Walter James

Walter James (SOS Femme en Danger – SOSFED): Walter graduated in 2006 from the University of Minnesota. Following college, he worked on international development in Haiti and Senegal, and studied human rights and international development in Senegal, Costa Rica, and Morocco. Walter first visited Eastern Congo as a 2009 Peace Fellow for The Advocacy Project, where he documented the work of civil society organizations such as SOS Femmes en Danger, Arche d’Alliance, and Tunza Mazingira. The following year, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Public Policy with a Master’s degree in Public Policy.

Monitoring I: Arche d’Alliance in the war zone

03 Aug
The FARDC "jail" in Luvungi

The FARDC "jail" in Luvungi

Kimya-2 continues to burn up the Congolese countryside along the Haut Plateau, and lots of civilians are caught in the middle of the crossfire.  Thus, Arche d’Alliance is performing monitoring work in the war zone.  This includes following the IDP situation, inspecting jails to ensure humane treatment of prisoners, advocating for civilians who have been wrongly imprisoned, and documenting human rights violations committed by the combatants.  The information that Arche collects in the field is used by UNHCR and a host of other NGOs to assist in humanitarian efforts and to address violations of human rights.

On July 30th I went with a team from Arche to follow the monitoring activities of inqueteurs in Luvungi and Songe.  These two towns are not too far from the front lines; soldiers in steel helmets are everywhere, and the streets are still thick with IDPs.  In Luvungi, I accompanied Arche inqueteurs Juvernal Twaibu and Camille Chekanabo as they monitored the situation of FDLR and civilian prisoners at the FARDC military post.

Since the FDLR is a Rwandan rebel group, Rwandan civilians who are caught in the zone of combat are often thrown in jail by the FARDC for simply being Rwandan.  A large part of Juvernal’s monitoring work is making sure that local FARDC commanders release civilians who have been unjustly imprisoned.  One of the goals of our visit ensure the release of a Rwandan man who, despite having lived in Congo since before 1994, had been arrested by the FARDC on the suspicion of collaborating with the FDLR.

When we arrived at the FARDC post of Luvungi, Juvernal immediately asked the commander why the Rwandan non-combatant in his charge had not been released.  The commander waved his arms in the air and insisted that the man had been released that morning.  The commander then agreed to answer some questions, but not on camera.

The commander, Michel Nguale, was the SD Chief of the 8th Brigade.  He told me that the primary objective of the FARDC was to protect the civilian population and secure the frontier.  He claimed that instances of rape were rare, and that when they occurred, both the offending soldier and his commanding officer were severely punished.

I then asked Commander Nguale if I could see the cell where he kept his prisoners.  He acquiesced, and even allowed me to take pictures, but unfortunately allowed no Flip videos.   The “cell” was in a mud-brick house that was somewhere between ruined and falling apart.  There were 7 prisoners in a space that couldn’t have been bigger than 2×2 meters.  Juvernal told me that 6 of the men had been identified as FDLR, but one was just another Rwandan civilian that had the misfortune of being caught in the combat zone.  The cell was secured by pushing a bench against the door, and tin roofing had been nailed to all the windows.  There were two soldiers with AKs milling around.  Commander Nguale told me that when the prisoners needed to relieve themselves, the guard would escort them out of the cell to a latrine.  Juvernal asked the prisoners their names and how long they had been there; they said four days.  The entire time Commander Nguale decried the poor condition of the cell, but insisted that he “did not have the means” to make improvements.

6 FDLR and 1 civilian in the jail in Luvungi

6 FDLR and 1 civilian in the jail in Luvungi

What will happen to the FDLR prisoners?  They will be taken to the Rwandan frontier at Bukavu, where they will have the choice of either integrating into the Rwandan military or demobilizing and going back to civilian life in Rwanda.  This is done by MONUC’s DDR (Désarmement, Démobilisation, et Répatriation) program.  Part of Juvernal’s monitoring work is to ensure that the FDLR prisoners are moved out of their squalid jail and into the DDR program in a quick and orderly fashion.

Later, Juvernal told me that a lot of what the commander said was bongo kabisa, i.e., a large load of horse manure.  In Part II, Juvernal will give a more accurate picture of the human rights situation around the Haut Plateau.

Posted By Walter James

Posted Aug 3rd, 2009

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *