November 3, 2009

Four days after Congo Government spokesman Lambert Mende lambasted Human Rights Watch about what he called “exaggerated” allegations on the situation in eastern Congo and the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) military operation (Kimia II) against the Rwandan Hutu militia FDLR, the NGO responded with new allegations against the FARDC and their Rwandan Defense Force (RDF) allies in another operation (Umoja Wetu) earlier this year against the FDLR.

The NGO is now claiming that Congolese soldiers killed “at least 270 civilians between the towns of Nyabiondo and Pinga in a remote part of North Kivu province since March. Many of them had been killed during two massacres in August at Mashango and Ndoruma villages.”

The NGO claims that “Congolese army soldiers had deliberately killed at least 505 civilians from the start of operation Kimia II in March through September.”

The NGO now also claims that “another 198 civilians were deliberately killed by Congolese army soldiers and their Rwandan army allies during an earlier five-week joint operation, known as Umoja Wetu, in late January and February.”

Human Rights Watch has published countless “reports” on the situation in eastern Congo.

Lambert Mende told the BBC’s Network Africa programme yesterday that “there is no day that can pass without Human Rights Watch accusing our government or our army or our police.” And that, “Human Rights Watch is working for Human Rights Watch and not for the Congolese people.”

The Congolese Government, mainly through its spokesman, has claimed it is under “attack” by the NGO. It has accused the NGO of making “unfounded” allegations, and even having an hidden “agenda” in eastern Congo.

In an interview on Top Congo FM on July 2, 2009, responding to another damning “report” from the NGO, Lambert Mende said that if Human Rights Watch “has a score to settle with (President) Joseph Kabila, they shouldn’t try to use the situation in eastern Congo to do it. They are simply trying to weaken and demoralize us in our existential right of resistance against terrorist movements.”

He also accused the NGO of turning a blind eye on the atrocities of the FDLR, most of whom committed the Rwandan genocide in 1994, before fleeing to eastern Congo where they have since been accused by other respectable NGOs and the United Nations of committing numerous crimes against the Congolese population.

Lambert Mende told Top Congo FM that “Human Rights Watch has said almost nothing against the FDLR and LRA (Ugandan militia) that are attacking us. All the attacks from Human Rights Watch are aimed at the Congolese government. Enough is enough.”

He accused the NGO of pursuing a hidden agenda in the Congo. He said he wondered why the NGO has focused its “attacks” on the Congolese Government, which is only trying to protect itself against “terrorist groups.”

On Wednesday, responding to a call made by the NGO for the Congolese army to stop its military operation against the FDLR, Lambert Mende said it is “nonsensical” for the NGO to call for a return to the “status quo.”

He said that some NGOs are more interested by the “effects” of war instead of solving its root cause (FDLR).

More than 5,400,000 people have died in Congo over the last decade, in big part due to the presence of the Rwandan Hutu refugees and militiamen (FDLR) who fled to eastern Congo after the Rwandan genocide.

The current Rwandan authorities used the presence of the FDLR in eastern Congo as a pretext to invade the region during the Second Congo War. After withdrawing their troops in 2002, they supported the Tutsi rebels led by warlord Laurent Nkunda, who also claimed that he was protecting “his people” against attacks from the FDLR.

Laurent Nkunda and his men wreacked havoc in the region before the Congolese and Rwandan governments decided to mount a joint military operation (Umoja Wetu) to attack the FDLR. Umoja Wetu also led to the arrest of Laurent Nkunda by the Rwandan army.

Since then, the FARDC have launched a military operation (Kimia I) against the FDLR in North Kivu province that has led to an improvement in the humanitarian situation of the population. A second phase (Kimia II) is now underway in South Kivu province to finally rid the area of this scourge of the FDLR that has led to so many deaths in the Great Lakes region.

The United Nations News Service reported on October 16, 2009 that:

The top United Nations envoy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today voiced optimism that calm could soon return to the country’s volatile eastern region, while noting that a number of challenges still remain.
“There is now a real prospect that the conflicts that have long blighted the eastern Congo can be ended,” Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for DRC and head of the UN peacekeeping force there, told the Security Council.

Highlighting progress on a number of fronts, he stated that operations by the Congolese Army, known as FARDC, in North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale provinces have significantly eroded the capacities of the Hutu rebel Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

He also said that it would be a mistake to stop the military operation against the FDLR now. Clearly, Mr. Doss doesn’t agree with Human Rights Watch approach.

By only “attacking” one side of the conflict, the Congolese government, the NGO often gives the impression of protecting the other side, the FDLR. Are human rights violations one-sided?

The NGO has recently been criticized in an op-ed article in the New York Times by its founder, Robert Bernstein, for this kind of approach about the Israeli palestinian conflict.

“As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics,” he wrote.

“Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”

“Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.”