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DRC Massacre Victims, Families Demand Justice

VOA News - October 18, 2007

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On the third anniversary of an army crackdown that killed more than 70 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, families of the victims fear their court case is being blocked by powerful politicians. The army is accused of executing, torturing, and raping civilians. An earlier ruling acquitted all the defendants of war crimes. Naomi Schwarz has more for VOA from Dakar.

The lawyer for victims of the eastern DRC massacre, Georges Kapiamba, says the victims and their families will not give up their quest for justice. But he says they have no faith in the judicial system.

He says the families had confidence in the trial that ended in June, and they were disappointed with the outcome.

Nine members of the Congolese army and three mining employees from a company operating in the area were tried for war crimes in the incident. They were acquitted In June. The families are appealing the decision.

This is the third anniversary of the army crackdown in the remote fishing town of Kilwa that left more than 70 dead. The army says it was suppressing a rebel uprising. Human rights activists say the soldiers executed at least 25 civilians and raped and tortured many others.

The Anvil Mining Company from Canada operates a silver and copper mine nearby. It has admitted to using its airplanes to fly the soldiers to the remote region and also lending them its trucks.

Patricia Feeney is the director of the human rights and corporate accountability watchdog, RAID. Her organization, along with human rights groups in DRC and overseas, has been helping the victims lobby for a fair trial. She says Anvil's role in the massacre makes the case unique.

"I think what marks out this case is it is not just a generalized human rights issue that these people are known to carry out human rights abuses so any funds you give them are likely to further that," said Feeney. "This is, there was a particular incident, the company took certain decisions, and it is that that makes it a bit exceptional."

Anvil has consistently denied wrongdoing. It says it was legally required to supply vehicles when the army requested them.

The company declined to comment for this story, but a press release after the initial trial verdict said it was satisfied with the court's decision acquitting its employees.

Feeney says she fears that political interests will interfere and prevent a fair outcome in the current appeal.

"There are very big political, military and economic interests involved in this case which present great difficulties for the human rights community that have been working hard to try to make sure the case now can be brought to appeal here in Congo," said Feeney.

She says the governor of the region has spoken publicly in support of Anvil and is trying to prevent the appeal from being heard in DRC's capital, Kinshasa.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

After the initial acquittal, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed concern about the trial's fairness. She said the evidence and eyewitness testimony against the defendants were substantial.

Despite vast mineral wealth, international groups rank the Democratic Republic of Congo as one of the world's poorest, and most corrupt, countries.


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