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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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): USCR Report, 2

Congo (Kinshasa): USCR Report, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 970623
Document reposted by APIC

Note: This posting and the previous one contain excerpts from the USCR report. The full report is available from
U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20036;
Tel: (202) 347-3507; Fax: (202) 347-3418;

USCR Site Visit Notes (excerpts, part 2)

Sections on Refugees in North Kivu, South Kivu and Kisangani [details in full report]

5 > Internally Displaced and War-Affected Zairians

5.1. Size of Internal Displacement in Eastern Zaire

USCR's site visit concluded that approximately half of all Zairians in the major population centers of eastern Zaire were temporarily displaced at some point during the first months of civil war. Although most have returned home, as many as 150,000 internally displaced persons remained in eastern Zaire as of May. ...

5.2. Causes and Duration of Displacement Vary

During the height of the civil war in the east, families fled their homes for a variety of reasons. Some were fleeing general violence. Others fled to escape the havoc wreaked by FAZ soldiers who systematically plundered town after town during their retreat, raping women and young girls. Some became uprooted when their towns suffered aerial bombings by Mobutu's forces. Others fled for fear of abuses by advancing ADFL troops.

Still others, especially in North Kivu, were already uprooted by earlier political and ethnic conflicts in their home areas. Although Zaire's civil war has largely ended, Zairians continue to be displaced by pockets of insecurity or new rounds of ethnic tensions in their home areas. ...

Sections on Population Displacement from South Kivu and North Kivu [details in full report]

5.8. Assistance Needs

Internally displaced persons in eastern Zaire appear to have the same basic needs that confront all Zairians: the need for security, improved infrastructure, rehabilitation assistance, and basic household items. The homes and businesses of many Zairian displaced persons were looted during the war, as were the homes of many other Zairians. Upon returning to their villages, uprooted families receive from ICRC a 30-pound re-integration package consisting of blankets, pots, soap, a hoe, plastic sheeting, a jerry can, and seeds.

Relief workers and eastern Zairians told USCR that Mobutu's retreating troops caused most of the war's destruction to private property, stripping some places bare. Many displaced persons told USCR, however, that damages they suffered during the war paled in comparison to the overall damage and exploitation wreaked during 32 years of the Mobutu regime. As a major supporter of Mobutu during the Cold War, the United States has a special responsibility to help rebuild Zaire and actively support the creation of a functional, inclusive government that can effectively address the needs of its population.

6 > Attitudes of Local Zairians

6.1. Fall of Kisangani Changed Perspectives

The capture of Kisangani by Alliance troops in March was a seminal event in reshaping popular local perceptions of the ADFL, according to interviews conducted by USCR. In the first months of the civil war, many Zairians speculated that the war was exclusively a Rwandan and Burundian strategy to establish a safe buffer zone in eastern Zaire by dismantling the refugee camps along the border that had served as bases for Hutu rebels.

The fall of Kisangani convinced many Zairians for the first time that--regardless of outside involvement--the insurgency had become an authentic Zairian war linked to domestic grievances against the Mobutu regime. Zairians who initially dismissed Kabila as a front-man for foreign interests became willing to give Kabila the benefit of the doubt, and popular support suddenly mounted for what many perceived as a winning bid to oust Mobutu. Fear of a counterattack or other retaliation by Mobutu's soldiers diminished, and local enlistment in the Alliance military soared, Zairians told USCR.

Although most eastern Zairians interviewed by USCR said they support Kabila as an individual, they expressed distrust for his Banyamulenge allies and indicated that ADFL officials should reach out to other ethnic groups and political parties to help govern the country nationally and locally.

6.2. Popular Support for Local Elections Rather Than National Elections

With Mobutu removed from power, most eastern Zairians interviewed by USCR expressed disdain for the idea of rapid national elections. They expressed strong interest in immediate local elections, however.

Zairians said that the international preoccupation with national elections reflects the priority of Western donors rather than the main interest of local citizens. Eastern Zairians remain deeply skeptical about the political process in Kinshasa and indicated that a national election at this time would be irrelevant at best, destabilizing at worst. Zairians in the east maintained that the new government should establish a basis for national politics at the local level, in contrast to Mobutu's tactic of dispatching political appointments to fill local posts without consultation.

Elections for governor of Kisangani, Mbuji-Mayi, and Kindu took place soon after the ADFL took control of each city. In Kisangani, a show of hands in the local stadium elected the governor and vice-governor from a field of nine candidates. Participants said it was the first election they had ever experienced. They considered the vote legitimate and the governor to be their representative.

Zairians, particularly members of civil society who have engaged in civic education during the past seven years of "transition" to democracy, told USCR that they are eager to organize local elections themselves. In Goma and Bukavu, where the Alliance has not yet allowed elections, the absence of significant local representation and the Alliance's failure to reach out to local organizations has fostered discontent and renewed local allegations that the Alliance is a "foreign occupation force."

6.3. Citizenship Issue and Increased Anti-Tutsi Sentiment

The issue of Zairian citizenship for ethnic Banyarwanda (Tutsi and Hutu) in eastern Zaire remains extremely divisive. During the Mobutu regime, a 1981 law effectively stripped most Banyarwanda of their citizenship even though many had lived in Zaire for generations. The nationality law furthered the perception that all Tutsi are foreigners.

The civil war has not dampened these tensions. On the contrary, the sight of well-armed Banyamulenge Tutsi troops deployed in eastern Zaire has fueled ethnic tensions there. Friction between Tutsi and non-Tutsi troops was evident during USCR's site visit. Some Zairians took visible pleasure in predicting a popular uprising soon. In Bukavu, Zairians disparagingly refer to the Banyamulenge Tutsi as " the new chiefs." A local Bukavu aid worker told USCR that the ADFL had reinstated most of Mobutu's local government administrators, but that "a Tutsi has been put in charge of every office, to monitor levels of corruption." The perception that power in eastern Zaire has concentrated in the hands of Tutsi in both the military and the civilian administration threatens to erode popular support for the ADFL if it fails to become more inclusive.

The new government will have to resolve the citizenship issue permanently in order to hold elections in eastern Zaire. While politically explosive, many Zairians see resolution of the matter as the first step toward reconciliation between the Banyamulenge and other communities.

7 > Zairian Civil Society / Indigenous Organizations

7.1. Dynamic Civil Society

Zaire has a dynamic civil society of indigenous NGOs. It grew over the past decade to fill the void created by the collapse of the centralized state. Zairians organized themselves to form development cooperatives down to the village level in even the most remote locations. ...

7.2. Current Political Context--A Chilling Effect

The ADFL's willingness to tolerate a vigorous civil society remains uncertain. Local organizations say that they had learned how to operate within well-known limits during the Mobutu years. Under the Alliance, however, organizations say that they do not yet know where the limits are, particularly regarding protests against military abuses. A Zairian human rights activist told USCR that the new situation will require new tactics. He noted that civil society in Zaire consistently opposed Mobutu and is therefore practiced in confronting rather than cooperating with state government. ...

Many local NGOs told USCR that they have adopted a "wait and see" attitude. Some have chosen to suspend operations until they are confident about their own security. Several indigenous NGOs in Goma report that their Hutu members have disappeared--allegedly detained or killed--or have been forced into hiding.

Local NGOs that continue to operate in Goma are primarily multi-ethnic, highly professional organizations. They express confidence that their work is beyond reproach and say that they plan to continue operations unless ADFL officials specifically stop them. Although the most credible local groups continue to work and produce regular reports, they have self-imposed limits on some activities. They now refrain, for example, from publishing lists of abuses by soldiers as they had done in the past. During USCR's site visit, it appeared that widespread self censorship was the most chilling effect the ADFL has had on civil society in eastern Zaire.

7.3. Profile of Indigenous NGOs That Continue To Operate

A local organization in Goma known as the "Promotion of and Support for Women's Initiatives" (PAIF), a prominent women's human rights group, resumed activities in early 1997. The organization's director, Immacule Birhaheka, continues to conduct a regular radio program on women's issues on a local station under Alliance control. Birhaheka told USCR that PAIF and a few other NGOs continue to hold regular public symposia. PAIF has refrained from publishing lists of abuses against women in its newsletter. Many allegations implicate the Alliance, and PAIF leaders fear how Alliance officials would react. However, PAIF has lodged protests over ADFL attempts to establish its own women's organization without regard for existing organizations.

Other human rights groups, such as the Zairian Association for Human Rights (AZADHO), a Kinshasa-based NGO with a branch in Goma, continues to operate even though the Alliance's new Minister of Justice and the governor of Goma summoned the organization's local representative, Maitre Kakule, for questioning shortly after AZADHO published a damning report on massacres in the east. Local ADFL-controlled radio broadcasts repeatedly urged him to repudiate the report. The Minister of Justice threatened to suspend AZADHO's activities in the region but ultimately did not carry out the threat. Kakule told USCR that, for the moment, he continues to work unhampered and sends copies of protest letters to both the governor and the Minister of Justice.

If there is reason for optimism about the future of civil society in Zaire, it is found in the human rights activists who continue to pursue their work despite potentially great personal risks.

Several indigenous humanitarian NGOs have demonstrated impressive competence. Two such organizations, known by their acronyms of EUB and OMNIS, have received sizable contracts from UNHCR in Goma, Bukavu, and Kisangani. UN officials on the ground indicate that, in some situations, they prefer to work with these local organizations rather than with international NGOs. With adequate international support, these local aid agencies have the skills to carry out large-scale rehabilitation projects required in the new Congo/Zaire.

8 > Recommendations

8.1. Security / Protection / Accountability

To the ADFL

1) Acknowledge that elements of the ADFL military have committed and continue to commit serious human rights atrocities, particularly against Rwandan refugees and Zairian Hutu. Issue clear public instructions to all military and civilian officials to stop killing unarmed persons. Send top ADFL officials, including President Kabila, to personally visit areas of killings in eastern Zaire and other regions. Hold troops accountable. Establish transparent military chain of command.

2) Refrain from broadcasts and proclamations that might incite local populations against refugees.

3) Immediately allow UN human rights experts to conduct investigations into human rights abuses in eastern Zaire and elsewhere. Facilitate the work of qualified international and indigenous human rights organizations.

4) Take steps to transform the ADFL into a nationally representative institution whose units are integrated to reflect ethnic and regional diversity. Do not allow ethnically homogeneous military units.

5) Demobilize child soldiers.

6) Establish a new national police force and bring the military under strict civilian control. Educate the population regarding these reforms.

To Governments of Rwanda, Uganda, Angola

7) Condemn ADFL military abuses against Rwandan refugees and local Zairians. Call for the ADFL military to respect human rights, humanitarian principles, and the need for military accountability.

8) The Rwandan government should publicly express its concern about the plight of its citizens in Zaire. Rwandan officials should publicly declare that suspected genocidaires should be brought to justice via proper court procedures rather than by extrajudicial executions.

To the International Community

9) Warn the new leaders of Congo/Zaire that respect for human rights and good-faith efforts to halt abuses must be immediate priorities if the new government wishes to gain international respect and support. Urge greater personal involvement by Kabila and other ADFL officials to address serious human rights problems.

10) Pressure the ADFL to permit international human rights investigations and bring the perpetrators of abuses to justice.

11) Provide support for the rehabilitation of the judicial system in Congo/Zaire.

12) Provide support for the deployment of impartial military observers to North/South Kivu to help monitor human rights incidents and implement programs to train troops in human rights standards, accountability, and professional military conduct, in an effort to help the new government improve soldiers' human rights record.

8.2. Relief / Repatriation

To the ADFL

13) Allow unhampered access to Rwandan refugees and displaced Zairians. Become personally involved in removing restrictions that impede access. Ensure that ADFL troops implement promises made to the relief community by President Kabila and other government officials.

14) Provide full support in all regions for the safe, voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees.

15) Respect the neutrality and integrity of humanitarian relief operations. Rescind requirements in South Kivu that force NGOs to employ ADFL facilitators in the field. Prohibit the manipulation of international humanitarian aid for either political purposes or military operations against refugees and other civilians.

To the Government of Rwanda

16) Publicly restate the government's willingness and commitment to receive all refugees who wish to return from Zaire or other asylum countries.

17) Continue to allow repatriation flights to land in Kigali in order to make repatriation as rapid and efficient as possible.


18) Resist the ADFL's imposition of "facilitators" on humanitarian relief operations. Limit or suspend programs if ADFL requirements compromise the integrity of relief operations.

19) Launch a mass information campaign to publicize repatriation efforts as well as rehabilitation projects that benefit the local population. Take steps to counteract sentiments among Zairians that the international community ignores the needs of the local population.

8.3. Representative Government / Elections

To the ADFL

20) Act rapidly to shift authority in the provinces from military to civilian officials. Educate the population regarding reforms leading to strict civilian control of the military and the respective roles of the armed forces and civilian police force in the new Democratic Republic of Congo/Zaire.

21) Act to ensure that the new government is broad-based, inclusive, and committed to a democratic Congo/Zaire.

22) Encourage the full participation of civil society organizations in the transition process and civic education efforts leading up to elections. Acknowledge the contribution these local organizations made during the seven-year struggle to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy.

23) Allow free, fair, and locally organized elections of local authorities in all provinces. Permit civil society organizations to conduct non-partisan voter education.

24) Uphold standards of freedom of expression in the media as well as in publications by local nongovernmental organizations.

25) Promote pluralism by granting broadcast licenses to private and church-based radio and/or television stations.

To the International Community

26) Encourage the transitional government to hold local elections as a matter of priority in order to encourage confidence-building and establish a local basis for national politics. Do not push for premature national elections.

8.4. Rehabilitation

To the International Community

27) Provide generous rehabilitation/development aid directly to the people of Congo/Zaire, who endured more than 30 years of neglect and exploitation under Mobutu's U.S.-backed regime. Avoid penalizing average Zairians for the failures of their new government.

28) Support independent Zairian NGOs, many of whom have proven capabilities and are the backbone of Congo/Zaire's civil society. Channel a portion of resources for rehabilitation and long term development through those qualified local agencies.

29) Place a priority on infrastructure improvements and access to affordable health care.


This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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