by Richard KARUGARAMA Lebero
On 7th April, Rwanda marks 20 years since the 1994 genocide. A lot has been written about Rwanda’s journey and, as is to be expected, much of the commentary is misleading, lacking sufficient understanding of the extent to which Rwanda has been transformed over the last 20 years.
This year’s theme – unite, remember and renew – aptly reminds us to commit ourselves towards ensuring that genocide never happens in any part of the world.
We also have the opportunity to reflect on Rwanda’s transformation and deliberate upon the lessons post conflict countries can draw from its resilience.
The narrative of Rwanda’s past is one of anger and pain. Starting from the colonial period and stretching up to the 1994 genocide,Rwanda was a deeply divided society entrenched with the scourge of ethnic politics and bad leadership.
Although the colonialists did not invent the Hutu and Tutsis ethnic identities (historically the labels existed), colonial intervention changed the meaning, practice and importance attached to these labels.
Following the 1994 genocide, modern Rwanda articulated and implemented a vision of co-existence between Hutus, Tutsis and Twa which emphasizes the virtues of being Rwandan.
The dividends from collective reconciliation and nation rebuilding have resulted in unprecedented social, economic and political transformation.
Rwanda’s rebirth is by all measures remarkable considering that for over five decades it was characterized by systemic governance failures, authoritarian rule, entrenched ethnic tensions, corruption and a spiral of extra judicial killings.
Indeed, the failure of state institutions to galvanise citizens into productive means of labour and the use of government structures as instruments of social disharmony, culminated in the horrors of 1994 and the loss of one million lives.
Twenty years after the genocide Rwanda is experiencing significant improvement in poverty levels, women and youth empowerment, transparency and accountability, democratic governance, respect for the rule of law and a profound mindset shift towards self-reliance.
The depth of reforms and the increasing levels of efficiency are well captured in numerous governance and business surveys conducted periodically by reputable institutions.
On the basis of the reforms, Rwanda ranks favorably across most indicators. For instance, in the 2014 World Bank ‘Doing Business Report’, Rwanda is ranked as the second most improved country in the world and the second easiest place to do business in Africa.
Despite evident improvement in social well being, modern Rwanda regularly witnesses unprecedented attacks – some commentators arguing that economic development has been achieved at the expense of human rights.
Historically, this type of commentary is not unprecedented and is well illustrated by the experience of Singapore – once accused of trading off human rights for economic prosperity.
But Singapore’s journey from third world to first world country demonstrates that the one size fit all approach to democracy and human rights barely makes a dent in the challenge of improving the material state of people’s lives.
As Professor Kishore Mahbubani correctly argues, economic development is the only force with the power to liberate the Third World. In essence, human rights can only be enjoyed when people are liberated from the scourge of hunger, insecurity, disease and poverty.
It is also too simplistic to argue that emerging countries such as Rwanda are advancing economically at the expense of human rights. The premise of this argument overlooks the fact that strides in economic development are intertwined with respect for human rights.
The two are not mutually exclusive as there can be no economic development without the respect and protection of fundamental freedoms.
The philosophical underpinning of human rights is both controversial and ambiguous because protection of fundamental rights means different things in different parts of the world.
The most recent Gallup poll best illustrates this point; it ranks Rwanda as the safest place to live in Africa with 92% of ordinary Rwandans feeling safe and secure. Additionally, the poll shows that among African countries, Rwanda is the safest place for women to flourish.
Even without the Gallup survey, Rwanda’s respect for gender equality is unprecedented – 64% of Rwanda’s parliament is constituted by women (the highest globally). Moreover, the Constitution stipulates that for all leadership positions, women must constitute a minimum of 30%.
The trust and confidence ordinary Rwandans place in state institutions to guarantee security, law and order extends to other important rights such as privacy, life and dignity which are cornerstones of human existence.
It is only through guaranteeing respect for the rule of law and a peaceful environment that people are able to freely exercise their right to dignity, privacy, life and freedom of expression.
Put succinctly, personal liberties do not operate in a vacuum – such rights are meaningless without a certain level of development. Indeed, over the last twenty years, modern Rwanda has strived to lift ordinary people out of poverty because only when people have been liberated from it can they fully enjoy personal liberties.
Source: African Arguments
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Nairobi — The leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights has been ousted because of its independent stance.
People believed to be favorable to the government have taken over the organization in what has become a typical state tactic to silence human rights defenders.
The organization, known as LIPRODHOR, is the country’s last effective human rights group. On July 21, 2013, a small number of members organized a meeting which voted in a new board. The action violated the organization’s rules and the national law on nongovernmental organizations. Several members of the ousted board are known for their independence and courage in denouncing state abuses. On July 24, the Rwanda Governance Board – the state body with oversight of national nongovernmental groups – wrote a letter to the organization taking note of the decision and recognizing the new board.
“International actors should condemn this blatant hijacking of Rwanda’s last independent group that exposes human rights abuses,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If LIPRODHOR is silenced, it will be a big loss for all Rwandans.”
Under Articles 3(7) and 12(3) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance, which Rwanda has signed and ratified, citizens have a right to effective participation in the affairs of their country, and the state has a duty to “create conducive conditions for civil society organizations to exist and operate within the law.”
According to LIPRODHOR’s regulations and article 27 of the law on national nongovernmental organizations, any conflict that arises in the organization must first be referred to that organization’s internal conflict resolution organ. The organizers of the July 21 meeting bypassed this step. The newly elected president told Human Rights Watch that he had advised people at the meeting that they should go through the conflict resolution committee, but claimed that members at the meeting “did not think it would work.”
Several of the group’s members told Human Rights Watch that the July 21 meeting did not follow the usual procedures. They said that the organizers had called selected members but had not sent out a written notice. Key leaders of the organization, including the president, the vice-president, and the executive secretary, were not notified about the meeting.
The organization’s regulations specify that members should be notified in writing at least eight days before such a meeting. The ousted president told Human Rights Watch that neither he, nor his vice-president, nor the staff had seen any such letter, and that when they asked the meeting’s organizers for a copy, they failed to produce it. Human Rights Watch also asked one of the organizers for a copy, but he was unable to provide one.
Participants said the organizers presented the meeting as a “consultation” to review a July 3 decision by the board to withdraw from the Collective of Leagues and Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights in Rwanda (CLADHO), an umbrella body for human rights organizations. LIPRODHOR and two other member organizations of the umbrella group had withdrawn because of internal divisions, lack of support for member organizations, and disagreements over alleged irregularities in CLADHO’s board election.
However, the July 21 meeting went beyond reviewing this decision and called a vote for a new LIPRODHOR board. One of the meeting’s organizers was elected the new president. After the fact, the meeting was described as an extraordinary general assembly to the Rwanda Governance Board. The media had been informed about the meeting beforehand and covered its outcome.
The election of the new board violated LIPRODHOR’s statutes, which specify that elections may take place only during a general assembly. In addition, it is unclear whether the July 21 meeting had a quorum. The group’s constitution states that a general assembly “shall validly meet by the absolute majority of full members.” The December 2012 membership list has 115 names, but the newly elected president told Human Rights Watch that only 47 people attended the meeting.
The Rwanda Governance Board’s swift recognition of the outcome of the meeting, without investigating the concerns of the group’s ousted leadership, raises legitimate questions about the government body’s motivation. The Rwanda Governance Board should set aside its decision, insist that Rwandan law and LIPRODHOR’s statutes are observed, and allow human rights organizations to work freely, Human Rights Watch said.
Sheikh Saleh Habimana, head of political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and faith-based organizations for the Rwanda Governance Board, denied that the body has a responsibility to ensure that organizations follow the law. He told Human Rights Watch that the Rwanda Governance Board could not question the decision of a general assembly and could only be notified of the outcome. “The former LIPRODHOR board can go to court,” he said. “If the courts decide this was a bad decision, then we will remove our approval.”
On July 24, LIPRODHOR, through its ousted president, filed a legal challenge against the July 21 decision and sought a temporary injunction. The court case is pending.
“The Rwanda Governance Board and the new LIPRODHOR board are passing the ball back and forth,” Bekele said. “A group of people take over an organization illegally and say, ‘The decision is now legal.’ The government body charged with oversight says, ‘It is not our responsibility to ensure compliance with the law, we just note the outcome.’ These administrative tricks have been used before to silence dissent in Rwanda.”
On July 24 the police canceled a training workshop organized by LIPRODHOR on submitting evidence to the Universal Periodic Review – a United Nations Human Rights Council procedure to review the human rights situation in each country. The police spokesman, Theos Badege, told Human Rights Watch that the police had acted on the instructions of the Rwanda Governance Board.
During the forced handover between the old and new boards, police threatened LIPRODHOR staff with imprisonment if they did not cooperate with the new board. Several members told Human Rights Watch that they felt their security was at risk.
“Partners of Rwanda who pay lip service to supporting civil society should step up to defend LIPRODHOR,” Bekele said. “Otherwise, there will soon be no organizations left in the country to provide independent information.”
Rwanda’s domestic human rights movement has been almost destroyed by a combination of state intimidation, threats, manipulation, infiltration, and administrative obstacles. Most leading human rights activists have fled the country. The government’s actions to silence human rights groups are part of a broader pattern of intolerance of criticism, which extends to independent journalists and opposition parties.
LIPRODHOR is the last effective national independent human rights organization in Rwanda. Once one of the most dynamic groups, which regularly published reports and set up pioneering projects after the 1994 genocide to monitor trials and prison conditions, it has been plagued with problems for more than a decade. By 2013, despite limited resources and financial difficulties, it had continued monitoring human rights abuses and organizing training and advocacy activities, but rarely published reports.
LIPRODHOR has been singled out by the government in its crackdown on human rights groups. In 2004 the parliament requested the dissolution of the group and several others on the recommendation of a parliamentary commission on genocide ideology, which alleged that these organizations supported genocidal ideas. After receiving personal threats, about a dozen leading members of the group fled the country. Several others left in the ensuing years.
In 2008 the National Electoral Commission prevented the group, at the last minute, from monitoring the 2008 parliamentary elections.
One of the most divisive government tactics used against civil society organizations has been infiltration. LIPRODHOR is just the latest in a string of human rights organizations taken over by people who are close to the Rwandan government or who are unwilling to denounce human rights abuses. Once in leadership posts, these people have blocked investigations on sensitive issues as well as publications that could be deemed critical of the government, and have frozen out independently minded members. Several leading human rights organizations have been paralyzed in this way.
Human Rights Watch has documented a similar pattern of government tactics against opposition parties. In March 2010 the opposition PS-Imberakuri was taken over by a dissident faction favorable to the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). This faction ousted the party’s president, Bernard Ntaganda, and replaced him with a more compliant leader, Christine Mukabunani.
Ntaganda was arrested three months later, just weeks before the 2010 presidential elections. He was tried in 2011 and sentenced to four years in prison for “divisionism” and endangering national security. Party members loyal to him have also been arrested, harassed, and threatened, and have been unable to pursue their political activities. Meanwhile, the faction headed by Mukabunani has been allowed to operate and is recognized by the government.
In late 2009 Ntaganda was summoned by the senate and questioned on accusations of genocide ideology. The senate’s Political Affairs Commission found that accusations of genocide ideology and divisionism against him were well-founded.
Other groups have also been co-opted and forced into structures that the government can control. For example, the Civil Society Platform, a broad umbrella group which the government has strongly encouraged organizations to join, claims to be independent but regularly aligns itself with the government. At times, it has sought to defend the government against criticism and to downplay the scale of its abuses. The Civil Society Platform’s election observation mission produced an overwhelmingly positive report on the 2010 presidential elections, despite a brutal government crackdown on opposition parties, journalists, and critics in the pre-election period.
On occasion, the Civil Society Platform, as well as CLADHO, has publicly criticized independent organizations. In 2010 CLADHO publicly denounced a collective civil society report on the human rights situation in Rwanda submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in advance of Rwanda’s Universal Periodic Review in 2011.
The report was coordinated by the League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region, of which LIPRODHOR is a member. In a public statement on September 3, 2010, CLADHO disowned the report and called for the prosecution of those who had drafted and distributed it.
The League for Human Rights itself has been targeted by the government on several occasions. As a regional organization, it has a different status from LIPRODHOR but has maintained a strongly independent line on human rights in Rwanda, leading to threats against several of its leading members.
The recent decision by LIPRODHOR to withdraw from CLADHO takes place against a background of longstanding internal tensions within the umbrella group, between member organizations that have tried to maintain independence from the government and those that have refrained from criticizing the government. Since the late 1990s, people who are unwilling to criticize the government have dominated CLADHO.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH (Washington, DC)
22. July 2013
A Congolese M23 rebels sleeps in the back of a truck as the rebels withdraw from Goma.Photograph: Phil Moore/AFP/Getty Images
Goma — M23 rebels have summarily executed at least 44 people and raped at least 61 women and girls since March 2013 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Local residents and rebel deserters reported recent forced recruitment of men and boys by the M23 in both Rwanda and Congo.
After a nearly two-month-long ceasefire, fighting resumed on July 14 between the Congolese armed forces and M23 rebels near the eastern city of Goma.
Residents and rebel deserters described recent support from within Rwanda to the abusive M23 forces. This includes regular movements from Rwanda into Congo of men in Rwandan army uniforms, and the provision of ammunition, food, and other supplies from Rwanda to the M23. The M23 has been recruiting inside Rwanda. Rwandan military officers have trained new M23 recruits, and have communicated and met with M23 leaders on several occasions.
“Not only is Rwanda allowing its territory to be used by the abusive M23 to get recruits and equipment, but the Rwandan military is still directly supporting the M23,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This support is sustaining an armed group responsible for numerous killings, rapes and other serious abuses.”
The latest Human Rights Watch findings are based on more than 100 interviews since March, including with former M23 fighters who left the movement between late March and July and civilians living near the Congo-Rwanda border, some of whom were victims of abuses.
In addition to M23 abuses, Human Rights Watch documented several cases of killings and rapes by Congolese Hutu militia groups operating in and around M23-controlled territory. Some Congolese army officers have allegedly supported factions of these groups, as well as factions of the allied Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group, some of whose members participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Since its inception in April 2012, the M23 has committed widespread violations of the laws of war. Despite numerous war crimes by M23 fighters, the armed group has received significant support from Rwandan military officials. After briefly occupying Goma in November, then withdrawing on December 1, the M23 controls much of Congo’s Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories, bordering Rwanda.
On April 25 and 26, M23 fighters killed 15 ethnic Hutu civilians in several villages in Busanza groupement in Rutshuru territory, and at least another 6 in mid-June, in an apparent attempt to “punish” villagers for alleged collaboration with Congolese Hutu militias.
Other civilians killed by M23 fighters since March include a 62-year-old man who was shot dead because he refused to hand his sons over to the M23, a motorcycle driver who refused to give money to the M23, M23 recruits who were caught after trying to escape, and others accused of collaborating with Hutu militia.
On July 5, four M23 fighters gang-raped a 12-year-old girl as she went to fetch water in her village in Rutshuru. An M23 fighter who accosted an 18-year-old woman near Bunagana shot her in the leg on April 15 when she refused to have sex with him.
Since June, M23 leaders have forced local chiefs in areas under their control to undergo military and ideological training and obtain recruits for the M23. The M23 considers these chiefs to be part of their “reserve force” that can be called upon to provide support during military operations.
M23 fighters have arrested or abducted dozens of civilians in recent weeks in Rutshuru, most of them Hutu. The M23 accused many of them of collaborating with the FDLR or allied Congolese Hutu militias. M23 fighters beat them severely, tied them up, and detained them. The M23 then forced many of them to undergo military training and become M23 fighters.
A former M23 police officer, who deserted in April, told Human Rights Watch that he participated in investigations of killings of civilians. He said that before each investigation, a high-ranking M23 commander, Innocent Kayna, told him: “You will do the investigation. You will say it’s bandits in the neighborhood who killed, not M23.”
Human Rights Watch contacted the M23’s military leader, Sultani Makenga, but he was unavailable to speak about the recent alleged abuses.
Those recruited in Rwanda into the M23 include demobilized Rwandan army soldiers and former FDLR fighters, most of whom had become part of the Rwandan army’s Reserve Force, as well as Rwandan civilians. A 15-year-old Rwandan boy told Human Rights Watch that he and three other young men and boys were promised jobs as cow herders in Congo, but when they got to Congo were forced to join the M23. They were given military training by Rwandan officers in Congo and told they would be killed if they tried to escape. Other M23 deserters also said Rwandan officers were training new M23 recruits.
Former M23 officers who had been part of previous Rwanda-backed rebellions said they recognized officers serving with the M23 who they knew were members of the Rwandan army. Congolese deserters told Human Rights Watch that a number of M23 fighters admitted freely that they were Rwandan. Some said they had served in the Rwandan army’s peacekeeping contingent in Somalia or Darfur.
Recent M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch described frequent – in some cases weekly – arrivals of soldiers and recruits from Rwanda. Sometimes these were rotations, with new soldiers replacing others who had returned to Rwanda. Weapons, ammunition, large containers of milk, truckloads of rice, and other supplies were brought to the M23 from Rwanda. M23 deserters also described phone conversations and meetings in both Rwanda and Congo between senior M23 leaders and people the deserters were told or knew to be Rwandan officials.
All of the recent M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Rwandan soldiers, officers, and trainers were present throughout their time with the M23, and that there had been new arrivals from Rwanda in recent months.
“For the past 17 years, the Rwandan army has repeatedly deployed troops to eastern Congo and backed abusive proxy forces responsible for war crimes,” Bekele said. “As in the past, Rwanda denies it’s supporting the M23, but the facts on the ground speak for themselves.”
Rwandan government and military officials did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s requests for a meeting. Rwandan officials in the past have repeatedly denied allegations that the government is providing support to the M23.
The Rwandan government should immediately halt all support to the M23 because of its broadly abusive behavior, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations and United States special envoys for the Great Lakes region and donor governments should publicly denounce continuing Rwandan support to the M23 and call for sanctions against senior Rwandan officials responsible for backing the armed group.
The Congolese government should immediately suspend, investigate, and prosecute as appropriate Congolese military officers and government officials who have provided support to the FDLR or allied groups. The government should make clear that abusive militia commanders will not be integrated into Congo’s army as part of any political settlement.
According to international journalists present near the front line and photographs seen by Human Rights Watch, Congolese army soldiers treated the corpses of M23 fighters killed in combat on July 16 in a degrading manner, stripping them, making ethnic slurs, and prodding their genitals with weapons. International law prohibits “committing outrages upon personal dignity,” including against the dead. Human Rights Watch also documented cases in which the Congolese army detained former M23 fighters and alleged collaborators for several weeks without bringing them before a court, and often incommunicado and in harsh conditions.
Congolese military officials should appropriately discipline officers and soldiers responsible for mistreating corpses, and ensure that such acts cease immediately. Military and judicial officials should ensure that captured combatants and civilians are treated in accordance with due process standards, including being promptly brought before a judge and charged, or released. Detainees should not be mistreated or held in inhumane conditions.
Summary Executions and Other Attacks by the M23
Human Rights Watch has documented 44 summary executions committed by the M23 since March. M23 fighters have also killed and wounded an unknown number of civilians, including some caught in the crossfire during fighting.
M23 fighters killed 15 Hutu civilians in several villages in Busanza groupement in Rutshuru territory on April 25 and 26, and at least another 6 in mid-June, in an apparent attempt to “punish” villagers for alleged collaboration with Congolese Hutu militias.During the attack on the night of April 25, a group of M23 fighters moved through the villages of Ruvumbura, Kirambo, Nyamagana, and Shinda, killing and looting as they went. A 43-year-old mother of three told Human Rights Watch: “When they started killing people, we scattered into the bush. My husband went back to try to get our belongings, and they killed him. They shot him in the head.”
In late May, M23 fighters shot dead a 62-year-old man in Ntamugenga because he refused to hand his sons over to the M23. On May 15, M23 fighters stopped a motorcycle driver outside Kiwanja and killed him because he did not give them money. In mid-June, M23 fighters shot a moneychanger several times in the chest, killing him. They then told his wife, “Give us money or we’ll do to you what we did to your husband.” She handed over their money, and the fighters left.
In Kibumba in mid-May, an M23 officer, Col. Yusuf Mboneza, ordered the execution of a 24-year-old man whom he accused of being a thief. After the execution, Mboneza called the villagers to a meeting and displayed the young man’s corpse, saying it should serve as a warning to anyone else who might steal.
Others summarily executed by the M23 since March were new recruits and prisoners who unsuccessfully tried to escape.
On June 21, the M23 caught a Congolese M23 fighter known as “Tupac” as he tried to flee near Kabuhanga. They took him back to the military camp at Kamahoro, where the commander ordered the troops into formation and told soldiers to shoot him to discourage other deserters. They shot Tupac twice in the chest at close range. An M23 deserter told Human Rights Watch that he and other recruits were forced to bury Tupac.
After a clash between the M23 and a Congolese Hutu militia group on June 18, M23 fighters looted several villages in Busanza. The fighters demanded money from a 33-year-old woman. When she said she had no money, the fighters cut her on the shoulder with a machete and struck her 11-year-old son on the head. On April 15, an 18-year-old woman was shot in the leg when she refused to have sex with an M23 fighter who approached her at her farm near Bunagana. The victims of these attacks survived with serious injuries.
Rape by the M23
Human Rights Watch has documented 61 cases of rape of women and girls by M23 fighters between March and early July. Because of the stigma surrounding rape and fear of reprisals, the actual number of victims may be much higher. Many of those raped were in their fields or collecting firewood. M23 fighters accused some of them of being the “wives” of FDLR fighters. Most of the rapes occurred close to M23 positions, and some victims recognized the attackers as M23 fighters they had seen before. The rapists frequently told their victims that they would be killed if they spoke about the rape or sought medical treatment.
A 12-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch that an M23 fighter caught and raped her in June as she and her friends were buying sugar cane in a field near an M23 position in Rutshuru:
I saw a [M23] soldier. I started running, but I tripped on a piece of sugar cane and fell. The soldier caught up with me and said he would kill me because I tried to flee. I stopped then because I was very scared. Then he raped me. I cried out, but he closed my mouth.
A 17-year-old girl said M23 fighters had raped her twice. The second time, in June, occurred when she was alone in her house after M23 police abducted her husband and forced him to join a night patrol:
The M23 fighter came into my house and asked me where my husband was. He then put a knife to my chest and said he was going to kill me, and that I should give him money. I told him I didn’t have any money, that my husband took it with him on patrol. I was sitting on the bed with my child. The soldier fought with me on the bed. He was stronger than me and he had a gun. Then he raped me.
A 35-year-old Hutu woman who was raped by an M23 fighter near Bunagana in June told Human Rights Watch:
When he finished, he left me in the forest. I was shaking and turned toward the ground, crying…. The one who raped me was an M23 fighter whom I know. I recognized him, but what can I do to him?
Forced Recruitment, Including of Children, and Abductions by the M23
Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases of forced recruitment by M23 forces since March, including of children. Recruitment appears to have increased in recent months as the M23 has struggled to keep its forces’ numbers up. Over 700 M23 fighters and political cadres fled to Rwanda when Bosco Ntaganda’s faction of the M23 was defeated by an M23 faction led by Makenga in March, an estimated 200 M23 fighters were killed during the infighting, and scores of fighters have deserted.
Since June, the M23 leadership has held several meetings with local chiefs and other community leaders and demanded their help in recruiting new fighters. In early June, the M23 forced local leaders and chiefs to attend a week-long military training conducted by Rwandan officers. They also received “ideological training,” which included the M23’s vision for taking over Congo.
The chiefs were released but are supposed to form part of a “reserve force” that can be called upon when necessary. The M23 ordered them to find recruits in their villages and send them to the M23. One local leader who participated in the training told Human Rights Watch that they had been told to give M23 officials the names of demobilized youth in their villages, so that the M23 “could then go themselves, find the demobilized youth, and make sure they joined up.”
The M23 have arrested Hutu civilians whom they accused of collaborating with or supporting the FDLR or Congolese Hutu militia groups. The fighters detained, beat and whipped these civilians, and took many of them to an M23 military camp, where they were trained and forced to become M23 fighters.
A 19-year-old secondary school student told Human Rights Watch that he was recruited by the M23 in March while he was farming near Kalengera, in Rutshuru:
I saw the M23 come and surround me. They asked me if I was an FDLR, and I said no. After that, they started whipping and beating me. They tied me up and took me to Rumangabo, where they locked me in a cell. After two days, they untied me, but left me in the cell for a week. After, they told me I would become a soldier. They then started the military training. There were 80 of us being trained. There were 10 officers from Rwanda who led the training. They told us we had to become soldiers so we could fight to liberate Goma and then continue on to South Kivu.
On June 3, the M23 went from house to house in Kiwanja’s Kachemu neighborhood, apprehending about 40 young men and boys whom they accused of collaborating with a local militia group. The fighters beat the civilians and detained them in a cell at the M23’s base in Nyongera. Many had difficulty walking the next day as a result of the ill-treatment. About half of the youth were released after their families paid the M23 guards; 20 were taken to Rumangabo to be trained as fighters.
In other cases, families do not know what happened to abducted relatives. In March and April, for example, M23 fighters in Busanza abducted four young men whom they accused of collaborating with a Congolese Hutu militia. Their families have not heard from them since.
Congolese army soldiers captured by M23 fighters described torture and other ill-treatment in detention. One soldier, who was taken by the M23 in December and escaped in early July, said that two other soldiers held prisoner with him were beaten to death. For three days, the rebels hit the prisoners with sticks and stomped on their chests, while their legs and arms were tied together. While beating them, the M23 demanded information about where the Congolese army was hiding its weapons. The two men were not given medical treatment and died in detention.
M23 Recruitment in Rwanda and Other Rwandan Support
Based on interviews with 31 former M23 fighters who deserted since late March and numerous civilians living on both sides of the border, Human Rights Watch has documented military support from Rwanda to the M23. The support includes the provision of weapons and ammunition. Armed men in military uniform have moved regularly from Rwanda into Congo to support the M23; these could be new recruits and demobilized soldiers who were given uniforms before crossing into Congo, or serving Rwandan soldiers.Rwandan army officers have been seen at M23 bases, leading training for new recruits, and recruiting for the M23 in Rwanda.
Those recruited in Rwanda and taken across the border to fight with the M23 include demobilized Rwandan soldiers and former FDLR fighters who are part of the Rwandan army’s Reserve Force, as well as civilians, including boys. Between January and June, UN peacekeepers demobilized and repatriated 56 former M23 fighters who said they were Rwandan nationals. But M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch, as well as the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that Rwandan army officers forcibly brought back Rwandan nationals who escaped the M23 and tried to return to Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch has documented the cases of seven Rwandan children, ages 15, 16, and 17, who were forcibly recruited in Rwanda in March and April, forced to fight with the M23, and were later able to escape. Human Rights Watch has received reports of other children recruited in Rwanda in recent months who have not been able to escape.
A 15-year-old Rwandan boy told Human Rights Watch that he was forcibly recruited from his village in Nyabihu district in Rwanda with two other boys and a young man in late April. The four of them were making bricks when two men in civilian clothes offered them jobs as cow herders in Congo. The two men then took them by motorcycle to the Congolese border, and on to an M23 military camp. They were forced to become M23 fighters and were warned that they would be killed if they refused or tried to escape.
The 15-year-old said that Rwandan army officers gave them military training for 10 days and that many other Rwandans were in his group of 58 new recruits. He said some of the Rwandan recruits tried to escape, but they were caught and brought back to the camp.
A Congolese M23 officer who deserted in late May told Human Rights Watch that Rwandan recruits and soldiers arrived regularly throughout his time with the M23, from November through May. He said the soldiers would come and go, as they rotated in and out. The recruits were given military training and forced to stay in Congo. Many tried to flee back to Rwanda, he said, but some were caught once they crossed into Rwanda and were taken back to the M23.
One deserter told Human Rights Watch that a Rwandan soldier in his unit had told him in April that he was a demobilized soldier and had come to fight in Congo so he could have a higher rank in the Rwandan army when he went back. He said that two other Rwandans in his unit had escaped to Rwanda in March, but had been re-recruited and brought back to the M23. A former M23 officer said that two Rwandans in his unit escaped in mid-April. Soon after they arrived in Rwanda, the former officer said, neighborhood authorities informed military intelligence officials, who brought the young men back to the M23. They were detained by the M23 for a week, then redeployed.
M23 deserters and Rwandan villagers said that Rwandan soldiers and new recruits often crossed the border on foot at night, using remote trails through Virunga National Park.
Two former M23 officers told Human Rights Watch that some of the Rwandan fighters in their units told them they had served in Somalia or Darfur as part of the Rwandan army’s peacekeeping contingent. Several M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch, who had served in previous Rwanda-backed rebellions, said they recognized Rwandan army officers from their past experiences with the Rwandan military.
A Congolese man from Ntamugenga was forcibly recruited in May and forced to start military training. “In our group, there were 107 in the training,” he said. “Most of the others were Rwandans. They told me they had been tricked and were promised money if they came to Congo. Many of them were children. The army officers from Rwanda gave us the training, and they told us themselves that they lived in Rwanda. [After the training], there were demobilized soldiers from Rwanda and some ex-FDLR in my group.”
Several M23 deserters who escaped since late May described to Human Rights Watch the difference in the way the M23 treated Rwandans and Congolese within the rebel movement. One said:
Rwandans are favored. They’re given uniforms immediately, they’re given blankets, and they get boots. They’re spoiled. When they talk, they talk like they are the owners of the movement. I felt this threat. [They] called me a loser. They said, “You are worth nothing in your country.” They insulted me with things that you can’t say out loud. They said, “You Congolese, you may have studied a lot, but you’ve never been to the front.”
M23 deserters described deliveries of weapons, ammunition, food, phone credit, and other supplies from Rwanda. One former officer said that the wives of Rwandan officers often came to the M23’s positions in Congo to visit their husbands, bringing with them letters from family members in Rwanda.
All of the M23 deserters Human Rights Watch interviewed said the presence of Rwandan soldiers, officers, and trainers continued throughout their time with the M23, and that new arrivals – often bringing with them military and other supplies – continued coming from Rwanda in recent months.
Three former M23 officers close to the movement’s leadership told Human Rights Watch that the M23’s senior commanders spoke on the phone and met regularly with senior Rwandan army officers until at least late May or June, when the three deserted. Sometimes Rwandan officers came to Tshanzu or Rumangabo to meet with the M23 leaders, and sometimes the M23 leaders went to Rwanda for meetings.
Rwandan Support for M23 Military Operations
M23 deserters and civilians from near the Congo-Rwanda border reported an increase in support from Rwanda to the M23 at the time of three recent periods of heavy fighting – during infighting between two M23 factions in March; during fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army around Mutaho in late May; and before the fighting north of Goma in mid-July.
After the M23 split into two factions, Rwandan officials backed the faction led by Sultani Makenga against Bosco Ntaganda. A former M23 officer in Makenga’s faction told Human Rights Watch: “We were saved by Rwanda, and it’s thanks to their support that we were able to defeat Ntaganda’s group. They sent us ammunition and well-armed troops.”
Days before the fighting in Mutaho in late May, a young Congolese man told Human Rights Watch that M23 fighters abducted him in Kibumba groupement in mid-May. The fighters took him across the border into Rwanda, where they met a group of Rwandan soldiers. He and others with him were forced to carry containers of milk and boxes of ammunition and walk with the soldiers and rebel fighters back into Congo.
A 19-year-old Congolese student who was forcibly recruited by the M23 in March told Human Rights Watch that he and other M23 fighters were taken across the border into Rwanda in mid-May to pick up a delivery of weapons and ammunition and bring them back to the M23. They crossed into Rwanda at Gasizi and the following morning carried the weapons and ammunition to Kibumba in Congo. “The weapons were in two trucks,” he said. “We unloaded small bombs, machine guns, cartridges, and rocket launchers. Other Rwandans met us [in Gasizi] to help us carry the weapons back to Kibumba.”
Numerous local residents who were at or near the border between May 19 and 23 told Human Rights Watch that they saw groups of armed men in uniform crossing the border from Rwanda into Congo, including at Kasizi, Kabuhanga, and Hehu hill.
On May 20, for example, a teacher in Kasizi, who lives next to the border, saw three trucks arrive at the border at about 5 p.m. A large number of armed men in Rwandan military uniforms with Rwandan flags on their uniforms got out of the trucks and crossed the border into Congo on foot, through the forest, just to the side of the official border crossing.
On May 21, a local resident told Human Rights Watch, he saw at least several dozen soldiers with Rwandan flags on the shoulders of their uniforms by the Ruhunda market in Kibumba at about 11 a.m., walking in single file. They had weapons and some were carrying boxes. Some who appeared to be of a higher rank carried walkie-talkies.
Human Rights Watch also received reports of increased movements of armed men from Rwanda into Congo in the days leading up to the fighting that broke out on July 14.
A farmer told Human Rights Watch that on the evening of July 10 he was visiting a relative who lives next to the Rwanda border in Kibumba groupement when he heard the sound of vehicles, looked out the window, and saw armed men in uniform going from the border toward Kibumba. Some were on foot and others in vehicles.
A farmer who lives on the Rwandan side of the border said he saw similar movements of trucks between July 7 and 11, in the evenings, bringing soldiers to the Rwandan army military position at Njerima. The men got out of the trucks at the border and crossed into Congo on foot.
Another Rwandan civilian who lives near the border, in Rubavu sector, told Human Rights Watch that Rwandan army officers called him and other local residents to a meeting in early July. A Rwandan army captain leading the meeting told those present that the FDLR was close to the border. “Instead of letting the war come to Rwanda,” he said. “We will go to the other side.”
Four days later, the same Rwandan civilian saw hundreds of Rwandan soldiers cross the border into Congo, carrying heavy weaponry. “Some had heavy guns, the kind that break down and three men each take one section,” he said. “Others were carrying mortars. Most of the men were on foot, but they also used two trucks covered with sheeting.”
This man said he saw another large movement of Rwandan soldiers cross into Congo on July 8, a week before fighting broke out between the M23 and the Congolese army. During the following week, he saw smaller groups of soldiers cross into Congo.
A Rwandan farmer who lives near Kabuhanga village said he saw groups of several dozen Rwandan army soldiers cross into Congo between June 20 and June 30. He also saw a larger group cross on July 12, two days before fighting broke out.
Abuses by Hutu Militia with Support from Congolese Military Personnel
The M23’s control of territory weakened following the infighting between two M23 factions in March. Since then, Congolese Hutu armed groups, including the Popular Movement for Self-Defense (Mouvement populaire d’autodéfense or MPA), have carried out attacks in and around M23-controlled territory, and killed and raped several civilians. UN officials and former Hutu militia fighters told Human Rights Watch that some factions of these groups have received support from Congolese military personnel.
A 16-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch that on June 17, she, two other girls and an older woman who were coming home from their farm in Rutshuru were gang-raped by several Hutu militia fighters. In June, MPA fighters killed the local chief in Buchuzi, in Busanza groupement, as well as two M23 policemen. The fighters accused the chief of recruiting members for the M23. The attack followed a clash on June 6, when M23 fighters attacked the MPA and looted 12 houses and took dozens of goats.
Some of these Congolese Hutu groups are allied with the FDLR, which has long carried out horrific abuses against civilians in eastern Congo, including killings and rapes. Sources interviewed by the UN Group of Experts, cited in the group’s leaked interim report in June, said that Congolese army soldiers have supplied ammunition to the FDLR and that local Congolese army officers operating near M23-controlled territory and FDLR commanders “regularly meet and exchange operational information.”
Background on the M23 and Recent Fighting
The M23 was formed in April 2012 after a mutiny by former members of a previous Rwanda-backed rebellion, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), whose members had integrated into the Congolese armed forces in 2009. With significant support from the Rwandan military, the M23 gained control of much of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories in Congo’s North Kivu province. In late November, the M23 seized the main eastern city of Goma, again with significant Rwandan military support. The M23 withdrew from Goma on December 1, when the Congolese government agreed to peace talks.
On February 24, 11 African countries signed the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Region in Addis-Ababa, under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The signatories – including Congo and Rwanda – agreed not to interfere in the internal affairs of neighboring countries; not to tolerate or provide support of any kind to armed groups; neither to harbor nor provide protection of any kind to anyone accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of genocide or crimes of aggression, or anyone falling under the UN sanctions regime; and to cooperate with regional justice initiatives. The former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, was appointed UN special envoy for the Great Lakes Region to support implementation of the Framework Agreement.
On March 18, Ntaganda, one of the M23’s leaders, surrendered to the US embassy in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, following his defeat during infighting between two M23 factions. He was transferred to The Hague, where he is to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Over 700 M23 fighters and political leaders loyal to Ntaganda also fled to Rwanda, including four people on UN and US sanctions lists: Innocent Zimurinda, Baudouin Ngaruye, Eric Badege, and Jean-Marie Runiga.
Zimurinda and Ngaruye have been implicated in ethnic massacres, rape, torture, and child recruitment. They should not be shielded from justice but instead arrested and prosecuted without delay, Human Rights Watch said.
Makenga and Kayna (known as “India Queen”), who are still in Congo, are also on UN and US sanctions lists and are wanted on Congolese arrest warrants for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Talks in Kampala, Uganda between the Congolese government and the M23 have made little progress. The Congolese government has insisted that it will not integrate into its forces or reward people implicated in serious human rights abuses, including those who are on UN sanctions lists. Providing official positions to human rights abusers can encourage future human rights violations and is an affront to victims of past abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
After the M23 withdrew from Goma in December, a ceasefire had largely held between the M23 and the Congolese army until heavy fighting broke out around Mutaho, eight kilometers northwest of Goma, on May 20 to 22.
Fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army resumed on July 14 north of Goma.
Since its internal split in March, the M23’s control over some territory has weakened, allowing the FDLR and allied Congolese Hutu groups to carry out incursions there.
A new Force Intervention Brigade , an African-led, 3,000-member force made up of troops from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi, is being deployed to eastern Congo. The force is part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, and has a mandate to carry out offensive operations against armed groups operating in eastern Congo. The M23 has strongly opposed the deployment of this force.
To the Rwandan government:
- Immediately end all support for the M23;
- Cooperate with efforts to bring to justice M23 commanders allegedly responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious abuses, and ensure that any such commanders who have fled to Rwanda are not shielded from justice;
- Investigate and prosecute as appropriate Rwandan civilian and military officials who may be responsible for aiding and abetting war crimes by the M23 and other rebel forces in Congo.
To the Congolese government:
- Suspend, investigate, and prosecute as appropriate Congolese civilian and military officials who may be responsible for aiding and abetting war crimes by the FDLR and allied armed groups;
- Reject any settlement that rewards M23 leaders allegedly responsible for serious abuses, including Sultani Makenga and Innocent Kayna;
- Appropriately discipline officers and soldiers responsible for mistreating corpses, and ensure that such acts cease immediately;
- Ensure that captured combatants and civilians are treated in accordance with due process standards, including being promptly brought before a judge and charged, or released; ensure that detainees are not mistreated or held in inhumane conditions.
To the UN and US special envoys to the Great Lakes and governments providing aid to Rwanda and Congo:
- Denounce continued support to the M23 from Rwanda, and support sanctions against senior Rwandan officials responsible for supporting the M23 since 2012;
- Seek to ensure that any settlement between the Congolese government and the M23 excludes integration into the Congolese army of M23 leaders, including those on UN and US sanctions lists, implicated in war crimes and other serious abuses;
- Press for the arrest and prosecution of military commanders, including members of the M23, implicated in war crimes and other serious abuses;
- Suspend donor assistance to the Rwandan military for as long as it supports abusive armed groups in Congo, and continue to seek independent information about the use of Rwandan territory to recruit M23 members and the involvement of the Rwandan military in supporting the M23; include strong human rights benchmarks as part of other assistance programs to Rwanda.
THE NEW TIMES
by Sam KEBONGO, 29 JUNE 2013
We have seen how the world works. It is not what it seems. Simply put, the strong rule over the weak. People who preach to us equality and human rights are the also the guiltiest violators. Pro-trade fellows are the same ones that shut us out in trade. It has been like this in the past and will always be like this.
From activities leading up to the partition of Africa in the Berlin Conference of 1885 to the oil industry’s ‘secrets of the ‘Seven sisters’ in 1928 in Scotland, we, Rwandans like other Africans, started from a position of a disadvantage; on a back foot with big problem in tow.
Yet all this is not neither malevolent nor benevolent. The lion does not attack the young antelope out of hate or spite. In fact, in some warped way, it could claim to love the antelope; for its tender flesh! It only attacks because of self-interest. Before we are self-sufficient, we are in the antelope’s position.
So, what should we do? Nelson Mandela; in his book ‘No Easy Walk to Freedom’, puts it perfectly. He says, “… no general pins his victory on the actions of sympathetic soldiers in the enemy camp; a competent commander secures victory through careful planning and execution of strategy”.
There is a combination of attitudes and activities that can move us to where we want to be. They include but are not limited to the following:
Focused patriotism: Patriotism is the one thing that we do not need to teach in Rwanda. There is plenty of it all around. This is a good thing and it can spur growth through what economists call ‘feel good factor’. Focused patriotism? You can direct your love for Rwanda towards helping it achieve Vision 2020. But how do you do this? We will explore this below.
Self love: I get suspicious when someone claims to love something more than they love themselves. The only exception is romantic love, especially a teenager’s first love (before the heart breaks). Fundamentalists claim this too, but theirs is mostly a case of hate, not love.
Self love, not to be confused with selfishness, is the key reason for being in the cause. You want to improve your situation. But you realise that your situation will only improve alongside that of your compatriots as they are similar. So you work together in a self help group, a cooperative, or any other joint arrangement.
In all this you remain aware of your issues and personal role in improving your situation as opposed to following blindly.
Sense of community: If you were the very rich person in a very poor neighborhood, you would most likely have many a sleepless night. It should, if you are normal. At best you will feel bad for your poor neighbors and at worst, you will worry for your security. As you pursue self improvement, you must seek, as much as possible to improve your community. Starting with your Umudugudu (cell). Again this is not something we need to teach a normal African.
Professionalism: Do you believe in African time? Do you have to say ‘ihangane’ (please bear with us) to people you serve for matters that you know could have been done better or faster? We need to pull up our socks. A full day in Africa is 24 hours as it is in Europe and Asia. We need to remember that it is our sense and practice of professionalism that enables us to realise our dreams. It is where the rubber meets the road and without it all our patriotism and community love remains hot air.
Entrepreneurial thinking and action: Do you see the big picture? Do you see opportunities in problems? The land of milk and honey must have bees and cows. Getting honey and milk from them will not always be a straight forward affair. There are challenges, there will always be, it is your role to overcome them.
Trading with our neighbours: Remember the old chorus, ‘… the more we are together the happier we shall be?’ it is true; recently, the President was in Uganda for a tripartite meeting with his Ugandan and Kenyan counterparts on infrastructure. That means we, as citizens, should have business contacts with citizens to take advantage of this and build our countries.
Know your role and own it!
Our Madiba, our Nelson Mandela; the lawyer, soldier, the black pimpernel, the political prisoner, the president, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the hero, the icon… we pray that God be with and keep you in your hour of grievous ill health and pain.
Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)
New York — The adoption of a new media law by Burundi’s National Assembly on April 3, 2013, is an attempt to curtail free speech and independent journalism. The Senate and president should reject this version of the draft law, which would undermine Burundians’ hard-won struggle for fundamental freedoms.
Provisions of the version adopted by the National Assembly would severely restrict the ability of journalists to cover events in Burundi, Human Rights Watch said. Among other things, it would undermine the protection of sources, limit subjects on which journalists may report, impose new fines for media found in violation of the law, and require journalists to have a minimum level of education and professional experience.
“This draft law is an attempt to clamp down on journalists after persistent harassment and intimidation has failed to silence them,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Senate should insist that these harsh restrictions are removed from the law.”
The draft legislation is particularly worrisome with elections planned for 2015, Human Rights Watch said. Journalists and other perceived critics of the government were repeatedly harassed and threatened during the 2010 election period.
The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Burundian Constitution, and in regional and international conventions, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Burundi has ratified.
In 2012 the government initially submitted a draft bill similar to the one passed on April 3 to the National Assembly. The parliamentary commission for political affairs made several positive amendments to that draft, removing many of the restrictions. However, when the draft was sent on to the full National Assembly, many of the original restrictions were reintroduced. Eventually the draft law was adopted by a vote of 82 to 15, with two abstentions.
The law has been sent to the Senate for approval. Once approved by the Senate, it will require the signature of President Pierre Nkurunziza before becoming law.
The draft law contains several articles that would interfere with Burundian journalists’ ability to operate independently and could expose them to a range of sanctions for ill-defined offenses, Human Rights Watch said.
For example, it requires journalists to refrain from reporting information that could affect “national unity; public order and security; morality and good conduct; honor and human dignity; national sovereignty; the privacy of individuals; the presumption of innocence.” Reporting is further restricted on issues that involve “propaganda of the enemy of the Burundian nation in times of peace as of war” and “information that could affect the credit of the state and the national economy.”
“This sweeping language means that topics journalists could legally cover would be severely restricted,” Bekele said. “They might not even be allowed to write about inflation, much less security issues or political killings.”
The draft law states that journalists should only broadcast “balanced information” and that sources “must be rigorously checked,” without further explanation.
The law would eliminate the prison terms for offenses that are included in the 2003 law the new media law would replace. But it would impose extortionate fines – some as high as 8 million Burundian francs (roughly US$5,000) – that most radio stations and newspapers would be unable to afford, Human Rights Watch said. The law would also require journalists to have a university degree in journalism or its equivalent or at least two years of professional experience.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which provides the definitive interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Burundi is a state party, states, in General Comment no. 34 on Freedom of Expression, that general state systems of registration or licensing of journalists are incompatible with freedom of expression.
“This law takes us backward,” Alexandre Niyungeko, president at the Burundian Union of Journalists, told Human Rights Watch. “It is an attack on democracy, because we cannot have even a basic level of democracy in a country where there is no freedom of expression.”
While Burundi has made important strides in recovering from a prolonged civil war, the country has had spikes in violence in recent years, with a sharp increase in political killings following the 2010 elections. Human Rights Watch has documented the implication of state agents in many of these cases. Burundian journalists have played a critical role in reporting on these killings and giving a voice to the victims’ families.
Under the law passed by the National Assembly, reporting on these cases and on the impunity of state agents could be considered illegal if it were interpreted as affecting national unity or order.
Burundi has a paradoxical media environment. It has a vibrant independent media sector, yet journalists have reported to Human Rights Watch that they are frequently threatened and intimidated by state agents over articles and broadcasts deemed critical of the government.
In 2010 most opposition parties boycotted the elections and several of their leaders fled the country. The ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), then appeared to treat journalists, civil society organizations, and lawyers as the new opposition. Government statements have often described journalists as mouthpieces of the political opposition.
One journalist, Jean Claude Kavumbagu, was imprisoned for 10 months for writing an article in which he questioned the country’s ability to respond to potential terrorist attacks. He was acquitted of the initial charge of treason but found guilty of “threatening the national economy.” He was released in May 2011.
Throughout 2011and 2012 radio journalists in Burundi were frequently harassed and summoned to the public prosecutor’s office to account for their broadcasts.
In 2012, Hassan Ruvakuki, of Radio France Internationale and Radio Bonesha FM, was sentenced to life in prison for alleged terrorist acts after interviewing a new rebel group in late 2011. His sentence was reduced to three years on appeal, and he was released on March 6, after spending 15 months in prison.
On February 19, police in Bujumbura, the capital, fired teargas to disperse journalists marching in support of Ruvakuki.
“A cornerstone to Burundi’s democratic future is the ability of journalists to work without hindrance and to report on sensitive issues,” Bekele said. “The government should value and preserve the country’s dynamic media sector instead of trying to undermine it through repressive legislation.”
Angelina Jolie travels to the Nzulo camp in eastern Congo to highlight the use of rape as a weapon of war and to raise awareness of the issue on an international level. (March 26)
The M23 has been accused of many human rights violations in North Kivu, including rape, abduction and murder. But some say the notorious rebel group in the DRC are not the only ones committing such atrocities. According to young men in the provincial capital of Goma, national police and FARDC soldiers are persecuting innocent people under an egregiously false premise – being allied with the M23.
“Three guys walked into my house. They produced their IDs and said they were from the police and that they came to arrest me because I have helped the M23,” says a young man who does not wish to be identified and who denies the alleged link.
The M23 was formed by ex-fighters from an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the Congolese military in a 2009 peace deal – one whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented. The rebels have been accused of raping women and girls, abducting young men and boys to fight with them and carrying out summary executions. The group operates mainly in towns close to the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.
But Congolese civilians are also pointing fingers at two other forces – the national police and soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). Some people in Goma say they are tired of being accused – without any proof whatsoever – of collaborating with M23 rebels. They say that every day, based on such accusations, the police carry out arbitrary arrests, torture, assault and imprison innocents. They say the list of injustices goes on and on.
“It was torture”
Recalling his encounter with the police, the aforementioned young man says: “They took my phone, my wallet, my voter registration card and all the documents I had on my person. They dragged me over 50 metres and forced me into a car. They said they were from a special police division. I was forced to spend the night in a cell, in terrible conditions. And nobody from my home was informed. It was torture.”
That night, agents of the national police forced the man to pay them. He says they told him: “Look, we’ll help you. Tomorrow, the chief of prison will transfer you to the central prison in Goma. So, just accept everything we tell you to put in the police statement. And then you go find us some money and we will set you free.”
After fetching 150 dollars for them, he was set free. “But they did warn me not to go to other police authorities to file a complaint against them,” he adds.
“Accused me of wanting to steal”
Another victim of such brutalities is a rickshaw driver at Goma airport, who says he was beaten up by members of the FARDC.
“I was waiting for clients when suddenly four soldiers came and started to rough-handle me,” he recalls. “They accused me of wanting to steal the airport plans for the M23 rebels, which is a big lie. They took me to their tent and started to beat me up, all over my body. They used whatever they could get their hands on – their belts, cords, anything.”
Although the rickshaw driver had no money on him, his aggressors let him go, eventually. “But they warned me not to mention to anyone what had happened,” he says, still seemingly shaken by the whole experience. “I was scared their commander wouldn’t believe me, if I would tell him my story. So, I decided to go back home. My family didn’t understand anything. All they could do was to take care of my wounds.” The driver had to wait a whole month to be fit enough to start working again.
North Kivu’s provincial police say they have not been made aware of these incidents. Police spokesman Colonel Jean Marie Malosa says he encourages victims to speak up and file complaints against unruly officers so they can be punished accordingly.
To build on a new, more cooperative relationship with civilians, police claim they have come up with new rules that will take effect imminently. “If we receive a number of complaints from the public, we will reach out a helping hand,” says Malosa. “We have even considered placing suggestion boxes in various neighbourhoods and at the offices of large organizations. If people are afraid to approach us, they can simply tip us off by using these boxes. We will work closely with the district chiefs and obtain information from them.”
If such police policies go into effect, Goma’s victims will have a chance to break their silence on those violations of human rights committed by security forces. But the fact remains that not a single police officer or soldier involved in such atrocities has yet been questioned, let alone arrested.
Source: Gaïus Kowene, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 26 September 2012
I’m pretty sure, most of you have the same reaction as I had, when I saw this. I thought is this a bad joke? Obviously it’s just a technical disconnection. But it made me think about…What if you could look up for a slave like that. Buy a human being just like that.. maybe on ebay, or wherever? The answer will or maybe wont shock you: You can! I searched the web for you… to find the right story…
This is the story of DAN HARRIS
(…) This deeply unsettling experiment starts on a typical Monday morning on Manhattan’s leafy Upper West Side, where commuters stroll by Starbucks and Central Park.
At 7:10 a.m., I’m off to see how long it takes to buy a child slave. It’s 45 minutes to Kennedy Airport and an hour or so wait in the terminal, then a 3½-hour flight to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
A band greets the flight.
By the time my team and I have collected our luggage, gone through immigration and customs, and are loaded into our vehicles, it’s about 3:15 p.m.
As we leave the airport, two things become immediately apparent: Port-au-Prince is an amazing, vivid place, and it’s also extremely poor. The U.S. State Department warns Americans against visiting here. United Nations peacekeepers patrol the roads while we drive with our own security team: two armed Haitian men in SUVs.
‘I Would Like to Get a Child’
By 4:45 p.m., I’m poolside at one of the city’s few upscale hotels. I’m wearing a hidden camera built into the strap of a bike messenger-style bag that’s around my neck. There’s another hidden camera in a leather satchel on the table, right next to the fruit plate and Evian water. My colleagues are manning cameras in hotel rooms overlooking the pool.
Our security guards are sitting discretely nearby.
That’s when the man with whom I’ve arranged a meeting shows up.
He says he’s a former member of parliament and that he has connections. In broad daylight, with hotel waiters walking by, he doesn’t even flinch when I make a horrific request.
“If I would like to get a child to live with me and take care of me,” I ask. “Could you do that?”
“Yes,” he says. “I can.”
He’s speaking in Creole, the most prevalent Haitian language. The man doing the translation, who has set up the meeting, works for us (unbeknownst to the slave trafficker).
The trafficker assures me he’s done this sort of transaction many times before.
“A girl or a boy?” he asks.
“A girl probably,” I say.
“Maybe 10 or 11.”
“Not a problem.”
He says he can get me an 11-year-old girl, although he suggests that a 15-year-old might be better, because she’d be more “developed.”
I’m thinking: I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.
“And this is OK?” I ask. “I won’t have any trouble from their parents or anything like that?”
“No, you won’t have any problems with their parents.”
“When I give you the child, I will train it for you.”
I’m not exactly sure what that means.
A Successful Negotiation
“I’m a little nervous.” I say. “I just want to make sure that this is OK, that I’m not going to get in trouble, that this will be smooth, that you’ve done this before.”
“I guarantee my service,” says the trafficker, grinning. “I can get you your girl as early as tomorrow.”
And now, the negotiation begins.
“So how much will it cost me to get a child?” I ask.
“The last one I gave was $300.”
Trying to test the value of human life, I push a little.
“I have a friend who got one for $50.”
“No,” he says.
“What about $100?”
“$150,” he offers.
And there it is. It’s about 5 p.m. Roughly 10 hours after leaving my office in New York City, I have successfully negotiated to buy another human being — an 11-year-old girl, whose value is set at just $150.
As we conclude our meeting, I want to make sure the trafficker does not act on my request. I ask him to wait a day before doing anything. I assure him I’ll call him tomorrow with my final answer. He agrees.
Offering Fake Papers and a ‘Pretty’ Child
And then, to show that this grotesque sort of deal-making is not a fluke, I have a second meeting, with another trafficker — a beefy guy with the air of a street thug.
This second trafficker is asking a much steeper price for an 11-year-old girl: $10,000.
“It’s something definitive,” explains our translator. “After the sale, he doesn’t mind what happens to the kid.”
“So for $10,000, I can have the child and do anything I want to do is what he’s saying?” I ask.
Dan Harris talking to Haitian slave dealers
As further enticement, the trafficker says he can even get me fake papers that would allow me to take this child back to the U.S. with me. Both traffickers say they have experience providing children to Americans. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, officials have no idea how often this sort of transaction transpires. As the slightly menacing slave trafficker describes this girl he’s promising to provide, I hear him use the French word “belle.” French, along with Creole, is one of Haiti’s official languages.
“Did he use the word ‘belle’? Like, pretty girl?” I ask the translator.
“So he’s saying this would be a pretty child?”
“Do you think he’s hinting that the child would be a partner of some sort?”
“Yeah, it’s up to you because that kid is yours.”
Once again, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation — sitting in the sunshine so casually transacting such diabolical business. Just to make sure I fully understand the offer on the table, I ask, “If I pay $10,000 I essentially own this child?”
“Yeah, it’s yours. You do whatever you want.”
I’ve heard enough. I conclude the meeting, once again making sure the trafficker doesn’t actually act on my request.
But now comes the craziest part of this wildly disturbing day.
Two waiters sitting nearby call me over. They say they’ve heard my conversations. At first I think they’re going to yell at me or something. I’m bracing for shame. Instead, the waiters offer to sell me a child.
“So you’re saying if I want to get a child to live with me, you can help me?” I ask. “Yes,” says one of the waiters. “I give you my telephone also.”
“About what age?” asks the other watier.
“Maybe 10, 11 years old.”
“10 or 11?”
“Yeah,” I say. “A girl.”
“Ok,” says the first waiter, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Ok. I’ll help you.”
Having illustrated how horrendously easy it is to buy a child slave in Haiti, let’s consider something exponentially more awful: the real scandal here in Haiti is that children are usually just given away.
There are an estimated 300,000 child slaves in Haiti according to UNICEF. This staggering statistic is discussed in E. Benjamin Skinner’s “A Crime So Monstrous,” a new book about the enormous and often underreported problem of modern day slavery. Click Here to read an excerpt. Skinner has come to Haiti with us. He was the one who gave us the idea to see how long it would take to leave New York City and buy a child slave.
They’re called “restaveks” — a Creole term that means “stay-with.” But these children often do more than just “stay with” families; they are usually forced to work from dawn until dusk, and are often underfed, beaten and sexually abused.
To meet some of these restaveks, my team and I traveled into the claustrophobic back alleys of one of Haiti’s worst slums, Solino.
Here we find Onise, an achingly beautiful 8-year-old with haunted eyes. Her parents, who live in the countryside, are so poor they simply gave Onise away to a slightly less poor family in Port-au-Prince.
Her owners promised her parents they would pay for Onise’s education. But every day, when the other children in the tiny, one-room hovel where the owners live head off to school, Onise stays behind to do housework and run errands.
When we get her alone, she reluctantly tells us about her life.
“When was the last time you talked to your parents?” I ask.
“No,” she says. Our translator expands: “She never talks to them.”
“Do you miss your parents?”
“Yes,” she says, in a nearly inaudible voice.
This child seems dead inside. The insides of her forearms are covered in scars.
“Do they hit you a lot?”
“Yes,” she says.
“When you dream, when you think about the things you want to do with your life — your hopes — what do you think about?”
“I want to drive a car,” she says.
The Promise of School
It is a bleak irony that Haiti is crawling with child slaves. This, after all, is the only nation in modern history to be founded as the result of a slave revolt, in 1804.
It’s also a place where parents clearly take great pride in their children’s appearance, dolling them up in elaborate school uniforms every weekday morning. Parents here also make massive economic sacrifices to send kids to school, in this country where, for the most part, there are no public schools.
Slave traffickers use Haiti’s poverty and lack of opportunity to their advantage.
“They dangle like a diamond necklace the promise of school,” says Skinner. As he explains, Haiti’s system of child slavery began generations ago. Poor families from the countryside would give their children to wealthy families in the city. The children would do domestic work, but they would also be fed, clothed and educated. It was a sort of social compact.
Even though the system has now morphed into something grotesque, traffickers exploit the false, residual glow of altruism.
“You talk to the traffickers about this,” says Skinner, “and they’ll often say, ‘Well, I’m doing a service to the family that’s giving up this child.'”
This bogus sheen of charity is perhaps why we are able to get slave owners to talk to us on camera. (Perhaps it’s also because having a slave is so commonplace as to be almost entirely uncontroversial here.)
We meet Onita Aristide in a shantytown precariously perched over a ravine filled with trash and also wild pigs and goats. Aristide is a mother of two who sells sandals in the local market. For four months she’s owned a “restavek” nicknamed Ti Soeur (Creole for “little sister.”) As usual, Ti Soeur comes from a poor family in the country and spends her days here in the city doing forced labor. She sleeps on the floor of Onita Aristide’s tiny home.
“Do you think she has a better life with you than she would have with her parents?” I ask Aristide.
“Yes,” she says.
“Because her family is poor and cannot afford to support her.”
There are a bunch of hard questions I want to ask this woman, for example, why doesn’t she send the girl to school? But the scars on Ti Soeur’s arms suggest I should tread lightly.
Knowing Aristide doesn’t speak any English, I broach the topic with our translator. “I don’t want to push her so hard that she gets angry and takes it out on the kid. Do you think I’m correct?”
“You’re correct,” he says.
Ti Souer’s Hope
We follow Ti Soeur as she goes to fetch water from the communal well. This gives us a chance to ask her questions without her owners hearing.
She’s a bright-eyed 11-year-old with short hair. When I ask her questions about the marks on her arm, she says, “The lady did it to me with an electric wire.”
As I later learn, this appears to be a standard punishment — whipping restaveks with the sort of electric cord you might you use to plug in a toaster or a laptop.
“Why would she do that to you?” I ask.
“Because one of the kids in the neighborhood came to see [her] in the house,” the translator says.
“So you’re not allowed to have any friends?”
“Do you have any time during the day where you can play, like a normal kid?”
“No. We don’t play.”
The translator explains, “If she doesn’t go and pick up the water, they beat her up. If she doesn’t sweep, beat her up.”
By the time we visit Ti Soeur at 10 a.m., she’s already cooked, cleaned, prepared the family children for school.
“Do you think the situation you’re in right now is unfair?” I ask.
“Do you think you’ll ever get out of this situation?”
“Do you have hope?”
“Good,” I say.
After meeting Ti Souer, we decided to go find her parents, to get a sense of why they would give their child away.
‘My Husband Forced Me’
Following a lead, we drive out of the throbbing, chaotic city, hours away, into the lush countryside. It’s beautiful out here. We see clouds resting lazily in green valleys. We see women on their way to market, carrying impossibly large loads of goods on their heads.
But you can’t miss the deprivation: It’s everywhere. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — the result of decades of bad, brutal, kleptocratic leadership, and also, many believe, negative interference from outside powers, including the United States.
Haiti’s poverty is on full display as we pull up to the house where Ti Soeur’s mother lives. It’s a shack, housing three families. Nine children live here, including one who we see using a condom as a toy balloon.
Ti Soeur’s mother is named Lita Bellevue. After a few pleasantries, I ask her the obvious question.
“Can you tell me how it happened that you gave your daughter up?”
“My husband forced me to do it,” she says.
She tells us that Ti Soeur’s birth father is dead. Her new husband, who is abusive, forced her to give the child away, she says, because they are too poor to take care of her. However, the husband does not seem willing to part with the two young children he and Lita have had together.
“Can you imagine living without these children?” I ask.
“I cannot live without them,” he says, flashing a nervous, toothless grin.
Lita says she’s heard rumors that Ti Soeur is being abused by her owners.
“I hear she’s being cut all over her arms and her head,” she says. “I try very hard to rescue the child, to go see the child, but my husband won’t let me.”
“When you think about you daughter living this way, how hard is it for you?”
“I feel sick inside,” she says.
To help us better understand why parents make these sorts of decisions, we go see Jean-Etienne Charles, a local Pentecostal pastor who preaches against child slavery. He’s got a broad, happy face and a thriving church, complete with a school for local kids.
“I do not think that it is because they do not love the child,” says Charles of parents who send their kids into servitude. “They love the kids; they love them. But because they think that they cannot take care of them, they turn them to another person.”
As a sign of how deeply entrenched this practice is, it turns out that the pastor’s family has a girl living with them whom they took on to do domestic work. They have since legally adopted her and are putting her through school, as an example to the families who abuse child slaves.
“I believe that people who do that should be thrown into jail,” says Charles. “But the government is not doing anything about it, so that is why the Haitians are doing it.”
Now that we’ve learned that Ti Soeur is stuck between slavery and an abusive, unhappy home, we decide to try our luck with the Haitian government. We go to the Department of Social Services and meet with several senior officials. We show them videotape of Ti Soeur’s scars.
“This is unacceptable,” says one official. She promises to act as early as possible. We leave feeling confident that Ti Soeur’s fate may soon change.
But within days, government officials stop returning our phone calls, and Ti Soeur’s case takes some surprising turns.
A Wrenching Scene
We learn that Bellevue, Ti Soeur’s mother, has done something brave and extraordinary: she has forced her abusive husband to go and retrieve Ti Soeur from slavery.
With the government seemingly missing in action, we hook up with a social services organization affiliated with the American-based group Beyond Borders.
They work with mother and daughter, reunited as a result of Bellevue’s courageous insistence, to get Ti Soeur accepted into a clean, cheerful orphanage.
But it’s a mixed blessing for the former child slave.
Her mother is being kicked out of her house, for the crime of having spoken out to her husband. Rather than take Ti Soeur with her into an uncertain, and potentially homeless future, she decided to leave her at the orphanage, where she’s safe.
As they’re forced to part again, it’s a wrenching scene. Ti Soeur is sobbing. She throws herself on the ground, inconsolable.
As we leave her, Ti Soeur seems traumatized, confused and lonely. But she’s also, finally, in a place where she’ll be fed, educated, safe and free from slavery.
For Haiti’s child slaves, this may be as close to a happy ending as you’ll find. (…)
click here to support one of the most prominent anti-slavery groups.
Thank you for reading,
Thanks for leaving honnest comments.
researched and commented 4u by mwoogie
Talking about reordering our World (We dont need justice but a new Order!!), funny the Boston Globe just had that printed:
I’d like to say a few things to that.
1) (…) President Obama yesterday pledged to shape a new “international order’’ as part of a national security strategy that emphasizes his belief in global institutions and America’s role in promoting Democratic values around the world. (…)
I remember hearing him say :
(…) I know — I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.
(…)Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone (…) But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere (…)
That’s paradox. Promoting american values in countries which are already having troubles to reorder their own values (after years of wars and unstructured government) is stealing the freedom of people to live as they choose!!
2) (…) “The international order we seek is one that can resolve the challenges of our times,’’ he said, “countering violent extremism and insurgency; stopping the spread of nuclear weapons and securing nuclear materials; combating a changing climate and sustaining global growth; helping countries feed themselves and care for their sick; preventing conflict and healing its wounds.’’ (…)
Look who’s talking?!? First the US is THE throwaway society plainly and still one of the biggest consumer (in every single section), talking about changing climate and substaining global growth. I’m sick of hearing celebrities (or actually really important people like senators!) talking about ecology while their own lifestyle show no ecological awarness at all.
Plus, stopping the spread of nuclear weapons…. talking about that…
(…) The United States is still one of the five recognized nuclear powers under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (“NPT”). As of September 2009 it possessed 5,113 warheads operationally deployed, in active reserve, or held in inactive storage. This figure compare to a peak of 31,225 total warheads in 1967 and 22,217 in 1989, and does not include “several thousand” warheads, we don’t know of, that have been retired and scheduled for dismantlement.
In 2006, the Bush administration also proposed the Reliable Replacement Warhead program and initiated its design and development. The program, intended to produce a simple, reliable, long-lasting, and low-maintenance future nuclear force for the United States, encountered opposition due to the obligations of the United States under Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the United States has signed, ratified, and is bound by, and which obligates the five nuclear weapons states who are bound by it (of which the United States is such a state) to work in good faith towards nuclear disarmament.
The Reliable Replacement Warhead was designed to replace the aging W76 warhead currently in a life-extension program. It was to incorporate a well-tested and verified primary SKUA9 and a new fusion secondary. The device would be built much much more robustly than its predecessors and should require longer periods between service and replacement. It will use insensitive high explosives, which are virtually impossible to detonate without the right mechanism. The new insensitive explosives can hit a concrete wall at Mach 4 and still not detonate. The device would also use a heavy radiation case for reliability. Since this weapon will supposedly never be tested via detonation, as has every weapon presently in the US arsenal, some fear that either the weapon will not be reliable, or will require testing to confirm its reliability, breaking the moratorium that has been observed by the recognized nuclear powers (the recognized nuclear powers include the US, Russia, the UK, the PRC, and France; they do not include the generally-recognized but undeclared Israel, nor the declared but unrecognized India, Pakistan, and North Korea) and was disliked by several elements of the Bush Administration, who believed nuclear tests ought to be conducted routinely; indeed, the Reliable Replacement Warhead was seen as the first step in the implementation of the US nuclear weapons laboratories’ plan, called “Complex 2030“, to rebuild dismantled nuclear weapons infrastructure so as to ensure that nuclear weapon design continues to be a field of research in the US through the mid-point of the 21st century.
In 2005 the U.S. revised its declared nuclear political strategy, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, to emphasize the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons preemptively against an adversary possessing weapons of mass destruction or overwhelming conventional forces. Whether the Single Integrated Operational Plan(“SIOP”) has been revised accordingly is uncertain, but possible.
However in 2009 and 2010 the administration of Barack Obama declared policies that would invalidate the Bush-era policy for use of nuclear weapons and its motions to develop new ones. First, in a prominent 2009 speech, U.S. president Barack Obama outlined a goal of “a world without nuclear weapons”. To that goal, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new START treaty on April 8, 2010 to reduce the number of active nuclear weapons from 2,200 to 1,550. That same week Obama also revised U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons in a Nuclear Posture Review required of all presidents, declaring for the first time that the U.S. would not use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear, NPT-compliant states. The policy also renounces development of any new nuclear weapons. (…)
Obama’s administration is very strict on retracting every other nuclear power disarmament, but we still have no insight of how the five US-States are doing.
3) (…) The administration is set to officially release the president’s first national security strategy this week, and Obama’s preview yesterday suggests it will be far different from the first one offered by his predecessor in 2002. In that prior document, President George W. Bush formally called for a policy of preemptive war and a “distinctly American internationalism.’’ (…)
So, what’s the difference… can we know??
4u by mwoogie