Amnesty urges action on UN's DR Congo report

1st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Two international rights group welcomed a UN report Friday casting blame for massacres and rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo but said action was now needed to ensure justice was served.

London-based Amnesty International called on the Rwandan government, whose army is accused of crimes tantamount to genocide, to bring those responsible to trial, while from New York, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for "strong regional and international action."

"The cycle of violence and abuses will only stop if those responsible for crimes under international law are held to account," said the London-based Amnesty's secretary general, Salil Shetty.

He added: "It is now up to the Congolese government -- with support of regional governments and donors -- to ensure the conclusions of the report are translated into concrete action.

"This means investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific crimes perpetrated in the DRC and awarding reparations to the victims."

Amnesty called for a Congolese-UN taskforce to be set up to develop a long-term plan to end impunity for the crimes committed over the two wars from 1993 to 2003, and also urged Kinshasa to bolster its justice system. HRW envisaged "a court with both Congolese and international personnel."

"Unless perpetrators are held criminally responsible and the truth about human rights abuses is established, peace and stability throughout the Great Lakes region will not be achieved," Shetty said.

"The time has come to identify and prosecute the people responsible for carrying out and ordering these atrocities, going right up the chain of command," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of HRW.

"Governments around the world remained silent when hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians were being slaughtered in Congo. They have a responsibility now to ensure that justice is done."

In its report, the United Nations said acts of genocide may have been committed in the DR Congo. The accusations were immediately rejected by Rwanda, whose troops were at the centre of the most serious claims.

Burundi, also targeted in the report, accused the United Nations of trying to destabilise the region, while Uganda threatened to withdraw its peacekeeping troops in Somalia. Angola dismissed the report as "insulting and provocative."

All these countries, along with Zimbabwe and Chad, had troops embroiled in the DR Congo's successive wars, which ended in 2003.

HRW pointed out that the use of the term "genocide" has "dominated media coverage of the report," and said that the terminology "should not overshadow the need to act (...) regardless of how the crimes are characterised."

"This is more than a historical report," Roth said. "Many of the patterns of abuse against civilians documented by the UN team continue in Congo today, fed by a culture of impunity. Creating a justice mechanism to address past and present crimes will be crucial to ending this cycle of impunity and violence."

Amnesty's Shetty pointed out how "recent reports of mass rapes in the Walikale region, eastern DRC, show all too clearly how vulnerable the civilians still are, and how the lack of investigation and prosecution of grave abuses against civilians send a signal that perpetrators can continue to act in complete impunity."

© 2010 AFP

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