A Delayed Probe in Congo

Congo's newly installed president, Laurent Kabila, has called on developed nations, the World Bank, and United Nations agencies to help rebuild the war-torn country formerly known as Zaire.

But if international aid and recognition are what Mr. Kabila is after, he has gone about it entirely the wrong way. In April, the UN Commission on Human Rights ordered a probe into allegations that ethnic Rwandan Hutu refugees were slaughtered by forces loyal to Kabila. Aid workers speculate that as compensation for helping to topple former President Mobutu Sese Seko, Kabila allowed Tutsis to attack Hutus, killing perhaps as many as 3,000 people.

Kabila denies the allegations, insisting that any killings were carried out by renegade troops, not as a matter of policy. Nevertheless, he's not about to give the UN free rein to investigate. He has demanded that it replace an international team of experts, challenging in particular the participation of special UN investigator Roberto Garreton, a Chilean lawyer. (Last Friday Mr. Garreton released a report at the UN pointing to 134 separate massacres of Rwandan refugees by forces allied to Kabila. He said the evidence appeared to point to genocide and systematic executions and suggested that the perpetrators appear before an international war crimes tribunal.)

Kabila also has demanded that the investigation be expanded to include events starting in March 1993. The UN resolution originally was to cover only alleged massacres since last September, when Kabila's uprising began.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has given in to these demands, briefing the Security Council last week on his plans for putting together a new team. And, at the request of Congo's government, the investigation reportedly now will cover reported deaths of Tutsis, not just Hutus, since March 1993.

The secretary-general's concessions are disappointing but practical. It's imperative that investigators be enabled to move as quickly as possible: According to reports, fighters loyal to Kabila have been destroying evidence of the alleged massacres in eastern, central, and western Congo. An estimated 200,000 Rwandan Hutus, once in eastern Congo, are still unaccounted for. And, according to investigator Garreton, the killings and human rights violations did not stop after Kabila became president. Mr. Annan accurately stated that "the most important thing is for us to get the facts" without further delay.

But we hope that, by bowing to Kabila's demands, the UN won't be setting a dangerous precedent, as human rights groups and several officials within the UN aver. As one human rights expert said, Kabila should have to make way for the UN's appointed investigators or "suffer the consequences of becoming an international pariah."

It's beyond time for an investigation to begin.

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