(Refiles to add link to U.N. report)
By Katrina Manson
KINSHASA, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Rights activists are calling on
Democratic Republic of Congo to ensure justice for victims of
atrocities cited in a United Nations' report or see their
grievances poison an already dire security situation.
The report published on Friday charts massacres from
1993-2003 that it says may amount to "genocide" if proven in a
competent court, and urges Congo to seek to prosecute
perpetrators, whether they come from Congo or its neighbours.
"Impunity is only sending a signal to people that they can
do whatever they want," Veronique Aubert, deputy Africa director
at Amnesty International, told Reuters.
"The only way to bring stability to the country and the
region is for people to be brought to justice," she said of
crimes committed during a period that saw the fall of dictator
Mobutu Sese Seko and a conflict involving six foreign armies.
The report notes 617 violent incidents including "systematic
massacre" and examples of Rwandan soldiers deliberately hunting
down Rwandan Hutu refugees who were promised a return home but
were instead smashed to death with hammers.
The number of victims runs into the tens of thousands. Mass
rape, cutting children into pieces and burning alive feature
throughout the 10 years studied. Women were forced to eat their
own breasts, a husband his own ear fried by his wife.
"We're asking the state to deal with the needs of victims,"
said Raphael Wakenge, president of local NGO Congolese Coalition
for Transitional Justice, which wants a mixed chamber of
national and international judges to try the cases.
PEACE OR JUSTICE?
Some argue that the report, which took years to research and
prepare for release, is simply too late and could inflame
regional tensions just as they were thawing enough to offer the
prospect of lasting security.
Rwanda threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from Darfur
in protest at the "genocide" label. While it tentatively agreed
to leave them there, it remains angry as do other nations cited
in the report such as Burundi, Angola and Uganda.
"It's opening up old wounds," Uganda's ambassador to Congo
James Kinobe told Reuters.
"Do the people of Congo most need justice or peace right
now? Most important for Congo is complete total peace," he said
of violence in eastern Congo which still has a regional flavour
with regular attacks by a variety of Ugandan and Rwandan rebels.
Some argue the war is too sensitive an issue for Congo
itself to examine, given the direct involvement of a number of
powerful figures in present-day Congolese politics in the
fighting that first ousted Mobutu in 1997.
"I don't see it in the interests of (President Joseph)
Kabila to have any serious transitional justice," said a western
Post-conflict countries such as Rwanda, South Africa and
Sierra Leone have all had a chance to make public victims'
stories, seek legal redress and punish perpetrators, but
previous attempts in Congo have all fallen short.
Congo's four-year year Truth and Reconciliation Commission
ran until until 2007, but was judged "severely flawed" by the
International Center for Transitional Justice, a New York-based
organisation working on redress of human rights abuses.
Donors and activists are concerned that Congo's weak justice
system will not be able to deliver results without international
participation as well as funding.
Congo has already said it would prefer a domestic legal
solution rather than a hybrid court such as that of Sierra
Leone's UN-backed Special Court or to try crimes under the
International Criminal Court, which tries crimes committed only
after July 1, 2002. But it has not ruled out outside support.
"No one has a clear idea what should happen next, but we
would support a legal mechanism if it had enough guarantees and
expertise for a transparent process," said the western diplomat.
It is clear the impact and cost of the past rankles with
Congo, however, which is this week putting in a confidential
request for $23.5 billion in damages and reparations from
Uganda, charted in documents seen by Reuters, as part of a case
overseen by the UN's International Court of Justice.
"Most people are still at liberty, or even in power -- we
want everyone cited in the report to be vetted," said Raphael
Wakenge. "We want a state where rights count."
(For the report, go to http://link.reuters.com/sud56p )
(Editing by Mark John; email@example.com; Dakar
Newsroom +221 33 864 5076)
(For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the
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