Congolese Army and Mai Mai Commanders Should Be Charged with War Crimes
(New York, July 21, 2006) – As the Democratic Republic of Congo
prepares for elections, the government's failure to take prompt and
effective action against soldiers and others responsible for killing, raping
and torturing civilians in Katanga could encourage further violence and
insecurity in the southern province, Human Rights Watch said today.
With testimonies, analysis, photographs and video, the multimedia web
special entitled "The Triangle of Death: A Place of Horrors in Katanga
Province" documents widespread abuses committed by government
soldiers and combatants of a local defense force known as the Mai Mai
during three years of violence in central Katanga. Hundreds have been
killed and more than 150,000 have fled their homes from the zone of
military operations that local residents have dubbed "the triangle of
Incumbent President Joseph Kabila, himself from Katanga, is the current
front-runner in the presidential contest, but with more than 30 other
contenders, he may well face a run-off election weeks or even months
after the first poll, which is scheduled for July 30. In addition,
parliamentary elections require a two-stage process, lengthening the
period before a new government is finally installed.
"The electoral period will be lengthy and characterized by uncertainty
before a new government takes power," said Alison Des Forges, senior
Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch. "During this time, justice cannot
wait. Authorities must start holding abusers accountable if they want to
discourage others from using similarly abusive tactics now and in the
In November 2005, the Congolese army launched a military operation to
quell an insurgency in Katanga led by the Mai Mai. Government soldiers
rounded up hundreds of civilians suspected of being Mai Mai, and
deliberately killed or tortured to death dozens of them. They gang-raped
scores of women alleged to have supported the Mai Mai.
Mai Mai combatants under the command of Kyungu Mutanga, known as
Gédéon, and another Mai Mai leader, Makabe Kalenga Ngwele, have also
killed, raped and otherwise abused civilians since 2002. In some cases, the
Mai Mai publicly tortured victims before killing and cannibalizing them in
public ceremonies intended to terrorize the local population.
The Mai Mai of Katanga were launched in 1998 as a popular resistance
force against the invading foreign armies of Uganda and Rwanda, but later
turned against the central government and local communities.
In the web special posted today, Human Rights Watch documents the war
crimes committed by both sides to this conflict and urges the government
to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.
To date, Congolese authorities have failed to act effectively against
abusers. On May 12 Gédéon surrendered to United Nations peacekeepers
in Mitwaba, central Katanga. Several days later, he was handed over to
Congolese judicial officials who have kept him in detention but have not
charged him with any crime.
The current government has appointed former warlords from other parts of
Congo, such as Ituri and the Kivus, as generals in the national army,
ignoring credible information implicating them in war crimes and crimes
against humanity. The most recent appointment was made on July 17,
when the government granted the post of colonel in the national army to
Peter Karim, a commander from the Nationalist and Integrationist Front
(FNI), a murderous armed group in Ituri.
United Nations officials have provided the Congolese government with
information about human rights abuses by members of armed groups and
soldiers of the national army, including a file about military abuses
submitted to the government in January.
"If President Kabila and other government ministers currently standing for
elections are serious about a commitment to justice, they should not
appoint suspected war criminals to high military ranks and they must bring
to justice their own soldiers accused of such crimes," said Des Forges. "A
national army staffed by war criminals is unlikely to provide any security
to its citizens whether during elections or after."
For more of Human Rights Watch's work on the Democratic Republic of
Congo, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=africa&c=congo
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