Democratic Republic of Congo: Uganda must stop stoking the conflict

Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said:

'Armed groups, sponsored and supported by the Ugandan and Rwandan governments and the central government in DRC, have stoked inter-ethnic conflict in the province of Ituri. They have turned one community against another and caused violence of unimaginable brutality. Uganda in particular is a major player in the conflict.'

The new report chronicles the violence in Ituri throughout 2003 which has seen the slaughter of entire families, the systematic rape and sexual assault of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls, and the widespread use of child soldiers. Hundreds of schools, health centres and social facilities have been destroyed; villages have been pillaged, burned and razed to the ground.

The sudden withdrawal of Ugandan forces from Ituri in May led to mass panic and chaos as local armed groups took advantage of the opportunity to 'settle scores'. As people were raped, mutilated and slaughtered, the UN force in DRC, MONUC, failed to act decisively and allowed the massacres to happen.

Safari saw his wife and three Children's rights decapitated in front of him. He was saved after feigning death in a pile of dead bodies:

'On the 7th of May, late at night, young Hemas surrounded all the houses in Bigo. The inhabitants were divided into different ethnic groups. The Hemas were separated from the rest. After this selection, lines were formed and those who were considered non-Hemas were killed. I did not have the strength to cry for my family.'

While the peace process is underway in Kinshasa, the dynamic of war is still well rooted in Ituri. The situation there will be a test for the peace process.

Irene Khan continued:

'Bunia is still divided along ethnic lines, people live in fear and those displaced are unable to return to their homes. Massacres and other human rights abuses continue with impunity in other parts of Ituri.

'But the deployment of MONUC with a strengthened mandate have brought some semblance of security to Bunia. If this new beginning is to be sustained, then a lot more needs to be done and done urgently. MONUC must step up its deployment outside Bunia, strictly monitor the arms embargo, speed up the disarmament and demobilisation process, including of child soldiers, and help set up a proper policing system.

'The Transitional Government and the armed groups must support the work of the Ituri Pacification Commission to establish a civil administration. Uganda and Rwanda must stop their support for armed groups.'

The report welcomes the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take up cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ituri.

Irene Khan concluded:

'There will be no peace and reconciliation in Ituri without justice. Impunity must not be sanctioned in the name of national unity. The cycle of brutal reprisals, of attacks and counter-attacks, will not stop unless impunity is ended for all abuses.'

'For years Ituri has been the scene of plunder, pillage and massive human rights abuse, while the world watched in silence. This must not be allowed to happen ever again. International attention must be converted into effective action to protect the human rights of the people of Ituri.'

Irene Khan, and Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty International UK, are currently in Uganda as part of an 'emergency mission' to DRC, Uganda and Rwanda which is meeting with all heads of state and calling on them to end support for the conflict in north-eastern DRC. They are available for interview in Kampala.

The report is available at: www.amnesty.org .

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