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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—July 9, 1998

Speakers: Howard Wolpe, Presidential Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region, Guillaume Ngefa, ASADHO, Kinshasa and Geneva, Akouete Akakpo-Vidah, ICHRDD, Montreal, Eric Warot, DPA-Africa II Division, New York, and Daniel O’Donnell, U.N. Investigative Team to DRC, Caracas
July 9, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured a report on the Burundi peace talks by Ambassador Howard Wolpe, presidential special envoy to the Great Lakes Region, and two presentations on the alleged violations of human rights committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1996-1997, one from the United Nations and one from the international nongovernmental organizations (NGO) commission. Speakers from the NGO community included Guillaume Ngefa (ASADHO, Kinshasa and Geneva) and Akouete Akakpo-Vidah (ICHRDD, Montreal). U.N. speakers included Eric Warot (DPA-Africa II Division, New York) and Daniel O’Donnell (U.N. Investigative Team to DRC, Caracas).


The first-round of all-party talks in Arusha led to a significant document that pledged all parties to work together on two key issues:

  • To a continuance of the peace process and to the acceptance of an agenda organized around five committees: peace and security; the nature of the conflict; democracy and good governance; economic development and reconstruction; and guaranteeing the implementation of any agreements reached at Arusha.
  • To a suspension of hostilities beginning on 20 July, but without any specifications for monitoring or confidence building.

Seventeen delegations participated in the talks, and although there were many reservations, the signing of the document is a strong indication that this process is the most forward-looking and exciting prospect for peace in Burundi since 1993.

The most significant reservations to the agreement came from the Burundian government. Because the government was disappointed and frustrated at the lack of discussion to end the regionally applied economic sanctions, they called for a change of venue from Arusha for the continuation of the talks. This was clearly aimed at the mediator, former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, who is not perceived by all of the delegates to be completely impartial. The second reservation was lodged by the Burundian army against the use of the term “armed factions” in the suspension of hostilities language. The objection was not directed at the spirit of the agreement, but at this nomenclature, which made it sound as if the army was merely an “armed faction.” They see themselves as a part of the government trying to protect the population.

The latter reservation provoked a similar reaction by the armed-Force pour la Defense de la Democratie (FDD) faction of the Conseil National pour la Defense de la Democratie (CNDD), which claimed not to be represented at the talks by the official CNDD leader Leonard Nyangoma. This FDD faction, led by Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, released a statement that they had not agreed to stop fighting and that they, like the army, would continue to “protect the people.”

President Nyerere acknowledge that unless the army and FDD statements could be addressed, the practicality of a suspension of hostilities agreement was limited.

The challenge now is to continue to build confidence in the Tutsi and Hutu delegations that will translate into security for both Hutus in Bujumbura and Tutsis in the outlying countryside. There is a parallel need to build confidence in the entire region, particularly between the Burundian interlocutors and the regional representatives.

With the first round of Arusha talks completed, there appears to be an ever-stronger critical mass of support for dialogue, negotiation, and a possible interim power-sharing arrangement. It is more important than ever to maintain the internal, regional, and international efforts for peace in Burundi. This will allow the moderate political center to expand and facilitate meaningful negotiations, while preventing events that would play into the hands of the extremists.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The NGO Report1

An International NGO Commission, jointly led by the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD) and L’Assocation Africaine pour la Defense des Droits de L’Homme (ASADHO), began working in November 1997 to make a contribution to the strengthening of the rule of law in the DRC and to the struggle against the impunity that prevails in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Its objectives were:

  1. To know the facts surrounding the massive violations of human rights committed by the various parties to the conflict in former-Zaire in 1996-97; and
  2. To identify, as far as possible, the individuals responsible for these crimes.

The NGO investigation was not intended to undermine the official U.N. process. It was born out of the difficulties that the U.N. process encountered, including the Kabila regime’s open defiance toward the special rapporteur for the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR), Mr. Roberto Garreton, and later, the willful obstruction of the work of the United Nations’s Investigative Team (UNIT).

The NGO report provides detailed accounts of 19 crimes and gives recommendations to the DRC government and the United Nations. One of the principal recommendations to the United Nations is that it extend the mandate of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to include the investigation of crimes committed in the DRC during 1996-97. The report contends that the acts of genocide in the DRC are a continuation of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. With respect to its second objective, the NGO commission found irresponsibility with regional governments, the international community, and specific individuals, all of whose liabilities for the crimes are outlined and defined in Chapter 4 of the report.

Other comments during the meeting were directed at U.S. foreign policy toward the region and the issue of child soldiers:

  • There was a call to discontinue the use of the term “new leadership” for Africa. While it is true that Africa needs new leadership, it must also be made clear that Africa does not need leaders who have been responsible for human rights violations. “New leaders” ought to imply those who support their citizens’ rights and liberties, including the right to life under the rule of law.
  • The future of the DRC will be most improved by national reconciliation, not international investment.
  • There is a serious problem with the abuse of children as child soldiers in DRC. In June, a coalition of mothers went to see the archbishop of Bukavu to seek assistance in obtaining information about their missing children. Most of the mothers said that their children had been intimidated or threatened into becoming tools of war. A call was made for international NGOs to help this coalition of women to find the truth and reclaim their lost children.

The UN Report2

On 4 June 1997, Secretary-General Annan and President Kabila agreed to a U.N. investigation of human rights violations in the DRC. Annan maintained that the UNIT would be in addition to the pre-existing human rights commission led by Mr. Roberto Garreton. The UNIT’s mandate was to investigate allegations of grave human rights violations committed in the DRC not only during 1996-97, but since March 1993 as well.

The UNIT started its work as early as August 1997, but was obstructed by the DRC government and recalled to New York by the secretary-general in October. After the United Nations (and particularly the U.S. Representative Bill Richardson) pressured the DRC government, the team returned in December. Unfortunately, the obstacles continued. As a result of a pervasive fear that out of political expediency the UNIT would be more lax in its investigation than it should be, the team was strict in its standards and extremely careful to maintain a credible investigation. When the investigation could not be completed under these terms, a decision was made in April 1998 to indefinitely withdraw the UNIT and compile a report with the information that had been garnered to date.

The secretary-general transmitted the report to the president of the Security Council with a personal assertion that impunity is one of the root cause of conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa. He added that those guilty of grave human rights abuses must be brought to book, but there is also a simultaneous concern for reconstruction and development. Therefore, the continuing efforts of the United Nations will insist on respect for human rights, but will also try to assist the people of the DRC. The secretary-general forwarded a copy of the report to the chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) with a request that the new members of the OAU panel of eminent personalities consider the information as they begin their investigation of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the surrounding events from August 1993 to May 1997.

The report is mainly a description of the types of difficulties that the UNIT encountered in the field and the justification for terminating the investigation. There are two annexes. The first one contains a summary of allegations and the UNIT’s findings of fact and conclusions. The second one is a technical document that contains the report of the forensic team.

Some of the obstacles encountered by the UNIT included the intimidation of witnesses (particularly in Mbandaka, where very few locals were willing to speak to the investigators), the interrogation of people who had spoken to investigators by the DRC intelligence agency, police interference in interviews, the seizing of confidential information, bureaucratic delays, veiled threats to the staff and UNIT team, and the destruction of evidence (again, particularly in Mbandaka, where an attempt was made to clean up mass grave sites)3.

The UNIT concluded that crimes against humanity had been committed in the DRC, but stopped short of calling these “genocide.” There was evidence that was compatible with the theory of genocidal intent, but it was inconclusive.

One of the UNIT’s strongest recommendations was that the investigation continue in the future, either through a presence in the field of forensic teams and interviewers, through a national judicial process committed to impartially investigating all of the activities that took place, or through another intervention of the international community, such as an extension of the mandate of the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda.

At the same time, the report explicitly detailed three areas where the international community should continue to cooperate with the government of the DRC:

  1. Improving the administration of justice;
  2. Providing rehabilitation programs for the victims of human rights abuses and conflict;
  3. Supporting programs for overcoming ethnic tensions in the country.

In regard to the response of the DRC government to the report, the UNIT agreed with the government’s emphasis on the unstable and very negative situation that the refugee camps represented on the Rwandan border from 1994-964. The DRC government also agreed with most of the recommendations in the report. However, the government’s criticism that the UNIT did not investigate the root causes of the conflict seemed highly contradictory in light of its systematic efforts to block the investigation. The DRC government unfortunately failed to recognize any responsibility on the part of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) for the crimes committed.

The Rwandan government’s response included one and a half pages of denial of any involvement in the crimes investigated by the UNIT5.

1. The report can be accessed via the web at

2. The report can be found in French on the U.N. web site at

A presidential statement released by the Security Council can also be found by scrolling down on the U.N. website at

3. The United Nations has a witness protection plan which will assist and protect many of the witnesses that the UNIT interviewed during the course of their investigation.

4. U.N. document S/1998/582

5. U.N. document S/1998/583

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