buried, and the Hema was armed with bow and arrows, ready to defend their village.
It was this kind of carnage against Hutu refugees and other unarmed civilian populations in the Congo for which the UN had tried to investigate notably in 1997 and 1998, but these investigations were repeatedly blocked by the Congolese government, then headed by Laurent-Désiré Kabila, father of the current president. Despite those efforts, information about massacres, rapes, and other abuses against Rwandan refugees and Congolese citizens in the late 1990s was published at the time by the UN and by human rights organizations. However, no action was taken to hold those responsible to account.