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 II: ‘Our soldiers are not professionals’

03 Aug
FARDC soldiers guard the "jail" of Luvungi

FARDC soldiers guard the "jail" of Luvungi

After visiting the FARDC prison in Luvungi, I interviewed Arche inqueteur Juvernal Twaibu on what he had observed in the Luvungi jail and elsewhere.  Juvernal said that the jail in Luvungi was in “flagrant violation of its prisoners’ rights”.  Sanitation was bad, the prisoners had a very hard time getting food, wounded prisoners were refused medical treatment, and it was often hard for humanitarian workers to gain access to the prisoners.  Indeed, the visit we just had was the exception rather than the rule.

Juvernal continued enumerating the ways in which the FARDC violated the rights of their prisoners.

“The prisoners are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment,” he said, “There are international conventions that forbid torture of prisoners, but our army still tortures.”

Juvernal also told me of cases where the wives of imprisoned FDLR came to where their spouses were being held, only to be forced into relationships with the men who were guarding their husbands.

Does monitoring help the situation at all?  Juvernal seems to think so.

“There is a positive impact, despite the problems,” said Juvernal, “because often we arrive at the prison, we advocate on behalf of the wrongly imprisoned, and then people are liberated.”

I asked Juvernal about general human rights situation in the area.  The stories he told me were rather disheartening.

Juvernal told me that while sexual violations committed by the FARDC are not as bad as in other parts of Eastern Congo, there are still many problems concerning soldiers who marry minors, which is now against the law in Congo.  Juvernal also said that there are FARDC soldiers stationed on the Ngomo road to Bukavu who collaborate with bandits; they look the other way while the bandits waylay travelers in exchange for a cut of the plunder.

In Buhembe, FARDC soldiers came into the village in the middle of the night and set five houses on fire, with the occupants inside.  Fortunately, everyone was able to escape in time, but now these people are without homes.  The soldiers had burned the homes because they claimed the villagers of Buhembe were FDLR sympathizers who had given assistance to the rebels.  However, it can’t really be called “giving” out of “sympathy” when the FDLR are holding guns to your head.

Ten days ago, Juvernal told me, the 33rd Brigade of the FARDC attacked a group of FDLR in the village of Kigushuwe.  Both FDLR and civilians fled the village into a nearby valley.  After a while, the FDLR sent a messenger to the commander of the 33rd, telling him they wanted to lay down their arms and surrender.  Instead of accepting the offer to surrender, the FARDC commander began shelling the valley with mortars and killed over 60 people, many civilians included.  The commander shrugged off the civilian deaths, saying that if the civilians were in the same valley as the FDLR, they weren’t “real” Congolese.  After concluding this grisly tale, Juvernal shook his head.

“Our soldiers are not professionals,” he sighed.

Posted By Walter James

Posted Aug 3rd, 2009

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