EU should help end impunity of Congo war criminals


27.07.2009 @ 09:55 CET

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - In the hills of South Kivu, eastern Congo, I recently met a group of adolescent girls and young women whose babies were born from rape, and who were struggling to cope.

Congolese soldiers had gang-raped them. A 16-year-old girl, holding her baby, said "I wanted to pursue these soldiers in court but then learned they'd been transferred."

A 15-year-old girl who had just had a baby boy the previous day said: "My parents spoke to an [army] commander and he said that his soldiers do not rape, and that I am lying." Another girl told me she wanted to commit suicide. The girls' parents were either dead or had rejected their daughters.

The tragedy of Congo's women and girls has slowly emerged in recent years. Tens of thousands have been raped or otherwise assaulted by army soldiers, rebels, or other men. Sexual violence has been used to terrorise civilians by all warring parties.

The European Union and other donors have started programs of assistance for the victims that have made a real difference to the lives of some - unfortunately not all - Congolese women and girls. Beyond immediate medical and social assistance, the European Union in Congo also runs programs for military and judicial reform called EUSEC and REJUSCO.

Achieving shockingly little

But so far, donors have achieved shockingly little in their fight to end sexual violence. Recent figures indicate that rapes are on the rise.

The army has received extensive training on civilian protection from foreign military experts, including Belgium, yet it continues to be one of the main perpetrators of sexual violence.

While a few prosecutions of ordinary soldiers have taken place, commanders are still treated as untouchable and are almost never investigated for their responsibility for the acts of their soldiers.

For the victims I met in the hills, justice seemed light years away. As one Congolese lawyer put it: "A commander does not want to co-operate with the military justice system. It is a reflex."

Currently, the European Union is deciding on a new mandate for its security sector reform program (EUSEC) in Congo. EUSEC has helped to reduce corruption in the Congolese army by ensuring that many of the soldiers receive their salaries. Such efforts are crucial, but more change is urgently needed.

EUSEC should help improve army accountability for serious crimes, such as crimes of sexual violence. The army needs a clear chain of command, a vetting mechanism that removes high-ranking military officers responsible for serious human rights abuses, and functioning military courts.

Zero tolerance for rape

Reform can succeed only if those who commit or condone sexual crimes and other human rights abuses are prosecuted.

Army reform alone will not end Congo's cycle of impunity, which allows promotions rather than punishment for those who commit war crimes, including sexual violence.

To help establish the rule of law, the EU should support and fund a mechanism to try those most responsible for the crimes suffered by the Congolese people, such as a separate chamber on war crimes in Congo's courts, with the involvement of international judges and prosecutors. President Joseph Kabila has himself called for such a mechanism.

The EU should also require investigation and prosecution of senior army officers for crimes, such as rape, as a key benchmark for its continued funding of army reform.

On July 5, in response to concerns expressed by Human Rights Watch and others about the abusive behavior of government soldiers, the Congolese army responded by proclaiming a policy of "zero tolerance" for rape and other human rights crimes.

This is a welcome step; now the army, with the support of Europe, should put this principle into practice.

....................cont. report from Washington Post:

By some estimates, at least 5 million Congolese have died in more than a decade of conflict touched off by the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, which sent a flood of militiamen across the border into mineral-rich eastern Congo. Although the conflict has surged, receded and changed over time -- at some points involving eight countries and at others breaking into smaller conflicts among a mess of armed groups -- the cumulative death toll in eastern Congo is the largest since World War II.

For the most part, though, people in eastern Congo have not died in a blaze of bullets or in large-scale massacres. More often, the conflict has set off a chain reaction of less spectacular consequences that begins with fleeing through an unforgiving jungle and ends with a death such as Mihigo's. In eastern Congo, people die from malaria and diarrhea, from untreated infections and measles, from falling off rickety bridges and slipping down slopes, from hunger and from drinking dirty water in the hope of surviving one more day.

Arguably, people die because of the wider social impact of the conflict. Entire villages have been scattered across hundreds of miles, atomizing extended family networks that people depend upon in difficult times. The conflict has overwhelmed already-dysfunctional government hospitals and left roads rutted and overgrown, isolating people in villages like Walikale from help.

At the moment, the conflict in eastern Congo is surging once again. Since January, at least half a million people have fled a U.N.-backed Congolese army operation targeting Rwandan rebels, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to discuss in a visit to Congo this month. The rebels are retaliating against villagers with whom they have lived for years. ......In this area, one of the few readily available jobs is hauling 100-pound loads of sugar, beer and other supplies on a two-day trek to a huge mining pit, and hauling out loads of the mineral cassiterite, used in cellphones, the illicit profits from which have fuelfueled Congo's conflict for years

The Walikale hospital: a one-story, whitewashed building shaded by palms and relatively unchanged from when it was built in 1977.Since February, the hospital has been overwhelmed with thousands of displaced people pouring into Walikale from surrounding villages. They have been treated for free, ..........The hospital director has been pleading for more medicine, but the government has not yet provided any, and the resupply route is daunting. The most direct route between Walikale and the provincial capital of Goma is one deep, muddy trench after another, often crawling with rebels; though the distance is only 250 miles or so, the journey can take as long as a month. Instead, trucks travel a 2,500 mile, four-day horseshoe route. Last month, the hospital's doctors -- most of whom scrape by on charity, having never been paid by the government during their employment there -- began telling patients to buy their own medicine.

Juliane Kippenberg is a researcher with Human Rights Watch


The New Colonialism: Foreign Investors Snap Up African Farmland

Governments and investment funds are buying up farmland in Africa and Asia to grow food -- a profitable business, with a growing global population and rapidly rising prices. The high-stakes game of real-life Monopoly is leading to a modern colonialism to which many poor countries submit out of necessity.

Every crisis has its winners. A group of them is sitting in the Stuyvesant Room at the Marriott Hotel in New York. The conference room, where the shades are drawn and the lights are dimmed, is filled with men from Iowa, Sao Paulo and Sydney -- corn farmers, big landowners and fund managers. Each of them has paid $1,995 (€1,395) to attend Global AgInvesting 2009, the first investors' conference on the emerging worldwide market in farmland.

These are not Wall Street experts, nor are they people who shoot money across the continents like billiard balls. On the contrary, these are extremely conservative investors who buy or lease land to grow wheat or raise cattle. But land is scarce and expensive in Europe and the United States. Solving the problem means developing new land, which is only available in Africa, Asia and South America. This combination of factors has triggered a high-stakes game of real-life Monopoly, in which investment funds, banks and governments are engaged in a race for access to the world's arable land.

A great deal of capital is currently available. It is the second year of the global economic crisis, and investors are seeking sound and safe investments, which is why the audience in New York includes not only hedge fund managers and agriculture industry executives, but also the representatives of large pension funds and the chief financial officers of five universities, including Harvard. It is not just bankers and speculators, but also governments that are acquiring land in other countries, seeking to reduce their dependence on the world market and imports. China is home to 20 percent of the world's population, but it has only 9 percent of the world's arable land. Japan is the world's largest corn importer, and South Korea is the second-largest. The Persian Gulf States import 60 percent of their food, while their natural water reserves are sufficient to support only another 30 years of agriculture.

Because of the political sensitivity of the modern-day land grab, it is often only the country's head of state who knows the details. In some cases, however, provincial governors have already auctioned off land to the highest bidder, as in the case of Laos and Cambodia, where even the governments no longer know how much of their territory they still own.

No one is sure exactly how much land is at stake. The number cited by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is 30 million hectares, but this estimate is impossible to verify. Even United Nations organizations has to resort to citing newspaper reports, while the World Bank is trying to convince countries to pay closer attention to the fine print on agreements. Most experts favor contract farming instead of land acquisition. In other words, the foreign investors provide the technology and capital, while the local farmers own or lease the land and supply rice or wheat at fixed prices. This is the classic, tried-and-tested model, but it is not what the new investors want. They want control, ownership, high returns and, most of all, security -- objectives rarely compatible with the interests of thousands of small farmers.

By Horand Knaup and Juliane von Mittelstaedt DE SPIEGEL