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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 Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.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): Human Rights Rapporteur

Congo (Kinshasa): Human Rights Rapporteur
Date distributed (ymd): 990423
Document reposted by APIC

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Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from the oral presentation of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, documenting human rights abuses by the government, rebel forces and foreign armies involved in the conflict.

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Oral Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the
Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Roberto Garreton

55th session of the Human Rights Commission
Geneva, March 22 - April 30, 1999

[slightly abridged version of Mr. Garreton's oral presentation; unofficial English translation by APIC; Spanish original and French translation of this presentation, as well as the full report in English, are available on the web site of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (

Geneva, March 31, 1999

I. Presentation of the Report

I submit my fifth report on the situation of Human Rights in the DRC, as a complement to the one presented before the General Assembly (A/53/565), pursuant to Human Rights Commission resolution 1998/61

First of all, I will summarize the main issues/aspects developed in the report:

  1. the atmosphere of hatred prevailing in the country, as the result of 32 years of dictatorship by Mobutu Sese Seko, who imposed an oppressive regime in absolute contempt of the fundamental rights and freedoms of Congolese society.
  2. the existence of serious offenses to life and freedoms, which I have grouped in four categories:
    1. Violations of human rights law ... These violations, for which the Governement in Kinshasa has to be blamed, and which affect the whole population, and more specifically political leaders, human rights advocates and journalists, are the following: offenses against the right to life (in particular, the frequent application of the death penalty following summary trials), against the rights to physical integrity, to security and liberty of person, to be able to leave one's country, to freedom of expression and opinion, and to freedom of association.
    2. Violations of the same rights, attributable to the rebel forces fighting against the Government which overthrew the dictator Mobutu in 1997 (namely, exactions against civilians, deportation of prisoners to neighbor countries, use of secret detention cells, sexual abuses against women and the total absence of the freedoms of opinion and expression).
    3. Violations of the norms of international humanitarian law, committed by Governement forces and their allies, during the armed conflict in the Eastern part of the country, in particular (namely offenses committed against civilians in Kimbaseke, Masina, Boma, Moanda, Ndjili and Mikonga.
    4. Violations of the same norms during the armed conflicts, attributable to the rebel forces and foreign forces from Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, sucha as cuts of power and water which have affrected Kinshasa, and massacres in Kasika, Kavumu, Kilungutwe, Kasanga, Kazima, Mboko, Kabare, Mwnga, Makobola, and those reported in various other locations.
  3. the paralysis of the process of democratization, which was initiated in the former Zaire in 1990 and which culminated in the Sovereign National Conference in 1991-92.
  4. Until December 31, 1998, the Rapporteur had not received any collaboration from the Government, preventing him from accomplishing/carrying out his mandate.

II. Request by the Governement to Visit the Country

The special Rapporteur was invited to visit the country between February 16 and 23 ... This was the Rapporteur's first visit since October 1996 and his first contact with the authorities after the AFDL took power.

In the course of his mission, the Rapporteur was received by the highest authorities of the State: the Minister of Interior, the Vice-Minister for territorial administration, the Minister of Justice, the Vice-Minister of Defense, the Vice-Minister of Foreign Relations, the Minister for Human Rights (on 2 occasions), the General Public Prosecutor, the President and members of the Court for Military Order, and the Governor of Lubumbashi. He was allowed to visit some prisons (the penitentiary and reeducation centre of Kinshasa - formerly Makala, the centre of Kasapa (Lubumbashi), the jail of the National Intelligence Agency in Lubumbashi, a military centre for detention (the GLM, supervised by the "Garde Speciale de Securite Presidentielle"), as well as some centers where people are kept in prison because of the risk they might run outside, as they belong to ethnic groups which are considered as enemies by the population (INSS in Kinshasa, and former convent Batika in Lubumbashi). He also visited a camp for displaced persons fleeing from the conflict (formerly home for the blind of Kamalondo in Lubumbashi, with 382 people)

The Rapporteur also met with members of civil society (a hundred NGO and trade-union representatives), former and present magistrates, and representatives of Protestant, Kimbanguist, Orthodox and Muslim communities. He also interviewed some leading political figures, including some currently in prison, such as professors Kalele and Kabanda (in Kinshasa) and Olenghankoy (Lubumbashi).

Furthermore, the Rapporteur had a series of meetings with leaders of the main political parties: Etienne Tshisekedi (UDPS), Antoine Gisenga (PALU), Mr. Bofassa and his colleagues (MPR) and other FONUS leaders, and a delegation of "Forces du Futur." He also participated in a meeting with the representatives of a new political structure close to the Government, known as "Comites de Pouvoir Populaire".

The Rapporteur also met with representatives of UN agencies and members of the Diplomatic Corps. ...

In the area occupied by "the rebellion" (the term used by the Boma authorities) or by "the forces of aggression" (the term used by the Kinshasa authorities), the Rapporteur was cordially received and obtained full guarantees and freedoms to carry out his task. He was received by the entire Political Council of the RCD (Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie). He visited the central prison in Goma and a centre for dentention of the Service of Military Intelligence (Office II), where cases of torture had repeatedly been reported.

In accordance with the rules of the United Nations, all interviews were carried out in strict confidentiality.

III. Main Reasons for Concern

3.1 War in the East

Since August 2, the country is facing a situation of war described by the Rapporteur as "an internal armed conflict with the participation of foreign forces", with the presence of nine national armies (Forces Armees Congolaises, FAC; armies from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Sudan, Chad and Zimbabwe) and at least 12 irregular armed groups (troops from the RCD, FDD, former FAR, Interahamwe, Mouvement de Liberation Nationale, UNITA, Mai-Mai, Sudanese SPLA, Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army, the Simba, and the Union of Republican Nationalists for Liberation). The Rapporteur's description is based on the following elements:

  1. the rebels, including their allies from Rwanda and Uganda, made clear their goal was to overthrow President Kabila;
  2. that foreign forces support the latter because they consider him the legitimate president of the DRC.
  3. the conflict is taking place entirely within DRC territory.

Nevertheless, it remains obvious that the Government of the DRC, as well as the Congolese people in general, perceive the conflict as an aggression. ...

Due to the presence of armies and armed groups, an atmosphere of terror prevails in the area occupied by the rebels, which can be noted in the very first contacts with the population. To the question concerning who or what the population is really afraid of, the answer is straightforward and unanimous: the RCD, seen as a Rwandan force of occupation. The hatred towards Rwandans (denounced by the Rapporteur in his 1995 report E/CN.4/1996/66, paragraph 26, one year before the war of liberation started) gradually turned into anti-Tutsi feeling, to such a point that the Government in Kinshasa -- on questionable legal grounds -- was led to deprive some citizens of their freedom, most of them being Congolese nationals, but also from Rwanda, Burundi and Congo-Brazzaville, as a measure to protect them from potential reprisals from Congolese civilians... The war which started on August 2 seriously deepened thet anti-Tutsi feeling, especially after the massacres committed in Kasika, Makobola, Kamituga, in the territories of Walungu and Mwenga (Province of South-Kivu), to name only the main ones.

3.2. Lack of progress in the democratization process

The government's announced steps towards a democratic regime did not prove sufficient and, particularly, did not receive substantial backing from civil society, human rights organizations or political parties which had opposed Mobutu's dictatorship. The process of elaboration of a Constitution has not been completed. Although the ban on political party activity was remitted, all those which were legally constituted lost their statuses and will have to get constituted according to the new laws, which then means that their activities remain illegal at the moment. Civil society has not been involved in the making of the Constitution and the new political laws. A date for the next elections has not been fixed yet. However, they could not take place in the near future, due to the present conflict. Despite this postponement, the sacred right of the people to participate in politics can not be set aside, and in that field, improvements are far from being sufficient.

In the area occupied by the rebels, no sort of political participation can be found. The one and only party authorized to act is the RCD, without any opposition allowed.

3.3 Non-respect for human rights

In this short presentation, the Rapporteur will lay stress on these two key elements: a) the right to a fair trial: the Court of Military Discipline continues to judging both military and civilians in trials which do not respect the norms of equity. ...

Furthermore, the Court frequently applies the death sentence. It should be said, however, that no execution has taken place in 1999, which shows an advance on the information continued in this report.

The dismissal of 315 magistrates at all levels is also contrary to the right to justice, as it places the judges in a situation of vulnerability and questions their independence.

b) Human rights activists, political leaders and journalists are frequently threatened and imprisoned for reasons that are rarely clear.

Besides the cases noted in this report, it is appropriate to mention the following detentions and persecutions, recorded since the beginning of 1999: journalists Thierry Kyalumba, Francois Kalima Malangu, Andre Ipakala Abeiye, Michel Museme Diawe; political leaders Mifundu Kahugu (PALU), Adrien Phongo Kunda (UDPS), Cleophas Kamitatu Masamba (PDSC), Boffasa Djema (MPR), Kisimba Ngoy (PNF), Nyembo Shabani et Boboliko Lokonga (PDSC).

Some human rights activists have also faced similar situations since the beginning of 1999. The vice-chair of the NGO "Friends of Nelson Mandela" was arrested in Makala (Kinshasa) because he was carrying a passport of the Republic of Zaire, and because his organization was using the name of Nelson Mandela, considered "an enemy of the Congolese people." On February 5, Floribert Chebeya (from "La Voix des Sans-voix") was also arrested but released some time later.

3.4. The situation in the areas controlled by the rebellion

The situation is even worse in the areas under rebel control: there is no opposition press, and many NGOs have stopped functioning, given that many members fled into exile or became clandestine. ...

Another subject of concern is the transfer of prisoners from the occupied territories to Rwanda and Uganda.

The War Operations Council established by the rebellion, even providing a possibility for appeal, has condemned a number of military, including some minors ("Kadogos"). Some of them were sentenced to death.

Finally, since February, a wave of violence has been noted in the provinces of North and South Kivu, as the Rapporteur stressed in a recent communique.

IV. Some Progress

4.1. In the areas under control of the Government

Some progress mentioned in the report was confirmed during the mission and some others were recorded at that occasion: the creation of a Ministry for Human Rights, and most of all, the devotion with which the Minister seems to accomplish his tasks; the announced set up of education programs related to human rights, for the military and policemen; the announced ratification of two new treaties on human rights, and in particular, the two Protocols additional to the Geneva agreement; the distribution of the Universal Declaration in national languages; obvious improvements of the penal system (especially the prison of Makala), ... We also need to mention the suspension of the application of death penalty in 1999; the freeing of 84 people on February 12, among them many arrested for political reasons; improvement in the conditions of detention of the people deprived of their freedom because of their ethnic group after their transfer from the camp Kokolo to the INSS site; the set up of a national commission of investigation on the massacres committed in the East of the country and in the province of Equateur between October 1996 and May 1997, during the war of liberation.

Finally, the Government's cooperation with the special rapporteur and other mechanisms of the commission on Human Rights. For the first time, the Rapporteur received an ackowledgement for one of his letters of allegations.

4.2. In the areas under the control of the rebellion

In the area controlled by the rebellion, the only significant change appeared to be the suspension of the execution of death penalty sentenced by the Council of War ...

V. Investigation of the Massacres Perpetrated in 1996-1997.

Following the report E/CN.4/1997/6/add.2, the Commission appointed a Joint Mission, to investigate the massacres perpetrated in refugee camps, as well as other violations of human rights in the East of Zaire since September 1, 1996, during the war of liberation. The AFDL, along with the RDC and Rwandan forces, have always denied the allged facts and never cooperated with the Mission. For that reason, the Secretary General decided to name a team of investigation, which, however, was withdrawn due to the obstacles put forward by the AFDL Government.

Since the beginning of the war, the current Government acknowledged the facts in question, attributing the responsibility to its former allies. On January 29, it created a national Commission of inquiry.

Although the rebel authorities did not advance any explanation for this problem, the RCD person in charge of foreign relations admitted the facts in front of the Rapporteur, but attributed them to the Kinshasa leaders. There is thus an urgent need to re-open the investigations, either by establishing ad hoc teams, or providing support (logistical, financial and human) to the commissions established by the governments of the RDC and Rwanda, to the extent that they contribute effectively to establishing the facts.

VI. Recommendations

Although all are of equal importance, the rapporteur wants to particularly lay stress on three recommendations appearing in his report:

The most urgent is the conduct of serious and responsible negotiations in order to end the war. The Government cannot keep on ignoring the reality: the rebels exist, independently of any foreign support. Peace needs to be made with all of the belligerents. It is necessary to put an end to military assistance and weapons trade to the parties in conflict. An international military force, set up in the historical borders of the DRC and its eastern neighbors, would contribute to establish peace and, above all, protect the civilian population.

In the same way, the Government cannot keep on ignoring the necessary support of the population, required for any credible transition to democracy, as well as the organization, in the shortest possible time, of elections in which the whole Congolese people should participate.

The need for protection and respect for human rights activists becomes urgent, as does the need for guarantees for a fair trial. The death penalty should also be abolished. As for the rebel forces, they should understand that they cannot count on any popular support and that they are considered as aggressors who brought an atmosphere of terror among the population, while increasing a feeling of resentment towards the Rwandans.

The international community has to collaborate with the Government in order to find a solution to the problem of deplaced people in the country, and the problem of the people who find themselves imprisoned for protection purpose, because of their ethnic origin.

Without affecting the investigations set by the governments of the DRC and Rwanda, which should be suppported by the United Nations to secure their transparency and significance, the Rapporteur insists on the necessity to widen the scope of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or to establish a similar court to judge the events that occurred in the DRC, whatever the nationality of the perpetrator.

The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights must be strengthened to ensure better cooperation with, on one hand, the Special Rapporteur while carrying out his work, and on the other hand, with the Government in order to reinforce the promotion and protection of human rights. Technical assistance for human rights should be put in place in the DRC, only after serious, tangible and effective actions have been decided by the Government in roder to build a society based on the respect of those rights.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). 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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