Joint report of MONUC, ONUB & OHCHR into the Gatumba massacre (S/2004/821)

from UN Security Council
Published on 18 Oct 2004
I should like to refer to the presidential statement dated 15 August 2004 (S/PRST/2004/30), in which the Security Council requested my Special Representative for Burundi, in close contact with my Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to establish the facts and to report to the Security Council on the massacre of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo at Gatumba, Burundi, on 13 August 2004.

Further to the oral briefing on the preliminary findings of the investigation, which was provided by the Secretariat to the Security Council on 3 September 2004, I have the honour to transmit to you the joint report of the United Nations Operation in Burundi, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the events that occurred at Gatumba on 13 August 2004.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my grave concern about the crimes committed recently against innocent civilians in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the Security Council has noted in several of its resolutions and presidential statements, impunity must be brought to an end, and perpetrators of crimes such as the one described in the attached report must be brought to justice.

I should be grateful if you would make this letter and the report available to the members of the Security Council.

(Signed) Kofi A. Annan

Joint report of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
the United Nations Operation in Burundi and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights into the Gatumba massacre

5 October 2004

I. Introduction

1. On the night of 13 August 2004, a transit centre assisted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and housing Congolese refugees and Burundian returnees at Gatumba, Bujumbura Rural Province, Burundi, was brutally attacked by a large group of armed individuals. A total of 152 Congolese refugees from the Tutsi communities of South Kivu known as the Banyamulenge were killed, 106 were wounded and 8 remain missing. The refugees appeared to be targeted because of their ethnicity.

2. On 15 August, the Security Council called on the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General for Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to conduct an immediate joint investigation of the massacre.

3. On 14 August, an investigation was initiated by human rights officers from the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Burundi. A first report was ready in the afternoon of 14 August. Human rights officers from the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) joined on 16 August. The team was assisted by ONUB military observers.

4. In the course of its investigation, the team visited the site of the massacre at Gatumba and interviewed a cross-section of individuals, including survivors, witnesses, civilian and military authorities of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, representatives of UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, the diplomatic community and other relevant actors in Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo over the following two weeks. The preliminary report of the human rights investigation was sent to the Secretary-General on 27 August 2004.

5. After an oral briefing on 3 September, the Security Council requested ONUB and MONUC to continue the investigation to identify those responsible for the attack, and to submit a final report on the massacre. In response, the two missions formed a multidisciplinary team, supplementing the human rights officers and military observers with military officers, United Nations police, political and disarmament and demobilization officers, and continued the investigation in both the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

6. The present report reflects the findings of both the preliminary and the followup investigations.

II. Summary

7. The joint investigation by MONUC and ONUB into the events of 13 August was able to establish the basic facts of the massacre, such as the time and method of attack and the number and fate of the victims. However, despite extensive research in both Burundi and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations team was at this stage unable to conclusively identify who authored, financed or carried out the killings. Nevertheless, sufficient information was collected to warrant further investigation.

8. The team was able to conclude that the available evidence points to a Burundian rebel organization, the Parti pour la libération du peuple hutu - Forces nationales de libération (PALIPEHUTU-FNL), the only group to claim responsibility, as having probably participated in the massacre, but as being unlikely to have done so on its own. Evidence of the presence of other groups, largely produced by the testimony of survivors of the attack, was credible, but could not be independently confirmed by the United Nations team in its subsequent investigations.

9. The attack targeted Banyamulenge refugees from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo who had fled fighting there between army factions and armed groups in the region in June. The fighting had complex political causes related to the transitional process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

10. The Banyamulenge have long been perceived as pro-Rwanda by many actors in the region, even though the Banyamulenge participated on both sides of the fighting in June 2004, and many fled to Gatumba fearing reprisals. The Governments of Burundi and Rwanda, as well as the Munyamulenge Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, charged that the Gatumba refugees were killed by an alliance of anti-Tutsi groups based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo which may have included, depending upon the source, elements of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, members of a Rwandan Hutu rebel group partly composed of ex-forces armées rwandaises (FAR) and Interahamwe, and the Mayi-Mayi. The United Nations team investigated each claim and followed leads justifying further follow-up, but was unable to find conclusive evidence implicating any of those actors.

11. The massacre was committed at a critical moment in the peace processes in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi and threatened to scuttle both. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Burundi and Rwanda threatened to invade the Democratic Republic of the Congo to pursue the groups they believed responsible. It was exploited by extremist elements in the principal political parties in both countries to harden positions on power-sharing, demobilization, military restructuring and elections. Regional and international mediators, including some from ONUB and MONUC, have attempted since the massacre to help the two Governments to put the peace processes back on track. The political situation in both countries remains fragile.

12. The conclusions of this investigation reflect the United Nations team's evaluation of the evidence it collected in the month after the massacre. Much of the most useful evidence was lost because the scene of the massacre had been badly contaminated before the team arrived, while bodies of the victims were buried without forensic analysis. Nonetheless, the team collected sufficient information about this grave crime to recommend a thorough judicial inquiry at both the national level, led by the Government of Burundi with the full cooperation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and the international level, led by the International Criminal Court.

III. The massacre in its regional context

13. The Gatumba massacre occurred at a critical moment in international and regional efforts to establish stability, order and democratic institutions after 6 years of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 11 years of conflict in Burundi.

14. In Burundi, the Arusha Agreement of August 2000 provided for a three-year transition which began on 1 November 2001 and is scheduled to end on 31 October 2004 after the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of elections for a posttransition government. In November 2003, the Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie - Forces pour la défense de la démocratie (CNDD-FDD), one of two rebel groups refusing to end hostilities, signed a global ceasefire agreement and joined the Transitional Government, leaving Agathon Rwasa's FNL as the last rebel group outside the peace process.

15. The FNL leader, Agathon Rwasa, has consistently refused to join political negotiations with the Transitional Government, insisting that he would only negotiate with the real holders of power, the Tutsi political and military establishment. FNL refuses to negotiate within the established framework of the Arusha Agreement and claims to be the sole interlocutor with whom a powersharing agreement should be established.

16. FNL is a small force of approximately 1,500 fighters, operating primarily within Burundi, mainly in the Provinces of Bujumbura Rural and Bubanza (both bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the outskirts of Bujumbura. Its strategic position allows it to keep pressure on the civilian population of the capital. FNL forces remain in close proximity to the Forces armées burundaises (FAB), and prefer to ambush FAB units rather than engage in open battles. Combined FAB and CNDD-FDD forces had seriously weakened FNL in the months prior to Gatumba.

17. The massacre occurred at a time of intensive negotiations over power-sharing arrangements for the post-transitional period, the terms of a new constitution, and the timing of national elections. On a parallel track, the Burundian Armed Forces were also supposed to begin barracking their troops and integrating former rebel combatants into their ranks, and to accept the disarmament and demobilization of the majority of their soldiers.

18. The transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo began on 30 June 2003 with the participation of all of the signatories of the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement, signed in Pretoria in December 2002, but crucial security issues, particularly the integration of all former belligerent forces into a new national army, the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC), and the dismantlement of foreign armed groups, particularly the Rwandan rebels based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, remained unresolved.

19. Since 1993, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has been the crucible of the conflicts in the Great Lakes region. Massive outflows of refugees from Burundi and Rwanda in the 1990s further destabilized already fragile intercommunal relations. Congolese speakers of Rwandan languages, such as the Banyamulenge of South Kivu, often became the victims of Burundian and Rwandan armed groups. Targeted by some Kivu politicians as foreigners with no right to land, political office or positions of power, the Banyamulenge largely supported the Banyamulenge-led Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie - Goma (RCDGoma), whose forces regularly committed atrocities against civilian populations in the Kivus. The Banyamulenge thus became the principal enemy of the pro-Kinshasa community-based armed groups fighting RCD-Goma and the Rwandan occupation in the Kivus, known as the Mayi-Mayi.

20. Despite the signature of the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement and the beginning of the transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Kivu has remained the battleground for numerous armed groups. Community-based Mayi- Mayi allied to Kinshasa have been officially incorporated into the new FARDC chain of command structure but sometimes appear to act independently. Some of them collaborate with a Rwandan armed group, the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), often identified as ex-FAR or Interahamwe, even though the large majority did not participate in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In the Ruzizi plains, the Mayi-Mayi also interact with the Burundian FNL, who often cross the border to obtain supplies and escape from the Burundian army. A Banyamulenge armed group, led by Patrick Masunzu, opposing Rwanda and RCD-Goma and allied with Kinshasa, also controls a section of the Ruzizi plains and the highlands of Minembwe, and has been nominally integrated within FARDC.

21. The Bukavu crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in May and June 2004 was, among other factors, a result of the lack of progress in the transition and, in particular, the delays in military reform and integration. It slowly built up from February 2004. Tensions between Colonel Jules Mutebutsi, Deputy Military Regional Commander for South Kivu, and his Commanders (first Brigadier General Prosper Nabyolwa and then, since April 2004, General Mbuza Mabe, both representing the ex-Government component) started to rise after Mutebutsi, a Munyamulenge with RCD-Goma allegiance, rebelled against his commanding officers and retained control over several hundred troops.

22. The tensions in Bukavu took on a new dimension late in May and early in June when Jules Mutebutsi, allied with Laurent Nkunda, another dissident ex-RCD-Goma officer, captured Bukavu under the pretext of preventing a genocide against the Banyamulenge population. Under international pressure, Nkunda's troops finally withdrew northwards on 6 June, while Mutebutsi's troops withdrew south towards Kamanyola on 8 June. The following morning, FARDC, whose strength had been augmented through reinforcements from the western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were able to re-enter Bukavu.

23. All sides, including FARDC troops as they entered Bukavu on 9 June, looted and abused civilians and, in some instances, raped women and girls. Banyamulenge civilians were one of the prime targets of the violence, prompting them to flee from Bukavu and Uvira in fear of FARDC reprisals after the withdrawal of Nkunda and Mutebutsi. Those refugees ended up in Gatumba.

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