DR Congo

DR Congo: Violence report criticised as "whitewash"

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By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA, May 24 (Reuters) - Congo opposition lawmakers and human rights campaigners on Thursday dismissed as a whitewash a parliament report on a government crackdown against opposition protesters in which more than 100 people were killed.

They said the report on the violence in western Bas-Congo province on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 was a setback for efforts to promote good governance in Democratic Republic of Congo, which last year held its first free elections in over four decades.

In the Bas-Congo incidents, soldiers and police were sent into action against members of Bundu Dia Kongo (BDK), an opposition-allied religious group, who were protesting against alleged fraud in regional governor polls.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last month its own inquiry showed Congolese soldiers shot dead dozens of unarmed civilians in the operation. Some were killed while praying.

The report by a Congolese parliamentary commission, seen by Reuters but not yet made public, said the government security forces acted against "an illegal group" which attacked them and committed murder, arson, looting, and rape.

"The report, as it was written, does not reflect the truth," Frank Diongo, an opposition MP who served as the commission's vice-president before resigning, told Reuters on Thursday.

"It suggested no punishment whatsoever, even though we know there were massacres of civilians," he added.

"To me this looks like a whitewash," said HRW's Anneke Van Woudenberg, who investigated for the rights group.

"Since when does spontaneous firing result in more than 100 dead? This is not a serious response. It seems intended to protect members of the army and government," she added.

The Bas-Congo violence was among the worst in the former Belgian colony since last year's elections. The polls were intended to crown a peace process after a 1998-2003 war and related humanitarian crisis which killed some 4 million people.

POLICE BEATEN TO DEATH

HRW's investigation did find that Bundu Dia Kongo supporters beat 10 police and military police officers to death with sticks and clubs. Group members also killed 2 civilians, it said.

But both the New York-based organisation and United Nations human rights investigators in Congo condemned the retaliation by security forces as excessive and disproportionate.

HRW was not allowed to present its findings to the National Assembly, Congo's lower house, despite initially receiving permission to do so by the body's leadership.

Parliament, dominated by allies of President Joseph Kabila, has voted to hold the debate on the parliamentary commission report behind closed doors.

Van Woudenberg said none of this boded well for future efforts to investigate government abuses.

"This, it was hoped by many, was to be the first real attempt to hold the government to account. And we're seeing that those hopes are now being dashed," she said.

During a visit to Congo last week, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, criticised this lack of openness in the probe into the Bas-Congo violence.

"This particular issue of an investigation into serious events that is not conducted in the public domain is very serious and not very encouraging," she said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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