During a visit to North and South-Kivu provinces in eastern DRC in November 1999, Amnesty International delegates gathered evidence of widespread, deliberate and arbitrary killings, "disappearances", arbitrary arrest and torture, occurring virtually on a daily basis.
"The civilian population in eastern DRC is suffering relentless human rights abuses. Neither the RCD and its allies nor the armed groups fighting them are making any attempt to spare civilian lives."
Thousands of Congolese civilians not party to the armed conflict are being brutally persecuted in the fight for control of political and economic power. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes as they flee the violence.
"Under the pretext of fighting their opponents, all parties to the conflict are killing, looting and extorting on a massive scale and subjecting the entire population to terror and misery."
Amnesty International has documented numerous massacres of unarmed civilians, especially in rural areas of North and South-Kivu, both by RCD troops and by armed groups including the Mayi-Mayi and the Rwandese interahamwe. For example:
- on 23 October 1999 at least 50 civilians were massacred by RCD troops in and around Kahungwe market, near Sange, in South Kivu, following a confrontation between RCD and Mayi-Mayi combatants. Many of the victims were shot dead as RCD soldiers fired indiscriminately at vehicles;
- RCD soldiers publicly killed at least 12 women accused of witchcraft in Mwenga, South-Kivu, between 15 and 20 October. Some of the women are reported to have been buried alive after being tortured and in some cases raped. Further killings of civilians by the RCD in Mwenga have been reported throughout December;
- in October 1999, at least four women were killed by Mayi-Mayi in Walungu, South Kivu, accused of helping RCD soldiers;
- Ugandan soldiers and their RCD allies are reported to have been involved in the killing of members of the Lendu ethnic group in Ituri district, in Province Orientale, following an outbreak of intercommunal violence between the Lendu and the Hema in June 1999. Armed Lendu have reportedly killed hundreds of Hema;
- As many as 300 people, many of them unarmed civilians, were killed in August 1999 during fighting between Rwandese and Ugandan troops in the northern town of Kisangani.
Many detainees had been tortured, whipped or beaten and female detainees raped. Some have reportedly been transferred to Rwanda, where several have "disappeared". In August 1999, a woman who had been detained in a truck container used by the RCD as a detention centre in Burhale, South-Kivu, died after failing to obtain medical treatment for wounds resulting from severe beatings.
Amnesty International has expressed its grave concerns about the human rights situation to RCD officials and the Rwandese Government. Both attempted to justify their role in the conflict by claiming that the threat posed by their opponents had to be countered, evoking the genocide perpetrated in Rwanda in 1994 by the interahamwe and violations committed by the forces of President Kabila.
"The vast majority of the victims of killings, torture and arbitrary arrest by the RCD are not members of these or any other armed groups," Amnesty International stressed. "Similarly, many of those targeted by the Mayi-Mayi or interahamwe are not RCD combatants".
Amnesty International urges all parties involved in the conflict -- including the forces of President Kabila -- to take every possible measure to spare the civilian population which is taking no part in the conflict and to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.
The current conflict in the DRC began in August 1998 when sections of the Congolese army, supported by troops from Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, launched a rebellion -- the RCD -- to overthrow President Kabila. The war has continued ever since, with troops from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola supporting President Kabila against the RCD and its allies.
In 1999 the RCD split into two factions -- one backed by Rwanda, the other by Uganda -- each controlling different regions in the east of the country. In July and August 1999, a ceasefire agreement was signed in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. However, the ceasefire appears to have had little or no impact on the ground. Violations of the ceasefire and grave human rights abuses by all sides have continued unabated.