The ghosts of millions of Congolese and Rwandan refugees allegedly killed during the a seven-year war resurrect to torment perpetrators today as the UN makes public its findings of concealed atrocities against civilians.
Both Uganda and Rwanda, whose armies are implicated in grave indiscretions in DR Congo, tried to block release of the report but the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission announced yesterday it will publicise the details this afternoon.
The report, an output of two-year investigations, chronicles wanton massacres and systematic sexual enslavement of Congolese allegedly by UPDF and Rwanda Patriotic Front soldiers as well as their brutal local militia allies.
Yesterday, the Military Spokesperson, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, discredited the report as biased and challenged the motive of the authors who he said never contacted them.
Details of the report show the armies fought or killed civilians in contests over basic charcoal trade to pillaging gold, coltan and timber.
In some instances, the soldiers switched off turbines at dam sites to cut electricity supply; resulting in deaths of in-patients at various hospitals during the 1997-2003 war.
The war in Zaire, as the DRC was then called, sucked in Kampala and Kigali initially as pursuers of dissident forces but ended as a lengthy bloody campaign that toppled President Mobutu Ssese Seko and saw his successor Laurent Kabila assassinated.
Invading allies, intoxicated by the allure of DRC’s abundant minerals, turned the barrel on one another in the quest for political hegemony, stirring what today’s report brands “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
For instance, the authors allege that the UPDF confined a group of women and raped them in turns for pleasure at Premier Bassin Hotel for four days, from August 7-10, 1998.
Later in 2003, Médecins sans frontiers, the French health organisation, reported treating some 822 rape victims aged 13-25 assaulted in Bunia between May and December of that year.
The report says on November 9, 2000, Ugandan soldiers indiscriminately killed 36 people in Kikere village, close to Butuhe, north of Butembo. “The soldiers fired blindly on civilians using rifles and rocket-launchers. Some civilians died as a result of being burned alive in their homes.”
In Beni, UPDF allegedly instituted a “reign of terror for several years with complete impunity”, executing civilians besides torturing or detaining others in three-metre deep holes - without access to latrine.
But Lt. Col. Kulayigye said: “The report is inaccurate and in bad taste; the authors didn’t follow the rules of natural justice by giving us chance to defend ourselves and why should anyone take it serious?”
“It’s mere speculation whose motive is only clear to the authors.”
Uganda and Rwanda tried, rather unsuccessfully, to arm-twist the world body to stay release of the report or else they would withdraw their troops involved in UN-led peacekeeping operations across Africa.
Yesterday, Mr Reed Brody, spokesman for Human Rights Watch, said masterminds of the DRC atrocities must immediately be identified and prosecuted to stem impunity.
“It would be short-sighted for the international community to turn a blind eye to the findings of this report,” he said by telephone from New York. “You can’t have peace if there are no consequences for massacres.”
Mr Brody said had an earlier call for punishing perpetrators of previous DRC conflicts been heeded, no such killings would have re-occurred in later years.
“If we don’t act on the facts, what message do we send to victims; their tormentors and the world?” he said. An earlier UN report found Uganda culpable of plundering Congo resources and the International Court of Justice later fined the country $10 billion.
The new report, which accuses UPDF of recruiting and training children as soldiers, says genocide may have been committed in the second DRC war but court will have to establish this. The authors say they interviewed some 1,280 witnesses and sifted through 1,500 documents during the probe.