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UN Report on Congo Raises the Possibility of Genocide

Leaked to the press on August 26, a draft report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights -- which assesses human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) -- has drawn international attention for asserting that invading Rwandan troops (APR) and their rebel allies, the AFDL, killed tens of thousands of Hutu, including many civilians, across eastern Zaire (former DRC) in 1996 and 1997. The violence, the report concludes, could be classified as genocide.

Containing descriptions of over 600 violent incidents, the draft report is the result of a UN exercise to map "the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003."

"In some cases," the report states, "violations that initially appeared to be isolated crimes turned out to be an integral part of waves of violence occurring in a given geographical location or within a given timeframe."

Over five hundred pages long, the draft report is a comprehensive overview of the violence that plagued the DRC from the final days of the Mobutu era through two successive international wars to the residual clashes and rampages of the region's dispersive rebel groups. But it is the accusation of genocide that has attracted international notice and severe outrage from Rwanda, which has threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from UN operations. "The UN can't have it both ways. You can't have a force serving as peacekeepers and it is the same force you are accusing of genocide," Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said. Rwanda has over 3,000 troops deployed with the joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan.

Ultimately deferring to the judgment of a competent court, the draft report states, "... it seems possible to infer a specific intention on the part of certain AFDL/APR commanders to partially destroy the Hutus in the DRC, and therefore to commit a crime of genocide, based on their conduct, words and the damning circumstances of the acts of violence committed by the men under their command."

Another purpose of the mapping exercise was to review the DRC's judicial capacities and formulate suggestions that would help the Congolese government deal with the legal, emotional, and economic legacies of the violence. The draft report proposes a mixed international/national judicial court that would apply international law, a new truth-seeking mechanism, and a comprehensive and creative approach to the issues of reparations.

The UN has delayed the publication of the final report until October 1st, in order to give countries more time to comment on it.