DR Congo

Ending Congo's nightmare - What the U.S. can do to promote peace in Central Africa

Originally published


The following report on the prospects for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was prepared by a delegation of human rights and peacekeeping experts from American non-governmental organizations that visited the DRC from July 25 to August 4, 2003. This visit was conducted with assistance from the International Human Rights Law Group and on-the-ground support from the United Nations Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC).

The delegation was led by former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck, who is currently CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation in Boston and author of Freedom on Fire: Human Rights Wars and America's Response (2003). The delegation also included Paul Simo, Africa Program Director at the International Human Rights Law Group where, since 1999, he has coordinated projects in the Great Lakes region of Africa that support indigenous civil society groups in monitoring, challenging, and advocating against human rights abuses; and William Durch, Senior Associate at The Henry L. Stimson Center, formerly Project Director for the Panel on U.N. Peace Operations (the "Brahimi Report"), and editor/coauthor of U.N. Peacekeeping, American Policy, and the Uncivil Wars of the 1990s (1996).

The delegation set out with three core objectives: First, to assess the capability of MONUC to take on a new, more robust role to support the DRC's transition to peace, in particular its prospects for reducing violence and human rights abuses in the eastern part of the country. Second, to assess the human rights situation and both the direct and indirect role of outside powers - especially Rwanda and Uganda - in inciting human rights abuses. Third, to make recommendations for strengthening the role of the international community, and particularly the United States, in promoting durable peace and security in the Congo.

During its 10-day mission, the delegation visited the capital city, Kinshasa, as well as Bukavu (South Kivu province), Bunia (Ituri district), and Kisangani (Orientale province). It held more than 40 meetings with officials of the new transition government, with the staff and leadership of the U.N. mission in Congo, with a cross-section of international NGOs, and with Congolese civil society groups. (A list of persons met and interviewed is annexed to this report).

Executive Summary

A devastating war has raged in Central Africa for almost a decade. The roots of this conflict can be traced back to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that spilled over into the Congo. Over the years, the conflict has been internationalized, drawing in many countries in the region and precipitating one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The war has claimed more than four million lives to date, including 800,000 in the Rwanda genocide and more than three million more in the Congo, according to estimates of the International Rescue Committee. A seemingly endless wave of attacks has been directed by governments, insurgent groups, ethnic extremists, and local warlords against each other and against the Congolese civilian population, who have been subjected to every conceivable crime against humanity, including mass killings, mass rapes, ethnic slaughter, forced starvation, village destruction, and the recruitment of armies of child soldiers.

In recent months, hopes have been raised that an internationally sponsored peace process may now have a chance of reducing and ultimately ending the Congo's 10 years of violent conflict. Positive developments have included the willingness of some of the warring factions to put down their arms and come together in a transition government, newly aggressive peacekeeping in the summer of 2003 by a European Union-led multinational force in northeastern Congo, and the deployment of an expanded United Nations peacekeeping operation.

To assess the prospects of ending the violence, a delegation of NGO experts in human rights and peacekeeping visited the DRC in late July and early August 2003. Following is a summary of the delegation's key findings and recommendations for strengthening U.S. and international support for the Congolese peace process.

Delegation Findings

  • The United States now has the opportunity to support human rights, democracy and open markets in central Africa's largest country as a power-sharing political transition tries to take hold. So far, however, the level and quality of U.S. engagement do not reflect these interests or the broader strategic interests of the United States in regional stability.

  • There are no geostrategic arguments against increased U.S. engagement in the final resolution of this conflict. There are, however, compelling security reasons for the United States to want to shut down terrorist and criminal networks access to the DRC, as well as moral reasons for helping the Congolese people free themselves from the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe that plagues them.

  • The U.N. mission in Congo (MONUC), is undergoing a significant transformation in its military capability, mandate, and geographic focus. These changes aim to consolidate the establishment of a transition government and curb violence that persists in eastern Congo, specifically in Ituri district and the Kivu provinces.

  • After four years of arduous negotiations, complicated by the persistence of armed conflict, the Congolese factions at war have established a transition government that constitutes a critical building block toward resolving the conflict in both its national and regional dimensions.

  • Congo's transition process is complicated by: widespread impunity for atrocities perpetrated during the war; the continuing violence - and prospect of violence - in Ituri and the Kivu provinces; the flow of arms and military support that sustains militias; and the continuing presence of Congolese and foreign armed groups, primarily in the east.

  • The progress achieved thus far in the peace process is the result of substantial international pressure on both Congolese and regional actors. The DRC's transition government is the product of internationally-mediated power-sharing (over political and military institutions) between warring factions. Despite foreign troop withdrawals, the client systems, loyalties, and alliances developed with Congolese rebel factions by Uganda and Rwanda complicate the prospects for peace. Consistent external support of the peace process from major international and regional states will be critical to its success. At present, the International Committee to Support the Transition (CIAT) is working to fulfill this role in the DRC.
Principal Recommendations
  • To assist the Congolese government in ending widespread impunity for atrocities, the U.N. Secretary General should establish a Commission of Experts (with Congolese participation) to recommend possible structures to investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity in Congo over a specified period of time. The Commission's recommedations, combined with active documentation and preservation of information on war crimes and crimes against humanity, should put all perpetrators on notice that they will be held to account for atrocities.

  • To reduce the flow of arms, curb violence, and curtail the role of DRC's neighbors in stoking the fires of conflict, the U.S. should work with other governments:

    1. To improve bilateral relations between the DRC transition government and each of its immediate neighbors;

    2. To monitor and curtail (especially in Ituri and the Kivus) the relationships between the neighboring states and rebel movements or militias in Congo; and

    3. To enforce the U.N. embargo on the flow of arms into the DRC. The U.S. should reinstate its own bilateral arms embargo on Rwanda, one of the sources of arms flows into DRC, and it should condition its bilateral assistance to Rwanda and Uganda on their ceasing to support armed militias in the DRC.

  • To demobilize and demilitarize Congolese and foreign fighters in DRC, the U.N. mission and the transition government should focus on the political, economic, and social re-integration of the leadership and the rank-and-file of armed groups, without which substantial demobilization is unlikely. Incentives to demobilize should be combined with strict sanctions for on-going recruitment of child soldiers. These may include investigations and prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

  • To promote accountable governance, the U.S. and other key donors should reinforce technical assistance that builds basic state capacity, and promote reform in the natural resource and mineral sectors. International donors should also support the engagement of Congolese civil society in policy and decision-making processes. They should use the development assistance they provide to leverage greater political space and freedoms that would allow the Congolese people to create demand-side pressure for accountable governance.

  • To provide international pressure for a successful transition, the U.S. and other bilateral donors, as well as the U.N. and multilateral aid agencies, should reinforce the International Committee to Support the Transition with a strategic framework of conditionality for the DRC government and neighboring states. The international community must compel leaders of the transition government to place political will behind the transition agenda, and hold Rwanda and Uganda to their commitments to support peace in Congo. A regime of individually-targeted sanctions should be developed and implemented by donor countries against Congolese political leaders and others who violate peace accords or continue participating in the plunder of Congo's resources.
© International Human Rights Law Group, October 2003

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