- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- D.R. Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
- Guinea Bissau
- Ivory Coast
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Who are the culprits in the Congo?
Attacks on civilians in the Beni region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have killed more than 500 people in the past 18 months. Congolese officials accuse the Allied Democratic Forces, an Islamist rebel group with links to Uganda, of committing the massacres. Local political leaders refer to the ADF as an Islamist militia and stress its ties to extremist networks across the region, such as al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya. But it’s not that simple. Behind the narrative of an Islamist menace there is evidence of Congolese military involvement, with potential links to smuggling rackets. But some civil society leaders and human rights groups believe the authorities are deliberately exaggerating the ADF’s role. “To directly point out ADF as responsible for a certain attack is very difficult,” said Michel Musafiri, a researcher with a human rights group in Beni. “So far, only a few attackers have been identified. When authorities and others claimed fighters were members of the ADF, it later turned this was not the case.”
The ADF has been based in Congo for more than two decades. It has forged strong links with local political and economic figures and has tapped into trafficking networks, mainly timber, taking advantage of corruption within the FARDC and the local administration. This illicit economy has been at the heart of the violence and instability in the east for decades.
While there is no doubt the ADF is responsible for a number of abuses, including murder, rape and the recruitment of children, a recent report by the Congo Research Group, a project monitoring violence in the east, has questioned that official line. It has called on the government to launch an urgent investigation led by a senior military prosecutor. “The ADF is not really what people make it out be,” said Jason Stearns, the report’s lead researcher. “It’s not a foreign Islamist organisation, but a militia deeply rooted in local society with links to political and economic actors. While ADF are responsible for a majority of the massacres, it is clear that other groups, including Congolese soldiers, were involved as well.”
The researchers spent six months interviewing more than 100 people, including victims, civil society leaders and officers from the national army, the FARDC. It concluded that, “In addition to commanders directly tied to the ADF, members of the… national army; former members of the rebel Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie—Kisangani/Mouvement de Libération (RCD–K/ML); as well as members of communal militias have also been involved in attacks on the civilian population.”
When massacres have taken place close to where peacekeepers and FARDC troops were stationed, the troops have failed to intervene. In some cases, FARDC commanders have allegedly ordered their troops not to respond. “The authorities have focused all their efforts on fighting the ADF without properly investigating who is behind the attacks and making sure the responsible are brought to justice,” said Musafiri. The authorities have arrested a number of individuals believed to be associated with the ADF, but no one has ever been tried or convicted. This has led human rights groups to believe there may have been high-level complicity.
“Recognising that many of the violations are driven by local rivalries is key to bringing stability to North Kivu,” said Teddy Kataliko, a civil society leader, referring to the province that includes Beni.
According to the Congo Research Group, “it is clear that the Congolese government and MONUSCO (the UN’s peacekeeping and stabilisation mission in Congo) have not put sufficient effort into addressing this crisis and have incorrectly identified the enemy.”