afrol News, 17 October - There are reports of an escalation of human rights violations and ethnic killings in the Ituri region in north-eastern Congo Kinshasa (DRC). The international community is pleaded "to take urgent action" to prevent further massacres or even genocide in the war-ravaged region.
The human rights group Amnesty International says it is receiving "consistent reports of large-scale killings of unarmed civilians that are carried out, ordered and condoned by leaders using ethnic affiliations to acquire or maintain economic and political power."
As a result, armed clashes between members of the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups had left an estimated 50,000, mainly civilian, dead since June 1999, and forced around 500,000 people to flee, with 60,000 displaced in Bunia, the capital of Ituri province, alone. The group now fears the tense situation might trigger genocide.
According to Irene Khan, Amnesty's Secretary-General, "there have been mass killings and targeted rapes based on ethnic identity. Extremist calls for 'ethnically pure towns and villages'" have increasingly been spread. Extremists who were once on the margins of the ethnic groups are now in leading positions. As extreme hatred is escalating, Amnesty International fears that deliberate incitement could lead to the possibility of genocide."
Aside from the deepening violence directed against civilian communities, the repeated political divisions and ethnic-based violence further had had "a disastrous impact on international humanitarian agencies operating in the region. Certain agencies have been deliberately targeted for threats, obstruction and even killings," the group reports.
In an open letter to the United Nations Security Council, Ms Khan, today called for urgent attention to be given to the escalation of human rights violations in the Congolese Ituri region. The Security Council will meet today to consider the new report of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the UN's Organisation Mission in the Congo (MONUC).
- The intensification of ethnic killings and extremist behaviours in Ituri is such that the international community needs to take urgent action, the Ms Khan states. In particular, the human rights group was calling for the Security Council to increase the numbers of observers in the region in order to dissuade further attacks against civilians and to ensure that attacks against civilians are investigated and monitored.
Amnesty strongly supported the possibility of training a civilian police force to ensure the safety of the local populations, as suggested by the UN Special Representative to the Congo. In particular, the group urged the Security Council to "fully implement the mandate of the MONUC and take the necessary action to protect both the civilian population and its personnel."
Since 1998 the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) have occupied the mineral-rich province of Ituri in the north-eastern part of Congo Kinshasa. "Members of the UPDF have supported rival armed political groups," Amnesty charges, "allowing violence between different Congolese ethnic groups to escalate, while at the same time instigating wide-spread human rights violations."
The group believes that since 1999, "members of the UPDF have taken part in attacks on unarmed civilians and have committed atrocities in the context of the armed conflict." Given that the UPDF had not only failed to protect unarmed civilians but has also played an active part in violations of human rights, Amnesty believed that "it is the international community's responsibility to prevent the deterioration of the situation."
Sources: Based on
Amnesty and afrol archives