THE CIVIL WAR
June 1997- December 1999
The civil war in the Republic of Congo, commonly known as the War of 5 June (Guerre du 5 juin), lasted from June 1997 until December 1999.
Presidential elections were scheduled to take place in July 1997, but tensions between two candidates President Pascal Lissouba and former President Denis Sassou Nguesso culminated the same year.
On 5 June 1997, the Congolese army, backed by the militia supporting President Lissouba, surrounded and attacked Sassou’s home in Brazzaville, to which Sassou’s own militia retaliated. This led to a four-month clash between partisans of the two presidential candidates. The army was ethnically split, with most northern officers joining Sassou, while southern officers joined the rebels.
Over 90 per cent of the population of the Republic of Congo is made up of four main ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group in the south – the Kongo – constitutes about half of the population. The Sangha and Teke account for 20 per cent of population each, while the M’Bochi live in the north of the country and account for about 12 percent of the population. These main groups comprise more than 40 different tribes.
In early October 1997, Angolan armed forces invaded the Republic of Congo, on the side of Sassou, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo sent troops to fight on Lissouba’s behalf.
However, in the second half of October 1997, Sassou declared himself president of the Republic of Congo, and appointed a new government.
In 1998, the National Forum for Reconciliation was held, with a mandate of determining the nature and duration of the transition period. The Forum, controlled by the government, decided that new elections should be held in 2001, and they passed transition advisory legislature.
This transition into democracy was, however, interrupted by the clash between Sassou’s government forces and armed opposition in the form of civil unrest in the south of the country and around Brazzaville.
In late 1998, government troops reportedly committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape, physical abuse of detainees and civilian population, looting and other crimes. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and in total more than 10’000 people were killed in Brazzaville alone.
One of the most notable events during the conflicts is the so-called “Brazzaville Beach affair”. This affair refers to over 350 people who disappeared between April and November 1999. These were refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and internally displaced people returning from the Pool region of the country.
The governments of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concluded a tripartite agreement on 10 April 1999, for the repatriation of refugees who voluntarily wanted to return to Brazzaville through the humanitarian corridor.
However, the security team set up to receive refugees at the Brazzaville port was made up of several diverse and undisciplined military units. As a consequence, after police formalities were accomplished, people were detained, many of whom disappeared without trace even until today.
At the river port known as Beach and the Yoro in Brazzaville, these refugees were split up into separate groups: soldiers, women, able-bodied men and young men. The young men are believed to have been arrested by Sassou on suspicion that they were supporters of Ninjas, a militia which supported Lissouba’s forces during the war.
According to sources close to the relatives of the victims, missing persons were transferred to the Headquarters for Military Intelligence (DRM in French) and to the Presidential Palace in the Plateau district, in the centre of Brazzaville. The DRM subsequently informed the relatives of those missing that they had detained only the soldiers who had been intercepted at the Beach.
In late 1999, the government signed agreements with many but not all opposition groups. The agreements called for disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration of former militias, and national dialogue to resolve all the underlying political disputes.
Sassou was elected president in March 2002, for a seven-year term.
On 17 March 2003, government and Ninjas signed a peace agreement. Ninjas were disarmed, given amnesty, and they were either integrated in the society, or returned to civilian life.
JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS IN BRAZZAVILLE AND FRANCE
In 2001, relatives of the victims in the Brazzaville Beach Affair formed the Collective of Relatives of the Disappeared of the Beach, and demanded prosecution of the suspected perpetrators.
An investigation was subsequently opened in the Criminal Court of Brazzaville, and in 2005 trials for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity started.
Also, in 2001, separate legal proceedings started in France pursuant to universal jurisdiction.
Hence, the International Federation for Human Rights, French League for Human Rights and the Observatoire Congolais de Droits de l’Homme have advocated before French authorities for the prosecution of said crimes. Following this, several Congolese officials have been indicted in France.