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Remembering the Victims of Rwandan army in D.R. Congo

By Olivier Harerimana

London 26/11/2011 – Remembering Victims of RPF atrocities in Congo (ex-Zaire)

Olivier Harerimana - Speech "Remembering Victims of RPF Army in Congo"

Olivier Harerimana – Speech “Remembering Victims of RPF Army in Congo” – November 26, 2011.

After the horrific atrocities that shock my loved country Rwanda, from April 1994 and in the midst of a war that had just restarted, more than 2.5 millions of Rwandan population fled to neighbouring countries.

They fled to Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo which was called at the time Zaire. It is estimated that Zaire took around 2 million refugees, Tanzania 480,000, Burundi 200,000 and Uganda 10,000. (2005 by Institute for Environmental Security)

In these countries refugees settled in camps that were supported by international and national humanitarian agencies.

Today we are here to commemorate many among those refugees who can be put in 2 categories:

  1. Those who were systematically massacred by Rwandan troops
  2.  and those who died as result of hard lives, malnutrition, starvation and diseases.

Up to date it is estimated that around 500,000 Rwandan refugees died in Congo from October 1996. (MSF)

What happened to these refugees is now well documented and backed by a tremendous amount of evidence collected from witnesses who survived, from humanitarian agencies that operated in that region, from local residents and also from investigations led by the UN itself.

You would ask me, what happened?

In October 1996, the Rwandan government troops( APR) with a newly established Congolese rebel movement, attacked refugees camps in eastern Congo forcing many of them back to Rwanda but at the same time killing others. There were survivors who managed to flee inside the Congolese forest but they were pursued and killed.

Some of most known massacres occurred:
  • On the 20th October 1996 around a region called Katale, refugees leaving camps and those going to look for food in the camps were killed . (1998 UNHCR)
  • On the 24 October 1996 – Refugees were killed in Uvira. (Congo Wars myth & reality – African Studies – Commonwealth University)
  • Between the 25th and the 27th October 1996 refugee camps in Katale and Kibumba were attacked and more than 10,000 refugees were massacred. Survivors fled to Mugunga Camps and others were repatriated to Rwanda by force.   (MSF)
  • On the 15th November 1996 – Mugunga camps which was the world largest refugee camp at that time was attacked and over 50,000 refugees were killed, others forced to return to Rwanda but some fled in the forest. Those who arrived in Tingi-Tingi area fleeing massacres in east were attacked and killed between 28 February and 13 March 1997. (UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs: 21 Nov 1996)
  • Shabunda camps in South Kivu  which had seen a big increase of its inhabitant as result of refugees fleeing killings in Refugee camps of Kashusha and INERA, was attacked on the 5th February 1997 and around 10,000 refugees were massacred.  (The Massacre of Refugees in Congo: A Case of UN Peacekeeping Failure and International Law – The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 38, No. 2. (Jul., 2000), pp. 163-202)
  • On the 1st April 1997 – after WFP announced that 100,000 refugees were at 150Km from Kisangani, they were attacked and massacred.  Some of survivors were airlifted to Rwanda by humanitarian agencies.
  • On the 13th May 1997 massacres were committed by Rwandan troops in Mbandaka and Wendji. (UN Mapping report)

Survivors continued their fleeing journey until the end May 1997 when they arrived Congo-Brazzaville after a trip of 1,500 kilometres. (Forced Migration & Mortality 2001)

According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 340,000 refugees fled  hiding in the forests of Kivu,  fleeing west ahead of the advancing front line. Few thousands survivors are still in Congolese forest. (Forced Migration & Mortality 2001)

There are also the refugees who died as result of diseases.
Memorial for victims of Rwandan (RPF) army in D.R. Congo

Memorial for victims of Rwandan (RPF) army in D.R. Congo

Cholera was the main disease that killed so many.

The first case of cholera in Goma was diagnosed on 20th July 1994. This led to a major cholera outbreak of 58,000 to 80,000 cases within a month. The cholera outbreak was still active when an outbreak of bloody diarrhea, due to Shigella dysenteriae type 1, erupted in the first days of August and persisted in all the camps until November 1994. (Forced Migration & Mortality 2001)

These successive outbreaks contributed greatly to the unprecedented mortality rates observed during the first weeks of the emergency. A total of 48,347 dead bodies were buried between July 14 and August 14). (Forced Migration & Mortality 2001)

Although this might be an underestimation of the true figures (because of private burials), the estimate of 50,000 deaths occurring during the first month of the emergency has been generally accepted.

Later on, and except during a short period in the south of Kisangani, the humanitarian agencies had almost no access to these populations until they reached Congo-Brazzaville.

The population of Tingi Tingi was estimated at 80,000 persons, of which 12,000 (15 percent) were children under five years old (Nabeth, 1997). From December 18, 1996 to February 26, 1997, a total of 1,703 deaths were recorded by the surveillance system, of which 831 (48.8 percent) occurred among children under five. (Forced Migration & Mortality 2001)

By mid-May 1997, several hundred Rwandan refugees were identified in Congo-Brazzaville in a swampy area located 600 kilometres north of Brazzaville along the Oubangui River. They had settled in camps located in three villages: Loukoléla, Liranga, and Ndjoundou. It is estimated that in the first few month of their arrival the death rate caused by diseases and wounds was 5%.(Forced Migration & Mortality 2001)

Reports on massacres in Congo
Some of the above killings and massacres have been documented in a report called  DRC Mapping Exercise Report that has been released by The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR).

The Report documents “the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003”.

The report contains a detailed accounting of the breakup of Rwandan refugee camps in eastern Congo at the start of the First Congo war in October 1996, followed by the pursuit of hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees and Hutu population across the country’s vast hinterland by teams of Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda soldiers and their Congolese rebel collaborate, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo.

The apparently systematic nature of these violations suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of both first and second Congo wars or seen as equating to collateral damage. The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces.

Numerous serious attacks on the physical or psychological integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten.Very large numbers of victims were forced to flee and travel long distances to escape their pursuers, who were trying to kill them.

The hunt lasted for months, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of people subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading living conditions, without access to food or medication. On several occasions, the humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked, in particular in Orientale Province, depriving them of assistance essential to their survival.

The mapping report team noted that “The question of whether the numerous serious acts of violence committed against the Hutus (refugees and others) constitute crimes of genocide has attracted a significant degree of comment and to date remains unresolved. The report repeatedly stresses that this question can “only be decided by a court decision on the basis of evidence beyond all reasonable doubt. However, “the apparent systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterised as crimes of genocide.”

Some think that certain elements could cause a court to hesitate to decide on the existence of a genocidal plan, such as the fact that as of 15 November 1996, several tens of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees, many of whom had survived previous attacks, were repatriated to Rwanda with the help of the AFDL/APR authorities and that hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees were able to return to Rwanda with the consent of the Rwandan authorities prior to the start of the first war.

Whilst, in general, the killings did not spare women and children, it should be noted that in some places, at the beginning of the first war, Hutu women and children were in fact separated from the men, and only the men were subsequently killed.

Rwandan refugee killings had previously been recognised in The “Gersony Report“, name given to the 1994 findings made by a team under Robert Gersony, which was under contract to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and identified a pattern of massacres by the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels after their military victory in the civil war in post-genocide Rwanda. The findings were suppressed by the United Nations and involved governments for political reasons, and its existence was denied. No final written report was ever completed, though purported early written documentation has been leaked.

Call for Justice

Let us today remember all those ones who lost their lives in circumstances I described above, let us keep their memory alive by honouring them and more importantly let us promote peace, reconciliation, justice so that events like this never ever happen again.

Olivier Harerimana

Related:

Commemoration of 15th Anniversary of Rwandan refugees massacres in Congo

 

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