Posts Tagged ‘Congo’
A new piece from me in the New Humanist
Thousands of lives are at risk in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a new and brutal rebellion, with a leadership described by the United Nations as “among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations… in the world”, has flared up in a region where millions have died since the 1990s.
The “March 23” insurgency began as a mutiny earlier this year by former rebels who had been integrated into the Congolese army after a previous peace deal in March 2009. The mutiny was ostensibly triggered by violations of that agreement. But there are mounting allegations by the UN and human rights groups that the rebels are being directed, trained and supported by the government of neighbouring Rwanda. On 30 November, the UK government became the latest international donor to suspend aid to Rwanda as a result.
M23’s leaders reportedly include the notorious Rwandan-born warlord Bosco Ntaganda, whose bloody track record in previous conflicts has earned him the nickname “The Terminator”. Despite being wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, Bosco was given a senior role in the Congolese army as part of the 2009 peace deal.
“Bosco Ntaganda is the most notorious but he’s by no means the only one”, says Carina Tertsakian of Human Rights Watch, who talks of a strong sense of déjà vu around the current crisis. “Quite a few of his mates are and have been doing the same kinds of things for years… No one has ever done anything to arrest them so they just carry on, they become emboldened… the use of violence and those atrocities start being rewarded.”
Agathon Rwasa is the militia leader whose forces carried the December 28th 2000 “Titanic Express” massacre in Burundi, of which my sister Charlotte was one of 21 victims. The UN recently reported that Rwasa was remobilising his forces from bases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in preparation for a new “holy war”. The Banyamulenge blog Journal Mibembwe gives more details:
From Journal Mibembwe:
As was reported recently in our news, the security continues to deteriorate in the high plateaux of Bijombo, district of Uvira, where most civilians from the Banyamulenge ethnic group are still victims of the ongoing conflicts in the region. These people, mostly pastoralists, have nothing to do with politics. Those who managed to escape, however, still face the same situation where their killers followed them even across the borders in the neighbouring countries like Burundi where many hundreds have been slaughtered in a refugee camp in August 2004.
Some of those who claimed responsibility in the killings, like Mr. Agathon Rwasa, still move around freely. Instead of being arrested and judged for his acts, credible sources say that this experienced killer, Agathon Rwasa, has found refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Banyamulenge community feel threatened by his presence in the region.
Last time we reported a transfer of some the FARDC army commanders in the high plateaux of Bijombo, causing increased fear in the Banyamulenge community of more insecurity and threats carried out by the government troops in their villages. This is seen by many as the continuation of some politicians’ plans, like ANZULUNI BEMBE from 1993, to exterminate the Banyamulenge under the pretext that they are ‘foreigners’ or just for who they are, like what Agathon Rwasa has done in Gatumba (Burundi) in 2004.
UN Congo chief William Swing withheld
evidence of DRC government atrocities
From Human Rights Watch
The United Nations and a number of bilateral donors invested significant financial and political capital in the  Congolese elections, one of the largest electoral support programs in the UN’s history. But with the polls finished, they have failed to invest comparable resources and attention in assuring that the new government implements its international human rights obligations. For donor governments, concern about winning a favored position with the new government took priority over halting abuses and assuring accountability…
Donor governments said they would devote considerable financial and technical resources to security sector reform programs, but have yet to insist that such programs include adequate vetting to rid the military and law enforcement services of individuals in senior positions who have been implicated in serious human rights violations…
Following the killings in Bas Congo in February 2007, MONUC [the UN peacekeeping force in Congo] sent a multi-disciplinary team to investigate. Its report was not published for five months as it was deemed “too sensitive.” UN officials did not want to criticize the new government before securing its agreement on the role of MONUC in the post-electoral period. Similarly MONUC delayed publication of its report on the March 2007 events for fear of upsetting relations with Kabila.
Both reports were blocked by the head of MONUC, Ambassador William Swing, who deflected repeated requests from the UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in New York and from the then UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, for the reports to be made public.
If the reports had been promptly published, they could have contributed to wider awareness of the serious violations committed and might have led to additional diplomatic pressure on the Congolese government to halt the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable. The March 2007 investigation report was eventually published in French on January 4, 2008, after a copy was leaked to the press; no English version has been made public.
Leopold’s ghost looms large as Belgian EU Commissioner Louis Michel is mobbed by Congolese protestors at the LSE
The history of Belgian involvement in the Congo – as documented in Adam Hochschild’s excellent book “King Leopold’s Ghost”, is not a happy one. Of the three colonies run by Belgium until the mid part of the 20th Century – Congo, Rwanda and Burundi – it is perhaps the Congo that came off worst of all. Hochschild and others have estimated that upwards of 10 million people died as a result of the Belgian occupation. Millions more were enslaved, and tasked with delivering their country’s fabulous mineral wealth into the hands of their colonial overlords.
The Congolese finally gained independence in 1960, and elected the charismatic anti-colonial leader Patrice Lumumba as their country’s first President, with a mandate to nationalise Congo’s mining companies and ensure that the wealth was used to develop the nation. But within months Lumumba had been assassinated – 40 years later Belgium admitted involvement.
From the 1960s to the early 1990s, successive Belgian governments helped prop up Lumumba’s famously kleptocratic successor, Mobuto Sese Seko. Mobutu curried favour with western countries by allowing them to maintain lucrative mineral concessions – while his country sank progressively deeper into poverty. After independence, as before, much of Congo’s wealth continued to be syphoned off to Belgium.
When, in the late 1990s, a brutal conflict began in the mineral-rich East of the country, drawing in armies from as far afield as Zimbabwe and Namibia - and fuelled, as ever, by competition over access to the country’s mineral wealth (gold, diamonds and particularly “coltan”) – a UN report found that many of the international companies engaged in illegal racketeering – largely with impunity – were Belgian.
Given this history, it might seem surprising that the UN should see fit to award the job of overseeing the 2006 Congolese elections – the country’s first democratic contest since Lumumba’s victory in the early 1960s – to a man who was, until recently, Belgium’s foreign minister. Among the Congolese, Louis Michel certainly seems to have been a controversial choice, amid accusations of apparent favouritism towards the encumbent candidate, the western-leaning Joseph Kabila, who went on to take the Presidency.
An intriguing rumour circulating among Congolese critics of the former Belgian foreign minister is that he is the great-grandson of the original Congo kleptocrat, the infamous King Leopold II himself. While wholly untrue, it surely says something about the way that many Congolese perceive the nature of international involvement in their country, and goes some way to explaining the shouts of “Louis Michel, voleur!” at the LSE a few months ago.
Two things seem particularly striking in the video above – the first is that those overseeing the meeting appear to make no attempt to engage with the protestors. The second is the somewhat surreal juxtaposition between the chaotic scenes in the auditorium, and the grandiose message being projected onto the wall – “Europe-Africa: the indispensible partnership”.