1 October 2010 The United Nations today released a new report on “indescribable” atrocities committed in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from 1993 to 2003, when tens of thousands of people were killed, and numerous others raped and mutilated by both armed Congolese group and foreign military forces.
“The period covered by this report is probably one of the most tragic chapters in the recent history of the DRC,” says the report, the most extensive accounting to date, issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“Indeed, this decade was marked by a string of major political crises, wars and multiple ethnic and regional conflicts that brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.”
The 550-page report, listing 617 of the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law over the 10-year period by both State and non-State actors, is the product of a mapping exercise that took more than two years, including eight months on the ground in the DRC, interviewing witnesses and a wide range of sources.
Many of the attacks involved massive violence against non-combatant civilian populations consisting primarily of women and children amid a climate of near-total impunity, which continues today.
“Violence in the DRC was, in fact, accompanied by the apparent systematic use of rape and sexual assault allegedly by all combatant forces,” it says. “This report highlights the apparently recurrent, widespread and systematic nature of these phenomena and concludes that the majority of the incidents of sexual violence reported could, if judicially proven, constitute offences and violations under domestic law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law.”
Declaring that children in the DRC “have suffered far too much,” it cites estimates that at least 30,000 children were recruited or used by the armed forces or groups during the conflict, adding that children have been subjected to “indescribable violence,” including murder, rape, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, forced displacement and destruction of their villages.
“If this situation is allowed to continue, there is a risk that a new generation will be created that has known nothing but violence, and violence as a means of conflict resolution, thus compromising the country's chances of achieving lasting peace,” it says.
In a comment today on the report's release, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay noted that a leak in August to the French newspaper Le Monde of an earlier draft that had been distributed to six countries in the region, led “to intense focus on one aspect of it” – namely the raising of the possibility that the armed forces of Rwanda and their local allies may have committed acts which could constitute crimes of genocide.
“The report stresses that this question can only be addressed by a competent court,” she said. “First and foremost, the Mapping Report is a report about the DRC. Yes, it does refer to the presence of foreign forces which were involved in the conflict in the DRC, and it does point to the responsibility of those forces for human rights violations.
“It also suggests that other countries have a role to play in assisting a transitional justice process in the DRC,” she added, voicing the hope that people will examine it and in particular the measures it proposes to bring real progress in accountability and justice “in the wake of such a litany of dreadful acts. The millions of Congolese victims of violations committed by an extraordinarily wide range of actors deserve nothing less.”
Aside from providing a historical record, the reports aims to assist the Congolese Government and civil society in developing transitional justice mechanisms and institutional reforms that will lay a firm foundation for sustainable peace and development. This includes identifying both judicial and non-judicial options for achieving justice for the many victims of serious human rights violations and ending the widespread impunity of those responsible for serious crimes.
The report notes the involvement of at least 21 armed Congolese groups as well as operations by the military forces of eight other states inside DRC. While the aim was not to establish individual criminal responsibility, information on the identities of the alleged perpetrators of some of the crimes is being held in a confidential database maintained by OCHCR. But it does identify armed groups, both domestic and foreign, involved in specific incidents.
In her foreword to the report, Ms. Pillay states that “no report can adequately describe the horrors experienced by the civilian population” in the DRC, “where almost every single individual has an experience to narrate of suffering and loss...
“The report is intended as a first step towards the sometimes painful but nonetheless essential process of truth-telling after violent conflict? it looks to the future by identifying a number of paths that could be pursued by Congolese society to come to terms with its past, to fight impunity, and to face its contemporary challenges in a manner that prevents the re-occurrence of such atrocities.”
While the gruesome inventory of serious violations dramatically underscores the need for justice, the DRC's ability and willingness to tackle the issue remains severely limited, the report says, noting that poorly functioning judicial institutions “have left millions of victims with nowhere to turn and no opportunity to have their voices heard.”
More than 1,280 individual witnesses were interviewed to corroborate or invalidate alleged violations, including previously unrecorded incidents, and at least 1,500 documents were collected and analysed.
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