Amnesty International Report 2005 - Democratic Republic of the Congo

Covering events from January - December 2004

The transitional power-sharing government made little progress in advancing laws and reforms essential to building security and respect for human rights. Government authority remained weak or non-existent in parts of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) which were under the de facto control of armed groups. Insecurity, ethnic tension and human rights abuses continued, including unlawful killings, widespread rape, torture and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The government and international community made little concerted effort to address the immense needs of the war-scarred civilian population. According to the International Rescue Committee, an estimated 31,000 people died every month as a result of the conflict. Survivors of human rights abuses had little or no access to medical care.


The transitional government, established in July 2003 and composed of all former belligerent groups who signed the 2002 All Inclusive Peace Agreement, was beset by factionalism and a series of political and military crises. It made only limited advances in improving security and respect for human rights and failed to extend its authority to many areas of eastern DRC, where instability and localized violence continued, threatening on occasion to reignite into wider conflict.

Slow progress was made on reforms essential for improved security and national unification. Plans for the integration of former combatant forces into a unified national army, and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) into civilian life of an estimated 200,000 other combatants were established, but few of these programmes, to be backed by international financial and technical assistance, had started by the end of 2004. Only the army chief of staff and other senior army command positions, and one army brigade, were integrated in 2004. In May the provincial governor posts were redistributed along party lines. In September a pilot DDR programme was launched in Ituri. However, by the end of the year very few of the estimated 15,000 combatants in that district had been demobilized. Armed group leaders reportedly intimidated combatants to prevent them joining the DDR process in Ituri.

Key laws relating to a new constitution and the organization of nationwide elections were substantially delayed and had not been approved by parliament by the end of 2004. A law defining Congolese nationality was promulgated in December.

There were reports of coup attempts in Kinshasa in March and June, although doubts remained about their authenticity. The first attempt was attributed to Mobutist officers of the former Zairian Armed Forces (Forces armées zaïroises, FAZ), who had fled to Congo-Brazzaville in 1997. The second attempt was reportedly the work of a Special Presidential Security Guard (GSSP) officer.

A prolonged military and political crisis, centred on the strategically important Kivu provinces bordering Rwanda, threatened to derail the transition process. In February in South-Kivu soldiers of the Goma-based Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie-Goma, RCD-Goma) forcibly opposed the authority of the government-appointed regional commander. The resulting impasse culminated in June in a military confrontation between pro-government and renegade RCD-Goma forces for control of the provincial capital, Bukavu. Civilians were targeted by both sides. Violent demonstrations nationwide, directed mainly at UN peacekeeping and government installations, followed the seizure of Bukavu by the renegade RCD-Goma forces. Ethnic tension between different groups in the region, deliberately manipulated by some leaders, escalated markedly. In August more than 150 mainly Congolese Tutsi refugees were massacred in Gatumba, Burundi (see Burundi entry). In August, the RCD-Goma temporarily suspended its participation in government. The bulk of the renegade RCD-Goma forces later regrouped in North-Kivu, where they continued to operate in defiance of central authority. The crisis had not been resolved by the end of 2004 when new fighting erupted in Kanyabayionga (North-Kivu) between pro RCD-Goma soldiers and the national army.

In October the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, the major protagonists of the DRC conflict, signed a tripartite security agreement, establishing a commission to deal with common security issues. Mistrust between these states remained the prevailing regional dynamic, however. Rwanda threatened three times to renew its military operations in eastern DRC, citing (in June) the need to protect Congolese Tutsi from ethnic violence and (in April and November) the need to counter the threat posed to Rwanda by Rwandan insurgent forces based in eastern DRC. There were credible reports that Rwandan army units entered DRC in each of these months, although this was denied by the Rwandan government. Rwanda also appeared to exercise a degree of control over RCD-Goma armed forces in North and South-Kivu.

The UN peacekeeping force, MONUC, continued to struggle to contain violence and protect civilians in eastern DRC. An increase in the size of the force from 10,700 to 16,600 was authorized by the UN Security Council in October, but many areas of the east remained beyond MONUC's operational capacity. An arms embargo, imposed by the UN in July 2003 and monitored by MONUC, was only partially effective. In July 2004 the UN-appointed Group of Technical Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported that direct and indirect assistance, which included the supply of arms and ammunition, was provided in violation of the embargo to armed groups operating in eastern DRC by neighbouring countries and from within the DRC.

By the end of 2004 the MONUC-supervised programme of voluntary repatriation of combatants (mainly Rwandan insurgents) had repatriated around 11,000 combatants and their dependants to Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, according to MONUC sources. However, several thousand Rwandan and to a lesser extent Burundian and Ugandan insurgents remained in eastern DRC, where they continued to commit abuses.

Human rights abuses were reported nationwide. The situation in eastern DRC remained especially alarming, where armed groups and militia perpetrated grave human rights abuses against civilians in the provinces of North-Kivu, South-Kivu, Maniema, Orientale (notably the Ituri district), Kasai Oriental and Katanga.

Unlawful killings

All armed forces and groups were responsible for unlawful killings of civilians in 2004. Killings were reported on an almost daily basis.

In late May and early June 2004, dozens of civilians were unlawfully killed and many rapes were committed by renegade RCD-Goma forces in Bukavu, South-Kivu province, after they took control of the city. Government loyalist forces, who later retook the city, also committed abuses. Many killings were perpetrated during looting of private homes. Those killed included Lambert Mobole Bitorwa, shot at home in front of his children; Jolie Namwezi, reportedly shot in front of her children after she resisted rape; Murhula Kagezi; and a 13-year-old girl, Marie Chimbale Tambwe, shot dead on the balcony of her home, apparently because she pulled a face at a soldier while he was looting in the street below.

Child soldiers

Tens of thousands of children remained in the ranks of armed groups and militia, who continued to recruit new child soldiers. In some cases former child soldiers who were being assisted by local NGOs in eastern DRC were forcibly re-recruited. Other children were reportedly tempted to return voluntarily to armed groups by the prospect of receiving payments from the DRC government to combatant forces, pending integration.

  • Jim, aged 13, was recruited in February by an armed group in South-Kivu province with the promise of a government payment. Two weeks later he received 5,000 Congolese francs (FC) – around $11 US – of which he had to give his commander 3,000 FC. A few days later, Jim was badly wounded in his right arm during weapons training. His arm was later amputated.

Violence against women

In the course of the DRC conflict, tens of thousands of women and girls have been victims of systematic rape committed by combatant forces. Throughout 2004 women and girls continued to be attacked in their homes, in the fields or as they went about their daily activities. Many suffered gang rapes or were taken as sex slaves by combatants. Rape of men and boys was also reported. Rape was often preceded or followed by the deliberate wounding, torture or killing of the victim. Some rapes were committed publicly or in front of family members, including children. Some MONUC civilian, police and military personnel were responsible for rape and sexual exploitation of women and girls.

Rape survivors' rights were further violated in the aftermath of the rape, deepening their suffering. Women suffering injuries or illnesses caused by the rape – some of them life-threatening – were denied medical care. The DRC's health care system, completely broken down in many areas, was unable to offer even the most basic treatment. Because of prejudice, many women were abandoned by their husbands and excluded by their communities, condemning them and their children to extreme poverty. Because of an incapacitated judicial system, there was no justice or redress for the crimes they endured.

  • In March AI delegates visited Odette, a girl of six, in hospital in the city of Kindu, Maniema province. She had been raped several weeks before by a mayi-mayi combatant as she played in front of her home. The man dragged her into the grounds of the local school where he raped her. The attack left her with extensive wounds to her vagina.
  • In early 2004 Lotsove, aged 12, was raped by combatants as she sought shelter from fighting between two armed groups for control of the gold mining area of Mongbwalu, Ituri district. During the attack, she lost track of six of her friends and her two sisters who had been with her. She found her sisters, Lolo and Vita, 13 and 14, three days later in a nearby village. Both had also been raped. Despite having pain in her lower abdomen, Lotsove was never seen by a doctor.

Torture and illegal detention

Arbitrary arrest and illegal detention remained frequent across the DRC. Many people spent long periods in detention without charge or trial. A number were reportedly ill-treated or tortured. Human rights defenders and journalists engaged in legitimate investigation and criticism were also threatened and unlawfully detained.

  • In October a man named Musimbi was detained by the security services in Uvira, South-Kivu, and repeatedly beaten with wooden sticks, reportedly because he had accused local authorities of fomenting insecurity. After losing consciousness he was taken to his home, where security agents demanded a "fine" from his family.

Death penalty

Around 200 people were reportedly held on death row. At least 27 people were sentenced to death. No executions were reported.

International and transitional justice

In October the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the DRC government signed a cooperation agreement allowing the ICC to begin investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed within the country. ICC investigators visited Ituri, where initial ICC enquiries were concentrated.

Impunity for the perpetrators of human rights abuses, and lack of redress for the victims, remained almost absolute. The effectiveness of the Congolese justice system continued to be undermined by a lack of basic material and human resources, suitable protection mechanisms for victims and witnesses, and devastated infrastructures. In one exceptional case in July, an armed group commander in Ituri, Rafiki Saba Aimable, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment by a Bunia court for torture.

Refugees and the internally displaced

Around 2.3 million civilians remained displaced by the end of 2004, mainly in eastern DRC. Many were cut off from humanitarian aid. In some areas armed groups refused relief workers access, attacked aid deliveries, looted stocks of food aid, or commandeered relief agencies' vehicles.

The Congolese authorities failed to make provision for the safety and dignity of people returning to the DRC, including refugees.

Between December 2003 and April 2004, tens of thousands of Congolese were forcibly expelled to DRC from Angola. Many were extremely weak from dehydration, hunger and days on the move. Those expelled reported human rights abuses on both sides of the border, including being detained and ill-treated by DRC security forces. Around 40,000 remain displaced in DRC at the year's end.

In September and October Congolese Tutsi refugees, including women and children, returning to South-Kivu province from Burundi were attacked with stones by members of the local non-Tutsi population.

AI country visits

In February/March AI delegates visited North-Kivu, South-Kivu and Maniema. In May/ June, AI delegates visited Ituri and the capital, Kinshasa. In October, AI delegates launched a report and met government authorities in Kinshasa.

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