Hundreds of human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo are laid bare in a new, controversial United Nations report.
The report documents the most serious abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law in the central African country between 1993 and 2003. It also picks up on the many failings of the country’s legal system, which has so far not brought the perpetrators to justice.
The document, released on Friday, spans one of the most tragic chapters in the Congo’s recent history. Tens of thousands of people were killed and many others raped, mutilated or abused in the former Zaire, during that decade, which was marked by a string of conflicts that led to the deaths of millions of people.
"No report can adequately describe the horrors experienced by the civilian population... where almost every single individual has an experience to narrate of suffering and loss," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in the introduction.
Twenty –one armed Congolese gangs were involved in serious human rights violations, the report said. Rape was used systematically as a weapon against ordinary people and at least 30,000 children were forced to fight, including by government troops.
“The cycle of violence and abuses will only stop if those responsible for crimes under international law are held to account” said human rights group, Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty. "The publication of this report should be the beginning of a process to ensure accountability in the Great Lakes region and not the end of it"
“It is now up to the Congolese government - with support of regional governments and donors - to ensure the conclusions of the report are translated into concrete action. This means investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the horrific crimes perpetrated in the DRC and awarding reparations to the victims.”
The report’s release was delayed by a month to let neighbouring countries involved in fighting in the Congo, whose troops are alleged to have had a hand in the atrocities, comment.
Rwanda threatened to pull its peacekeepers out of African hotspots after a leaked version of the report it said was ’flawed’ suggested Rwandan forces were involved in the genocide.
It is now up to the courts to decide whether the violence against Hutus amounts to the crime of genocide, said the report.
Amnesty called on the Congolese government and international community to set up an independent, working justice system.