14 May 2012

Rwanda: Militias in DRC Accused of Serious Human Rights Abuses

Photo: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti
Displaced by conflict: Scores of people are fleeing the country to escape fighting between government forces and renegade troops.

The Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Mayi Mayi militias have been accused of committing serious atrocities against the civilian population in the Kivu region.

A terse statement from the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Åimonovic received exclusively by The New Times says, "The human rights situation in the DRC is of grave concern."

Åimonovic, who was speaking at the end of a nine-day visit to the country, declared he was " really appalled" by the heightened levels of recent violence triggered by defections in the Congolese armed forces, including former members of certain militia groups.

His statement is considered a strong pointer that the International Criminal Court is still keenly following events in the DRC. Of the seven cases the Hague-based court is investigating in Africa, it has issued six warrants of arrest and indictments against warlords in the vast Central African nation.

Indeed, the arrest at the weekend of LRA's field commander and one of Joseph Kony's most trusted lieutenants, Caesar Achellam, by the regional intervention Force set up jointly by UN-African Union and led by Ugandan Col. Dick Prit Olum, has dealt a severe blow to one of the most notorious warlords in the region. He was on his way from the Central African Republic to the DRC when he was seized after weeks of being trailed. Kony is a fugitive from international justice.

Record number of ICC warrants

Kinshasa signed into the Rome Statute on July 1, 2002 and subsequently requested the ICC prosecutor to investigate decade-long war crimes in the country. The first warrant was issued against Thomas Lubanga Dyilo in 2006 and in March 2012, he was found guilty of committing crimes against humanity and of conscripting child soldiers. He is awaiting sentencing.

Other DRC warlords indicted by the ICC and either awaiting trial or are fugitives are Germain Katanga and Matthieu Ngudjolo, whose warrants of arrest were issued in October 2007. Their trial started in November 2009 and is going on. Bosco Ntaganda, formerly chief of the KPLC and now believed to be head of the CNDP. He has been on the run since a warrant was issued against him in April 2008 and is believed to be active in North Kivu.

A warrant was issued against Calliste Mbarushimana in October 2010. He is said to have been the executive secretary general of the FDLR and was indicted for alleged crimes in Kivu. He was arrested and moved to The Hague in January 2011 and his trial is ongoing. Also indicted by the ICC is Jean-Pierre Bemba, said to be president and commander of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC). His trial is ongoing.

Åimonovic said joint efforts between the peacekeepers of the UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO), humanitarian bodies and the authorities to protect civilians and respond to human rights violations had some what eased the suffering.

In the province of South Kivu, in particular, the efforts have led to innovative ways to protect civilians, including the participation of MONUSCO's civilian components in the planning and monitoring of recent joint military operations.

"Restoring state authority, establishing the rule of law, protecting human rights and building accountable, democratic and professional security forces is a prerequisite for peace, stability and justice," he said. "It will require a coordinated and integrated approach to security sector reform with the support of all relevant actors."

An efficient justice system equipped with adequate resources will help to deter future human rights violations, which is essential in fighting against impunity, he noted, and he encouraged the DRC's military justice system to keep up its investigation and prosecution of the Bushani and Walikale mass rapes, which occurred in 2010 and 2011.

In addition, Åimonovic expressed concern about the plight of Congolese migrants expelled from Angola, numbering about 100,000 in 2011; and noted that he was encouraged to hear from the DRC's General Prosecutor that investigations into the human rights violations committed in Kinshasa during the 2011 electoral process will be concluded before the upcoming local and provincial elections, creating a conducive environment for the polls.

Åimonovic's alert comes hot on the heels of a series of high-level meetings between the DRC and the Rwandan government over the deteriorating security situation in the country and implications for the region.

At the weekend DRC's Minister of Defence Alexander Luba Tambo met his Rwandan counterpart James Kabarebe in bilateral talks over the conflict.

A communiqué issued at the end of the meeting held at the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel stated that the terms of reference of a joint intelligence operation would be expanded to include verification of security threats between the borders of the two countries.

Military chiefs from the two countries were also instructed to develop a joint operation strategy against the FDLR terror gang, which is one of the militias the UN has specifically singled out for mention as being behind the atrocities committed against civilians in the Kivus.

Despite the joint efforts by Kinshasa and Kigali to pacify the region, fighting has resumed in eastern DRC in recent weeks between Government forces, dissident groups and militia, sending more refugees fleeing into Rwanda and Uganda. This has stretched facilities at Nkamira Transit Camp in Rubavu to the limit. By yesterday the camp was hosting over 7,500 refugees. Another 8,000 more have crossed into Uganda.

Prior to last week's strategic meeting, Rwanda had hosted two earlier delegations from the DRC, with RDF's Chief of Staff Lt Gen. Charles Kayonga meeting his counterpart from Kinshasa, Lt. Gen. Didier Etumba in the first one. In the second meeting, Gen. Kaberebe met President Joseph Kabila's special envoy, Col. Kalev Mutond.

The flow of refugees has eased somewhat after the Kinshasa regained control of the eastern parts of the country, according to a statement from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).

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