1 Oct 2010

Congo: The worst war in the world

International Editor Lindsey Hilsum on the grim reality of what lies behind today’s report on genocide in the Congo.

Looking out over the calm surface of Lake Kivu, marvelling at the rich red earth and lush tropical vegetation which characterises this beautiful part of Congo, a line from Hotel California keeps playing in my head: “This could be heaven and this could be hell”.

For the past 16 years it’s been hell.

The worst war in the world – five million dead, countless others forced to flee, raped, tortured, left destitute. The peace deal in 2003, which brought Africa’s worst war to an end, led to the withdrawal of Angolan, Zimbabwean, Rwandan and Ugandan forces, but remnants of militia groups and the Congolese army still commit atrocities today. Here, peace is relative and incomplete. Until it’s total there will be no end to the rampant sexual crimes and looting which continue as armed men fight over minerals and land.

Today’s UN mapping report (LINK) which chronicles more than 600 atrocities committed by different armies and groups before the 2003 peace deal, has raised mixed emotions. Many Congolese welcome the acknowledgement of their suffering, and want the next step: justice and reparatations. They blame the Rwandans – both the Hutus who fled over the border in 1994 after committing genocide against the Tutsis, and the troops of the current Rwandan government which went into the forests of the eastern Congo to hunt down those Hutus who refused to return to Rwanda.

But they also fear the reaction of the current Rwandan government. The report suggests the Rwandan forces may have committed acts of genocide against the Hutu refugees. Such an allegation challenges the legitimacy of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and may jeopardise the fragile rapprochement between the two countries.

“As a human rights actvist I support it, because it’s the truth, and we must follow up and not let the report just die,” said Juvenal Munubo Mubi, a human rights lawyer in Goma.

“But politically this carries the risk of inflaming the situation just as relations between the two countries are improving.”

So it comes back to the old question: which matters most, justice or peace? Would bringing to justice the perpetrators help achieve a lasting solution, or just provoke those parties who took so long to lay down their arms?