DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
Head of state and government: Joseph Kabila
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: ratified
Presidential and legislative elections held in July and October offered some hope that the fragile peace might be strengthened, but several armed factions remained suspicious of or openly hostile to the peace process.
The election period was marked by numerous human rights violations including enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, ethnic violence, excessive use of force by the security forces to break up political protests, and restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The announcement of the results of the first round of presidential elections on 20 August triggered street battles in the capital, Kinshasa, between soldiers loyal to transitional President Joseph Kabila and supporters of Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, in which 23 people were killed.
More than 1.6 million people were internally displaced, while 410,000 were living as refugees in neighbouring countries. The volatile security situation continued to limit humanitarian access to many areas of eastern DRC. Security in the east and in Kinshasa remained dependent to a large extent on the overstretched UN peacekeeping force, MONUC, which comprised around 17,000 personnel at the year's end. MONUC was reinforced by a European Union military rapid reaction force (EUFor) which was deployed in Kinshasa for the period of the elections and was withdrawn by the end of the year.
Despite a UN arms embargo, small arms continued to proliferate. The government was itself accused of a major violation of the embargo in July, for failing to notify the UN of the import of a shipment of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and quantities of ammunition through the port of Matadi.
Security sector reform
One of the transitional government's major priorities was to dismantle the myriad armed forces in the country. This process, which began in 2004, involved disarming all former government soldiers and armed group fighters and offering them demobilization or enrolment into the unified national army, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, FARDC). However, both the army integration process and the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes suffered delays, serious logistical, technical and management difficulties, and a lack of full political support. As a result, the programmes were still only partly complete by the end of the year. Other areas of security sector reform, including the integration of the national police force, remained behind schedule and largely unimplemented.
The army integration programme had serious shortcomings, failing to tackle parallel chains of command and to exclude alleged perpetrators of grave human rights abuses from FARDC ranks. It did not include training for all FARDC soldiers in international humanitarian and human rights law. The devastation of the socio-economic and humanitarian environment posed a huge challenge to efforts to reintegrate former fighters into civilian life. Many former combatants remained without promised government financial support or community-based employment projects for long periods after demobilization. Disgruntled former fighters were a threat to security in many areas of the country.
FARDC forces were responsible for the majority of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law reported during 2006, including unlawful killings, rapes, acts of torture, enforced disappearances, illegal detentions and looting. FARDC units failed to protect civilians from attack by armed groups. Poor living conditions for troops and inadequate payment of salaries contributed to FARDC ill-discipline.
Congolese armed groups opposed to the peace process and to integration in the FARDC were also responsible for numerous grave human rights abuses in the provinces of North- and South-Kivu, Katanga and Orientale (Ituri). The human rights abuses, some of which appeared to be ethnically motivated, included rapes, unlawful killings and torture. Some appeared to be war crimes. Foreign armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, FDLR), and other Burundian and Ugandan armed groups also continued to be active on Congolese territory and to commit serious abuses.
• In January, soldiers of an FARDC integrated brigade shot dead seven people, including two infants, at a church in the village of Nyata in the district of Ituri.
• In January, forces of Laurent Nkunda's armed group, opposed to the government and composed mainly of Kinyarwanda-speaking fighters, launched attacks against government forces and civilian centres in North-Kivu province. They allegedly committed numerous unlawful killings and raped scores of women from non- Kinyarwanda-speaking communities.
• In August, FDLR forces ambushed, killed and robbed four civilians in Kahuzi-Biega, South-Kivu. A number of abductions of women and girls by FDLR combatants were also reported.
Several thousand children were either still associated with armed forces or armed groups or had not entered the DDR programme and were not accounted for. In areas of eastern DRC where insecurity persisted, children continued to be recruited, including some who had only recently been demobilized. Some children were forcibly recruited and others were forced to rejoin armed groups because the government had not provided them with meaningful support once returned to their communities. The majority of children released and reunited with their communities were poorly supported and protected on their return to civilian life, and were not given adequate educational or vocational opportunities. There was no mechanism to ensure their protection once returned to their communities and many children remained at risk of being recruited again.
• In June, six former child soldiers who were being reunified with their families by an international non-governmental organization were abducted in Kabalekasha, North-Kivu, by heavily armed fighters. They were taken to a military camp where they were held in a pit in the ground. A pregnant woman accompanying the children was beaten. They were later released, but three of the children were subsequently targeted once more by fighters and badly beaten.
Violence against women and girls
Rape of women and girls by government security forces or armed groups remained widespread in all areas of the DRC. Few women had access to adequate medical treatment for consequent injuries or illnesses. Women and girls who had been raped also suffered widespread social discrimination and rejection by their families and communities.
Thousands of girl child soldiers who should have entered the national DDR programme were not accounted for. Many had been forcibly recruited and used as sex slaves by adult fighters. Many commanders and fighters resisted releasing the girls, considering them as their sexual possessions. Other girls, fearing further discrimination and social exclusion, avoided entry into the DDR programme. There was no systematic government effort to trace these missing girls or to offer them appropriate demobilization and reintegration support.
• In August, agents of the Congolese National Police (Police Nationale Congolaise, PNC), reportedly raped 37 women and girls from the village of Bolongo-Loka, Equateur province, and subjected other villagers to acts of ill-treatment and torture. The military authorities later arrested nine individuals, including seven PNC agents. They had not been brought to trial by the year's end.
Torture and ill-treatment
Acts of torture and ill-treatment, committed by government security services and armed groups, were routinely reported across the country. Arbitrary arrests, illegal detention, including incommunicado and secret detention (sometimes amounting to enforced disappearance) and prolonged detention without trial remained commonplace. Extremely harsh conditions were reported in most detention centres and prisons, in many cases amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
• In August, 84 people, mainly fishermen but including women and children, from N'galiema commune in Kinshasa were detained by members of the Republican Guard , a military force under the command of President Joseph Kabila. They were accused of being "rebels" loyal to Joseph Kabila's electoral rival, Jean-Pierre Bemba. They were forced to strip naked and subjected to sustained beatings. A number of them were reportedly tortured in other ways. They were then placed in a confined cell and held for 48 hours without food. They were later released without charge.
Attacks on human rights defenders
Human rights defenders continued to receive anonymous death threats and were routinely harassed by the authorities.
• In April, Hubert Tshiswaka, director of Action against Impunity for Human Rights (Action contre l'impunité pour les droits humains, ACIDH) in Lubumbashi, Katanga province, was threatened with death. The perpetrators were reportedly representatives of the Union of Congolese Nationalists and Federalists (Union nationale des fédéralistes du Congo, UNAFEC) a political party led by the then Minister of Justice. The threats followed ACIDH public statements urging voters to elect politicians based on their human rights record and calling for the dissolution of violent youth wings of political parties.
Some perpetrators of human rights abuses were brought to justice. However, impunity persisted in the majority of cases and the government awarded certain armed group leaders command positions in the FARDC, despite well-founded allegations against them of serious human rights abuses. These included Peter Karim and Mathieu Ngodjolo, commanders of two Ituri armed groups who were appointed as colonels in the FARDC in October. Their forces were granted so-called amnesties.
Rehabilitation and reform of the DRC's civilian judicial system, enabling it to investigate past and present human rights abuses in a competent, independent and impartial manner, remained very slow.
• In April, seven FARDC soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of crimes against humanity, including the rape of 119 women in Equateur province in December 2003.
• In August Yves Panga Mandro Kahwa, leader of an armed group in Ituri, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for crimes against humanity.
Another armed group leader, Kyungu Mutanga, known as Gédéon, leader of a mayi-mayi armed group in northern Katanga province, surrendered to the authorities in May after committing atrocities, including unlawful killings, rape and torture, in the region. By the end of the year he had not been charged or tried.
Unfair trials and death sentences
Unfair trials continued to take place and death sentences continued to be passed, the vast majority by military tribunals. No state executions were reported, although at least one summary execution by the military was recorded.
• In June, after an unfair and summary trial, a military tribunal in Kinshasa imposed long prison sentences on evangelical church leader Pasteur Fernando Kutino, his colleague, Pasteur Timothée Bompere Mboo, and a third man, Junior Nganda. The arrests and trials appeared to be politically motivated.
In March, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, leader of an Ituri armed group, the Union of Congolese Patriots (Union des Patriotes Congolais, UPC), was arrested and transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Thomas Lubanga was formally charged in August with committing war crimes, namely the recruitment and use in hostilities of children aged under 15. Pre-trial hearings to confirm the charges against him began on 8 November. Thomas Lubanga was the first person to be arrested by the ICC.
AI country reports/visits
• Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Kinshasa must meet its responsibility to protect civilians
(AI Index: AFR 62/003/2006)
• Open letter to DRC parliamentarians on legislation implementing the Rome Statute (AI Index: AFR 62/004/2006)
• Democratic Republic of the Congo: Time to end threats against human rights defenders (AI Index: AFR 62/006/2006)
• Democratic Republic of the Congo: International Criminal Court's first arrest must be followed by others throughout the country (AI Index: AFR 62/008/2006)
• Democratic Republic of the Congo: Acts of political repression on the increase (AI Index: AFR 62/014/2006)
• Democratic Republic of the Congo: Elections are a chance to embrace human rights reform (AI Index: AFR 62/015/2006)
• Democratic Republic of the Congo: Children at war - creating hope for their future (AI Index: AFR 62/017/2006)
• In February and March, AI delegates visited various provinces in eastern DRC and Kinshasa.