19 May 2006 The Democratic Republic of Congo’s own soldiers were responsible for the majority of the nearly seven dozen complaints of crimes and human rights violations under investigation by the United Nations mission (MONUC) for the last two months, according to a new report.
Among the crimes committed by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and reported by survivors were extrajudicial executions and “disappearances” in March and April, as well as many cases of rape and brutal beatings.
Acts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment against civilians by the Presidential Guard and the national police were also reported in five provinces, while armed militias raped and abducted a number of people in three provinces, MONUC said in its report, “The Human Rights Situation in April 2006.”
MONUC expressed concern that in the run-up to national polling, several incidents have threatened the right to free and fair elections, including attacks by men in military uniform on the office of the government-controlled broadcasting company, Radio-Télévision Nationale Congolaise, after a similar incident took place at the home of a member of the Independent Electoral Commission.
In a landmark blow against impunity, however, a local military tribunal, applying the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that qualifies rape as a crime against humanity convicted seven soldiers of that crime, the mission said.
“The fight against impunity took a step forward in the DRC on 12 April 2006. For the first time in the country’s history, a judge convicted seven soldiers for crimes against humanity. The Military Tribunal of the Garrison of Mbandaka handed down life terms for mass rapes in the village of Songo Mboyo in Equateur Province in December 2003,” it said, noting that five other defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence.
On the political front, on 6 April two men identified as police officers sacked Radio Mongala, about 600 kms north of Mbandaka, an act “believed to be linked to the fact that the radio station in question was promoting one of the candidates running for a seat in the Parliament.”
A journalist from MONUC’s Radio OKAPI in Kisangani was reportedly beaten by eight soldiers of the Garde Républicaine on the order of their captain on 24 April.
Military and police officers in four mini-buses and two trucks went to the home of a presidential candidate in the DRC capital, Kinshasa, and arrested him, along with 18 of his supporters. The candidate and 11 of the 18 supporters were later released, MONUC said.
A political activist was arrested by the 882nd Battalion on 18 April and “the Battalion HQ promised to reveal his whereabouts to MONUC.”
In Bukavu, two political parties, the Mouvement pour la Liberation du Congo (MLC) and the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD/Goma) reported repeated harassment.
On the criminal front, one complaint notes that during the night of 18 March soldiers and police raped 37 women and girls and made attempts on another nine girls in Ganda, Likako and Likundju, 515 kilometres north east of Mbandaka, MONUC said. At the same time, “50 civilians were victims of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and 120 households were looted.”
The report is a litany of rapes of women and girls, one as young as 8, and one teenage boy, along with beatings. People were beaten for such actions as resisting extortion, declining to carry soldiers’ personal belongings for long distances – or, as some victims reported, for no known reason at all.