Letter to DR Congo President Joseph Kabila on Ending Impunity for Grave Human Rights Abuses
Human Rights Watch
8 May 2013
Human Rights Watch addressed the following letter to Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We are writing to you with concerns and recommendations regarding the human rights situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the importance of ending impunity for grave human rights abuses. We recognize that violence and abuses continue, but we are hopeful that the Congolese government, with international support, can make real progress along the path towards greater respect for human rights and justice in the coming months.
The new Framework Agreement signed in Addis Ababa on February 24, 2013, the appointment of Mary Robinson as the United Nations Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, and the upcoming deployment of the Intervention Brigade – an African-led force within the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO – present a number of important opportunities. Human Rights Watch is calling for sustained international pressure to ensure that all military support from Rwanda or Uganda to the M23 or other abusive armed groups active in Congo ceases immediately. Those responsible for such support should be held accountable and subject to sanctions.
The regional and international commitments enshrined in the Framework Agreement can succeed only with significant engagement from the Congolese government and real commitment and progress towards implementing crucial national reforms.
We are encouraged by your clear statements over the past year that the Congolese government will not provide an amnesty to M23 leaders who are on UN sanctions lists or who are sought on arrest warrants for war crimes or crimes against humanity, nor will it reintegrate them into the Congolese army. For far too long, the policy of integrating abusive warlords into the army and giving them senior ranks and influence has only served to perpetuate Congo’s cycle of impunity, effectively rewarding the use of violence.
Bosco Ntaganda’s recent surrender and transfer to The Hague was a significant step forward in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes in eastern Congo. Human Rights Watch believes that your insistence over the past year that Ntaganda face justice played a critical role in this development. We hope that others with records of serious human rights abuses – including M23 leaders Baudouin Ngaruye and Innocent Zimurinda (who are currently in Rwanda), Sultani Makenga, and Innocent Kayna – will also be arrested and brought to justice. These individuals are all on United Nations and United States sanctions lists.
For these measures to have a lasting effect, however, the Congolese government should not make deals with any abusive warlords, regardless of their political, ethnic or other affiliations. The M23 is not the only such group. To end impunity, the government should adopt a consistent and even-handed approach towards all armed groups responsible for serious abuses, and should not promote one-sided justice or double standards. A number of militia groups, as well as some members of the Congolese army, have also been responsible for horrific attacks on civilians over the past year. They include the Raia Mutomboki, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the Nyatura, Mai Mai Sheka, the Patriotic Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), the Mai Mai Yakutumba, the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front(FRPI), and Mai Mai fighters in Katanga. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and dozens of villages burned to the ground by these groups in the past year. Those responsible should not be rewarded, but instead arrested and brought to justice.
The deployment of the Intervention Brigade comes with a number of risks, but it also presents a unique opportunity to arrest rebel leaders responsible for some of the worst atrocities. The brigade should focus on targeted, well planned arrest operations and take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to the civilian population, evident in past large-scale military operations that resulted in massive displacement and human rights abuses.
In areas in which the Intervention Brigade takes control, it will be crucial for the Congolese government to play a proactive role and, together with MONUSCO, ensure that plans are in place to hold and secure these areas and re-establish credible government institutions and services. Civilian protection should be a priority. A strategy for dealing with opposition combatants who lay down their weapons should be developed and implemented before the start of military operations, and should avoid the failings of past disarmament programs.
As part of the government’s national reform program, and to follow through with other commitments made in the Framework Agreement, we urge you to take the following steps:
- Suspend, investigate, and appropriately prosecute Congolese security force members implicated in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious human rights abuses, regardless of rank.
- Assure that the government does not provide military support to foreign or Congolese militias or armed groups that are responsible for widespread or systematic abuses. Civilian officials or military personnel implicated in providing support to such groups should be suspended from their positions, investigated, and appropriately prosecuted.
- Implement a vetting mechanismfor the army and police to exclude those found responsible for involvement in grave human rights abuses.
- Establish specialized mixed chambers or a specialized mixed court within the Congolese justice system, with the involvement of international prosecutors, judges, and other personnel, to hold trials, in accordance with international law, of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Congo since 1990.
- With the support of the United Nations and donors, urgently develop and implement a new Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program and strategy for dealing with armed groups. Such a strategy should ensure that: those responsible for serious human rights abuses are excluded from the army and instead investigated and appropriately prosecuted; children are immediately separated and handed over to child protection agencies; former combatants who integrate into the army or police are properly trained to function in compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and are then deployed to parts of the country other than where they operated as militia fighters; and former combatants are given realistic alternatives to military service, including long-term civilian employment opportunities.
- Ensure that former combatants who are integrated into the army or police, or who join civilian life, are not discriminated against or subjected to torture or other ill-treatment because of their former allegiances. A system could be set up to monitor equal treatment within the security forces and to encourage people to report instances of discrimination or mistreatment. Officials responsible for such actions should be investigated and appropriately disciplined or prosecuted.
Finally, we urge you to involve civil society organizations, particularly human rights and women’s rights groups, in the development of your national reform programs as well as the follow-up mechanisms. (…)
Read full letter and annex.