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Congo Massacres: First Revenge, Then Blood Money

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The United Nations officially released an explosive report on massacres of desperate Hutu men, women and children who trekked across vast expanses of the Congo to escape Rwanda's Tutsi-led army, which kept catching up to them.

The first motive is revenge against the majority Hutus in Rwanda who in 1994 had slaughtered Tutsi civilians (at least 800,000 by most estimates), a genocide that has shamed the United Nations and its major powers since then. Another motive is money -- exploitation of the Congo's resources and the killing of any civilians in the way. In 2002, the United Nations released a report (PDF)that showed a plunder of the Congo's gems and minerals by Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Congolese officials as well as naming and shaming the Western firms that profited from them. Not that much seems to have changed since then.

Eight nations, including Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, were cited in the new 550-page report (PDF) along with 21 armed Congolese groups. It documents 614 of the most serious violations in the former Zaire over a 10-year period, ending in 2003. Tens of thousands of people were killed and numerous others were raped and mutilated and at least 30,000 children were recruited by the various groups. The report, called a "Mapping Exercise," is a two year effort, begun in 2005 when mass graves were discovered. The Hutus, (1.2 million had fled to the Congo), were not the only victims but the study outlines how men, women and children were chased across the country and then killed.

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. In practice, this question can only be decided by a court decision on the basis of evidence beyond all reasonable doubt

In a forward to the report, Navi Pillay, the Geneva-based UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, "No report can adequately describe the horrors experienced by the civilian population in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where almost every single individual has an experience to narrate of suffering and loss."

However, the New York Times maintained that another group of UN investigators concluded that the Rwandan rebels, mainly Tutsis who stopped the genocide, had killed defenseless civilians. The report, by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (then led by Sadako Ogata of Japan) was squashed after pressure from both Rwanda and Washington, fearing another civil war. It said that 20,000 to 30,000 Hutus, including women and children, had been rounded up and killed in Rwanda. While the killings were not equated with the slaughter of Tutsis, their lack of exposure might have emboldened the Rwandan army to act with impunity in the Congo.

During the period under investigation, the country experienced two wars over five years. Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown by Laurent Kabila with the help of Rwanda, which invaded Congo, presumably to chase Hutu fighters who had taken part in the genocide. But they did not stop there, the report said.

The massacres in Mbandaka and Wendji, committed on 13 May 1997 in Équateur Province, over 2,000 kilometers west of Rwanda, were the final stage in the hunt for Hutu refugees that had begun in eastern Zaire, in North and South Kivu, in October 1996.

The report lists some perpetrators but says the Congo has to launch an investigation and gave several recommendations how this could be done. But it noted the weak judicial system in Kinshasa and says reforms were needed to seek justice for the millions of victims or risk encouraging further atrocities. Congo President Joseph Kabila has suggested an international criminal tribunal for the DRC.

Rebels groups allied with neighboring countries continue abuses. In eastern Congo atrocities -- like the recent gang-rapes of 150 women -- are attributed to rebels as well the Congolese army, a nightmare for the United Nations troops, which are supposed to be allied with the government and its forces.

It's the natural resources

The fighting is largely over mineral wealth and the recruitment of cheap labor or forced labor to exploit it, says the report.

The abundance of natural resources in the DRC and the absence of regulations and responsibility in this sector has created a particular dynamic that has clearly contributed directly to widespread violations and to their perpetuation and both domestic and foreign state-owned or private companies could bear some responsibility for these crimes having been committed.

Congo has diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, cassiterite (tin ore) and coltan as well as timber, coffee and oil, little of which has benefited the Congolese, since the brutal rule of Belgium during colonial times. The Kinshasa government recently imposed a new ban on mining in the eastern part of the country, North and South Kivu and Maniema, rich in coltan and cassiterite, used in mobile phones and other electronic items.

But there are fears that illegal mining goes on. Despite large amounts of money spent on UN peacekeeping, there is no worldwide movement (the United States is an exception) to hold companies to account and making international aid conditional on reforms in the mining center, says Global Witness, the London-based group which has been tracking natural resources in Africa for years. Until the root cause is tackled, atrocities and crass exploitation will continue.

Rwanda reacts
After a draft of the report was leaked last month, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the leader of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Army, threatened to pull his troops out of Darfur. He withdrew the threat after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon flew to Kigali and said all the neighboring countries cited in the report would have a chance to answer. But Rwanda was reported to have secured a promise that none of its officials would be prosecuted by the United Nations.

Still the document serves as a stinging rebuke to Rwanda, which has made enormous financial and educational strides, and is backed by Washington and London.