DR Congo: International Leaders Should Act Now to Protect Civilians
Human Rights Watch
30 October 2008
The United States, European Union, and African Union should urgently intensify diplomatic efforts to protect civilians and bolster the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo, Human Rights Watch said today. As a result of the fighting in North Kivu, which resumed in August after the collapse of a January peace deal, tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing fighting between government troops and combatants led by the rebel general Laurent Nkunda.
nternational leaders who successfully intervened before should act quickly to prevent the crisis in North Kivu from reaching catastrophic proportions, said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. iplomats from Washington, Brussels, and Addis Ababa helped broker the ceasefire at the start of the year. Now the most senior members of their governments must back them up to bring an end to this crisis.
Rebel troops led by Nkunda took the town of Rutshuru on October 28, 2008, causing thousands of people to flee. Late on October 29, the rebels stopped just short of Goma, capital of North Kivu, after Nkunda announced a unilateral ceasefire. A rebel spokesman had said that their forces expected to take Goma in the next few days. Close to the Rwandan border, Goma is home to more than 500,000 people, including thousands of people displaced by earlier fighting.
On the night of October 29, government soldiers created chaos in Goma. At least 20 civilians were killed, including 5 children, and more than 13 people were injured when soldiers looted shops, attacked civilian homes, and stole vehicles. Soldiers reportedly raped women in their homes and elsewhere. In one case, soldiers raped three family members at their home and then shot dead a male relative. ()
Heavy fighting since then has displaced more than 200,000 people, according to UN estimates. Currently an estimated 1 million people are displaced in the province of North Kivu alone. Human Rights Watch researchers documented the deaths of at least 70 civilians and injuries to another 150 since the start of the fighting in August, figures that probably represent a small percentage of total civilian casualties.
Peacekeepers with the UN Mission in Congo (MONUC), which is supposed to protect civilians, have been struggling to keep Nkundas troops from Goma. In recent days crowds in Goma and other places have stoned UN troops, angry that they are not doing more to help them.
N peacekeepers are too few and too ill-equipped to protect civilians in this difficult terrain, said Van Woudenberg. ember states have to deploy more peacekeepers with greater military muscle if they want to end this crisis and avoid further humanitarian disaster. ()
enior diplomats should insist that President Kabila put an immediate end to the targeting of Congolese Tutsi and hold to account those responsible for abuses against them, said Van Woudenberg. ts up to the Congolese government, not Nkunda, to protect its Tutsi citizens, as it protects all other citizens.
Last night, the UN Security Council called for respecting the ceasefire as well as prior agreements between the parties. It urged Kinshasa, Nkundas group, and the Rwandan government to renew efforts to find a political solution. It also encouraged member states to explore ways to provide more troops to strengthen the UN peacekeeping force by the start of next week.