CONGO: Disappeared but not forgotten: Brazzaville’s missing refugees

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More than eight years and numerous court cases later, security officials, relatives and human rights advocates are still trying to find out what happened to the ‘missing of Brazzaville Beach’ - several hundred returning Congolese refugees who disappeared after being detained.

“Today we ask for truth, justice and reparation,” said Vincent Niamankessi, president of the Brazzaville Beach Missing Peoples’ Collective.

“We are only trying to learn the truth, not to harm the government, but to understand exactly what happened so that these events never recur here in our country,” he added.

The Brazzaville Beach case involves around 350 people detained by Congolese security services in May 1999, who were never seen again. The missing, mostly young men, were among 6,500 refugees returning home from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, where they had fled because of the civil war raging in their own country.

No one has been convicted of any offence linked to these disappearances.

A trial in 2005 of 15 Congolese security officials, including then Republican Guard commander Blaise Adoua, on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to 85 of the disappeared, ended in acquittals, although the court ordered the state to pay compensation to the relatives.

Niamankessi said: “Ever since these acts were committed, tracks have been covered up so that even we relatives don’t really know what happened.”

The trial and acquittal in the Brazzaville criminal court, according to Roger Bouka Owoko, executive director of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory, “failed to fulfill the conditions of a fair and impartial trial, especially with regard to the rights of the victims”.

“It was a sham trial,” he added. “It failed to establish the circumstances of these people’s disappearance.”

Separate legal proceedings have been wending their way since 2002 through the judicial system in France, which took up the case citing the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Sidiki Saba, former president of the International Federation for Human Rights, said the Brazzaville Beach case highlights the “right to the truth” principle.

“When it comes to forced disappearances, this right implies families’ right to know what has become of the disappeared and where they are, and it also obliges the state to look for the disappeared and, where applicable, hand over their bodies to relatives,” he said.

The Congolese government, which has asked the International Court of Justice to halt France’s investigations into the Brazzaville Beach case, believes the matter is closed.

Government spokesman and Communications Minister Alain Akouala Atipault said: “Human rights groups’ statements about a case on which justice has been delivered are a gratuitous and intolerable political provocation.

“In the name of the government, I’d like to reiterate that after a decade of sociopolitical troubles which have bereaved almost all families in Congo, the people of Congo have slowly managed to dress their wounds through a process of national reconciliation.”

On November 13, the government banned a demonstration planned by human rights groups to bring attention to the missing of Brazzaville Beach. The government had previously approved the march.

Source: IRIN
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