Torture fate 'awaits UK deportees'
Britain insists that it is safe to send failed asylum seekers back to Congo. Now a repentant secret policeman has revealed the sickening brutality that awaits returning opponents of the Kinshasa regime
Sunday September 16, 2007
His stories are as shocking as they are horrific. A former senior member of the secret police in the Democratic Republic of Congo has revealed the inside story of the regime's brutal treatment of its political enemies. This is one of the few times that a perpetrator of the violence rather than a victim of it has spoken out.
Jules Waka Ndumba decided to tell The Observer the truth about the killing, rape and torture ahead of a key legal challenge against the British government's policy of attempting to deport failed asylum seekers back to the Congo.
Ndumba, 40, worked as part of the personal security corps for the former president Laurent Kabila and as a secret police chief. He said it was usual for trusted officials to have more than one 'sensitive' job.
Ndumba said he was involved in many acts of torture carried out at the notorious police headquarters, Kin Maziere, in the capital, Kinshasa. He said those most at risk of rapes, beatings and electrocutions at Kin Maziere are opponents of the government, both in DRC and abroad, and military deserters. Hundreds of people are tortured there every year, he said. Many of the inmates have been deported from the UK, France and Germany.
Ndumba said techniques employed include: stripping inmates and beating them on the buttocks with an electric cable; bludgeoning them with a rubber baton until the skin becomes raw on the back and the soles of the feet; leaving prisoners in handcuffs so tight they cut into the skin, with hands tied either in front of them or behind their backs for up to three days; and forcing prisoners to drink large quantities of water before beating them on the stomach until they vomit blood.
Now, saying he is sickened by such treatment, Ndumba maintains that he wants nothing more to do with torture at Kin Maziere. He fled the country in 2005 and claimed asylum in Britain.
The UK government has argued DRC is a safe place to return failed asylum seekers and other migrants despite a warning on the Foreign Office website of a range of human rights abuses which include 'frequent reports of summary executions, widespread rape and sexual violence, banditry and forced labour'.
Tomorrow will see the resumption of a court case, heard in camera at the immigration appeal tribunal, to determine whether it is safe to remove failed asylum seekers to DRC or whether all removals should be suspended because of the dangers to them.
The decision to hear the case in private was taken because of the perceived danger to witnesses who will be giving evidence about their experiences of torture. Three of the witnesses have received anonymous death threats since agreeing to give evidence. The Home Office, however, remains upbeat about the prospects for returnees to DRC although they acknowledge some individuals can demonstrate the need for greater protection.
A spokesman said: 'We will vigorously defend our position that it's safe to return failed asylum seekers to Democratic Republic of Congo. We shall seek to resume enforced returns as soon as legally possible.'
Evidence will be heard about the fate of 36 people deported to DRC on 26 February, 2007, on a plane specially chartered by the UK government. Lawyers are submitting evidence that some were tortured after the plane touched down in Kinshasa. Ndumba said that he has information from secret service colleagues in Kinshasa that people were arrested one by one after leaving the airport and then detained.
Ndumba wants the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to overturn the government's hardline position. He said: 'I worked in the DGRS (Directions Generaux de Renseignements Speciaux) at Kin Maziere. I know that human rights no longer exist in DRC. Arrests are arbitrary and frequent as are rapes and torture.
'In DRC, people live in fear. It's easy to rape a woman and it's easy to torture a person. Nobody will intervene, neither government nor judiciary. I worked as an inspector and saw these things with my own eyes. I tortured people but I had pity for them. So I turned my back on what was going on and claimed asylum in the UK. I ask the Home Secretary to have pity too for the people she wants to send back to DRC.'
He said Congolese secret service officials across Europe gather information about Congolese nationals who are politically active against the government and send any articles and photographs of them which appear in European newspapers back to intelligence officers in Kinshasa along with information about people involved in demonstrations against being returned.
'People who speak out against the government in DRC can easily be arrested and killed but it is much harder for the Congolese government to control people who speak out abroad.'
Ndumba said that when returned asylum seekers arrive at the airport in Kinshasa with emergency travel documents they are placed in a holding cell at the airport where they are interrogated. They are forced to admit to any political activities they have been involved in.
Those with money may be able to bribe officials to release them. The immigration official who interrogates the returnee hands over a report to police who will then sometimes take the person to Kin Maziere for torture. Ndumba said: 'The Garde Securite Speciale Presidentiale are even more dangerous than the police at Kin Maziere.
'They may take people to a place called Camp Tshatshi for torture. Even people with no political history are tortured at Kin Maziere. As one department there finishes with you, another one starts. People who have demonstrated against the government abroad are forced to beg for their lives.
'My job was to give orders for torture to be carried out. We kept a list of names of people detained in Kin Maziere, but if someone died their names were erased as if they had never been there. We didn't inform families that their loved ones had been killed. Sometimes if families found out their relatives had been put in Kin Maziere they contacted me and asked me to release them. I asked families to pay a bribe of $1,000. If they didn't have that much I would settle for $800.
'After a while when I saw people being beaten and saw all the blood coming from them I couldn't bear it. It wasn't so bad with the men, but when I saw the women crying and suffering, knowing that women can't stand up to that kind of treatment, my heart told me to stop.
'Sometimes I told my officers to release women because I couldn't bear to watch any more. The government has no control over the secret service in DRC. Intelligence officers are allowed to get on with whatever they are doing in order to protect the regime.'
Richard Monga, a Congolese asylum seeker living in the UK, was approached by officials of the Congolese government after he witnessed a government official being beaten up by Congolese nationals in the UK last year.
'They asked me to provide information about Congolese people in the UK who oppose the government in DRC in exchange for money. They asked me a few times and each time I refused. Since then I have received death threats.'
Hani Zubeidi, of solicitors Fadiga and Co, a firm which has many Congolese clients, said the case which recommences tomorrow is significant .
'Evidence will be heard from immigration officers who worked in DRC,' he said. 'There is evidence of rape of single, female returnees and evidence about what happened to some of the Congolese asylum seekers returned on the charter flight from the UK in February. The evidence I have seen is compelling. Some of our clients have gone into hiding or disappeared after being returned to DRC.'
Congolese officials deny that people returned to DRC face torture. A spokesman for the Congolese embassy in London said: 'There is a tradition of hospitality for everyone who comes to DRC. It is a democratic country in transition. Everyone is free there, that is the law of democracy.'
When asked about allegations of rape, torture and killings of government opponents, particularly those deported from the UK and other parts of Europe, and attempts by the Congolese government to recruit informants in the UK, he said: 'I do not know if that is happening in Kinshasa. I have no information about this.'
When asked about claims of torture at Kin Maziere, he said: 'It is just an ordinary police headquarters, like the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police.'
The spokesman said he was unable to give his name because of fears of reprisals from members of the Congolese community in the UK. He said the embassy in London's King's Cross had recently been subjected to an arson attack.
A nation torn apart
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in the grip of a humanitarian crisis since the start of a five-year civil war between government forces and rebels - an 'African World War' that dragged in several other countries and claimed an estimated three million lives.
A power-sharing deal was brokered in 2003, and in 2006 the first free elections in 40 years were held. However, fighting flared this month, led by a rebel commander who accuses the administration of collaborating with the Hutu extremists responsible for the Nineties genocide of Rwanda's Tutsis.