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Congo (Kinshasa): A New Beginning?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jul 30, 2006 (060730)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

In the best scenario, today's elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with more than 25 million voters, will demonstrate the will of the Congolese people for peace and the possibility of increased stability. In the worst case, the elections themselves may prove a stimulus for further violence. In any scenario, the fundamental issues of building a government that works and fighting poverty and corruption lie ahead.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a report from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks on violence in recent months, excerpts from a letter to churches in the Congo from the Reverend Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, and the executive summary of the report by the UN on the human rights situation in the Congo for January-June 2006.

For a short background summary on the elections, see http://allafrica.com/stories/200607240156.html For extensive detailed reports, in English and French, see the website of the UN Mission in the DR Congo (http://www.monuc.org).

For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on Congo (Kinshasa) and additional links to news and background data, see http://www.africafocus.org/country/congokin.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Finding an End to Violence

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

http://www.irinnews.org

July 28, 2006 Kinshasa

[ Excerpted. This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

A significant number of combatants from the various conflicts in Congo since 1996 have still not disarmed and many continue to destabilise the country, despite the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in 2002.

The worst violence in recent months took place in the northeastern district of Ituri where militias continue to fight for territory although, on Wednesday, a coalition of armed groups, the Mouvement revolutionnaire congolais, agreed to stop fighting during the elections.

Immediately south of Ituri, in North and South Kivu provinces, the United Nations estimates 9,500 of 17,500 foreign combatants refused to disarm and return home. Many are from Rwanda and are implicated in the 1994 genocide. Violence occurred in the area on Monday near the town of Rutshuru, North Kivu, when seven people were killed after gunmen fired on an election rally. However, Peter Swarbrick, the head of the disarmament section of the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, recently said the foreign combatants did not pose a serious military threat to the electoral process.

Farther south, again in the central part of Katanga Province, ongoing fighting between the army and Mai-Mai militias has left an estimated 170,000 people displaced. Yet many have recently started returning home and Daniel Augstburger, the head of DRC office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on Wednesday, "We expect that it will be safe for people there to vote."

One security concern that international officials do have is with the Congolese army. Fewer than one-third of the estimated 150,000 troops have been properly trained and many are still loyal to commanders who led them during the civil war.

According to a UN human-rights survey in the DRC between January and June, released on 27 July, the army was responsible for more than half of the reported 369 cases of abuse, including the arbitrary killing of civilians.

"The routine use of physical violence against civilians, including summary executions, beatings and rape is reported wherever the army is deployed," according to the survey.

[see executive summary below]

President Joseph Kabila issued a decree in May stating that security for the election was the responsibility of the police, not the army, but this has not been respected. On 21 July, troops from his Special Guard for Presidential Safety, known as GSSP, were shown on local and international television beating demonstrators and shooting in the air.

The GSSP is loyal to Kabila while other political leaders are supported by other elements within the army or by separate militias.

In the east of the country, elements of the army are also undermining efforts to demobilise combatants, the director of MONUC's Human Rights Division, Fernando Castanon, said.

"Those who are demobilising are often threatened, arbitrarily arrested, illegally detained, treated in a cruel, inhuman and degrading manner, even killed by soldiers of the 81st and the 83rd brigades," he said.

A statement issued by a committee of ambassadors and the heads of international organisations based in Kinshasa, known as CIAT, called on the army to remain in its barracks "before, during and immediately after" the polling and expressed particular concern about the GSSP. CIAT made just one exception for special units in the army to continue to work with MONUC during the elections, to continue to disarm armed Congolese and foreign groups in Ituri and in the Kivu provinces.

Civilians in those areas worry about the behaviour of those soldiers. "They sometimes suspect us of being in the militias and harass us when we move around," Jean Androzo, one of 16,000 people at a camp for displaced people at Katoni near Bunia, said on Friday.

...


Letter from World Council of Churches general secretary to WCC member churches in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Geneva, 24 July 2006

(Note: the English version was not sent out; the letter went to the churches in French)

World Council of Churches

[Excerpts: full text available
at http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?id=2354]

The spirit of the Lord is upon me;
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the humble,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and release to those in prison;

...

For I, the Lord, love justice
and hate robbery and wrong-doing;

To Our Beloved Sisters and Brothers of the Congo

I am writing this letter to you especially - and to all our churches and, indeed, to the world -- numb with grief and anger, groaning with you in anguish at the senseless devastation of your country and the wanton killings of your beautiful people in the worst wars in Africa's history.

As I ponder these glorious words of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-9) I wonder what can be the purpose or reason of the two recent wars in your country that have been ignored by the West. What must we do which we have not done? What can we say that we have not said a thousand times over for so many years? That all we want is what belongs to all God's people as an inalienable right: a place in the sun in our own beloved Congo.

...

It is regarded, using an all-too-common racist analysis, as incomprehensible and shrouded in darkness, the logical consequence of a primitive and post-colonial Africa. I still recall with outrage, the question the Economist posed at the beginning of the millennium, "Does Africa have some inherent character flaw that keeps it backward and incapable of development?" (13 May 2000) This is used as vindication of the killing fields in the Congo by those who see the only solution to Africa's predicament as liberation of the continent into the globalized "democratic" ambient of Europe and America.

On Christmas Day 1999, Archbishop Emmanuel Kataliko, the then Roman Catholic bishop of Bukavu in the eastern region answered these absurd arguments when he spoke of myths surrounding Congo's history. He called the fighting a human catastrophe linked to globalization, profit and western manipulation and complicity.

"Foreign powers, with the collaboration of some of our Congolese brothers, organize wars over control of the resources of our country. These resources, which should be used for our development, for the education of our children, to cure our illnesses, in short so that we can have a more decent human life, serve only to kill us. What is more, our country and our people have become the object of exploitation. All that has value is pillaged and taken to foreign countries or simply destroyed. Our taxes, which should be invested into the community, are embezzled ... All this money, that comes from our labour, is directly taken by a small elite that comes from we don't know where ... [and] means that some of our compatriots don't hesitate to sell their brothers for a dollar or ten or twenty."

Several days later the archbishop, who was also vice-president of the Congo's Episcopal Conference, was deported from his diocese by the rebel group controlling the region and spent seven months in exile in North Kivu. Upon his return to Bukavu he took up his duties but shortly thereafter died of a heart attack at age 68 while on an official visit to the Vatican in October 2000.

His description of the Congo was courageous and honest.

In a few days (July 30) Congolese are to go to the polls to hold presidential and legislative democratic elections even as the violence and unrest continues. The last election was held in 1960 when the charismatic Patrice Lumumba was elected and shortly afterwards murdered. The huge country, third largest in Africa with 61 million people, was turned into a dictatorship and became a staunch US ally, thereby ensuring constant support as long as the cold war lasted.

But perhaps we need to look more deeply into the origins of Congo's travail and the role of western capitalism in its lifetime of foreign rule. In fact Congolese were victims of the greatest genocide the world has ever known during its colonial (Belgian) period and that history, too, has been virtually erased.

Americans and Europeans are accustomed to thinking of fascism and communism as the twin evils of the 20th century but the century has really been home to three great totalitarian systems--fascism, communism and colonialism--the latter practised at its most deadly in Africa. The West doesn't want to recognize this because they were complicit in it. Countries that were democratic in Europe conducted mass murder in Africa--with little or no protest from the US.

After the country achieved independence in 1960, it reeled from one tragic situation to the next: the assassination of Lumumba, the three-decades-long dictatorship, and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that spilled over into the Congo, the war that led to the overthrow of Mobutu by Laurent Kabila, his murder and then the second great war that has never really ended despite a 2003 ceasefire.

For some 80 years under King Leopold and the Belgian colonial administration, Congo was plundered, for the profit of those overseas. No one should be surprised that this was followed by more decades of plunder, at the hands of Mobutu and the multinational corporations he was in league with. And we should not forget the devastation wrought by slavery for centuries before then. Democracy is a fragile plant under the best of circumstances, and none of the Congo's heritage has been fertile soil for it to grow in.

The war between African nations for Congo's wealth raged from 1998 to 2003.

A ceasefire was signed on 10 July 1999; nevertheless, fighting continued and Congo's dead kept piling up to 4 million and more, mostly from war-induced sickness, hunger and killing. Aid agencies estimate that, even as the elections are about to begin, 1,200 people still die every day, especially in the eastern part of the country, the fighting financed by revenues from the illegal extraction of minerals. In the days before Kabila's victory, illegal mining contracts worth billions of dollars were signed with De Beers and the American Mineral Fields.

Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and his son Joseph Kabila was named head of state. The new president quickly began overtures to end the war and an accord was signed in South Africa in 2002. By late 2003, a fragile peace prevailed as a transitional government. Joseph Kabila appointed four vice-presidents, two of whom had been fighting to oust him until July 2003. Much of the east of the country remains insecure and the Kinshasa government has no control over vast areas of the country.

Today, UN peacekeeping troops (MONUC) are on high alert. The largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation in the world with 19,000 soldiers can barely keep itself intact, let alone protect the lives of the terrified population. MONUC has also been charged with trying to arrange the elections in a country almost the size of Western Europe (2,345,000 sq km), lacking roads, electricity, telephones and local governments. It is also trying to assist 2 million people displaced by war in Eastern Congo, stave off 20,000 militiamen and protect humanitarian agencies which has become the single most ambitious project the world body has undertaken in its history.

Yet there is an eerie silence surrounding this most deadly of all wars in the world today. In February this year, the UN and humanitarian aid agencies asked the world for $US682 million for the displaced and hungry and sick. So far, as we write this, they have received just $94 million or $9.40 per person. By comparison last year's tsunami appeal raised $550 per person.

Ask anyone in places like Kisingani, Bunia, Goma or Bukavu why seven African armies fought two wars in the last decade or so, and they will tell you it is a war of plunder, loot and exploitation. Many of the armies have now gone home but the suffering of the people continues. War is ever-present. But even deadlier now are the side effects of war, the scars left by the brutality that disfigure Congo's society and infrastructure. Plagued by bad sanitation, disease, malnutrition and dislocation. In many ways the country remains broken, volatile and dangerous.

For every violent death in Eastern Congo's war zone, there are 62 non-violent deaths according to Doctors Without Borders: treatable diseases like malaria, meningitis, measles, AIDS. Displacement is the first killer of flight. Desperately poor people driven from their subsistence existence into even more hostile environments seek safety, deep in the forests of Eastern Congo.

There is enormous global competition for Congo's resources, its soils packed with diamonds, gold copper, cobalt, uranium and tantalum (or coltan as it is known locally, used in cell phones and computers). The waters of the Congo's mighty rivers could power the continent. Its soil is lush and fertile, its tropical forests cover an area bigger than Great Britain.

Yet it is this very wealth that Archbishop Kataliko prophesied so accurately that was at the heart of Congo's desperation. It is fashionable these days to talk about the "failed state" syndrome of Africa, the process of criminalization and the loss of legitimacy of political institutions. But the Congo belies this thesis. Theorists of the failed state underplay the extent of international business and western influence in the failures they lament. Globalization has sustained the wars in Congo and other African governments played their part. In April 2001, the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo reported that foreign companies "were ready to do business regardless of the elements of unlawfulness ... Companies trading minerals, the engine of the conflict in the Congo, prepared the field for illegal mining activities in the country."

In this atmosphere the world has demanded a democratic election for president and parliament. It is almost as if by waving some magic wand called western democracy, the Congo is going to be saved when the partition is being forced by politicians playing the game of the western mineral corporations.

If that is the case, then the world must take responsibility to see through what it has demanded. The elections will cost almost $500 million and should be carried out in an atmosphere of national unity and reconciliation, but there is every possibility that they could cause even greater division.

WCC and its agencies and member churches from Congo, the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA), the Great Lakes Ecumenical Fellowship (GLEF), and ACT International are all pledged to accompanying Congo on its journey towards peace, national unity and reconciliation.

Soon your country will have its national election. In any democratic system it is crucial that elections must be free and fair. There are at least four important conditions for the conduct of a free and fair election:

  • An independent judiciary to interpret the electoral laws.
  • An honest, competent non-partisan electoral body to manage the elections.
  • A developed system of political parities.
  • A general acceptance by the political community of the rules of the game.

Therefore, such a free and fair election would lead to democratic governance, provided there is the establishment of institutions of accountability, functioning political parties, independence of the judiciary and the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity.

In addressing this message to the people of Congo, I want to assure that war-weary country of our solidarity and prayers, our commitment and action. To the world we call on it to repent of its conspiracy to exploit the Congo's resources and its people for profit, to end its indifference, and to acknowledge the shame of oppression.

The focus on bringing the country to elections may be laudable and may help end the cycle of violence and despair, but the impunity of human rights abuses of horrendous numbers cannot continue.

Without money from the developed world to rebuild, without more peacekeepers to protect the innocent, without the genuine commitment of whomever leaders the Congo chooses and without Africa's own leadership empowering the heart of Africa, these elections will not bring any progress, and millions of people will have died in vain and millions more face the same future.

We must not allow the indifference of centuries of oppression and exploitation to continue.

In the name of God, it must stop.

God bless Africa
Guard her children
Guide her leaders
And give her peace for Jesus Christ's sake.

Amen.

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary
World Council of Churches


The Human Rights Situation in the DRC During the Period of January to June 2006

United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa)

July 27, 2006

By Human Rights Division

Executive Summary

  1. In the pre-electoral period, MONUC has noted a significant increase in the number of politically motivated human rights violations linked to the electoral campaigning. The police, the ANR and other members of the security forces have been involved in repressing the civil liberties of individuals suspected of holding certain political affiliations. Sometimes these assumptions have been based on the victim's perceived or actual ethnic identity. These violations have included arbitrary arrest, illegal detention or acts of physical violence, such as beatings or use of excessive force by police during demonstrations.
  2. Freedom of expression in the media has also been affected. Journalists and broadcasters have at times been limited or punished in the exercise of their duties, often as a result of the application of outdated legislation. Other public critics of the current political leadership have been silenced by courts acting outside of their jurisdiction.
  3. The routine use of physical violence against civilians, including summary executions, beatings and rape, committed by FARDC soldiers, who often underwent the 'brassage' process, is reported wherever the army is deployed. MONUC has also noted with concern the level of violence against civilians perpetrated by the FARDC in the course of military operations. In the Ituri District, a number of counter-insurgency operations since the beginning of the year have led to the arbitrary killing of civilians accused of complicity with militia groups. Arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of militia suspects in military camps (including women and children) have also led to several deaths in custody in the District.
  4. The fight against impunity has seen some positive developments, but overall it has come to a stalemate due to the lack of will and capacity to investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations by the Congolese authorities. In February, Thomas Lubanga was handed over by the DRC authorities to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be tried for crimes committed during the conflict in Ituri District. Domestic military courts delivered four important judgements: in Ituri, an officer was convicted of war crimes; in Bukavu, a former army officer was convicted for recruiting children in the armed forces; and in Equateur, 48 soldiers were found guilty of rape, murder and looting, as crimes against humanity, in two separate trials. These judgements have created important new jurisprudence for the DRC, each representing the first-time verdicts reached for such crimes. MONUC also welcomes the direct application of the Rome Statute by military courts.
  5. On the other hand, MONUC is concerned that there is an increasing tendency to interfere by political and military authorities into the administration of military justice, which often paralyses the work of this institution. Arrest warrants against serving FARDC soldiers for the massacre of 30 civilians in Kilwa, Katanga Province, in October 2004 were not carried out, blocked by a lack of cooperation between the military hierarchy and the military prosecutor. Two important former warlords from Ituri, suspected of multiple international crimes, are reported to remain at liberty in the capital, Kinshasa. Eight other Ituri militiamen, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been in custody without trial for over a year. The trial of a military officer in North Kivu for the murder of seven individuals, including four children, has been suspended since July 2005 following an undue intervention by the military hierarchy, and in South Kivu, the Commander of the 10 th Military Region (MR) refused to execute the arrest of four officers accused of human rights violations including rape, torture and arbitrary arrest, under the pretext that he needed those officers for military operations.
  6. MONUC is also concerned by the fact that civilians are routinely tried for common crimes before military jurisdictions. Although such practice is grounded in Congolese law, it contradicts international principles according to which civilians must never be tried by military courts. A legislative reform to correct this anomaly should be one of the first priorities of the new Parliament.
  7. Human rights discourse is largely absent in the manifestos of the main political parties. There are no clearly defined objectives for human rights protection and promotion. Neither are there any declarations by the main political contenders to include human rights issues in the core programme of a new administration.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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