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Congo (Kinshasa): A New Beginning?
Jul 30, 2006 (060730)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Finding an End to Violence
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- A developed system of political parities.
- A general acceptance by the political community of the rules of
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
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
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.
Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
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
July 27, 2006
By Human Rights Division
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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