The 566-page UN report
, DRC: Mapping human rights violations 1993-2003
, is not merely a clinical catalogue of violence committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003. It is a documentation of till how far human beings can go in committing inhuman acts.
After three mass graves were discovered by the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) in eastern DRC in late 2005, the United Nations woke up to the contention that it was the right time to map human rights violations. It had all this while turned a blind eye to reports of flagrant abuses of human rights when the violence was its peak. Nevertheless, it was a proactive gesture on part of the UN to an extent. Belated, albeit.
The actual mapping could begin only in the second half of 2008. After gruelling and meticulous work, the team of researchers have come out with a report that contains descriptions of 617 violent incidents that were heaped upon the people in the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003. The report in itself is not graphic. But browsing through it can still make one's stomach turn. It can make one throw up.
Between 1993 and 2003, the report tells us, sexual violence was a daily reality in the conflict zones. No woman in the path of the militias was spared ― the chief instrument of terror was sexual violence. Public rapes, gang rapes, systematic rapes, forced incest, sexual mutilation, disembowelling (in some cases of pregnant women), genital mutilation and cannibalism were used by armed groups against civilians. And all that with impunity. The world, after all, wasn't there to see. The world wasn't interested either.
The soldiers attempted to outdo each other in the cruel, inhuman and degrading acts. Often, there was a deliberate policy among the warring factions of spreading HIV/AIDS to as many women as possible so that they would, in turn, infect the rest of their community. Retreating armies often committed rapes of the civilian population in retaliation for their defeat. And conquering soldiers were offered rape as a reward after the capture of a town or a village. Women were frequently abducted, viewed as the spoils of war, and forced into sexual slavery.
The report notes, "Assailants often forced members of the same family to have incestuous sex, between mother and son, father and daughter, brother and sister, aunt and nephew, etc. Families were also forced to witness gang rapes of one of their members, most often their mother or sister(s). In South Kivu, the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) regularly raped women and girls. Arriving at a village by night, they would forcibly enter a house, order the husband to light a torch and then rape his wife in front of him and his children. They would then force the children to rape their mother or their sisters in front of the family. Some women were also raped by several soldiers in turn."
But then, this was nothing compared to what they did gratuitously with children. The sexual violence committed against children associated with armed forces and armed groups (the UN calls them CAAFAGs) were appalling. During their "enlistment", many of them had to perforce witness their mothers and sisters being raped.
The male child soldiers, called Kadogo ("little ones" in Swahili), were forced to commit acts of brutality, including rapes, to "toughen them up". Girls would be taken to them so that they could rape them in the presence of villagers and adult soldiers. If they refused, they would be shot dead. The girl child soldiers would have to act as sexual slaves.
Unfortunately, the UN report does not squarely fix the blame on individuals but does describe the role of all the main Congolese and foreign parties responsible - including military or armed groups from Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and Angola. A draft of the report had been leaked to the news media in August. The Rwandan government, whose soldiers have been accused of some of the most serious crimes documented, expectedly threw a fit, and threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of UN missions if the world body published the report. The UN report suggests that both Hutu DRC civilians and Rwandan Hutu refugees were killed by the Rwandan armed forces and various Congolese militias.
The UN poster boy of the late Nineties, Paul Kagame, has been clearly indicted in this report. His Rwandan troops have been accused of massacring Hutu refugees who had fled to neighbouring Zaire, now DRC, after the 1994 genocide of Tutsis and pro-peace Hutus that had left over 800,000 people dead. Kagame's forces ended the Tutsi war crimes and became a hero. But as in most African countries, he eventually became a tyrant too. Human rights violations and attacks on freedom of expression are rampant in today's Rwanda. The man who ended one genocide, today stands charged with having led a retaliatory one.
The mapping exercise by the UN team was conducted with the support of the Congolese government. But the judicial system in this country neither has the capacity nor can issue guarantees of independence to bring the accused to book. In other words, the chances of justice being denied is most likely. One might be surprised if justice prevails at all.
The perpetrators of the shocking DRC war crimes would well go scot-free. And a few years from now, we might be informed of another grave act of crime against humanity of untold proportions being executed on another hapless lot somewhere else. This is Africa, of course, where the lives of human beings is that of dirt. Where heroes of yesterday become tyrants of today. Where democracies frequently degenerate into dictatorships. And the world remains silent as it indirectly benefits from the pillage of Africa's natural resources.
Talking of international intervention is easy. The difficult part is accepting the brutalised people of many African countries as human beings first.