afrol News, 3 April - The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Congo Kinshasa (DRC) yesterday presented his annual report, documenting a "climate of terror" in the country last year. While the Kinshasa government is heavily criticised and urged to democratise, Rwanda and Uganda face even heavier critics.
From the report: "In the eastern regions occupied by the 'rebel' or 'aggressor' forces, there continues to be a climate of terror imposed by the armies of Rwanda, Uganda - and sometimes Burundi - and RCD [Congolese Rally for Democracy]. As in past years, massacres and other atrocities have been committed against the local population. Foreign soldiers operate with full impunity. Torture has led to a number of deaths."
Also the Kinshasa government of late President Laurent-Desiré Kabila faces heavy critics. Listing the most serious are violations of public freedoms, Special Rapporteur Roberto Garretón names: "Liberty of person (many persons are arrested for political reasons, regarded as traitors and sentenced as such), freedom of expression and opinion (more than 35 journalists were arrested, threatened or sentenced during the year and the media were warned by the Government about restrictions on what they could say) and freedom of association (non-governmental organizations are not recognized)."
Further, in government-controlled areas, there had "also been cases of torture, some resulting in death. There have been attempts on people's lives, but less frequently than in RCD-controlled territory. President [Laurent] Kabila did not keep his word about suspending the death penalty, which continues to be applied."
Garretón is also generally critical against late President Laurent Kabila's governance and dedication to peace. "The Government has not taken any step in the direction of democracy and political parties which do not adapt to new and inadmissible requirements continue to be prohibited," the report states.
On the peace process, which practically came to an end in the period, Garretón gives most blame to the Kinshasa government: "None of the parties has respected the 1999 Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, although the forces' positions have remained relatively stable. Without consultations, the Government suspended the Agreement and has seriously hampered the work of the United Nations observer mission, to which it agreed in Lusaka."
Garretón's report does not lead to any new conclusions, but it certainly documents the allegations made by human rights groups throughout the year. Being an official UN document, it is also the strongest attack so far on the government of Laurent Kabila, now history.
The report covers the period until December 2000. With the changes since the covered period, due to the new Congolese President Joseph Kabila and the new will for peace in Rwanda and Uganda, one might assess the report as outdated. Not so, according to Garretón, which presented his report at debate held by the UN Commission on Human Rights yesterday.
- It appears indispensable that democratic Governments be established in this part of the world so that public will and the desire for peace can find expression, said Garretón. Although embarking on the peace process, President Joseph Kabila has made no moves towards democratisation in Congo Kinshasa. In fact, on 25 January, the day before his inauguration as President, Kabila Junior told a United Nations envoy that he was not willing to restore democracy in the country "as long as foreign troops occupied parts of his territory".
Mavungu Mvumbi, Congolese representative to the UN, said his government did not agree to the negative picture Garretón drew of his country. "The Government is resolved to promote the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms," said Mvumbi.
The Congolese government has also "adopted measures banning the drafting of children who were under the age of 18 into the army. Contrary to statements made by the Special Rapporteur, the executive, legislative and judicial powers are separated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."
Also on the human rights abuses in rebel-controlled areas, the UN report still is valid. In the territories controlled by the RCD and its Rwandan allies, there still was a climate of fear, Mr. Garretón said. Also "the recruitment and use of child soldiers continues to be widespread. The problem is most serious in the Ugandan-controlled zones.
Extensive population displacements still are a problem. "The conflict between the Hema and the Lendu ethnic groups has been the most damaging," Garretón yesterday said. In January, clashes between ethnic Lendu and Hema peoples in north-eastern Congo Kinshasa produced a massacre killing at least 150 and uprooting an estimated 10,000 Hema. Responsibility was given to the Ugandan army for fuelling the conflict.
Mvumbi repeated Congolese arguments against the countries supporting the rebels: "The security argument often raised by the aggressor countries could in no way justify the barbarian acts committed by their troops, including summary executions; torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; massacres of the civilian populations, including vulnerable people; deliberate spread of HIV/AIDS by HIV or AIDS infected Ugandan and Rwandan soldiers; the burning alive of women; drafting of children into the army; pillage of natural resources and destruction of the environment."
Since 1994, the Commission on Human Rights has been studying the situation of human rights in the Republic of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the seventh annual report of the Special Rapporteur.
Sources: Based on UN sources and afrol archives