Philip Alston reports a massacre in Congo

After conducting an 11-day investigation, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law Philip Alston reported that a United Nations-backed Congolese army operation has led to brutal killings of civilians and refugees.

"Congolese soldiers shot and beat to death at least 50 Rwandan Hutu refugees, and burnt their camp to the ground in an attack in April 2009,” Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, states in the October 15 report.

The Congolese army began a UN-supported operation called Kimia II in February 2009. Part of its objective was to fight an armed Rwandan Hutu-rebel group that has terrorized villages in the Eastern Congo for almost a decade.

One of Alston’s key findings is that “in many areas, it is the [Congolese military] themselves who pose the greatest direct risk to security.” The military has been reinforcing its numbers with former Tutsi rebels, leading to what Alston called “catastrophic” results. “The lack of vetting, training, and planning of the integration of former armed group members…into the [Congolese Army]...has, not surprisingly, escalated the abuses committed by the army.”

“Hundreds of thousands have been displaced, thousands raped, hundreds of villages burnt to the ground, and at least 1,000 civilians killed,” Alston states.

Alston is calling for a thorough investigation of the violence, and for the indictment of five Congolese army officials. “Giving [the accused officers] a get out of jail free card, even if ostensibly ‘just for a few years,’ only serves to mock human rights,” states Alston. “No amount of sophisticated strategic rationalization should be permitted to obscure that fact.”

Alston will present a report on this situation to the Human Rights Council in June 2010.

Posted on October 16, 2009