Ituri’s Plight: Regional Interference, Congo’s Plight: Impunity: Part 2: Lessons from Ituri’s Recent History


The purpose of recounting this history is not only to inform the reader, but also to illustrate two important concepts.  The tragedy in Ituri was not a solely a case of ‘tribal’ or interethnic conflict.  While it is true this came to play a role in the sustained fighting and reprisal killings, it was not the initial cause.  Ugandan and Rwandan officials exploited ethnic differences and enabled the Hema/Gregere and the Lendu/Ngiti to solve their differences with violence.  The climate of war they created made it easy for the perpetrators to justify committing mass reprisal killings of innocent civilians as a part of their counterinsurgency operations, setting in motion a pendulum of violence between the opposing combatants.1  Ultimately though, Ituri’s ethnic, linguistic, and cultural differences were exploited by Uganda and Rwanda in order to pit rival militias against each other, clear out the native populations in the resource-rich areas (due to displacement from the fighting), and gain access to the DRC’s natural resources for self-enrichment and to finance their own military exploits in the DRC.  By 2002, Rwanda and Uganda also used their respective proxy militias in Ituri to engage in a war against each other.  Thus, the first important concept to note is regional interference.

 

Regional interference is the real root cause of the war in Ituri, not ‘tribal,’ cultural, or ethnic differences.  If the 2nd Congo War had not occurred, and soldiers from Uganda and Rwanda had not illegally occupied Ituri, I hypothesize that the violence would never have reached the horrific intensity that it did.  It is even quite possible that large-scale massacres may not have occurred at all.  Unfortunately, we will never know, and that makes what happened in Ituri all the more tragic.

 

It stands to reason that if regional interference in the DRC can be stopped, then future violence can be preemptively avoided.  There are numerous measures that can be employed to prevent regional interference, including arms embargoes, travel bans, creative economic sanctions, exclusion from regional political and economic bodies, etc., but perhaps the most elementary way to prevent regional interference is to provide justice for the victims of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity, and/or terrorism through a fair and impartial court system founded on the rule of law.  The basic purpose is to provide a system of lawful sanctions to act as a deterrent and discourage people from committing crimes.  However, the system only works if the judicial bodies demonstrate the will to prosecute all crimes, and do so fairly.

 

This leads to the second important concept: impunity.  Human rights groups, activists, Congolese Civil Society, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious organizations, and many other humanitarian voices have called for an end to impunity for the perpetrators of crimes in the DRC.  MONUC and the Congolese Government have already demonstrated clear-cut cases of impunity.  They have granted amnesty to several individuals accused of perpetrating crimes against humanity and/or war crimes in Ituri and integrated them into the FARDC with high-ranking positions, including Commander Kakwavu.2

 

MONUC, the U.N., and Congolese Government would likely reply that it was necessary to grant them amnesty in order to get their respective militias to disarm voluntarily instead of having to use force.  In other words, amnesty is their incentive to disarm.  However, the idea was not put forward to the Congolese people for approval prior to implementation, and the armed groups now have a tangible precedent to believe that they can receive amnesty if they possess enough military and/or political influence when they go to the negotiating table, no matter how grave their crimes.  Will this mentality breed more violence in the future?

 

Still, in the context of Africa, there are some reasons for hope.  Last year, after concluding investigations, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Thomas Lubanga, who was still being held at a prison in Kinshasa.  In March 2007, the Congolese Government, who ratified the ICC’s Rome Statute, executed the warrant and transferred Mr. Lubanga to The Hague, Holland for a hearing.  This historic event will culminate in the opening of his trial at the end of March 2008.

 

In October 2007, partly to avoid claims of ethnic bias, Germain Katanga, the former leader of an Ngiti militia, the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri (FRPI), was transferred to The Hague for trial at the ICC.  The Congolese Government also transferred Mr. Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui (a Lendu commander in the National Integrationist Front [FNI], FPRI, and the Congolese Revolutionary Movement [MRC]) to The Hague to face charges.  The ICC recently announced that they are beginning an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the North Kivu Province.  Interestingly, in this particular case (unlike their investigation in Ituri), the ICC appears to understand the necessary scope of the investigation.  They stated that “supporters” and “backers” of the militias in North Kivu will be scrutinized in addition to the local players.3  However, it remains to be seen if the ICC judicial system will follow through.  There is also an ongoing investigation into Senator Bemba and the ALC’s actions in relation to their intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR) in 2002.  Hopefully, these events signal the beginning of a positive trend towards justice and an end to impunity and others who committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity will be brought to trial. 

 

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial branch of the U.N., fined the Ugandan Government up to $10 billion dollars (U.S.) for their occupation and looting of the DRC,4 while charges against Rwanda at the same court have lead to nothing despite the public availability of numerous U.N. and human rights groups’ reports detailing crimes and mineral plundering by the RPA and its RCD-G/ANC proxy.  The ICJ provides a legal forum for states to settle their disputes within the context of the U.N. charter, but it does not allow for individuals within a state to be prosecuted.  Thus, so far, not a single individual from Rwanda, Uganda, or any of the other countries that were involved in the illegal smuggling of natural resources, gun running, and/or militia training in Ituri have been brought to trial in an international court.  Additionally, the ICJ has jurisdiction limitations in interstate disputes.

 

There are also difficulties stemming from the fact that the state is punished as a whole and those guilty of crimes are not addressed individually.  This is particularly troublesome in low per capita income countries like Uganda and Rwanda.  Using the Uganda-DRC ICJ case as a hypothetical example; imagine that Uganda is actually forced to pay the full $10 billion dollar fine or even $5 billion of it.  Where is the Ugandan Government going to get the money to pay that kind of debt?  Increased taxes?  Reduced spending on social programs?  More foreign investment?  The closure of public schools and state-owned universities?  Loans with heavy strings attached?  The lay-off of government workers?  Are the political elites just going to give up that kind of money or take it from their own coffers?  The population at large that is chiefly comprised of innocent, lower-class people who had nothing to do with the crimes the state and its military were prosecuted for, could end up paying a heavy price that could also be suffered by future generations.  The economic instability it could create may pave the way for future social unrest that could lead to more violence.  It would seem that a more creative solution is needed.

 

While the upcoming trials at the ICC and the ICJ verdict are both potentially positive developments, they are clearly not enough to end impunity.  Not only must the Congolese natives (like Mr. Lubanga and Mr. Katanga) involved in crimes against humanity and/or war crimes be brought to justice, but for impunity to end, all those who enabled them to wage their bloody wars and commit crimes must also be brought to justice.5  As an arbitrary example, in the case of Mr. Thomas Lubanga, the Rwandan and Ugandan officials who aided him in any way and/or armed him should also have to answer for their actions.

 

The ICC has the ability to try cases against Ugandan officials because Uganda has ratified the Rome Statute.  However, Rwanda has failed to sign and ratify it as of this writing and thus is not bound to respond to an ICC court summons issued for any of its foreign nationals.  Also noteworthy is the fact that the United States (U.S.) has not ratified it either.6  The ICC itself does not have the ability to force extraditions, but it can refer the cases to Interpol if their court summons is ignored.  The U.N. has not shown any interest thus far in setting up a special tribunal for Ituri and it might be difficult for them to raise enough money from the member states to fund another U.N.-sponsored tribunal, however, such an ad hoc court could be able to try Rwandan nationals if it were included in the mandate.

 

The political will of the international community, including the U.N., U.S., and the E.U., will be the determining factor whether justice and freedom or impunity and uncertainty will reign.  If there is a collective political will to exact justice, it is possible to bring even the highest-ranking officials to justice.  In fact, it is not only possible, it has already been done.  Consider the case of Mr. Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor, the former president of Liberia.  He is accused of committing numerous crimes against humanity and war crimes in both his native Liberia and in Sierra Leone, where he is accused of sponsoring a devastating war.  On 16 January 2002, the U.N. and the Sierra Leonean Government created a special court to try war criminals from the Sierra Leone war (1991-2002)7 and (then) President Taylor was brought up on numerous charges while he was a sitting head of state.  Dr. David Crane, an American who was the Assistant General Counsel for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 1996-1997 and a professor at the U.S. International and Operational Law Department at the Judge Advocate General (JAG) School from 1993-1996, was appointed Chief Prosecutor of the tribunal, a position he held until 2005.8

 

In 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush took a surprising action.  He personally called for President Taylor to resign his position and leave Liberia for the sake of peace in the region.9  Taylor resisted, so a few months after President Bush’s demand, the U.S. Congress collaboratively passed a bill that put a $2 million dollar (U.S.) bounty out for Mr. Taylor’s capture, effectively encouraging mercenaries across Africa to forcibly extract him from his exile in Nigeria.10  To top that off, Interpol placed him on its “Most Wanted” list and suggested other countries have an international right to arrest him by issuing a “red notice.”11 

 

In 2004, Liberia’s new President-elect Ellen Johnson Sirleaf issued an official request to the Nigerian Government for Taylor’s extradition, which they approved.  Realizing his capture was imminent, Taylor tried to flee Nigeria.  Unfortunately for him, he was arrested on the Nigeria-Cameroon border and handed over to Liberian authorities.  The U.N. feared he still held too much power and influence in the region and wanted to move his trial out of Sierra Leone in case someone was going to try and spring him free.  Since both Liberia and Sierra Leone have ratified the Rome Statute, the ICC agreed to host his trial and Britain agreed to imprison him if he is found guilty.  U.N. Security Council Resolution 1688 was passed and approved his transfer to The Hague from Freetown, Sierra Leone.  His trial opened on 7 January 2008 and is ongoing as of this writing.

 

As Mr. Taylor’s clearly case shows, if there is an international will to promote justice, even a sitting head of state can be brought to trial.  If an indicted head of state has immunity from prosecution, political pressure can be put on that state and its political institutions to push for the head of state’s resignation so that they can be prosecuted (like President Bush did to Charles Taylor) or to have their immunity revoked through a constitutional amendment (if possible) or a constitutional vote (if one exists), like the Congolese National Assembly may do to Senator Bemba.

 

Mr. Taylor’s case also demonstrates the effective and efficient level of cooperation that can be achieved between the various international bodies, the courts, international judicial systems, and state government institutions to bring an indicted suspect to trial if there is a collective political will to do so.  Indeed, it was the collaboration of the member nations of the U.N. Security Council that ultimately approved Mr. Taylor’s transfer to The Hague.  There is no ethical humanitarian reason why the same cannot be done for the regional backers of the Hema/Gegere and Lendu/Ngiti militias in Ituri. 

 

In stark contrast to Mr. Taylor’s example, there are many instances of blatant impunity in international justice, where collaboration and initiative are absent.  As one important example: 2 Rwandan military officers explicitly named in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report as the operational military commanders of the 2002 FPLC/FAPC offensive on Mongbwalu are also indicted in French anti-terrorist Judge Jean-Louis Brugière’s investigative report of November 2006 as perpetrators in the plot that assassinated Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira on 6 April 1994, an event that triggered the Rwandan Genocide.12  Those same 2 individuals are also named in an arrest warrant from the Spanish National Court for their alleged involvement in the murder of 9 Spanish clergy in Rwanda during the period from 1994-2000.13  In all 3 of these cases, lengthy investigations were carried out prior to the issuance of the documentation.  Why is it then that there is no international call for justice in this particular real-life example despite the documentation?  Why is there no collective political will to act against the regional offenders in the DRC?

 

While bringing the native Congolese perpetrators of the tragedy in Ituri to trial may help usher in a semblance of justice, ignoring the regional players who enabled them to commit those crimes sets a poor precedent for international “justice” and the international community.  It demonstrates another case of “selective justice,” where what is just must also be politically correct for any meaningful action to take place.  In this scenario, the ICC, ICJ, and future ad hoc courts created in the template of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) are governed by “victor’s justice,” where the “winning” side in an armed and/or propaganda struggle gets the opportunity to exact ‘justice’ on their defeated opponent (s) through an international court system while their own war crimes and crimes against humanity are ignored and thus those perpetrators are given de facto immunity.  In this situation, the international courts become a political tool rather than an impartial forum founded on human rights, justice, and a fair rule of law.

 

We must never forget that the wars in the DRC destabilized the entire Great Lakes region of Africa and consumed more innocent human lives than any armed conflict since World War II.14  Though the 2nd Congo War officially ended in 2003 with the Sun City Final Act, it still rages on unofficially in the Kivus (particularly North Kivu) and small pockets of Ituri.  The current fighting going on involves the same regional players enabling proxy forces to carry out a war for their own gains.  The human toll is absolutely staggering and unless these enabling regional powers are seriously addressed by the international court systems and the international community soon, prospects for lasting peace in the region will remain very limited.  But it does not have to be this way.  Trying the individuals who enabled the militias in Ituri to commit crimes against humanity and war crimes will set a positive precedent for justice, peace, and freedom, not only in Ituri, but in the entire Great Lakes region.  Ending impunity will demonstrate to the perpetrators and their backers that their crimes will be sanctioned and they will have to answer for them and face very real consequences, providing a deterrent for further criminal activity.

 

In closing, I would like to make a humble appeal to activist readers and implore you to advocate for an end to impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, illegal mineral smuggling, and war crimes in the DRC.  The end to impunity must also be extended to anyone who in any way enabled and/or aided the perpetrators committing the crimes.  For activists familiar with Darfur, please allow me to make an analogy.  Trying the Congolese leaders of the Hema/Gregere and Lendu/Ngiti militias in Ituri, but not the Ugandans and Rwandans that armed, trained, and enabled them, is analogous in principle to arresting and trying the leaders of the janjaweed militias that are backed by the Khartoum Government while ignoring the officials in that government who aided them.

 

Perhaps there is no political will in the international community because the perpetrators of these crimes belong to client states of the individual countries that are in the best position to alleviate the DRC’s suffering.  Some of these states enjoy a powerful standing in the U.N. Security Council and other international organizations, where their influence can be wielded to protect their geopolitical interests.  Therefore, it is incumbent upon activists who value human rights, justice, and freedom to generate the political will through pluralism and activism. 

 

American writer and activist Henry David Thoreau wrote in his famous book “Walden” that, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”  If there is to be peace and freedom in the DRC and the Great Lakes region, we can no longer flail at the branches of the DRC’s suffering.  We must strike at the roots, the cause of the suffering.  Viewed from a regional context, the root of the DRC’s suffering is interference from geographic neighbors.  One of the reasons this root is still entrenched is the continuing impunity, which can be remedied by bringing the regional perpetrators before a fair and impartial court for a trial.

 

Perhaps in a future article, I will address ways to utilize activism to “strike the root” and take the concept of impunity a step farther and examine how Uganda and Rwanda, both low per capita income countries that are heavily reliant on foreign aid, were able to acquire the capital and resources to found and/or support proxy militias in the DRC and then sustain that expensive support over time.  It is certain that, by digging deeper and expanding beyond a regional context, an even deeper set of roots to the problems of regional interference and impunity will be exposed.

 

David Barouski is an independent researcher and a Political Science student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.  He authored the electronic book "Laurent Nkundabatware, his Rwandan Allies, and the ex-ANC Rebellion: Chronic Barriers to Lasting Peace in the Congo."  This book was a featured document at an academic panel discussion held in Germany on 17 December 2007, as part of the 2007-2008 African Discussion Forum held by the University of Bayreuth’s Institute for African Studies (http://www.uni-bayreuth.de/de/Uni_Bayreuth/Zentrale_Wissenschaftliche_Einrichtungen/Institut_fuer_Afrika-Studien/de/news/i_africa_discussion_forum/07-08_ws/index.html).  It was also referenced by the Congolese Diaspora human rights group FOCAS for a document they drafted and handed over to the Belgian Ambassador to South Africa in early December 2007. (http://www.africatime.com/rdc/nouvelle.asp?no_nouvelle=365456&no_categorie=1 http://www.congotribune.com/politique/article.php?article=2064).

 

His interview with Mr. Jean-Christophe Nizeyimana was a featured document at an academic discussion in Berlin on 16 September 2007 (http://www.zwoelf-apostel-berlin.de/download/broschuere_ruanda.pdf).  He was consulted for part of the December 2007 report, "Connecting Components, Dividing Communities," written by Finnwatch, a Finland-based, E.U.-sponsored human rights group affiliated with the NGO Make IT Fair.  His articles have appeared in the “Congo Vision,” "Somaliland Times," "The Southern Times," "Just Commentary," "Warsan Times," "Golis News," "Global Policy Forum," "The New Nation," and "ZMagazine/ZNet."  He travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda in 2006.

 

 

 

1 Note: It must be noted that the armed groups mentioned in this article are not the only ones who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ituri, as there are numerous Lendu/Ngiti militias who have committed crimes against humanity as well.  The UPC/FPLC case was chosen because it provides the best example of regional interference in Ituri because they worked with both Rwanda and Uganda, sometimes at the same time.

 

2 “The Curse of Gold: Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  Human Rights Watch.  26 April 2005.  pg. 81-89.

 

3 “ICC Probe for Nkunda, DRC Militia Leader,” Milton Allimadi.  Black Star News.  18 December 2007.

 

4 “Will Uganda Pay Up for Congo Occupation?” Henry Wasswa.  Institute for War and Peace Reporting.  26 July 2007.

 

5 Note: Justice without impunity, by definition, must also include the regional forces who aided the Congolese Government during the war if they committed war crimes, illegal mineral plundering, and/or crimes against humanity.  Inquiries must be made into the actions of the members of the Namibian National Defense Force (NDF), the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF), the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA), and the Chadian National Army (ANT) who were deployed in the DRC during the 2nd Congo War.

 

6 Note: President Bill Clinton’s administration signed the Rome Statute on 31 December 2000, but refused to ratify it without “modifications.”  On 6 May 2001, President George W. Bush’s administration announced they were not legally bound by the signature and did not intend to ratify the treaty.  (“The USA and the International Criminal Court,” Amnesty International.  11 November 2007.  Accessed 8 January 2008.  http://www.amnesty.org/en/international-justice/issues/international-criminal-court/usa-icc.)

 

7 Note: The war lasted from 1991 to 2002, but the court only has the mandate to try crimes committed after 30 November 1996.  (Special Court for Sierra Leone.  “Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.”  Article 1.  August 2000.) 

 

8 Madsen, Wayne.  “Jaded Tasks – Brass Plates, Black Ops, & Big Oil.”  Walterville, Oregon: TrineDay.  2006.  pg. 15-16.

 

9 “Liberian President Taylor’s Life of Crime,” Stefan Lovgren.  National Geographic News.  25 July 2003.

 

10 “In $87.5 Billion Bill, $2 Million Bounty for Exiled Liberian,” The New York Times.  10 November 2003.

 

11 “Charles Taylor Wanted by Interpol,” BBC News.  4 December 2003.

 

12 “The Curse of Gold: Democratic Republic of the Congo.”  Human Rights Watch.  26 April 2005.  pg. 26; Brugière, Jean-Louis.  “The Report by French Anti-Terrorist Judge Jean-Louis Brugière on the Shooting Down of Rwandan President Habyarimana’s Plane: 6 April 1994.”  English Translation.  17 November 2006.  pg. 46-47.

 

13 “Lawsuit Filed at Spain’s National High Court Against High-Ranking Officials of the State of Rwanda.”  International Forum for the Truth and Justice in Africa of the Great Lakes Region (sic!).  Press Release.  22 February 2005.

 

14 Brennan, Richard J., Clements, Mark, Coghlan, Benjamin, Dofara, David, Ngoy, Pascal, Otto, Brad, and Steward, Tony.  “Mortality in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: A Nationwide Survey.”  The Lancet.  Volume 367, Issue 9502.  7 January 2006 – 13 January 2006.  pg. 44-51.

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