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U.N.: Rwandan troops may have committed war crimes in efforts to end '94 genocide

In July, 1994, thousands of Rwandan refugees waited to get food at the Mugunga camp near Goma, in eastern Zaire.
In July, 1994, thousands of Rwandan refugees waited to get food at the Mugunga camp near Goma, in eastern Zaire. (Javier Bauluz)

But the report includes evidence that Rwanda and its allies may have targeted and killed tens of thousands of civilians, including women, children and the elderly. The report focuses on the activities of a nascent rebel movement --Alliances de Forces Democratic Pour La Liberation du Congo-Zaire [AFDL] - that was set up in October 1996 and headed by Laurent Desire Kabila. The group received arms, training and logistical support from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. While the group's stated goal was the overthrow of Zairean President Mobutu Sese Seko, its activities were "characterized by the relentless pursuit of Hutu refugees" and Rwandan rebels, the report said.

The report cites numerous accounts of Rwandan army forces and members of the AFDL mounting attacks on scores of Rwandan refugee camps, often luring their victims by promising to repatriate them safely to their homes. On October 20, Rwandan and Burundian army troops, backed by the AFDL, "carried out widespread and systematic attacks on eleven camps. They killed about 370 refugees the following day at the Luberizi refugee camp, dumping the victims into the latrines. Later that month, the troops killed around 220 male refugees outside a nearby Pentecostal church.

"The soldiers separated the men from the rest of the group and ... killed them with bayonets. The bodies of the victims were buried in mass graves near the church," the report said.

The U.N. first decided to set up a team to investigative human rights violations in eastern Congo in 1997, but the plan never materialized, according to the report. The U.N. revisited the issue in 2005, after U.N. peacekeepers uncovered three mass grave in North Kivu, a province in eastern Congo. In response, the U.N. decided to establish a "mapping exercise of the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law" in eastern Congo between July 1993 and June 2003, and advise Congo on how to ensure some form of justice for the crimes.

U.N. investigators began their work in July 2008 with the goal of amassing a large sample of cases that could expose the extent and nature of violence that occurred in Congo. The authors -- who reviewed more than 1,500 document and interviewed 1.280 witnesses - cautioned that they were not trying to establish "individual criminal responsibility, but to expose the seriousness of the violations committed."

The report does not identify individuals believed responsible for the crimes documented in the report, naming only the armed group responsible for such crimes. But it noted that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, would maintain a confidential database of alleged war criminals that could be used in the event that a court is set up to prosecute them.

The report focuses on four major waves of violence, starting with 40 large-scale killings carried out in the final years of the reign of Mobutu. But the vast majority of killings were carried out during a pair of wars that pitched the county into a state of extreme violence during the late 1990s.

The report details 238 mass killings between July 1996 and July 1998, when the late Congolese leader Laurent Kabila, the father of Congo's President Joseph Kabila, overthrew Mobutu's government with the backing of Rwanda and changed the country's name to Congo. It also describes more than 200 incidents carried out, primarily against Hutu refugees, during the country's second major war, which started with the assassination of Kabila by his own guards and drew in eight foreign nations and 21 armed groups.

"The vast majority of incidents listed in this report point to the commission of prohibited acts such as murder, willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body and health, rape, intentional attacks on the civilian population, and unlawful and arbitrary pillage and destruction of civilian goods, which are sometimes essential to survival of a civilian population, primarily against protected persons."

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