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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Congo-Kinshasa: Urgent Peacekeeping Needs

Africa Policy E-Journal
May 26, 2003 (030526)

Congo-Kinshasa: Urgent Peacekeeping Needs
(Reposted from sources cited below)

This posting contains a press release and joint letter from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International calling for urgent UN action to deploy adequate peacekeeping forces to protect civilians in the gold-rich Bunia area of eastern Congo (Kinshasa). More than 300 people, including 2 UN observers, were killed in the area earlier in May. African delegates at the UN have renewed their call for adequate funding and addtional troops for the UN operation in that country. According to news reports, the UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping visited the area on Sunday. Britain, Canada, Nigeria, Pakistan, and South Africa have reportedly offered troops to assist a rapid reaction force spearheaded by France.

A new transition government is due to be installed in Congo in June, under the terms of last year's peace agreement. However, the latest killings and the delays in sending the rapid reaction force illustrate the continued lack of political will by the major powers to provide adequate peacekeeping support. The ability of the Security Council to focus on Africa has also been impaired by concentration on Iraq.

A new report just released by the International Crisis Group, addressing the impasse in eastern Congo more generally, calls for a stronger UN mandate with additional military capacity to prevent massacres and further destablization.

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Human Rights Watch

Press Release

May 21, 2003

Congo: U.N. Should Deploy a Rapid Reaction Force in Ituri

(New York, May 21, 2003) - Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International today jointly called on the U.N. Security Council to authorize the deployment of a rapid reaction force to protect civilians in Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In an open letter to the Security Council, the two human rights organizations called the situation in Ituri "a critical test" of the Security Council's commitments to prevent mass killings and protect civilians, and noted that the United Nations Observation Mission in Congo (MONUC) has been unable to adequately protect civilians. The Security Council is currently discussing the characteristics and mandate of a possible force.

"In Ituri today, the elements of a devastating crisis are clearly present," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said that thousands of civilians continue to be at risk as opposing Hema and Lendu ethnic militia groups remain fully armed and ready to attack again. Tens of thousands of other civilians are believed to have fled Bunia, and their condition is unknown.

The two organizations stressed that any military action should be undertaken with full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. They emphasized that the rapid reaction force should have a robust mandate to ensure the maintenance of law and order and to protect civilians in Bunia, to locate and protect those civilians who have fled outside the town, and to ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach civilian populations in need.

Given the urgency of the situation, the two human rights organizations urged that a rapid reaction force be deployed immediately in the Ituri region, pending an agreement by the Security Council on the expansion and strengthening of MONUC's mandate, and the respective deployment of its reinforced troops.

The organizations are following up their appeal to the Security Council with appeals to specific countries to support Security Council action along the lines suggested and to contribute troops to an U.N.-authorized force.

"Thousands of civilians have already died in this conflict," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Only rapid U.N. action can head off continued killings."

At least 5,000 people died from direct violence in Ituri between July 2002 and March 2003. These victims are in addition to the 50,000 civilians that, according to United Nations estimates, have died there since 1999. These losses are just one part of an estimated total of 4.7 million civilians dead throughout the Congo, a toll that makes this war more deadly to civilians than any other since World War II.

To read more on human rights in DRC, please see:

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Letter to the U.N. Security Council

May 21, 2003

Security Council Members

Your Excellency,

In recent days, the Security Council has expressed growing concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Ituri, north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite the signing last week of a cease-fire, the potential for the situation to rapidly escalate into further killings of civilians demands an immediate and urgent response, notably the deployment of troops with a clear and robust mandate to protect civilians.

Ituri presents the Security Council with a critical test of the commitments it has made in many previous resolutions to prevent mass killings and protect civilians. In Resolution 1296 of April 2000 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Council indicated "its willingness to consider the appropriateness and feasibility of temporary security zones and safe corridors for the protection of civilians and the delivery of assistance in situations characterized by threat of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against the civilian population." The Security Council's various resolutions on children and armed conflict and women in peace and security have highlighted their special protection needs.

In Ituri today, the elements of a devastating crisis are clearly present: thousands of civilians continue to be at risk as opposing Hema and Lendu ethnic militia groups remain fully armed and ready to attack again; tens of thousands of other civilians are believed to have fled Bunia, and their fate is unknown. In a fast-changing scene, the ethnic groups have allied with several different Congolese rebel movements and with foreign backers, including Uganda and Rwanda. There have been mass killings and targeted rapes based on ethnic identity, by members of different ethnic groups, yielding a spiral of deadly reprisal attacks.

The potential for escalating abuses is illustrated by the massacre of hundreds of civilians at Drodro in April 2003 and by the 10 May killing of as many as 20 Hema civilians, including two priests, at a church in Nyakazansa, reportedly carried out by Lendu combatants. On 11 May MONUC personnel reportedly found 12 dead civilians in the centre of Bunia - three of them were babies who had had their throats cut.

These constitute only the most recent cases of unlawful deliberate killings on ethnic grounds in a conflict in Ituri that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced over 500,000 people since mid-1999. Tens of thousands of civilians have reportedly fled Bunia in search of safety, many crossing the border into neighbouring Uganda. Aid workers have also been forced to cease their work and evacuate from Bunia. By 12 May the armed group Union des patriotes congolais (UPC), Union of Congolese Patriots, which had been driven out of Bunia by Ugandan troops in early March, had reportedly recaptured most parts of the town. Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is becoming increasingly desperate: nearly 10,000 civilians of various ethnic groups are now sheltering in UN installations in Bunia, facing serious shortages of food, water, and sanitation, and leading to rising fears of cholera; small children are already starting to die.

The United Nations Observation Mission in Congo (MONUC) with some 700 troops in Bunia has been completely overwhelmed and has been unable to adequately protect civilians and help restore calm to this volatile region. On 12 May, the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Mr. Guehenno warned that "without decisive action there could be a bloodbath in the region." The troop reinforcements from Bangladesh are not due to arrive for a couple of months, which means that MONUC will be unable to respond adequately to events in the short term.

We are aware that intensive efforts are underway internationally to mobilize a rapid reaction force. The UN Security Council is currently discussing the characteristics and mandate of a possible force to be sent by one or more UN member states to the DRC to help calm the fighting and to protect civilians, as requested by the UN Secretary-General. Given the urgency of the situation, we urge you to ensure a rapid reaction force is deployed immediately in Bunia, pending an agreement by the Security Council on the expansion and strengthening of MONUC's mandate, and the respective deployment of its reinforced troops.

It is of utmost importance that any military action should be undertaken with full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law. The rapid reaction force should have a robust mandate to: 1) ensure the maintenance of law and order to protect civilians in Bunia, and to try to locate and protect those civilians who have fled outside the town, progressively establishing a presence beyond Bunia to ensure civilians are protected throughout the region; and 2) to help ensure that humanitarian assistance can reach civilian populations in need.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are ready to assist you with further information should you require it. Thank you for your kind consideration of these urgent matters.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

Irene Khan
Secretary General
Amnesty International

Annan Urges Emergency UN Force to Quell Violence in Northeastern DR of Congo

United Nations (New York)


May 16, 2003 New York

With Congolese parties signing a ceasefire agreement today for the northeastern region of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to consider quickly deploying a multinational emergency force to help stabilize the volatile situation in the town of Bunia.

In a letter this morning to the President of the Council, the Secretary-General said he considered it likely that the situation could worsen. He asked that members of the 15-nation body urgently consider his proposal for the rapid deployment of a highly trained and well-equipped multinational force to provide security at the local airport as well as to other vial installations and to protect the civilian population.

The Council's President for the month of May, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, confirmed in a statement to the press that some UN Member States have been approached by the Secretary-General to participate in this force. A UN spokesman, meanwhile, said the search for troop contributors to the multinational force "continues to go well," with generous responses from several Member States offering both troops and logistical and financial support.

In his letter, Mr. Annan expressed his "deep concern" about the rapidly deteriorating situation in and around Bunia, which has become the stage for major violent clashed between rival Lendu and Hema militia groups, which has been exacerbated by outside interferences.

"This force would be deployed for a limited period until a considerably reinforced United Nations presence could be deployed," Mr. Annan writes, adding that it would be authorized under the Chapter VII enforcement provision of the UN Charter.

Because the situation in Bunia threatens to undermine the peace process in the DRC, and thereby threaten international peace and security in the region, Mr. Annan said, "the international community must act decisively."

The Council met Friday in closed session to discuss the situation in the DRC. During its meeting, Under-Secretary-General for UN Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guehenno reported that the situation in Bunia continued to be volatile, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said. Attempts by the UN to broker a local ceasefire have so far been unsuccessful, although there was no fighting in the town today.

Meanwhile in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for the DRC, Amos Namanga Ngongi witnessed the signing of an agreement to cease hostilities in Bunia and re-launch the Ituri peace process.

The signatories included President Joseph Kabila, representatives of the democratically elected Ituri Pacification Commission - which rival militia and tribal groups agreed to set up late last month to manage the region until a new post-war national government takes over - and leaders of the various armed groups who have been fighting for control of the region's administrative capital, Bunia.

By the agreement, the parties also recommitted themselves to the political process, agreed to canton their troops within their respective headquarters and supported the immediate deployment of a multinational force.

In his press statement, Ambassador Akram also said that Council members demanded that all states in the region express their commitment to extend support for the possible deployment of this force.

Ituri Factions Recommit Themselves to Peace

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks


May 16, 2003

Dar Es Salaam

Following a week of heavy fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), five armed groups that have been involved in battles around the town of Bunia on Friday signed an agreement to cease hostilities and re-launch the beleaguered Ituri peace process.

According to the agreement, all five parties have committed themselves to observe an immediate ceasefire. They will begin the process of cantonment of their troops, and they have welcomed the proposed deployment of an international intervention force.

The deal comes after a week of heavy fighting between ethnic Lendu and Hema militias in Bunia following the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from the town. Humanitarian organisations say that hundreds have been killed in the fighting and tens of thousands have fled their homes.

The belligerents also agreed to demilitarise areas that are densely populated and to "create and maintain the necessary conditions" to allow humanitarian organisations to operate.

Furthermore, in what analysts said was a caveat to Rwanda and Uganda, foreign countries were called upon to stop supporting the different armed groups in the Ituri district of northeastern DRC, of which Bunia is the principal city.

The five parties involved in the talks were the Parti pour l'Unite et la Sauveguarge de l'Integrite du Congo (PUSIC), Front des Nationalistes et Integrationnistes (FNI), Forces Populaires pour la Democratie au Congo (FPDC), Forces Armees du Peuple Congolais (FAPC) and the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC). Also present were members of the Ituri Pacification Commission and representatives of the DRC government and the United Nations.

Both observers and interested parties welcomed the agreement as an initial step, but concern remains that unless an international force is deployed immediately, the signatures will mean nothing and insecurity will continue in the region.

Brig Kale Kaihura, the commander of the Ugandan troops that left Bunia and the Ugandan representative at the talks said he was glad that the UN had "woken up" but said he regretted that it had taken so long for people to listen to them.

"Why did they wait until people die before they do something? It is only after the crisis that we see people reacting," he said.

Kaihura said that while there had been enormous pressure on him to remove his troops, he had anticipated and warned people of the potential dangers that the power vacuum following their withdrawal would create.

DRC President Joseph Kabila, who met all the groups individually over the course of the two days, said that he hoped the groups would abide by the agreement and that the international force would arrive soon "to stop the massacres".

However, there was still confusion over the implementation of the agreement as, according to the UN Mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, the forces are to be cantoned in "their own headquarters" and debates continue over where each group's headquarters are. They cited the example of the UPC, which is currently in control of Bunia and says that the town is their headquarters so they are entitled to stay.

Confirming these suspicions, UPC leader Thomas Lubanga told journalists after the ceremony that his troops "wouldn't move out of Bunia as they were in control, responsible for keeping the peace and had been told they could stay".

Although he arrived only late on Thursday evening, Lubanga denied claims that he was a reluctant signatory. "I have never refused to participate in any forum that would bring peace to Bunia," he said. "I am happy with the signing and I hope all the parties respect the agreement."

The smaller factions also said that they were prepared for peace and wanted to be integrated into the Congolese army, but they accused Lubanga's UPC of being the remaining obstacle.

"The problem goes beyond just the Hema and the Lendu. It is political and the UPC want to cut Ituri off from the rest of the DRC," FNI chairman Ndjabu Ngabu said on Thursday.

Although no precise date or numbers have been given for the international intervention force, Behrooz Sadry, deputy special representative of the UN Secretary General in the DRC, told IRIN that the force was likely to be the size of a reinforced battalion (at least 750 soldiers) and it was "no longer a matter of months, but weeks" before they would arrive.

"In the meantime, we hope that the ceasefire will hold until the details of the agreement today are worked out on the ground," he said on Friday.

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Date distributed (ymd): 030526
Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+

The Africa Action E-Journal is a free information service provided by Africa Action, including both original commentary and reposted documents. Africa Action provides this information and analysis in order to promote U.S. and international policies toward Africa that advance economic, political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.

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