DR Congo: M23 Rebels Committing War Crimes
Human Rights Watch
11 September 2012
M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are responsible for widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment. Thirty-three of those executed were young men and boys who tried to escape the rebels’ ranks.
Rwandan officials may be complicit in war crimes through their continued military assistance to M23 forces, Human Rights Watch said. The Rwandan army has deployed its troops to eastern Congo to directly support the M23 rebels in military operations.
Human Rights Watch based its findings on interviews with 190 Congolese and Rwandan victims, family members, witnesses, local authorities, and current or former M23 fighters between May and September.
“The M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities in eastern Congo,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg , senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “M23 commanders should be held accountable for these crimes, and the Rwandan officials supporting these abusive commanders could face justice for aiding and abetting the crimes.” (…)
In June the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, identified five of the M23’s leaders as “among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world.” They include Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted on two arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ituri district, and Col. Sultani Makenga, who is implicated in the recruitment of children and several massacres in eastern Congo. (…)
M23 rebels have committed abuses against civilians with horrific brutality, Human Rights Watch said. Just after midnight on July 7, 2012, M23 fighters attacked a family in the village of Chengerero. A 32-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that the M23 fighters broke down their door, beat her 15-year-old son to death, and abducted her husband. Before leaving, the M23 fighters gang-raped her, poured fuel between her legs, and set the fuel on fire. A neighbor came to the woman’s aid after the M23 fighters left. The whereabouts of the woman’s husband remain unknown. (…)
M23 leaders deny that they or their forces have committed any crimes. In an interview with Human Rights Watch on August 8, Col. Makenga, one of the M23’s leaders, denied allegations of forced recruitment and summary executions, claiming those who joined their ranks did so voluntarily. “We recruit our brothers, not by force, but because they want to help their big brothers…. That’s their decision,” he said. (…)
Rwandan military officials have also continued to recruit by force or under false pretenses young men and boys, including under the age of 15, in Rwanda to augment the M23’s ranks. Recruitment of children under age 15 is a war crime and contravenes Rwandan law.
On June 4, Human Rights Watch reported that between 200 and 300 Rwandans were recruited in Rwanda in April and May and taken across the border to fight alongside M23 forces. (…)
In addition to deploying reinforcements and recruits to support military operations, Rwandan military officials have been providing important military support to the M23 rebels, including weapons, ammunition, and training, Human Rights Watch said. This makes Rwanda a party to the conflict. (…)
A United Nations Group of Experts that monitors the arms embargo and sanctions violations in Congo independently presented compelling evidence of Rwandan support to the M23 rebels. Its findings were published in a 48-page addendum to the Group’s interim report in June 2012. The Rwandan government has denied these allegations. The UN sanctions committee should immediately seek additional information on M23 leaders and Rwandan military officers named by the Group of Experts with a view to adopting targeted sanctions against them, Human Rights Watch said.
In July and August, five donor governments – the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden – announced the suspension or delay of assistance to Rwanda in light of the evidence presented by the Group of Experts. Although Rwandan military support for the M23, and M23 abuses have continued unabated, on September 4 the United Kingdom Department for International Development announced it would disburse around half the assistance it had withheld.
The renewed hostilities by the M23, the Congolese army, and various other armed groups have resulted in the displacement of over 220,000 civilians who have fled their homes to seek safety elsewhere in Congo or across the border in Uganda and Rwanda.(…)
As of early September, the M23 controlled three main supply routes through Rutshuru to Rwindi, Bunagana, and Goma, and was imposing heavy “taxes” on all vehicles passing through their territory. (…)
Senior Rwandan military officials have sought to influence former CNDP members and their families, in both Congo and Rwanda, to support or join the M23. Several former CNDP military officers and political leaders told Human Rights Watch that they were under intense pressure from Rwandan officials to join the M23. The tactics included death threats and intimidation. (…)
Congolese Tutsi civilians, including businessmen and civilian leaders, also said they were under intense pressure to support the M23. Some have done so voluntarily, but others have refused and faced threats or intimidation. (…)
Since the start of the M23 rebellion, the FDLR and other Congolese armed groups, including the Raia Mutomboki militia, have also increased their military activities, expanding their areas of control and killing hundreds of civilians in other parts of North Kivu and South Kivu, according to the UN and local human rights activists. (…)
Some of the most intense fighting has been between the Congolese armed group Raia Mutomboki (meaning “outraged citizens” in Swahili) and the FDLR. (...) On August 29, Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, condemned the killings and massacres perpetrated by both groups. “The sheer viciousness of these murders is beyond comprehension,” she said in a statement. “In some cases, the attacks against civilians may constitute crimes against humanity.”
The M23 has sought to ally with some of the armed groups active in eastern Congo, providing them with either periodic or sustained support, including weapons and ammunition, and on occasion organizing coordinated attacks. (…)
As the Congolese army soldiers retreated north from their positions in Kiwanja, Rutshuru territory, on July 25, following an M23 offensive, the soldiers took a number of detainees with them. Human Rights Watch received several reports that four people in their custody may have been killed by soldiers near the Congolese military position at “Pont Mabenga.” Congolese judicial officials should urgently investigate this incident, Human Rights Watch said.
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