The UN last week released a Mapping Report documenting serious human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between March 1993 and June 2003. Among many other atrocities, the report accuses Rwandan, Ugandan, and Burundian forces of participating in attacks against Hutus; attacks in numbers so vile that they “may constitute genocide.”
Though each accused country issued angry denials and promises of consequences in the form of troop withdrawal, the Congolese government stands behind the report and called it “credible and heartbreaking” reported the BBC.
The report covers 617 incidents and includes allegations of massacres of civilians, torture, and rape.
The draft report spoke of “damning” reports of “systematic and widespread attacks” facilitated against Hutus which, if proven in court, “could be classified as crimes of genocide,” according to BBC’s Mark Doyle.
“The victims deserve justice and they deserve that their voices are heard by my government and by the international community,” Ileka Atoki, Congo’s UN representative, said in a statement.
“A Significant First Step”
It is assumed that such a report is a call to action, not only for Congolese officials but also for international bodies and countries who have the power to influence action against the crimes still being committed. Amnesty International commended the UN’s report while at the same time demanding more:
“The publication of the UN mapping report documenting gross human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a significant first step, but concrete action is needed to ensure that those responsible are held to account,” the organization said Friday.
“[This] should be the beginning of a process to ensure accountability in the Great Lakes region and not the end of it,” said Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty.
Concrete action should mean investigations and subsequent prosecutions of those responsible for these crimes. This may be slow coming, however. The report also highlights serious defects in the Congolese justice system that prevent it from prosecuting those responsible for war crimes, despite efforts for reform.
While crimes violating international and Congolese law have been committed by tens of thousands of perpetrators, the report states that only 12 trials for these crimes have taken place since 1993. The International Criminal Court, too, has only issued four arrest warrants for crimes committed in DRC.
“Unless perpetrators are held criminally responsible and the truth about human rights abuses is established, peace and stability throughout the Great Lakes region will not be achieved,” warned Salil Shetty.
Late Breaking News: Action Taken
As I was finishing what I planned to be a short post on action needed in Congo, I saw on Twitter a story from Al Jazeera that made my heart skip a beat: “Arrest in DR Congo over mass rape.”
The first line reads: “A DR Congo rebel commander has been arrested on suspicion of leading raids on villages in the country’s east where 500 people were raped in late July and early August, the UN has said.”
The UN circulated the announcement today that a commander of the newly formed group Mai-Mai militia, known as Lieutenant Colonel Mayele, was arrested for this latest string of ferocious attacks against civilians.
In my post, “Rape in Congo: UN Admits Failure” you can read more about the country’s deeply complicated history and the most recent mass rapes in targeted villages. The UN human rights office has since identified 303 of the 500 victims: 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls, and 3 boys.
Mayele’s arrest “should send out a signal that sexual violence will not go unpunished,” said Margot Wallstrom, who is responsible for UN efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict. “This is the first strong signal that says we are determined to end impunity, this is an important step forward…”
More Must be Done
“If the women being raped were the daughters or wives or mothers of the power elites, I can promise you this war would have ended about 12 years ago,” said Eve Ensler, whose advocacy group, V-Day, has been working with Congolese women for years. “Congo is the U.N.’s crowning failure,” she told “The New York Times.”
Jeffrey Gettleman of the Times reported Sunday on the UN’s failure in Congo calling it “a searing embarassment” that so many civilians were victims of sexual violence while UN peacekeepers were literally within walking distance.
While we take time to ridicule those who have the power to make change or even prevent these atrocities (as we should) let’s also take action. Much of the conflict in Congo is fueled by its multitude of conflict minerals. Click here to learn how you can impact the conflict in Congo by knowing what you are getting in your electronics. You can also write to your elected officials or volunteer for organizations like Raise Hope for Congo Women or Run for Congo Women to raise money for the cause.