Zaire: USCR Issue Brief, 6/18/96

Zaire: USCR Issue Brief, 6/18/96

Zaire: USCR Issue Brief
Date Distributed (ymd): 960618

U.S. Committee for Refugees
Zaire Issue Brief Executive Summary
June 7, 1996

Ethnic Cleansing and Displacement in Eastern Zaire

Masisi and surrounding areas of the North Kivu province of eastern Zaire have been the scene of sporadic but intense violence since 1993. Since late 1995, a marked escalation in conflict and instability has rocked the remote but heavily populated area.

The ethnic cleansing of one group, local ethnic Tutsi, is now virtually accomplished. Yet the violence continues, driven by several factors. Long-standing inter-ethnic rivalries over economic and political power are being inflamed by Zairian politicians. Militia of ethnic Hunde and ethnic Hutu attack villages where the other ethnic group is a minority. The presence of some 600,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees in the region since 1994 has greatly exacerbated the situation.

Strong evidence exists that many refugee camp occupants accused of genocide in Rwanda in 1994 are attacking members of other ethnic groups in eastern Zaire, particularly local Tutsi. To date, the government of Zaire has refused to take aggressive action to put an end to the fighting.

The area experienced heavy violence in 1993. Following a year of precarious peace, the most recent round of conflict between Banyarwanda (Hutu and Tutsi) and autochtones (people of Zairian origins) broke out in July 1994, and escalated dramatically in November 1995.

Lack of access and insecurity preclude an accurate casualty count, but humanitarian organizations estimate that between 100,000 and 250,000 people from all ethnic groups are now displaced. More than 60,000 persons have become newly uprooted since March 1996, according to some estimates.

Thousands of persons are believed to have been killed since late 1995--this is in addition to widely divergent estimates of 6,000 to 40,000 deaths during the 1993 violence. The region's economy is virtually destroyed. Once known as the granary of Zaire, the agriculture and livestock base is now in ruins.

The spark creating the most recent outbreak in fighting is not entirely clear, but appears to be linked to efforts by Rwandan Hutu refugees near Goma to carve out an exclusively Hutu enclave in Masisi. This effort may partially be a reaction to Zaire's move in the late summer of 1995 to close the Rwandan refugee camps.

Although Zairian soldiers have been sent to the province to restore order, they arrived late. Those who are there are undisciplined, poorly equipped, and often appear more interested in seizing their share of war spoils than in protecting local populations. Witnesses say that Zairian soldiers have sold their services to the highest bidder, which often is the Hutu militia, intensifying the conflict and aggravating the situation.

The Hutu militia involved in the conflict are referred to by local populations as Interahamwe, while the predominantly Hunde militia are called Mai Mai or Bangilima. There are strong indications that soldiers from the regime of Rwanda's former President Juvenal Habyarimana, who have access to sophisticated new weapons, are participating directly in the fighting and are facilitating the ethnic cleansing of the area.

Hutu and Hunde ethnic militia have increasingly targeted Tutsi, who are now the most vulnerable people in Masisi. Many Hunde see the Tutsi as an enemy because the Tutsi are Banyarwanda, while many Hutu view them as an enemy simply because they are Tutsi. Senior government officials in Zaire have actively encouraged the expulsion of Tutsi as well as direct attacks against them.

Some 10,000 Tutsi from the region have been forced across the border to northwestern Rwanda, almost completely cleansing eastern Zaire of its remaining Tutsi population. Only a few thousand Tutsi are believed to remain in the area as of early June 1996. Those who remain in Masisi and neighboring zones are among the poorest and least able to fend for themselves.

The arrival of thousands of Zairian Tutsi refugees in northwestern Rwanda has added a new source of tension in the region and contributes to the downward spiral of relations between the governments of Rwanda and Zaire.

Just as the world responded slowly to the genocide in Rwanda two years ago, the international community again has been slow to recognize the full scope and ruthlessness of the ethnic cleansing and other conflict now underway in northeast Zaire. Left unchecked, the conflict contributes to instability in a region that already is dangerously unstable.
Excerpts from Recommendations

Instability, especially in the Great Lakes region, is an infectious disease.

The conflict in North Kivu should be addressed by the international community, but not merely with humanitarian relief. There is a danger of placing a humanitarian band-aid on what is at root a political crisis. Ultimate responsibility for the crisis lies with the government of Zairian President Mobutu--a government known more for manipulating conflicts for political advantage than for restoring stability. To date, Zairian authorities have neither taken the steps necessary to broker a political compromise, nor have they used the proper military resources available to protect civilians and police the region effectively.

The humanitarian situation in Masisi and nearby areas could deteriorate quickly. Updated assessments of the humanitarian situation are desperately needed. Most relief agencies in the area have geared their programs toward assisting Rwandan refugees near Goma. Meanwhile, a few miles down the road, open conflict rages.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees makes the following recommendations to establish security in the short term, maintain order in the long-term, and address humanitarian needs related to the conflict in Masisi zone and in neighboring areas of Zaire:

I. Establish Security in the Short Term

1. The international community should formally condemn Zairian officials' complicity in the conflict and demand that Zairian authorities take immediate and effective measures to calm the violence.

International condemnation can be an important tool given President Mobutu's professed desire to improve his image. The United Nations, the United States, and other major nations should: * formally condemn Zairian authorities' role in the ethnic cleansing and related violence occurring in North Kivu; * press Zairian officials to take proper action to restore stability in the conflict area; * insist that Zaire allow unhindered access by international media; * facilitate a UN investigation into the situation, perhaps headed by an internationally known figure or "eminent persons group"; * pressure President Mobutu to uphold his past pledges to stop arms flows to the Goma refugee camps--pledges he has thus far ignored.

A UN condemnation of Zairian government complicity in the violence should be included in an official UN Security Council resolution, to convey the gravity of the situation and stimulate international media attention. The U.S. government should use official channels to express its ongoing condemnation, beyond statements already made. Private interlocutors, such as the Carter Center and prominent private Americans with substantial business dealings in Zaire, should be urged to use their influence to alleviate the situation.

2. Zairian officials should cease their inflammatory rhetoric and actions that contribute to ethnic hatred.

Public comments and actions by Zairian officials have at times appeared to condone and even encourage ethnic violence in Masisi zone and other areas of North Kivu. North Kivu's Governor Mupenda has been particularly guilty of espousing hate rhetoric and other activities to instigate ethnic cleansing of the Tutsi population from his province. Despite the disintegration of Zaire's national government, President Mobutu continues to exert control over the appointment of key regional officials and influences their policies. Mobutu should: ensure that Mupenda and other officials immediately cease inciting violence; dismiss Governor Mupenda and other officials whose words or actions incite or condone continued conflict and ethnic cleansing. Local authorities and the military should: cease the confiscation of national identity cards from Tutsi; stop the harassment and arbitrary arrest of prominent Tutsi in Goma.

3. Zairian officials should deploy troops with proper training and discipline to help restore calm in the conflict area. Undisciplined or unreliable Zairian troop contingents should be withdrawn.

Zairian officials have made only half-hearted efforts to restore peace and security to the conflict area. Some official actions have worsened security. Most Zairian troops are too undisciplined to ameliorate the situation. Many Zairian soldiers, lacking regular pay or official support, have become little more than uniformed bandits who make security worse. They should be withdrawn. The international community appears unwilling to provide armed security for the Masisi area. Mobutu does have at his disposal, however, elite troops with sufficient training and discipline to restore security to the general Masisi area. In 1993, large numbers of DSP troops were able to help restore at least some order in the region. ...

4. After calm has been restored, Zairian troops should disarm ethnic militia in North Kivu province, including the Interahamwe.

A large percentage of the violence in Masisi zone and in neighboring areas is perpetrated by gangs of youths who exploit the anarchy for their own material gain. Theirs is often little more than opportunistic violence and banditry, using ethnic identity as an excuse. A proper show of force by disciplined security personnel would likely curtail this level of violence. The failure during the past two years to disarm Interahamwe militia operating out of the Rwandan Hutu refugee camps near Goma has contributed mightily to the violence in North Kivu. Disarmament of the Interahamwe may prove difficult and dangerous, but is necessary if regional stability is to be achieved. Disarmament efforts should begin after calm has been restored, and should be monitored closely by outsiders (see next recommendation).

5. The international community should immediately station military observers in North Kivu to monitor activities of Zairian troops.

The United Nations or the Organization for African Unity should arrange to deploy a sufficient number of international military monitors in the conflict area to help facilitate internal peace and security. This includes monitoring the proper conduct of Zairian troops and reporting on soldiers' abuses against civilians.

6. The Zairian army should neutralize the military capability of the former Rwandan military (FAR) by arresting FAR officers and confiscating FAR weaponry.

This clearly is an ambitious task that neither the Zairian military nor the international community has been willing to do for the past two years. FAR and its weapons are a dangerous and destabilizing influence throughout East-Central Africa, and will remain so unless dealt with. Many top officers of FAR live and operate openly in Lac Vert military camp near Goma. FAR and its weapons are not the sole source of conflict in Masisi, but they are one ingredient. Steps to neutralize FAR would not eliminate all violence in Masisi, but such steps would help improve the situation there. The international community should indicate to President Mobutu that strong Zairian action against FAR is one of several prerequisites for improving his relationship with the outside world.

7. Rwandan officials and UNHCR should move the new refugee camp in Rwanda to a location that is safer and more conducive to humanitarian assistance. ...

II. Maintain Order in the Long Term

8. Zaire and UNHCR should move the Goma refugee camps.

The Goma-area refugee camps, housing 600,000 persons and providing a base of operations for FAR and Interahamwe militia, have led to insecurity in northwest Rwanda and have fueled violence in Masisi zone and surrounding areas of Zaire. Zairian authorities and UNHCR should move the refugees farther from the Zaire-Rwanda border. Zairian officials thus far have refused to consider moving the camps. UNHCR has not forced the issue due, in part, to the expense and other considerations. UNHCR and the international community should now press to relocate the camps. It appears that large numbers of refugees in Goma will not repatriate voluntarily to Rwanda. Local resettlement and integration in Zaire may become the primary durable solution for many of them. Shifting the refugees to elsewhere in Zaire would be controversial among Zairians and would exact a toll on their nation. The past two years have demonstrated, however, that the current location of the refugee camps near Goma is a recipe for sustained regional instability.

9. Zaire officials should resolve the Banyarwanda citizenship issue in North Kivu by setting fairer, more realistic standards for citizenship. Valid Banyarwanda citizens of Zaire should have the opportunity to participate politically.

At the core of the conflict in the general Masisi area is the tension between the Hunde and Banyarwanda communities over Zairian citizenship of the Banyarwanda population. This dispute over citizenship predates the arrival of the Rwandan refugees. It should be resolved in a fair manner. Not all Banyarwanda in Zaire are citizens, but many do have valid claims. Many Banyarwanda have lived in Zaire for generations and were classified as Zairian citizens under Zairian law during the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, however, their citizenship was effectively revoked, leaving them stateless and vulnerable. Zairian authorities should set realistic standards for proof of citizenship. Many Banyarwanda--and other Zairians, for that matter--lack written documents such as ancestral birth records that would support their valid citizenship claims. Zairian authorities should allow alternative standards of proof, such as witness testimonies and other anecdotal evidence, in determining Banyarwandans' citizenship. Zairian military and security authorities should cease their practice of confiscating national identity cards from Tutsi, and cease the harassment and arbitrary arrest of prominent Tutsi in Goma. Banyarwanda Hutu are the dominant demographic power in North Kivu, yet local political power belongs almost exclusively to Hunde. This is another source of tension. Creation of local power-sharing committees to resolve land tenure and other local disputes could help alleviate ethnic animosities.

10. The United Nations should deploy human rights monitors in conflicted areas of North Kivu.

Areas of North Kivu will likely remain tense long after overt violence subsides. Drawing on lessons learned from the human rights monitoring program still underway in Rwanda, the international community should establish a human rights monitoring program in North Kivu with adequate resources and personnel. ...

11. The United States and other Western countries should build linkages to grassroots civic groups in Zaire.

Working with President Mobutu and Zaire's fractured, undependable government presents difficulties for the United States and other nations. Zairian society, however, boasts a variety of civic, church, and human rights groups that operate at a grassroots level and are trying to address problems in North Kivu. Their efforts should receive international support. One example: Campagne Pour La Paix au Nord Kivu (Campaign for Peace in North Kivu), an inter-ethnic coalition of church leaders and local development NGOs, hosts mediation sessions and has advanced a number of constructive proposals. The U.S. Agency for International Development and the UN should provide funds to support similar indigenous programs that boost civil society.

III. Address Humanitarian Needs

12. A specific UN agency should be designated as the lead coordinator for humanitarian assistance to North Kivu.

Currently, no specific UN agency has primary responsibility for monitoring and addressing humanitarian needs in the general Masisi area. UNHCR has substantial resources and personnel in North Kivu providing assistance to Rwandan refugees near Goma, but internally displaced Zairians in North Kivu currently fall outside UNHCR's mandate. A high-level UN team including representatives from UNHCR, UNICEF, and the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs was attempting to conduct an assessment mission to the conflict area as this report went to press. The UN team should recommend that increased pressure be brought on Zaire to solve the political roots of this crisis, and that an appropriate UN agency be charged with primary responsibility for meeting humanitarian needs in the conflict area. In the meantime, private international NGOs interested in providing proper humanitarian assistance should confer with ICRC and MSF/Holland, which have the most experience in Masisi zone and neighboring areas. Assistance that is piecemeal or poorly coordinated could aggravate the situation.

13. Humanitarian organizations should establish a contingency fund to respond to current and future humanitarian assistance needs in the general Masisi area.

The international community has largely ignored the crisis in the Masisi area. International relief organizations have earmarked relatively little money for it. Scores of international NGOs operating in North Kivu have devoted massive resources to the Rwandan refugee camps in Goma, leaving those NGOs with precious few resources readily available to help the general Masisi area. The UN should establish a special fund to address current and future needs in the conflict zone. This fund could provide transitional development assistance if the conflict subsides, or provide emergency relief if the conflict worsens in coming months.

14. The UN and NGOs should improve local roads and bridges, and take other steps to bolster the infrastructure and economic base of North Kivu.

One of many problems in North Kivu is its relative inaccessibility, which complicates humanitarian assessments, hampers delivery of relief, and isolates the area's people and their disputes. Improvements in basic infrastructure would help humanitarian assistance, facilitate better security, and improve opportunities for stability. The goal in North Kivu should be not only to end violence, but to help the area restore its important role as the "granary of Zaire."
U.S. Committee for Refugees
1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW #701
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202) 347-3507; Fax: (202) 347-3418

For a copy of the report, call or fax Raci Say at the above numbers. For more information by e-mail, send a message to Katie Hope at
Message-Id: <> From: Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 22:41:03 -0500 Subject: Zaire: USCR Issue Brief

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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