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Death, Disease, and Destruction

Struggle for Peace Previous Search for Justice Next

After the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of perpetrators of the violence fled into then-Zaire's eastern region. In the massive refugee camps, they organized, began preying on the local populations, and making incursions back into Rwanda.

In response, in 1996, the new Rwandan government invaded Zaire, aided by the Ugandan army, and militias under the command of Congolese rebel leader Laurent Kabila. The invading army met little resistance, and less than a year later, Mobutu's government fell. The offensive was marked by massive human rights abuses against the Rwandan refugees, who were chased deep into Congo's forests, yet  the military campaign failed to effectively disarm them. Laurent Kabila claimed the presidency and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Shortly after coming to power, Kabila began aiding armed groups associated with the perpetration of the Rwandan genocide. In August 1998, Rwanda and Uganda again invaded the Congo. Other nations quickly joined in, and Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia rallied to the Congolese government's defense. A bewildering array of local rebel groups and militias, some ethnically based and many sponsored by up to nine foreign militaries, also took part in the conflict. The UN has accused all nations involved of using the war as a cover for looting diamonds, coltan, gold, and other resources from this mineral-rich region.

A range of armed forces continue to perpetrate violence against the civilian population, including forced displacement, abductions, looting, forceful recruitment and use of child soldiers, and massive sexual violence.  In January 2008, the International Rescue Committee reported that an estimated 5.4 million people had died over the preceding ten years as a result of the conflict. Nearly half of these deaths were children under five. Most of the deaths were due to easily preventable and treatable illnesses, such as fever, malaria, diarrhea, respiratory infections, and malnutrition—a consequence of the war's destruction of infrastructure and economy. The problem of rape, often perpetrated with extreme violence, is endemic. It is estimated that at least 40,000 women and girls have been raped. In 2008 alone, at least one million people were displaced by violence.

Ethnicity continues to play a central role in the perpetration of violence against civilians in eastern Congo, even though no single group has proved capable of totally overwhelming another. Divisions have occurred along multiple fault lines: between Banyamulenge and so-called indigenous groups; between Hutu and Tutsi; and between Lendu and Hema.   Some of the most dangerous areas for civilians include the provinces: North Kivu, Ituri, Katanga, Orientale, and Bas-Congo.

The dense jungles of eastern Congo remain home to numerous rebel groups, which have complex histories and agendas, and are responsible for perpetrating mass atrocities against civilians, including massacres, rapes, and abductions. At times, each organization has received government support from different countries in the region, and many of the rebels have profited generously from the continued exploitation of the DRC’s abundant natural resources. All prey on the civilian population.