UN report links Uganda to war crimes in Congo

Monday September 13 2010

Vigilantes during a training session in Bangadi, northeastern Congo. The leaked UN report linked Rwanda and Uganda to war crimes in Congo. File Photo

Vigilantes during a training session in Bangadi, northeastern Congo. The leaked UN report linked Rwanda and Uganda to war crimes in Congo. File Photo 

By Kevin Kelly

A United Nations draft report documenting alleged Rwandan atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo also implicates Ugandan forces in civilian massacres and rapes, as well as in the training of child soldiers.

International media reports on the leaked UN “mapping exercise” covering the 1993-2003 period have focused on Rwanda’s role in the DRC, especially the suggestion that Rwandan forces may have carried out genocide against Hutu refugees.

The government of President Paul Kagame has reacted with outrage to the charges. Rwanda has threatened to withdraw its troops from UN peacekeeping missions if the most damning accusations are retained in the official version of the report, which is now scheduled to be issued on October 1.

The nearly 600-page draft version, a copy of which was obtained by The EastAfrican, also suggests that the Ugandan People’s Defence Force may have carried out war crimes in the DRC.

That possibility is raised in the context of the heavy fighting between Ugandan and Rwandan forces that erupted around Kisangani in 1999. The erstwhile allies were battling mainly for control of the area’s diamond riches.

“Some of the acts committed by the two belligerents could constitute violations of international humanitarian law, in particular the obligation to respect the principle of distinguishing between civilians and combatants and between civilian property and military targets,, and could thus be classified as war crimes,” the draft UN report says.

It notes that the UPDF did make some effort to limit the loss of civilian lives in these shelling exchanges.

But the report goes on to cite a decision by the International Court of Justice that there was “credible evidence sufficient to conclude that the UPDF troops failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets and to protect the civilian population in fighting with other combatants.”

At that time, the UN Security Council also denounced Uganda’s actions. The council issued a statement in 2000 “deploring the loss of civilian lives, the threat to the civilian population and the damage to property inflicted by the forces of Uganda and Rwanda on the Congolese population.”

The leaked UN report says as many as 800 Congolese may have been killed in the course of the fighting between the Ugandan and Rwandan army.

And “once the hostilities were over,” the report adds, “Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers pillaged several places in Kisangani.” Elements of both armies committed rapes, the draft says.

Uganda is also said to have played at least an indirect role in the slaughters of Rwandan Hutu civilians who fled to Congo after Tutsi forces under Kagame’s command put an end to the 1994 genocide carried out by Hutu inside Rwanda.

The report says that Uganda as well as Rwanda and Burundi supplied troops, arms and logistical capabilities to a rebel force in the DRC operating under the French acronym AFDL (Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire).

During the 1996-1998 period, the AFDL carried out mass killings of Hutu refugees as well as members of both the Hutu-controlled former Rwandan army and militias involved in the 1994 genocide.

Uganda and Rwanda also played key roles in clashes between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups in the Ituri region of the DRC that resulted in “tens of thousands of deaths,” the report adds.

Although land was originally at the heart of the Hema-Lendu conflict, “it was not until the Ugandan and Rwandan armies became involved that the violence escalated to unprecedented levels,” the report says.

It also explains that the long and many-sided conflict in Congo originated with Rwanda’s move, aided by Uganda and by ethnic Tutsi in the DRC, to organise a rebellion to bring down the Mobutu dictatorship in Congo and to counter the armed Hutu groups that had established bases in the eastern DRC.

Also, that Uganda and Rwanda also set about pillaging Congo’s resources, partly in order to pay for their respective military operations there.

The UPDF “enjoyed a considerably larger budget due to profits from the DRC’s wealth, particularly in the districts of Ituri and Haut-Uélé, from 1998 to 2002,” the report says.

“A large part of the gold produced in Ituri was exported through Uganda, then re-exported as if it had been produced domestically – a similar model to that used for diamond exports.”

In this regard, the leaked UN study cites the International Court of Justice’s 2005 decision in a case brought against Uganda by the DRC government.

The ruling held that Uganda, as an occupying power, “violated obligations owed to the DRC under international law.”

The court cited “acts of looting, plundering and exploitation of Congolese natural resources committed by members of the Ugandan armed forces in the territory of the DRC.”

The court further ruled that Uganda “by the conduct of its armed forces, which committed acts of killing, torture and other forms of inhumane treatment of the Congolese civilian population, incited ethnic conflict and failed to take measures to put an end to such conflict.”

The draft UN report also lists specific instances in which, it says, UPDF forces were involved in the killing of civilians inside the DRC.

On April 26, 2001, Ugandan soldiers and Hema militiamen reportedly killed six members of the International Committee of the Red Cross during an attack on a humanitarian convoy in the area around Fataki in the Djugu region, the report says.

In January 2002 also in the Djugu region, the report continues, “UPDF troops and Hema militiamen opened fire on the population of the village of Kobu,”  killing 35 Lendu civilians.

“As they entered the village, Ugandan soldiers killed four civilians in the marketplace, including one disabled person.”

Uganda was also complicit in the military training of Hema children who were often tortured and raped, the report points out. “In 2000, at least 163 of these children were sent to Uganda to undergo military training at a UPDF camp in Kyankwanzi before finally being repatriated to Ituri by Unicef in February 2001.”

 In regard to the explosive issue of whether genocide against Hutu took place inside the DRC, the United Nations draft report does not explicitly name Uganda as a potentially responsible party.