Democratic Republic of Congo: Desperate Need For UN Intervention to Stop Massacres, Mutilations and Rapes
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:
'If the blood of helpless civilians in Bunia flows again in September when the French-led UN force departs, the primary culprits will of course be the militia leaders and the gangs they employ to implement their 'programme' of ethnic cleansing.
'But if it stands by and allows this to happen again, the UN observer force MONUC, as the embodiment of the will of the international community, will also be morally culpable for its failure to save lives. It is no longer enough for MONUC to simply 'observe'. Its mandate was recently strengthened and it is time for MONUC to act to prevent further countless and avoidable deaths.'
The human cost of the conflict
Members of Amnesty International's three-week mission interviewed many civilians in the eastern province of Ituri. Testimonies gathered included:
At the end of June, in the Saio district of Bunia, a 45-year-old Bira woman and her 13-year-old daughter were woken from sleep by a group of young UPC militia-men, who demolished a door to force their way into the house. Once inside, they looted and destroyed property and accused the mother and daughter of hiding Lendu combatants in their home. They then attempted to abduct the daughter. When the mother tried to intervene, both she and her daughter were brutally raped side-by-side by two of the militia-men, not far from their home. Both mother and child suffered injuries as a result of the attack.
On 15 July an alliance of militia groups attacked the town of Tchomia on the shores of Lake Albert. In the course of around ten hours of intense fighting 80 people, including many civilians, were killed and dozens of others were taken hostage, most of whom were child soldiers. One fifth of the town was destroyed. This attack followed an even more devastating confrontation in May, when the hospital was deliberately targeted and 34 people killed, including Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights. The only civilians remaining in Tchomia today are those who are too poor to pay the $3US dollars required to take a canoe ride across Lake Albert to the comparative safety of neighbouring Uganda.
On 22 July in the town of Nizi to the north of Bunia, 22 civilians were massacred by Lendu and Ngiti militia. Many of the corpses, riddled with bullet holes, had been butchered with knives and machetes - internal organs and genital organs had been cut from the bodies.
Desperate need for effective international intervention
In Bunia, Ituri's capital, some 20,000 residents are currently living in makeshift camps for internally displaced persons under the military protection of international troops. Most of these people have fled from violence between warring militias which has decimated Bunia and its surroundings in recent months, and they remain too terrified to return to their homes.
The primary military undertaking of the armed groups operating in Ituri has been the systematic extermination of people, civilians or otherwise, on the basis of their ethnic identity, regardless of their age or gender. Kate Allen continued:
'Mutual hatred among the ethnic groups of Ituri, fuelled by political and militia leaders, is now so deep and entrenched that it will take years for these rifts to begin to heal. It is essential that the international community is there in force, both to nurture along that healing process and, where necessary, to directly confront the militia who would continue the killing.'
In the meantime, the civilian population of Bunia continues to live in fearful anticipation of what further atrocities may ensue if the French-led multinational force withdraws as planned on 1 September. Amnesty International is gravely concerned that renewed blood-letting is extremely likely without a robust and committed force in place willing to intervene militarily to save lives. On 28 July the UN Security Council extended the mandate of its 'observer' force in the DRC (MONUC) to 30 July 2004, and authorised it to use all necessary means to protect civilian lives.
Amnesty International is calling for: The success of the strengthened MONUC force in Ituri will depend to a great extent on its ability, and its political will, to face down the militias militarily, as well as on its ability to build effective relations with the local civilian population. Success will also depend on the cooperation of key actors in the armed conflict. Amnesty International is therefore urging that:
- MONUC fully implements its newly reinforced mandate and intervenes decisively to protect civilian lives.
- MONUC is provided with all necessary combat personnel, equipment and training to fulfil its mandate.
- MONUC deploys throughout all districts of Bunia and, progressively, throughout the rest of Ituri.
- MONUC has adequate numbers of French-speaking liaison and humanitarian affairs officers to facilitate communication with local communities.
- Uganda, Rwanda, and the Kinshasa government must end all military and political support to the armed groups operating in DRC, all of whom have been responsible for gross human rights abuses.
Amnesty International also welcomes the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to collect preliminary evidence on crimes committed in Ituri since July 2002 which may fall within the ICC's jurisdiction. Amnesty International hopes that this will lead to full ICC investigations and prosecutions.