May 21, 2006
Congelese Warlord Should be Tried for War Crimes
A Mai Mai warlord known as Gédéon, in Congo’s southeastern province of Katanga turned himself in on Friday to MONUC peacekeeping troops. Human Rights Watch has called on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help make sure the DRC’s transitional governemnt will charge Gédéon with war crimes for killing and torturing scores of civilians.
In April, HRW researchers learned that combatants under Gédéon’s command and his fellow Mai Mai leaders had killed, raped abused civilians since 2002. Sometimes, the Mai Mai publicly tortured victims before killing them in public ceremonies in order to terrorize the local population.
“Gédéon’s surrender is good news for the victims of Mai Mai atrocities in Katanga. He must now be tried for the widespread war crimes he is alleged to have committed. That would be good news for justice throughout Congo,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch.
The Mai Mai, in the province of Katanga, is a local defense force supported by the Congolese government when it was engaged in an armed conflict with Rwanda and Uganda. Most Mai Mai groups in Congo were formed to resist the invasion of Rwandese forces. IRIN News Africa has an interesting story with great background information on this region in DRC, as well as an interview with a Congolese colonel on efforts in bringing Gedeon to justice.
Since 1994, Congo-Kinshasa has endured ethnic strife and civil war, which in part was sparked by the influx of refugees fleeing the genocide in Rwanda. The genocidaires from Rwanda fled into neighboring Congo and supported local factions in pushing the fighting toward the west to the capital, Kinshasa.
Then president Mobutu Sese Seko was toppled by a rebellion led by Laurent-Désiré Kabila in May, 1997. Former allies challenged Kabila’s authority through a Rwandan and Ugandan-backed rebellion in August 1998. Troops from neighboring Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, and Sudan intervened to support Kabila.
After the civil war, Congo-Kinshasa tried to integrate the Mai Mai into its national army but failed. Increasingly hostile to the government, Mai Mai leaders started to take control of the Katanga province. According to a 2001 UN report, 20,000 to 30,000 Mai Mai were active in the two Kivu provinces, just north of Katanga and bordering Rwanda and Burundi. This is a lot to take in, but it’s important to have this information, if we want to understand inter or intra-state conflicts in central Africa and why the region is unstable.
While a cease-fire was signed in July, 1999 by major factions; fighting continued especially in the eastern part of the country (bordering Rwanda & Burundi). This fighting was financed by stealing the country’s natural resources in minerals and diamonds. Much of the east of the country remains insecure, primarily due to the Ituri conflict and the continued activity of the Rwandan factions in the North & South Kivu provinces.
But I digress….back to our warlord Gédéon…although he was initially popular among locals for being a resistance fighter, he is now seen in Katanga as an oppressor targeting those who have registered to vote in Congo’s upcoming national elections. Last year, in the face of growing hostility from the population, Gédéon ordered thousands of people in central Katanga to leave their villages and move into the forest. His Mai Mai combatants then burned their homes and forced hundreds of youths and adult men to join the movement.
The U.N. estimates that 165,000 people have been displaced in central Katanga, many of them lacking access to food and medical assistance.
What happens when the army leaves and the Mai-Mai return?” We’ll be worse off than we were,” said by wife of Kulu Ngwande Abraham, an agronomist who fled his village by canoe with his family in mid-January, as reported by IRIN.
Global Voices Online has an interesting commentary on the upcoming elections in DRC, which has been postponed twice, but now scheduled for July 30.
Newly graduated rebels with the Democratic Alliance for the Liberation of Congo Zaire participate in military exercises.