ITURI, DR CONGO
Civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) began when a regional coalition succeeded in overthrowing Congolese dictator Marshal Mubutu and replaced him with Laurent Kabila in May of 1997. The governments of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Eritrea and Angola all participated in supporting the regime change (ICG: “Africa’s Seven-Nation War” May 1999”). In little more than a year, Kabila’s supporters accused him of assuming dictatorial powers, and the alliance that had formed to depose Mubutu began to fragment. Angola, Zimbabwe and Namibia backed the Kabila government, while Rwanda and Uganda supported rebel groups based in the eastern DR-Congo.
Separate from the war in the south (see the Center’s DRC Report), a smaller conflict has escalated into civil war near the border with Uganda. The presence of various military groups in the northeast DR-Congo and an abundance of lucrative natural resources have served to ignite ethnic tensions in the area and escalate the level of bloodshed. This remote region has continued to suffer from outbreaks of violence well after the peace agreements between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda led to the troop withdrawals that took place in September 2002. Today, the humanitarian crisis continues to escalate, and the prospects for peace (even if a negotiated settlement is reached) are unlikely to take root soon after, given the nature of the ethnic fighting.
Uganda first occupied the northeast region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in April of 1998, in what the government claimed to be a necessary action to secure its border with the DRC (SABC: “Uganda Completes Troop…” September 2002). The Kibali-Ituri Province was created in June of 1999 as a result of the partitioning of the Orientale and North Kivu provinces by Uganda (HRW: “Background to the Hema-Lendu Conflict…” January 2001).
The Ituri province is so highly sought after because of its abundance of natural resources (gold, diamonds, timber, and coltan) as well as cattle and agriculture. There are several different ethnic groups located in this region, including the Ngiti, Nande, Aru, and Gegere, as well as the primary groups, the Hema and Lendu. Tensions over land rights between the Hema and the Lendu preceded Uganda’s entrance into the DRC, but were exacerbated by the militarization of the Ituri province that has taken place since 1999. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) were involved with arming and training both Hema and Lendu youth for recruitment into the Congolese Rally for Democracy- Liberation Movement (RCD-ML), one of the armed political factions supported by the Ugandan government. The UPDF were seen as favoring the Hema ethnic group, who were known to supply the troops with cattle as well as cash in order to gain their support, although the Ugandan military has denied any involvement (Prunier: October 2002). The apparent bias of the UPDF, and the increased proliferation of weapons into the region have led to growing tensions between the Hema and Lendu. The result of the heightened tension was an outburst of ethnic clashes that erupted in June of 1999 in the Djugu area of Ituri, where an estimated 5000 people were killed, and over 100,000 were displaced during a five-month period (IRIN: “IRIN focus on Hema-Lendu Conflict” November 1999). The Djugu region has a population of approximately 1.5 million, with 450,000 Lendu and 250,000 Hema (IRIN: “Special Report on the Ituri Clashes” March 2000). The initial outbreak of violence led to a series of counter attacks and revenge killings that are characteristic of the battles for control of resources in the Ituri.
The Ugandan troops continued to train Hema and Lendu recruits even after it became apparent that these groups were involved in armed confrontations (HRW: “Background to the Hema-Lendu Conflict…” January 2001). By arming and training local youth, the UPDF fostered instability in the region; which helped to generate the appearance that their continued presence was needed to maintain stability. The Ituri province then began to be divided up by competing military factions with limited local (economic) agendas, changing the nature of the clashes between the Hema and Lendu. What were once disputes based on land rights, have become battles for the control of resources and power in the region. This set the stage for the emergence of several military splinter groups in the Ituri, all of which are competing for the resources and wealth of the area (UPC, RCD-ML, RCD-N, MLC, UPDF) (HRW: “Chaos in Eastern Congo…” October 2002). The armed factions are now drawing upon ethnicity for their support, adding to the social and ethnic tensions that have contributed to the escalation of violence in the region. The RCD-K-ML (led by Mbusa Nyamwisi) and its military branch, the Congolese People’s Army (APC), have aligned themselves with the Ngiti and Lendu militias. The Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), led by Thomas Lubanga are allied with the Hema and Gegere militias, and Jean Pierre Bemba’s MLC is working with Roger Lumbala and the Rally for Congolese Democracy-National (RCD-N). The Ituri province and its wealth are being used to financially support groups and individuals, including some military officers of the UPDF. A report from IRIN states “the problem is that rival camps within the RCD-ML have backing from different camps in the Ugandan security system, which makes it difficult to sort out their problems. The Ugandan leadership has to talk with one voice” (IRIN: “New Rebel Group in Bunia” July 2000).
Uganda originally deployed 10,000 troops to the DRC in August of 1998, and reportedly fought alongside Bemba’s MLC (formed in November 1998) against the Kinshasa government (IRIN: “Special Report on Tensions in the Northeast” February 2002). Acting in accordance with the 6 September Luanda Accord signed by Presidents Kabila and Museveni, the Ugandan military withdrew its forces from the DRC in early November 2002, with the exception of two battalions that were left in Bunia with the mission of providing security during the transition period. The two battalions in Bunia are staying at the request of the UN, and in according to the Luanda Accord have 100 days (from 7 September 2002) before they are to be withdrawn.
Hema and Lendu Ethnic Groups- These are the two dominant tribes in the Ituri province, and each have different cultural, social and economic roots; although they share a history in the DRC, including intermarriage and cohabitation. The Hema are a tribe of pastoralists who have been struggling for decades over land rights with the Lendu (a primarily agricultural tribe). Pastoralists inherently need large tracts of land for their livestock, and agriculturists rely on land for crop production. Tensions between the groups developed over access and rights to the limited availability of land in the Ituri province. These tensions have been aggravated by a large population growth rate, which has served to increase the pressure on the limited resources. Tribal chiefs had historically settled disputes over land rights in the region, but with the erosion of civil society and the militarization of the region that has taken place in recent years, the traditional means of reconciliation have disappeared. Land acquisition is now carried out through the use of force and violence. The two groups (and their allied ethnic tribes) are both responsible for committing acts of violence and intimidation aimed at expropriating land and other resources from the other ethnic group.
Congolese Rally for Democracy- Kisingani -Liberation Movement (RCD-K-ML)- Typically referred to as the RCD-ML, the group is headed by Mbusa Nyamwisi and is affiliated with the Lendu and Ngiti groups. The military wing of the RCD-K-ML is the Congolese People’s Army (APC). The RCD-K-ML has been allied with the UPDF forces in Bunia, particularly in fighting against the UPC forces of Thomas Lubanga.
Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) – The UPC is headed by a Hema militia leader, Thomas Lubanga. Lubanga is the former ‘minister of defense’ for the RCD-ML, and formed the dissident UPC group. The UPC is based near Bunia, and has been fighting with the RCD-ML (APC) for control of the area. The UPC fights in conjunction with the Hema and Gegere militias.
Congolese Rally for Democracy- National (RCD-N) – The RCD-N is headed by Roger Lumbala, and is closely allied with Bemba’s Movement for the Liberation of Congo. The RCD-N is another splinter group formed from the breakup of RCD-ML.
Mayi-Mayi- The Mayi-Mayi are typically identified as a pro-Kinshasa, indigenous militias that are opposed to the occupation of the DRC by foreign forces. The Mayi-Mayi are not as prominent in the Ituri Province as they are in the Central and Southern regions of the country. In recent reports Mayi-Mayi groups have been said to be aiding the RCD-K-ML (BBC Monitoring Africa, November 2002).
Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) – Jean Pierre Bemba’s MLC is based in Gbadolite, and has been active in attempting to take control of areas in the Ituri Province. The MLC has been backed both militarily and monetarily by the Ugandan government. Jean Pierre Bemba has been actively involved in the Sun City accord, which is trying to establish a power sharing agreement for a transitional government in the DRC. The original plan calls for four vice presidents (representing the opposition groups) and one president (Joseph Kabila); the details of how the power sharing will be carried out are leading to a stalemate in the negotiations.
Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF – Ugandan Army) — The Ugandan army continues to occupy Bunia, the capital of the Ituri province. The UPDF forces agreed to stay in place to promote a stable environment in the region. Many reports have surfaced that suggest that the UPDF forces have continued to act in a self interested manner, and have been involved in numerous killings, including the violence that took place in August 2002 (HRW: “Chaos in Eastern Congo…” October 2002). Rather than acting as a unified force to secure the region, the UPDF is operating in often-conflicting ways that suggests there are multiple interests being pursued by the military.
United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)
MONUC is the UN monitoring force in the Democratic of Congo that consists of up to 5,537 military personnel, as proscribed by the UN mandate of February 2000. It currently has a staff of 4,246: 3,595 troops, 445 military observers, and 215 staff officers. MONUC was established under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which limits the use of force to self-defense. MONUC has a restricted mandate that allows the use force only to protect its own facilities and civilians under imminent threat of danger. The expanse of the area in which the fighting is occurring and the inadequate size of the UN force, has limited MONUC’s ability to fully observe the events that are taking place in the DRC. MONUC is actively involved in monitoring the troop withdrawals of Ugandan and Rwandan forces. MONUC is also taking part in the repatriation of Rwandan ex-combatants, as was agreed upon in the Pretoria agreement in July 2002. UN resolution 1417, of June 2002, expanded MONUC’s mandate to include the proposed ‘DDRRR” (voluntary Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Resettlement, and Reintegration), of all foreign troops in the DR-Congo.
In early December of 2002, the UN Security Council voted to broaden MONUC’s personnel capacity to 8,700; a sign that there is greater international support for carrying out the disarmament and repatriation phase of the Pretoria agreement. The current reality is that MONUC has 1,291 fewer personnel than originally mandated by the UN, and although the resolution is a positive sign, the commitment to support MONUC must be carried out in order to improve its capability.
The Human Costs of War
The International Rescue Committee conducted a mortality study in the spring of 2001. The study was conducted in 5 eastern provinces in the DR Congo, not including the northeastern Ituri province. Using the information gathered, they projected that of the 19.9 million people living in the eastern DRC, 3.5 million have died (2.5 million due to the conflict, of which 350,000 are attributable to violence) over a 32-month period (August 1998-March 2001). In two of the towns where the survey was conducted (Moba and Kalemie), the IRC reported that approximately 75% of the children born during the conflict will not live till the age of two (IRC: “Mortality in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo” 2001). The figures listed do not reflect the full amount of casualties that have occurred from the violence, given consideration to the time that has elapsed since the report, and the under-representation of effects of the conflict in the Ituri province.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that there are 2.27 million internally displaced people (IDP’s) in the eastern DRC, the Ituri province alone has over 500,000 IDP’s (OCHA: “Affected Populations in the Great Lakes Region” July 2002). In November 200 2, OCHA reported that of the displaced population, over 900,000 were inaccessible to relief efforts, the Ituri province accounts for 500,000 of that figure. Many of the IDP’s have relocated to other communities, overwhelming the capacity of those locations to feed and house the populations. Other groups of IDP’s simply relocate to living in the mountains or in the ‘bush’, avoiding settlements where violent outbreaks have taken place, and making access or knowledge about their security and whereabouts virtually impossible.
The regional insecurity and the large number of IDP’s have turned a once fertile and productive agriculture sector into an area where malnutrition, disease and hunger predominate. This has contributed to a high rate of infant mortality (50% of which are believed to be tied to malnutrition), a lack of access to education, and a deteriorating economic system. Reports from 2001 estimate that upwards of 70% of the population do not have access to health care, which contributes to the increase in the mortality rate caused by undernourishment and disease in the region (WHO: “DR Congo Health Update…” August 2001). The recovery of the socio-economic structures in the Ituri province will take many years to rebuild after the fighting has stopped, in order to regain what has been lost during the conflict.
Exploitation of Natural Resources
The UN Final report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (UN: “Final Report of the Panel…” October 2002). The report issued in October 2002 is a scathing account of the involvement of multiple countries, military rebel groups, and individuals in the exploitation of natural resources in the DRC. The withdrawal of the foreign forces has done little to end the exploitation in the DR Congo, and the UN report states that the well-established criminal networks are continuing to operate within the country. The report also alleges that the UPDF leaders are still involved in the instigation of ethnic fighting between the Hema and Lendu, as a way to justify their presence in the resource rich areas. The looting of the DRC involves gold, diamonds, and coltan, as well as timber, land, agriculture, and tax revenues. In the Ituri Province, the report names high-ranking UPDF officers, as well as leaders of most of the local rebel military groups as being part of the ‘elite network’ profiting from the conflict.
The isolation of the Ituri Province, and the minimal presence of humanitarian organizations (due to the unrest), has made it difficult to assess the actual impact of the violence. Many of the inter-ethnic attacks have been carried out with arrows, spears and machetes, and according to some reports the attackers are typically adult men, but often include children as young as ten (IRIN: “Special Report on the Ituri…” March 2000). Entire villages have been burned to the ground and looted; leading to the displacement of populations and situations of severe food insecurity. The effect of the war has been particularly devastating on women; with systematic rape taking place throughout the region, and increasing rates of infant and maternal mortality.
The structural violence that exists in the Ituri province pre-dates the current conflict in the DR Congo. However, the level of violence that has emerged since 1999 can be directly linked to the involvement of the various military groups that became active in the region in the late 1990s. The killings and massacres that have taken place have primarily involved one ethnic group (and its allies) attacking another ethnic group (and its allies). The violence is being conducted without a system of justice in place or any degree of accountability, except for the possibility of retaliation.
September 5, 2002
On 5 September, the RCD-ML (APC) and Ngiti militiamen attacked the town of Nyankunde where UPC (Hema and Gegere) forces were present. The violence targeted the Hema ethnic group, and expanded to include attacks at a local church hospital as well as the surrounding community. The assailants’ reportedly went from bed to bed through the hospital, killing any patients who appeared to be Hema (NCN: “Massacre at Nyankunde” September 2002). The violence was said to have taken place over the course of a week, and as much as 90 percent of the population was displaced from the town. The main water pipe in the town was intentionally destroyed, and an outbreak of cholera occurred soon after the attacks took place. The hospital in Nyankunde was the primary health facility operating in the region, and its closure is devastating for the surrounding community (CMS: “Massacre Wipes out Anglican Work…” September 2002).
August 9, 2002
The UPC milita, led by Tomas Lubanga and assisted by contingents of the Ugandan Army, attacked the city of Bunia in the northeastern Ituri province. At least 110 civilians were killed during the violence, which targeted non-Hema ethnic groups (HRW “Chaos in Eastern Congo…” October 2002).
Date: January 19-25, 2001
Fighting between Hema and Lendu inside the city led to the deaths of over 200 civilians who were targeted because of their ethnicity. A Lendu militia attacked the Ugandan controlled airport to disable a helicopter that was used in raid against their group. When the assault was repelled, they moved to the nearby Hema neighborhoods to attack Hema civilians. Later that day the Hema militia carried out reprisal attacks against Lendu civilians in a different part of the city. Victims in the attacks reportedly included women and children; the attacks were carried out with machetes, arrows, spears, and some victims were burned to death. (BBC: “Ethnic Massacre in Eastern Congo” January 2001).
January 6-7, 2001
Five Hema and One Lendu community members were killed when a group of Lendu militia reportedly attacked the hospital. There were conflicting reports on how the violence began (IRIN: “Hema and Lendu Clash…” January 2001).
Arguments over land rights led to the killing of thousands of Hema and Lendu, and the displacement of over 100,000 people as dozens of villages were burned to the ground. Tensions between the groups were reportedly high after the installment of a Hema as the governor of the new Ituri Province.
Applicability of 1948 Convention on Genocide
Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (1948) defines genocide as, … any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a) Killing members of the other group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Acts of genocide have occurred in Ituri province, by both the Hema and the Lendu. The “intent to destroy” threshold was meet in both Nyankunde with the destruction of the hospital and in Bunia. The parties manifest their “intent to destroy” through killing, causing physical harm and creating life conditions designed to bring about destruction of the opposing ethnicity. These acts of genocide do not qualify for a full-scale determination of genocide, however due to their present infrequency. Nonetheless, the international community and interested parties must take strides to end the conflict before the situation regresses into genocide on a fuller scale.
The ethic violence in the Ituri province has led to the deaths of at least 50,000 people (primarily civilians), and the displacement of over half a million people since 1999 (Amnesty International: “UN must take urgent steps…” October 2002). According to the UN Panel on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, the human costs of the economically driven conflict have led to the deaths of over 3 million Congolese (UN: “Final Report of the Panel…” October 2002). This is a staggering figure for a conflict that has been taking place for 5 years. The negotiations for resolving the conflict in the DRC have progressed over the past year and may have an impact on the long-term security of the region. The talks, however, have had little impact on the short-term resolution of the humanitarian crisis or on ending the violence and insecurity that has been instigated by the involvement of foreign parties.
Amnesty International: “Democratic Republic of Congo: UN must take urgent steps to stop the
escalation of ethnic killings” 17 October 2002.
BBC: “Massacres in Eastern Congo” 22 January 2001
BBC: “Ethnic massacre claim in DR Congo” 11 July 2002.
CMS: “Massacre wipes out Anglican work in east Congo” 11 September 2002.
International Crisis Group: “Africa’s Seven-Nation War” 21 May 1999.
International Rescue Committee: “Mortality in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from
Eleven Mortality Studies” 2001. <http://intranet.theirc.org/docs/mortII_report.pdf>
IRIN: “Government Establishes Peace Commission with Uganda” 27 September 2002.
IRIN: “IRIN Focus on Hema-Lendu conflict” 15 November 1999.
IRIN: “New Rebel Group in Bunia” 28 July 2000.
IRIN: “Peace deals fail to improve the lives of 2.2 million IDP’s” 14 November 2002.
IRIN: “Special Report on the Ituri Clashes-[Part One]” 3March 2000.
IRIN: “Special Report on Tensions in the Northeast” 19 February 2002.
Human Rights Watch: “Background to the Hema-Lendu Conflict in Uganda-Controlled Congo”
January, 2002. <http://www.hrw.org/backgrounder/africa/hemabckg.htm>
Human Rights Watch: “Chaos in Eastern Congo: UN Action Needed Now” October 2002.
Human Rights Watch: “Congo: Massacres in Uganda-Controlled Areas” 22 January 2001.
New Congo Net: “Massacre at Nyankunde: the world must know the horror” 30 September 2002.
Prunier, Gerard: Personal Communication 3 October 2002.
South African Broadcast Company: “Uganda completes troop withdrawal from DRC town” 28
UN-OCHA “Affected Populations in the Great Lakes Region” 31 July 2002.
United Nations: “Final Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural
Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo” 16 October 2002.
World Health Organization: “DR Congo Health Update July 2001” 9 August 2001.