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Genocide: Pain Unnumbed

26 January 2010 26 January 2010 Tags: , , , , , , , , No Comment Print This Post Print This Post

The social, political and ethnic complexity of Africa is staggering; the continent’s more than 53 countries and territories houses over 800 nationalities which communicates in over 2,000 languages with 50 of which have more than 1 million speakers each (source). The related stories, their related history and dynamics of the follow-up reality are far beyond the scope presented by large Western news organizations, such as CNN, that typically limit the analysis to a buzzword- and headline-based coverage.

A Rwandan memorial honors victims of the genocide (Source: Arts in the One World)

One example of a 16-year old headline story, which has practically disappeared from the current news coverage, is the 1994 Rwanda genocide in which an estimated 500,000 to 1 million people were killed. The great majority belonged to the Tutsis, a minority ethnic group. While 10~20% of victims were Hutus, who represented a majority of the Rwandan population. It is not popular knowledge in the US, however, that those 100 days in 1994 are, after 16 years, still brutally affecting millions of people in the region.

The Conflict: First 6 years.

6 April 1994 Rwanda’s Hutu president, is killed when his plane is shot down.

April-July 1994 Following decades of tension, the Hutu population tries to destroy the Tutsi hold over Rwanda. Forces commanded by Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, take the capital, Kigali. 2 million Hutus flee into Zaire.

1996 Forces commanded by Zairean rebel Laurent Kabila cross the border to attack Zaire army. His troops are backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

1997 Kabila takes Zaire’s capital, Kinshasa. Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo.

1998 Kabila falls out with his backers in Rwanda and Uganda, who attack again, but retains control with the aid of Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

One of several groups accused of creating instability in the region and taking part in Rwanda’s genocide is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Les Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda), referred to by its acronym as FDLR. Some involved in the violence have since managed to relocate. For example, a Rwandan rebel leader belonging to FDLR and accused of genocide is reportedly living as a free man in a suburb of Paris; Callixte Mbarushimana, executive secretary of the FDLR rebel group, is reported to be the coordinator of the rebels’ daily activities in Rwanda and its neighboring countries. French Foreign Ministry has refused to extradite Mbarushimana to Rwanda.

On the other hand, the conflict created a scramble in which Hutus were also punished for the past in large numbers involving innocent people. The documentary fragment below deals with killings in Shabunda region of Congo.

The Conflict: Next 6 years.

2002 The Pretoria Accord paves the way for a transitional government in Kinshasa.

2004 Gen. Nkunda begins to lead an ethnic Tutsi rebellion in the east DR of Congo which is eventually linked to atrocities allegedly committed by forces under his command.

2006 Multiparty elections are held and Joseph Kabila wins the presidency of DRC. Fighting continues between forces of the new ‘integrated’ Congolese army and Rwandan Hutu rebel groups hiding in the forests of the east. The UN is trying to keep the peace.

In January 2009, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda launched joint military operations in Eastern Congo against the Rwandan Hutu militia, active in the mountainous regions and to neutralize the FDLR, which over the previous 15 years affected lives of Congolese civilians. The operations were presented as necessary to bring peace and security to the region. Tragically, that mission failed miserably. Two successive Congolese military operations—one conducted with Rwandan military forces, and the second conducted with the direct support of United Nations peacekeeping troops, MONUC—have been accompanied by horrendous abuses by both government and rebel forces against a civilian populations in Eastern Congo.  The local populations are easy targets, they are being accused by both sides in the conflict as collaborators and enemies.

Some among the local population are also actively engaged in the armed conflict. The United Nations Children’s Fund says the recruitment of child soldiers is on the rise in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. UNICEF says the escalation of conflict and the uprooting of people from their homes and shelters is leading to further violations of human rights; children, some as young as nine, are being recruited by all armed groups – government and rebel forces alike.

The Human Rights Watch documented in a report, released in December 2009, the deliberate killing of more than 1,400 civilians between January and September 2009, the majority are women, children, and the elderly.  Over the first nine months of 2009, over 7,500 cases of sexual violence against women and girls were registered, but that, more than likely represents a fraction of the total. Between January and September, the attacks forced more than 900,000 people to flee for their lives, seeking safety in the remote forests, with host families, or in displacement camps. During the attacks or as they fled, FDLR combatants or Congolese army soldiers plundered their belongings and then burned their homes and villages. Over 9,000 houses, schools, churches and other structures have been burned to ground and the civilians have been targeted by all sides: the FDLR, the Congolese army and, in some instances, the Rwandan army.

The related war, centered mainly in eastern DR Congo involved 9 African countries, directly affecting  the lives of 50 million Congolese. In the period of 1998 to 2003 alone, an estimated 5.4 million people died in Congo, mainly from disease and hunger, as a result of the civil war. For now, an end to the conflict remains far beyond any feasible solution.

What it will take to heal the 16-year old crisis will be much more than for Congolese Government, Congolese Army, and the FDLR Leadership to immediately cease all attacks on civilians. It will also take more than the Rwandan Government’s cooperation with judicial investigations looking into violations of international human rights committed by Rwandan army. It will take more than for the UN Mission in Congo to immediately cease all support to local operations until there are fully manageable conditions in place to ensure the operations do not violate international humanitarian law. And, finally, it will take more than the coordinated efforts and resources of the international community. Above all, as in case of any genocide, it will take a good and uncompromising will of those who have suffered the most to live peacefully with the numbing pain which never goes away.

Written by Mark Bajkowski.
Mark, born in Poland, is a Jack of all trades, master of none, who lives in New York since 1979. Mark has an unusually wide range of interests and is known to relate well to the people half of his age. Since his early childhood, he felt a curious relation to Africa, which unavoidably brings up the controversial subject of multiple life experiences.

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