Saturday 2 October 2010

New Light on the Death Toll in the Congo Wars

Although yesterday’s report on the Congo Mapping Exercise says it is providing an ‘inventory’, it does not actually propose a figure for the number of deaths during the Congo wars. However, taken as a whole, the report seems to suggest that we should adjust our estimates downward.
 The death toll during the conflicts in the Congo has been much debated in recent years. It has been said that the Congo was the ‘most deadly conflict since the second world war
The International Rescue Committee has proposed a figure of 5.4 million deaths. The Human Security Report has said this is greatly exaggerated.
 The Mapping Exercise reports mentions the International Rescue Committee report in a footnote, but says, much more cautiously, that the wars in the Congo ‘brought about the deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people’ (para. 127). Elsewhere, it also speaks of ‘hundreds of thousands of victims’ (para. 59), although it is not clear if it is speaking only of deaths or rather of human rights violations in general. The Mapping Exercise was to look at the ‘most serious’ incidents of violations, and a large number of individual violations are described. When numbers are offered, the report often speaks of ‘several hundred’.
 If the Congo is indeed the most deadly conflict since the Second World War, then it shows how much progress humanity has made since then. During the Second World War, the death toll is the Soviet Union alone is said to be of the order of 20 million people. By my calculations, approximately 25,000 people died every day at the height of the Second World War.
But what is probably a more realistic take on the death toll in the Congo, in the Mapping Exercise Report, may actually support the view that it was not the most deadly conflict since the Second World War. How about the Vietnam War, when somewhere between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese people died? Or the death toll resulting from the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which may now number about 1 million Iraqis? Why doesn’t the United Nations call for an international or a hybrid criminal tribunal to deal with atrocity crimes committed in Vietnam, in the same way it did with the Khmer Rouge atrocities in Cambodia? Why doesn’t it call for an international criminal tribunal to deal with atrocity crimes in Iraq, in the same way that it has done with Sierra Leone, Lebanon and so on? These are rhetorical questions, of course. I’m sure that readers of the blog know the answer.

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