October 15, 1997
Moderator: Kathleen Newland, Senior Associate, International Migration Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Panelists: Scott Campbell, Consultant, Human Rights Watch Africa; Janet Fleischman, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch Africa
Ms. Newland introduced the panelists, one of whom, Scott Campbell, spent six weeks during July and August 1997 in several provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the surrounding area. He investigated allegations of massive killings of civilians by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) and the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) during and after the war which the ADFL and the RPA fought against former President Mobutu of Zaire and various of his militia allies. Ms. Newland characterized the crisis in the Great Lakes Region as "the most comprehensive failure of refugee protection in the post-Cold War era." Ms. Newland also noted the cycle of official denial, incredulity, and inaction that had characterized the international community's response to human rights violations in the region.
Scott Campbell: Human Rights Watch conducted a case study, supported by dozens of testimonies, in Congo and neighboring countries that documents civilian massacres over a long period of time. Mr. Campbell gave a slide presentation showing evidence gathered during part of his trip to Congo. He did not identify the sites shown in the presentation for fear of reprisals to the villagers who provided information to Human Rights Watch. Because the sites were far from previous investigations by human rights groups and far from areas of combat, efforts to eradicate evidence of massacres had either not been undertaken or not well sustained, thus allowing Mr. Campbell and his team to uncover more evidence of mass killings than in other regions. Mr. Campbell showed slides of skeletons with machete wounds on the skulls, skeletons strewn on the side of the road, and skeletons inside a well. From such evidence and interviews throughout Congo, the Human Rights Watch team reached the conclusion that the ADFL and RPA committed widespread killings of civilians and refugees. The military officers in charge during the massacres were often, reportedly, Rwandan (RPA). There have also been reports of U.S. military involvement in the area, but Human Rights Watch cannot corroborate them.
According to Mr. Campbell, allegations that the Congolese people do not care about Kabila's transgressions are only true at the most superficial level in the sense that most Congolese have to struggle just to survive. The Congolese who were willing to speak out against the killings worried about the lack of accountability Kabila displayed. They worried that Kabila would build a Congo based on lies, impunity, and human rights violations that would come back to haunt them.
Mr. Campbell emphasized the importance of the UN human rights investigating commissions. Thus far, Kabila has been able to stymie the UN and mandate changes of personnel on UN teams. If Kabila's impunity continues, the impact and efficacy of UN human rights mechanisms will be severely diluted as states will see no reason to cooperate with international organizations. Given the U.S. political support of Rwanda the last two years, Mr. Campbell hopes the United States will not let politics nurture a culture of impunity. He recommended that Congo cooperate fully with UN missions before official government aid flows to Congo; however, private and relief organizations should be encouraged to help the Congolese people.
Janet Fleischman lamented the fact that the recent killings in Congo have not sparked the same type of international response as the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In the aftermath of the latter genocide, for example, there was a general call for justice backed up by an international tribunal. Ms. Fleischman suggested that this existing tribunal could be expanded to include under its mandate Congo and Burundi. In her opinion, the U.S. government has not brought sufficient political pressure to bear on Rwandan leader General Paul Kagame to disclose fully the extent of Rwandan involvement in "cleaning up" the refugee camps. Further investigation and disclosures are needed regarding reports of U.S. military involvement.
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Click here to see the report What Kabila is Hiding: Civilian Killings and Impunity in Congo by Human Rights Watch Africa and Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme