DR Congo

An urgent call for peaceful dialogue in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

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Published
Hate speech and communal violence have increased alarmingly in the provinces of North and South Kivu, located in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The violence is directed at Congolese Tutsis (known as the Banyamulenge). An estimated 150,000 Banyamulenge are now at imminent risk of violent attack by Mayi Mayi militias. Despite having made Congo their home for two hundred years, Congolese authorities have questioned the Banyamulenge's right to citizenship. The Banyamulenge citizenship question was a key issue in the 1996 war which brought Laurent Kabila to power. Now, Kabila's promotion of ethnic tension threatens to bring down the Lusaka Accords and to plunge Congo back into full-scale war.
Events are playing into Kabila's hands. The long-standing ethnic tensions in the Kivus have been exacerbated by the continuing Rwandan occupation and reported atrocities committed by their troops against the Congolese civilian population. There has also been a recent upsurge in violence directed against civilians by Mayi Mayi and Interahamwe militias. The dramatic increase in violence directed at civilians could not have occurred at a worse moment given exisiting humanitarian needs. Continued fighting throughout both provinces places six million people at risk. An estimated 450,000 internally displaced people in the Kivus have fled towards the perceived safety of Goma, Butembo, and other city centers seeking shelter from marauding militias. But these areas are far from secure. Recent militia attacks have taken place only a few kilometers outside city centers. If the major cities become insecure, humanitarian assitance to fleeing populations will become even more difficult. At present, most of South Kivu is inaccessible to humanitarian organizations. Continuing attacks by Mayi Mayi against the Banyamulenge would likely trigger a strong Rwandan response which could scuttle the foundering Lusaka Accords.

Feelings are running at fever pitch since rebel authorities, the Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Democratie (RCD), refused to permit the Archbishop of Bukavu, Monsignor Kataliko, to return to his diocese. Public reaction to the RCD action has been immediate. Strikes and public demonstrations shut down Bukavu for several days. Public sentiment against the Banyamulenge has turned ugly. Recently, a dog was killed and dragged through Bukavu behind a car with crowds shouting, "This is how you treat Tutsis!" There are rumors that the local Mayi Mayi militias, who enjoy broad public support, are reportedly planning pogroms against the Banyamulenge. The Banyamulenge have reportedly armed themselves, determined not to suffer the same fate as Rwandan Tutsis in 1994. The stage is set for a bloody confrontation which could potentially engulf the entire Great Lakes region. Neighboring Burundi is tottering on the edge of disaster, and Rwanda is far from stable six years after the genocide which took an estimated 800,000 lives.

Until late last year, several courageous efforts by civil society groups in South Kivu were beginning to show promise in bridging the gap between the Banyamulenge and other Congolese. Unfortunately, RCD authorities have arrested a number of civil society actors; some have been abused, and others forced to go into hiding.

The one component of civil society which retains the respect of the population, as well as the ability to significantly influence public attitudes, is the religious community. It is critical that religious leaders intervene now and call for a free and open dialogue among all parties.

In order to calm tensions in the Kivus and to avoid the catastrophic humanitarian suffering which would occur should inter-ethnic fighting erupt, RI recommends that:

The Religious Community in the Kivus

Work with Archbishop Kataliko of Bukavu to begin an immediate dialogue among all Congolese to reduce tensions and find non-violent means to resolve differences.

Discourage the use of hate speech and encourage peaceful dialogue and resolution of grievances.

Affirm the right of all Congolese to live in peace without fear of discrimination or repression.

RCD Authorities

Facilitate the immediate return of Archbishop Kataliko to Bukavu.

Affirm the right of Congolese civil society to operate freely and without fear of repression.

Invite external conflict resolution experts to assist Congolese civil society groups, churches, and RCD authorities to avert inter-ethnic conflict.

Investigate thoroughly and transparently reports of human rights abuses and actions against civil society, and punish those responsible.

The Diplomatic Community

Insist that RCD authorities allow civil society to operate freely and without repression.

Demand the humane treatment and immediate release of any members of civil society held by RCD authorities.

Publicly denounce the use of hate speech and call for the start of a peaceful dialogue in eastern DRC.

Call for complete adherence to the Lusaka Accords by all parties to the agreement and a halt to arms shipments to the Kivus.