The most catastrophic human rights disaster since World War II has been unfolding in the Democratic Republic of The Congo (“DRC” or “Congo”) since the mid-1990’s. While the numbers of the victims are hard to know for certain, there are credible reports of at least 5 million and quite possibly over 6 million civilians killed, half of whom were children under the age of 5 years old. Despite these staggering numbers, the Congo has received little attention in the press, and certainly much less than the human rights situations in countries like The Sudan (Darfur), the former Yugoslavia, Libya and now Syria – that is, countries in which the U.S. wished to intervene — though the tragedy in the Congo is much worse than in any of those countries.
Given the current situation with rebels taking the city of Goma in the eastern Congo, I decided to talk to Kambale Musavuli, one of the most important human rights advocates for the Congo. Mr. Musavuli is from the capital of the Congo, Kinshasa, and is now the spokesperson for the Washington-based Friends of the Congo, and currently resides in D.C. He has written and spoken extensively on the situation facing the people of the Congo, including in the Washington Post, and in the powerful movie, “Crisis in the Congo,” which can be found at friendsofthecongo.org. He kindly spoke to me yesterday by phone, and excerpts of that interview follow:
DK: Ok, wonderful. So, my first question would be just to cut to the chase, well, first of all, what is happening right now in the Congo that we should be concerned about?
KM: A militia group that has taken over cities in the eastern part of Congo. And this militia group is calling itself M23 . . . The Congo’s neighbors, Rwanda and Uganda, are supporting and arming the rebel groups inside of the Congo. . . . And that situation that has caused over 650,000 people to be displaced, scores have been killed, there are summary executions, women are being raped by the rebel militia groups, and all of this accompanied by a most deafening silence by the world governments to bring an end to this crisis.
DK: What role does the United States have in all of this?
KM: Well, as I mentioned, there are conflicts and the rebel groups, the militia group actually I would rather call them militia. The militia group they are supported by Rwanda for the most part, and Uganda is also supporting them. Rwanda and Uganda are United States allies. They receive our taxpayers’ money, their leadership is trained by our military and they operate as trained police of the world for the United States. So you see Ugandan soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia. And you see Rwanda soldiers in Sudan, especially Darfur, and in Haiti. Doing these peacekeeping operations where the U.S. has interests, and because of that, the United States is mighty silent despite the evidence that exists. And the evidence that even the US government recognizes — remember the United States has withheld $200,000 to the Rwanda government because of the support to rebel groups in Congo, which means they have evidence of what Rwanda is doing in the Congo. Yet, we are still providing them [Rwanda] with $240 million of our tax monies. So the US is playing the very negative role in continuing to support nations that are supporting, training, arming, and equipping the rebels in the Congo and at the United Nations even playing a bigger role in being an obstacle to peace in the Congo. By that I mean Susan Rice, the United Nations Ambassador from the US, has blocked the reports according to many. Let me go back, so it is clear what I am saying. Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, according to many diplomats, has blocked the release of the reports; there were two UN reports that were supposed to be published, and the first one was supposed to come out in June. Diplomats from the Security Council have shared with the media and different contacts in New York that she single-handedly was blocking the report from being published and wanted to give Rwanda an opportunity to respond to the UN report documenting involvement in supporting rebel groups in the Congo. The second report …
DK: Have you seen those reports?
KM: Both of them have been released.
KM: But they are released because, what actually took place is that the people who were working on the report even under pressure from the United States, they leaked the report to the press.
KM: Because the press gets it and the press, specifically Reuters, was publishing excerpts from the report. [See,http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/17/us-congo-democratic-rwanda-uganda-idUSBRE89F1RQ20121017] The columnist even said, “how come this report is not being published?” So it was impossible for the Security Council not to publish the content of the report because there were already eyes which have seen what was in the report. Same thing happened to the second one, but the second one was just published about 10 days ago, last week, and before the report was published, the UN was to put forward the resolution to condemn Rwanda for supporting rebel groups. We have been getting information that Rwanda’s name was taken off the resolution, so the resolution is only saying that any external support to rebels, to the M23 militia group, should be stopped, pretty much not naming who is supporting the rebels. So seeing that, what we are letting Americans know is your government is complicit in the displacement of 650,000 people in the Congo. Scores of people killed because they [the U.S. officials] choose to . . . cover for these allies in Africa to the detriment of human rights of people living in The Congo.
DK: Now, Susan Rice is one of those, how would you say it, she believes in this R2P, this right, or this “responsibility to protect” doctrine.
KM: Yet in R2P there is no “C”. That’s what we’ve been saying. We say that in R2P there is no “C”; this means there is no “C” for Congo. According to US policy, this means that The Congo is not to be protected. The evidence is overwhelming. You don’t even have to read the newspaper to find out what is happening. You can actually talk to Congolese, walk on the ground in the areas where the militia group is. But, and we know that the US government is aware of how bad it’s happening. They are denying the report from the United Nations. The head of the UN mission to the Congo, Roger Meece, is an American. He is in contact. We have attaches there. What is happening in the Congo is visible. But the responsibility to protect has not been activated for the Congo, so why I have to ask. Why, what is the right of the United States to talk about the issue of Syria, when we know what is happening in the Congo, and we know the perpetrators, and the perpetrators are backed by our allies, and that’s the discussion that needs to happen as they push for R2P and we see that this does not apply to the Congo.
They are very aware of the situation — the UN mission, the US government, all the way up to the White House and the National Security Council, they are very aware of the situation. And I’m using the evidence that the US government withdrew $200,000 to Rwanda for a military academy. They did so because they had evidence that Rwanda was supporting rebel groups. So I’m using their own information about their knowledge of what is happening, and yet they’re not taking action. This is complicity. If you are aware, just as we took action to end the Holocaust in Europe, if we know in the Congo millions have died from, estimates take the number to over 6 million, and half of them are children under the age of 5, and we remain silent when we know what is happening, we are really complicit. And in a very tangible way because we are supporting the two oppressive regimes in Rwanda and Uganda, and in turn these nations are using the support that we are giving them to create, fabricate militia groups which are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity. And when one has the proper evidence, there should be outrage. I am not appealing to the government. The appeal is to the American people, the people that I meet every day in the streets, with whom I share what is happening in the Congo. They ask me, “What can I do to help?” . . . So I’m appealing to them, I’m letting them know your government is complicit in the killing of the people in the Congo through its support of Rwanda and Uganda who have been implicated in the massacre in the Congo by numerous respectable organizations such as Human Rights Watch, a United Nations group of experts. If you want to help me, hold your government accountable for supporting oppressive regimes in Africa. That would mean in this case stop supporting Rwanda and Uganda militarily. Stop supporting oppressive regimes in Rwanda and Uganda. That will go a long way for peace in the Congo.
DK: And Kambale, why do you think the US is continuing to support Rwanda and Uganda even knowing that these atrocities are being committed? What interests are they protecting?
KM: Economic interests and military interests. Economic interests in Congo are that which we need in our daily life. The coltan which comes out the Congo can be found in your cell phone, the cobalt of the Congo can be found in the battery of your phone and all the different resources the Congo has. Rwanda and Uganda have become the broker of Congo’s minerals, and they loot Congo’s mineral resources while they commit atrocities. . . . Chaos allows resources to leave from the Congo at a cheap price, and of course it’s not actually just leaving it’s actually being stolen from the Congolese people. The second one is military interest. Rwanda and Uganda their militaries have been trained by the United States. Since the era when the American soldier was killed in Somalia in Mogadishu, the US did not want to have any of the troops in Africa anymore. So the U.S. created a system in which they would train all the foreign military missions. I mean, can you imagine that in Afghanistan today, we have Ugandan soldiers in Afghanistan fighting the war on terror. How many Americans know that? We have Rwandan soldiers in Haiti and in Sudan. These missions can be deployed across the world to protect US interests around the world. . . . So, the US government is valuing profits before people, and ignoring the fact that people have the right to life, to human rights. . . .
DK: Kambale, did you have some hope that Barrack Obama, who is a child of Africa himself, being part Kenyan, did you have hopes that he would help the Congo?
KM: I will be very honest with you. I had hope for Obama before November 4, 2008. And I had hope for him to do something about the Congo because as a senator he wrote 156 bills, only 2 of them passed. One of them was on mercury export and the second one was called “The Democratic Republic of Congo Relief Security Democracy Promotion Act.” So, President Obama today, as a senator wrote a bill about the Congo which was signed into law in December of 2006 by George Bush, and is really comprehensive in holding the responsible parties accountable in Africa. However, these bills are completely ignored. So I have been a human rights advocate, I have mobilized people in this country to let them know that the President that we have is not addressing the situation in the Congo while I know he was really knowledgeable of the situation even when he was on the Foreign Affairs Committee as a senator. And I have tried to share this knowledge with the left in America who had faith in the Democratic Party and that Obama would do something positive after being re-elected. I said this is not how Washington works. You hold your president accountable. And even now we have proof that the situation in the Congo has worsened. . . . We cannot depend on the politicians to do anything. Anything in American gets done because the folks stand up. Even during the Civil Rights, Americans knew about holding the government accountable. . . .
DK: Well, this is very helpful. I, you know, I mean, it’s hard to comprehend what’s happening there, when you give figures of 6 million dead, you know that’s the figure of the Holocaust. I mean, you’re talking about a holocaust in the Congo. After World War II people said we’ll never let this happen again, and here it’s happening.
KM: Yes, yes, yes. It’s happening in total silence. You know, I’m thinking that for one person dead, people would ask for a minute of silence. But to do this for the Congo would shut them up forever. Because if for one person you ask for a minute of silence, with so many deaths in the Congo you would not be able to speak ever again. . . . But then it puts the question of do we think the African people are human beings? . . . I don’t know if you are interviewing me from the context of what’s going to happen a hundred years from now. Can you imagine a hundred years from now as children of the time are reading the history of this era, they will ask themselves, why did you take so long to stop this? Why did it have to take 16 years to stop the killing of 6 million? And history will judge us for our actions. But can when we among the people say that when we heard that 6 million people are dead, we did everything in our power to use our talent and our net worth . . . to stop it? And that’s the call that we put out to people — that we have to stop it. Anywhere around the world where’s its happening, we have to speak up because if we don’t, it only comes back full circle. You know?
And I had a discussion with a German woman a month ago. And, I explained that under King Leopold of Belgium, 10 million Congolese people die. This was before the Holocaust! Then after the Holocaust, we are at 6 million again, and I challenged her, I hope you will help us stop the conflict. And her remark was that, “I have a lot of problems of my own to deal with.” And I just replied to her these were the same statements that took place when they were killing the Jewish people. And if there were those people when it first started who decided to stop it, we wouldn’t have 6 million Jews killed. And it’s the same thing with the Congo today . . .
Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh. He currently teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.