WAR AND IMPUNITY IN THE DRC: SOWING THE SEEDS FOR
Mutiny, rebellion or a new occupation by foreign forces of eastern
Congo? This is the question that analysts of the Great Lakes region
continuously ask themselves.
On 26 May 2004, the city of Bukavu did not sleep, but awoke to
gunshots. Over the following two weeks the city and surrounding areas
became the theatre of very violent fighting between regular armed
forces and forces of the dissidents of the 10th military region
commanded by Colonel Jules Mutebusi. Mutebusi was suspended in April by
the Congolese military hierarchy and supported by 3-4 battalions led by
another former officer of the Congolese Rally for Democracy
(Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie - RCD), General Lauraent
These events, which killed about one hundred people and
others, and led to the fall of Bukavu into rebel hands on 2 June, were
reminiscent of the Kabila epic of October 1996, and that of the RCD in
August 1998. This story resembles past events, but does it repeat them?
It resembles them because of the similarity of the context:
Congolese dissidents, the military and logistical support of Rwanda,
followed by the rapid capture of Congolese cities without resistance
and Rwanda denying its involvement.
The events in Bukavu and its surrounding areas were
accompanied by a
series of grave human rights abuses and war crimes. Besides the
killings, there was systematic rape of women, children, even babies.
The organisation Human Rights Watch documented dozens of cases of rape,
including four three-year old girls. The question that many people
forget to ask themselves is why is history repeating itself? Why has
the Congo seemingly not learnt its lessons from past events?
It was 2 August 1998 when an armed group called the RCD,
Rwanda, took the city of Bukavu. It started with the execution of
dozens of military people loyal to Kinshasa at the Kavumu aerodrome and
the group then continued quickly on to Goma, then Kisangani, then
Kindu, etc while other columns attacked the Inga roadblock and occupied
the Kitona military base, in Bas-Congo province. They created their
headquarters in Goma.
The government of Laurent Kabila, which had not yet succeeded
setting up an army during its 13-month reign, was on the verge of
falling and called upon Angola, then Namibia, Chad and Zimbabwe.
In the following months, Jean Pierre Bemba declared another
in the North - the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (le Mouvement
pour la libération du Congo - MLC) - with the support of Uganda.
Internal difficulties led the RCD president Ernest Wamba dia
the former president of the RCD 'assembly' Mbusa Nyamwisi to create the
RCD-Kisangani (which later became the RCD-ML), based in Kisangani, also
with Ugandan support.
The methods of the belligerents were simple: killings,
torture and rape.
It was over the next four years that probably the most
for humanity would continue. It involved the governmental forces
supported by Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Chad; the RCD supported by
Rwanda and Burundi; and the RCD-ML and the MLC supported by Uganda.
This long war, which some analysts called the "African
caused more than three million deaths and more than two million
refugees and internally displaced people. Systematic massacres were
committed in villages such as Mkaobola, Kasika, Burhinyi, Shabunda and
Kisangani. In some places, these massacres bordered on genocide. In
Kasika, for example, RCD troops supported by Rwanda decimated
approximately 1500 civilians, that is almost 10% of the members of the
Banyindu ethnic group, at 18,000 people, one of the smallest of the 300
ethnic groups in Congo. The RCD's efforts eliminated customary chiefs,
religious leaders, human rights activists, etc. The people responsible
for some of these crimes are known and their abuses documented, but
they have never been punished.
The MLC committed massive human rights violations and crimes
humanity, including cannibalism against the Mbuti (pygmy) groups in the
Mambasa district of Eastern Province. The RCD-ML, the armed resistance
Mai-Mai (or Mayi-Mayi) as well as other armed groups also all committed
several human rights abuses, such as rape, killings, pillage, etc.
In addition to these violations, the belligerents engaged in
exploitation of Congo's riches: wood and minerals. The fauna was also
systematically destroyed. Forced labour was used to the profit of armed
On 22 July 2002 in Pretoria, the parties to the conflict
accords, which paved the way for the end of this devastating war. The
agreement allowed for power sharing amongst the different factions,
offering positions of responsibility in the new transitional
institutions, curiously in relation to the level of involvement in
crimes, implying that crimes can pay. When the transitional
institutions were put in place in Kinshasa, the RCD, MLC, RCD-ML,
Mayi-Mayi, non-armed political opposition and civil society shared
power. Besides the civil society and the non-armed political
opposition, one could talk of power sharing amongst criminals.
However, a group of largely Rwandophone officers in eastern
well as certain nominated parliamentarians and senators refused to join
the transitional institutions in Kinshasa, despite the efforts of the
new government. They established themselves in the city of Goma,
capital of the province of North Kivu bordering Rwanda, where the
governor, Eugene Serufuli had already allegedly set up a militia under
the cover of the organisation called "All for Peace and Development"
(Tous pour la paix et le dévéloppement - TPD). Neither the RCD nor the
government seemed to have full control over the governor of Goma or the
group of officers in question. These officers had something in common:
blood on their hands and impunity.
The events of May and June 2004 benefited from disorder: an
yet unified and consequently no unified command of the eastern region;
the absence of a legitimate territorial administration; massive human
rights violations; and generalised insecurity in the eastern part of
These officers seemed to have profited from the situation to
themselves. Significant stores of arms were found in the possession of
the officers and security agents close to the RCD in February 2004. The
next month, Colonel Mutebusi, then second commander of the 10th
military region (South Kivu), led a mutiny against the head commander,
General Prosper Nyabiolwa, for having arrested and transferred to
Kinshasa Major Kasongo for indiscipline. The General escaped and fled
to Kinshasa, while three of his bodyguards were killed, allegedly by
The RCD, which has always been supposed to administer this
Congo while awaiting the establishment of a new territorial
administration, came to the defence of the mutineers and threatened to
leave the transitional government if Major Kasongo was not freed, thus
forcing the government's hand. Investigation of the arms cache was
never pursued. Mutebusi was suspended but never punished. Impunity!
Following this, Mutebsi started another mutiny on 26 May 2004.
attacked the positions of the regular army and the situation
degenerated until the intervention of the United Nations Peacekeeping
Mission (MONUC). The city of Bukavu was divided in two (Mutebusi
controlled the part bordering Rwanda and the regular army controlled
the rest of the city) for a week.
But, from Goma, General Laurent Nkunda headed towards Bukavu
with his 2
000 men to reinforce Mutebsi. He is believed to have been supported by
troops from the Rwandan army. He raised the spectre of genocide against
the Banyamulenge in Bukavu, a thesis which he later rejected when
retreating. This argument was also rejected by MONUC, human rights
organisations based in the region, the Banyamulenge organisation
"Shikama", Commander Masunzu - a Munyamulenge leading an armed group in
the high plains of Itombwe.
There were, however, serious human rights violations committed
sides. Civilians were killed and rape appeared to be systematically
used by the mutineers as a weapon of war. In the IDAP, Muhungu,
Ndendere and Bugabo areas, door-to-door rape was practiced, leading
some to believe it was a punitive action by the mutineers.
When, on 2 June, Laurent Nkunda took the city, two new groups
who allied themselves with the two opposing parties. Mr Odilon
Kurhengamuzinmu, commander of the militia called Mudundu 40 (M40),
which during the last three years had changed alliance between Kinshasa
and Rwanda on several occasions, this time associated himself with
Mutebusi. A dissident faction of M40 led by Foka Mike allied itself
with the regular army.
Under the occupation of the mutineers from 2 to 8 June 2004,
of Bukavu was the scene of flagrant human rights violations. In
addition to approximately 100 dead, the local organisation "Justice for
all" (Justice pour tous) has compiled a non-exhaustive list of 617
women and girls raped, 18 stores pillaged, 254 people wounded by
bullets, 60 vehicles stolen, 12 depots of manufactured goods and food
stores pillaged and the Cooperative of business people (Coopérative
d'hommes d'affaires - COOPERA) burnt. The central bank and commercial
bank were looted of all their reserves by the mutineers.
Rwanda's involvement in support of the mutineers in terms of
and arms has been reported by the local organisation "Heirs of justice"
(Heritiers de la justice), the Congolese transition support committee
(Comite d'accompagnement de la transition congolaise - CIAT), largely
composed of representatives of the G8 countries, and a coalition of
The Rwandan government denies its involvement, reminiscent of
denials in 1996 and 1998 that Rwanda was not in Congo, even while its
troops fought beside Kabila's Alliance of democratic forces (Alliances
des forces democratiques - AFDL) and the RCD, respectively.
Following diplomatic pressure, Rwanda, which had hosted some
refugees in May and June, closed its border with Congo. Bukavu was
retaken by the regular army on 9 June 2004, leaving Mutebusi and his
ally M40 to occupy the town of Kamanyola and a part of Luvungi and
Bwegere, close to the Rwandan border in the Ruzizi plains, some 60
kilometres south of Bukavu.
Fighting continues in various parts of the South Kivu region,
ill for a possible stagnation or breakdown of the fragile peace process
in the country.
The impunity of those responsible for crimes committed in
over the past 6 years seem to be the determining factor in the
continuation of abuses against civilian populations. Those who have
never heard of war crimes include troops under the command of the
infamous: Major Bora Uzima in South Kivu; Gabrial Amisi, alias "Tango
Fort" (currently in the regular army) in Uvira, Kasika and Fizi;
Laurent Nkaudna who was behind the massacres in Kisangani; Jules
Mutebusi who was responsible for the bombing of the Banyamulenge;
Thierry Ilunga (currently in the regular army) in Mwenga, etc.
These officers are currently either peacefully reintegrated
regular army (Amisi and Ilunga) or are currently in leadership
positions in eastern Congo and implicated in the current war in South
Kivu. None of them have ever been sanctioned or punished for their
responsibility in these crimes.
The system in place in Congo, the Truth and Reconciliation
established on the South African model, seems to pave the way for the
continuation of impunity.
The option to cover up and leave unpunished war crimes and
against humanity such as the systematic rape of three-year-old girls;
the indiscriminate bombing of civilian Banyamulenge populations by
Rwandan helicopters; the massacre of civilians in Kisangani, Kasika,
Makobola, Burhinyi, etc; the cannibalism against Pygmy communities in
the Eastern Province: Is this the way forward for the Congolese state
to re-establish itself?
In my opinion, this will only sow the seeds of an even more
catastrophic socio-political situation in eastern Congo.
* Innocent Bulemba works for Amnesty International. This
written in his personal capacity.
* Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
"This article first appeared in Pambazuka
News, an electronic newsletter for social justice
in Africa, www.pambazuka.org".