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State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Democratic Republic of Congo

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities 2008 - Democratic Republic of Congo, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48a7ead228.html [accessed 20 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In the year following the relatively peaceful election of Joseph Kabila as president, few of the DRC's underlying problems showed signs of being solved. In and around Kinshasa, the possibility of widespread violent social unrest remains ever-present, despite the efforts of the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) to bolster security infrastructures. But the worst of the continuing Congolese crisis is in the east.

The key factor remains the ongoing crises in the Kivu provinces, Katanga and Ituri. The upswing in violence seen in North Kivu in mid-2007 was the most recent episode in the continuing struggle for resources and local control between Congolese Tutsi (known as Banyamulenge) militias and the Hutu interahamwe of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well as independent raiding groups of often indeterminate allegiance who are looking for material resources rather than any strategic or political advantage. The renegade army officer General Laurent Nkunda, who has been under an international arrest warrant for war crimes since 2005, had been maintaining what he describes as the defence of the Banyamulenge. The Nkunda uprising began in earnest in December 2006, provoking immediate population flight estimated at 370,000 people, as the conflict rapidly became a four-cornered one, between Nkunda's National Congress for the People's Defence, FDLR bands, Congolese army units and Maï-Maï militias with little allegiance but to themselves. Attempts by the Congolese army to conquer Nkunda and his force (estimated at 6,000–10,000 strong) proved futile. In September 2007, an estimated further 170,000 civilians had fled fighting. Officials from the UN mission in Congo reported locating mass graves of unidentified civilians in areas previously occupied by units of Nkunda's Bravo Brigades. By late 2007, the rebel leader was calling for peace talks – something that Kabila had previously refused to consider, demanding instead that Nkunda integrate his force into the national army.

The Banyamulenge Tutsi issue is an old one in the DRC, dating back to the colonial era, with eastern Congolese Tutsis being marginalized under the former Congolese head of state, Mobutu Sese Seko. Although Banyamulenge were closely associated with his successor, Laurent Kabila, this relationship soured rapidly in the 1999–2001 period, which ended with Kabila's assassination by one of his own Swahili-speaking guards. This resulted in yet more popular anger in the capital Kinshasa, with Banyamulenge being aggressively stereotyped as 'non-Congolese' and an effective fifth column for neighbouring Rwanda – whose ruling RPF come from the minority Tutsi ethnic group. Many Banyamulenge fled the capital at this time, fearing attack, and sought sanctuary back in the east.

The events in eastern Congo in 2007 are a continuance of the poisonous ethnic strife which led to the genocide of minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda in 1994. Beyond Nkunda's immediate circumstances, the long-term issue of the insecurity of the Banyamulenge minority in the DRC, and how they may best combat this, remains unresolved. The Banymulenge themselves are divided over the way to a solution. Most acknowledged Banyamulenge political thinkers are in favour of a negotiated political solution, but disapprove strongly of the lack of Banyamulenge representation at both parliament and senate level. In addition, prejudice against Banyamulenge interests remains entrenched in Kinshasa, including within the administration.

In Ituri, 2007 saw considerable progress in the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of the six militias that had emerged along ethnic lines since 1999. Coordinated by the UN and the Congolese armed forces, the initiative achieved a major success with the adhesion to the process of the last of the main militias to have held out against it, the Lendu Nationalist Integrationist Front (FNI). Many of the FNI and other demobilized fighters were expected to join the armed forces. The Ituri conflict has always had a complex ethnic aspect to it, most obviously in the stoking up of mutual hatred between Hema and Lendu from 1999 onwards, the work of local warlords as well as Rwanda's and Uganda's interference in the region. However, like other such regional conflicts in DRC in the past decade, the violence has not merely been identitarian. As elsewhere, the control of resources has been at the centre of the conflict. On 18 October 2007, the International Criminal Court formally indicted Germain Katanga, one of the key military leaders of the FNI, for crimes against humanity, among other charges, after he was handed over by the Congolese authorities.

Among minority populations suffering particularly from the continuing conflict in the east are the Congolese Batwa/Bambuti. In South Kivu, continuing attacks by Rwandan rebel forces in the countryside outside Bukavu have had a grave effect on the Batwa/Bambuti as on other communities. Pillage, torture and killings are common, and there is a particularly high incidence of rape and extreme sexual violence. In North Kivu, some Batwa/Bambuti communities have been caught in the large waves of displacement caused by the ongoing fighting between forces loyal to Nkunda, Congolese Maï-Maï and the Congolese armed forces. Further north in Ituri, the situation in areas where Bambuti live was calmer during the course of 2006–7, although some parts of the district are threatened by the presence of hardcore FRPI fighters who have refused to join the demobilization programme. Throughout the region, the chronic proverty and marginalization experienced by Batwa/Bambuti communities is exacerbated by the security situation.

Control over forest resources continued to be of critical importance to the Batwa/Bambuti. In late 2007, a leaked report from a World Bank Inspection Panel said that the bank had backed the Congolese government in planning the extension of commercial logging in the DRC without consulting with the Batwa or considering the impact on their communities or the environment. Recently, a coalition of organizations based around forest peoples groups has also been lobbying at the UN against what they regard as a deficient government response to the plight of the forest peoples. Following the government's presentation in 2006 of its state party report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), this grouping replied in January 2007, noting that forest peoples had been completely ignored in Kinshasa's submission. In its concluding observations issued in August 2007, CERD recommended that DRC take 'urgent and adequate measures' to protect the rights of the Batwa to land. It also urged that there be a moratorium on forest lands, that the ancestral lands of the Batwa be registered, and provision should be made for the forest rights of indigenous peoples in domestic legislation.

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