Amnesty International Report 1997 - Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire)

Prisoners of conscience and possible prisoners of conscience were among scores of people detained without charge or trial. Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported. The security forces massacred unarmed civilians. Dozens of prisoners remained under sentence of death. Armed groups committed grave human rights abuses. The transition to a multi-party political system continued to face setbacks and it remained unclear whether elections due to take place by July 1997 would be held. The President of the National Electoral Commission, established in January, denounced government interference in the Commission's work and its failure to provide funds. In August, the Supreme Court declared itself unable to rule on a submission presented by the opposition alliance, the Union sacrée de l'opposition radicale, alliés et société civile, Sacred Union of the Radical Opposition, Allies and Civil Society, challenging the legitimacy of Léon Kengo wa Dondo's appointment as Prime Minister (see Amnesty International Report 1996). Also in August, a coalition of parties supporting President Mobutu Sese Seko, known as the Forces politiques du Conclave, Political Forces of the Conclave, withdrew from the transitional parliament, which was deadlocked over two rival drafts of a new Constitution, essential to the holding of elections. In October, parliament adopted a draft Constitution, along federal lines, to be confirmed by referendum in February 1997. President Mobutu spent much of the second half of the year in Europe, receiving medical treatment. Violence in eastern Zaire escalated into full-scale armed conflict. Large contingents of the Forces armées zaïroises (FAZ), Zairian Armed Forces, sent to eastern Zaire to carry out counter-insurgency operations, took part in widespread looting and human rights abuses. In early September, fighting broke out in South-Kivu region between the FAZ and a Tutsi-led armed group known as the Alliance des forces démocratiques pour la libération du Congo-Zaïre (AFDL), Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, reportedly supported by the Rwandese Government. On 26 October, the Zairian Government declared a state of emergency in North and South-Kivu, but emergency measures were not implemented as most areas had been captured by the AFDL by the end of November. During October, refugee camps housing more than one million largely Hutu refugees from Rwanda and Burundi came under attack. Refugees were attacked by the AFDL, apparently assisted by the Rwandese government forces, by forces of the former Rwandese government and allied interahamwe militias responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and by Zairian troops. Virtually all refugee camps emptied, and more than one million refugees and displaced Zairians were deprived of all humanitarian aid by the fighting. In November, the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire and authorized the deployment of an international force to aid the refugees. In mid-November, some 500,000 refugees trekked back into Rwanda. Following the mass return of refugees, the multinational intervention force was not deployed, although hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced Zairians remained dispersed inside Zaire. After the conflict erupted in the east, the Zairian authorities publicly accused people of Tutsi or Hutu ethnic origin (locally known as Banyarwanda) of undermining the country. There were violent anti-Banyarwanda demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, and in the northern town of Kisangani, led by students, in which Banyarwanda were beaten and their homes looted or destroyed. In most cases the security forces did nothing to protect victims. Government forces deported hundreds of Tutsi to Rwanda and Burundi, while hundreds more fled to Congo. In March, Zaire acceded to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Zaire was extended for one year. After visiting Zaire in November, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern at abuses committed by government forces and armed groups in eastern Zaire and the role played by the Government of Rwanda. Scores of people were detained without charge or trial, some of whom appeared to be prisoners of conscience. Many were civilians who had been arrested by soldiers and held in military detention centres. Many were held incommunicado for far longer than the period allowed by law. For example, in July, Zairian jurists found one detainee, Mulalwe Karubandika, held without charge or trial in Uvira, South-Kivu, since January 1995. Dozens of Tutsi and Hutu were arrested and detained without charge or trial, many of whom appeared to be prisoners of conscience. For example, five elderly Tutsi community leaders, three of them pastors, were arrested in September in South-Kivu and held incommunicado in a military camp. By the end of the year, there was no news of their fate, amid reports that many detainees had been extrajudicially executed before Zairian troops fled. Tutsi and Hutu were also arrested in Kinshasa and in Kisangani, apparently solely because of their ethnic origin. Human rights activists who spoke out against persecution of Tutsi or made inquiries on behalf of Tutsi were accused of supporting the AFDL. Didi Mwati Bulambo and three other workers at the Collectif d'action pour le développement des droits de l'homme, Action Collective for Human Rights Development, were arrested in July after publicizing human rights abuses in South-Kivu. They were whipped and otherwise ill-treated in prison before being provisionally released. Three leading members of a human rights group, La voix des sans voix (Voice of the Voiceless), were arrested in November by members of the Service d'action et de renseignements militaires (SARM), Military Action and Intelligence Service. The three – Floribert Chebeya Bahizire, Harouna Mbongo and Bashi Nabukili – were held incommunicado for six days before being released without charge. Several members of the international aid community working in North-Kivu region were subjected to arrests, threats and beatings in early July 1996. Opposition party leaders were also detained. Joseph Olengha N'Koy, a leading member of the Union pour la démocratie et le progrès social, Union for Democracy and Social Progress, was arrested in November after criticizing the government's handling of the armed conflict in eastern Zaire. He and another government opponent, Willy Mishiki, were released in mid-December, shortly before President Mobutu returned from Europe. Torture, sometimes leading to death, was reported. For example, in January, nine young men of Hunde origin were arrested in eastern Zaire by soldiers. Kahima Baluku, a student, was reportedly shot dead and the others burned with heated machetes and severely beaten. Two – Biamungu Baroke and Kamulete Ngabo – died as a result. On 9 May, a trader and mother of five children travelling by bus to Goma was arrested by members of SARM at a roadblock after failing to produce her identity card. She was stripped naked and stoned in front of the other passengers. She was taken to the SARM camp in Goma, where she was reportedly tortured, including by being gang-raped by soldiers. She was released without charge on 13 May. In Kisangani, students and members of the Service national d'intelligence et de protection, National Intelligence and Protection Service, attacked members of the civilian population, especially people from Rwanda or Burundi, in October. Journalists and human rights activists were harassed and threatened. From early November onwards, heavily armed soldiers fleeing the conflict in the east arrived in Kisangani, adding to the general climate of insecurity and lawlessness. According to reports, they attacked Banyarwanda and Barundi families, beating them and raping the women, including girls as young as 12, in full view. They also beat Zairian citizens, such as Tshimbila, who were unable to give them money. At least seven schoolgirls reportedly died in early December, after soldiers gang-raped girls in a secondary school in Bunia, a town in northeastern Zaire. Detainees were held by the security services in cramped and insanitary conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Detainees who were sick or injured were denied medical care. Government soldiers extrajudicially executed unarmed civilians in eastern Zaire throughout the year. Perpetrators enjoyed virtual impunity; none were known to have been brought to justice. In February, government troops fired a mortar shell at Masisi hospital, killing a woman and a man. Soldiers subsequently pillaged the hospital. Dozens of villagers were extrajudicially executed by soldiers during a counter-insurgency operation in May at Vichumbi, a fishing village on Lake Edward. Soldiers reportedly ordered all the villagers into Vichumbi's three churches and held them there for several days while they raided and burned houses. They then killed at least 37 men, whom they accused of being members of an armed opposition group, in front of the churches. Survivors reported that many others, including women and children, were shot as they tried to escape. Hundreds of people were reportedly killed by soldiers during a counter-insurgency operation in May in Kanyabayonga, Rutshuru district, North-Kivu. One elderly man lost 24 members of his extended family including his son, Kambale Mutumu. In some incidents, government soldiers collaborated with armed groups. For example, in July members of the Division spéciale présidentielle, Special Presidential Division, and Hunde armed groups attacked five Hutu villages in Bwito county, Rutshuru district. Several hundred civilians were reportedly killed. Zairian soldiers were alleged to have extrajudicially executed 19 Rwandese refugees detained on suspicion of criminal activities in Masisi in July. Witnesses reported that the detainees were beaten to near unconsciousness by soldiers and then apparently killed at a remote spot near Kingi, on the edge of the National Park. In early September, soldiers reportedly killed 35 Zairian Tutsi civilians; more than 50 others "disappeared". Soldiers extrajudicially executed four civilians in front of a crowd at Luberezi village, Uvira district, on 8 September. As many as 60 prisoners were reported to be under sentence of death. No executions were reported during the year. The AFDL, which gained control of much of North and South-Kivu, committed gross human rights abuses. Zairian doctors reported that Tutsi-led rebels had killed 34 patients and six staff at a hospital in Lemera town, south of Bukavu, on 6 October. On 13 October, rebel forces opened fire on a refugee camp at Runingo, northwest of Uvira, killing four refugees and wounding six. After the town of Bukavu fell to the AFDL, the bodies of at least 83 people were found, most of whom appeared to have been unarmed civilians shot dead at close range. The Archbishop of Bukavu, Christophe Munzihirwa, was killed, allegedly because of his public criticism of the AFDL and its alleged support from the Rwandese Government. About 500 Rwandese refugees and displaced Zairians were massacred by AFDL members in mid-November at Chimanga refugee camp, south of Bukavu. Jean-Claude Buhendwa, a Zairian Roman Catholic priest, was executed when he protested. The massacre followed clashes between the AFDL and members of the former Rwandese army and interahamwe militia at nearby Bilongo camp. The AFDL also rounded up and forcibly expelled Burundi refugees, handing them over to Burundi government troops at the border. Hundreds of the returned refugees were subsequently killed by Burundian troops (see Burundi entry). There were reports of killings by both the AFDL and Rwandese Hutu militia members at Mugunga camp, near Goma. Aid workers found and buried hundreds of bodies in Mugunga camp in late November. There were further reports of massacres of refugees by Rwandese militia members in November. Amnesty International repeatedly called on the Zairian Government to prevent its forces committing human rights violations and to stop its officials from inciting ethnic hatred. In June, the organization publicly called for action to prevent further killings in eastern Zaire, and in September it condemned atrocities committed by Zairian soldiers and government officials against Tutsi in South-Kivu. In November, Amnesty International published Zaire: Lawlessness and insecurity in North and South-Kivu. As the crisis in eastern Zaire intensified, Amnesty International issued a detailed appeal for the protection of human rights. It called for an international presence in eastern Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda to protect civilians at risk, and for world governments to prevent further supplies of weapons to government forces and armed groups in the three countries until they demonstrated that the weapons would not be used to commit human rights abuses. The organization stressed that no one should be forced to return to a country where they might face human rights abuses. Amnesty International appealed to all combatants to stop attacks on civilians, and to officials in the region to stop inciting violence. It called for those responsible for abuses to be brought to justice and urged the international community to provide the resources to strengthen criminal justice systems in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi, and to prosecute suspects in other countries. In November, Amnesty International delegates visited Zaire to gather information about human rights abuses and discuss the organization's concerns with government authorities. Amnesty International published a number of reports, including Zaire: Violent persecution by state and armed groups in November, and Hidden from scrutiny: human rights abuses in eastern Zaire in December.

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