Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)
New York, October 2, 2013
We write to highlight the alarming human rights situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and ask that you use your visit to the region to help end human rights abuses and impunity for the worst crimes.
For the past year and a half, the Rwandan-backed M23 armed group has summarily executed and raped scores of civilians in eastern Congo, and forcibly recruited men and boys to join its ranks. Those who have spoken out against the M23's abuses have been threatened or killed. Women remain at risk of sexual violence. A woman from Rutshuru told Human Rights Watch researchers just this week how she was raped by an M23 fighter who said to her: "We also had wives, but they stayed in Rwanda. So that's why we rape you." After the woman was raped, the fighter shot her twice in both thighs. A man accused of "collaborating with the enemy" said he and other prisoners were detained in tiny cells crawling with insects, beaten, and forced to stand in human waste while M23 officers poured urine on them.
The M23 is led by some of Congo's most notorious war crimes suspects. In the past the Congolese government has granted them amnesties or offered them senior ranks in the army, sending the message that killing and raping would be rewarded with power and wealth. This time, the government has stated that M23 leaders responsible for serious abuses will not be integrated.
Like other abusive armed groups in eastern Congo in the past, the M23 since its inception has received significant military support from Rwanda, including the deployment of Rwandan army troops to Congo to fight alongside them; weapons, ammunition, and other supplies; training for new M23 recruits; and the forcible recruitment of men and boys in Rwanda, who were then sent across the border to fight for the M23.
Our research indicates that Rwandan support continues. Throughout September, Human Rights Watch received credible accounts from witnesses near the border that armed troops and recruits from Rwanda were moving to Congo to support the M23. The M23 today probably has no more than several hundred Congolese fighters, but it will remain a significant threat to Congolese civilians as long as Rwanda provides military support.
The Congolese army has also been responsible for serious abuses. As soldiers fled the M23's advance on Goma in November 2012, they went on a rampage, raping at least 76 women and girls in and around the town of Minova, South Kivu. In the town of Kitchanga, North Kivu, soldiers from the 812th Regiment, allied with a Tutsi militia they had armed, clashed with a primarily ethnic Hunde armed group from February 27 to March 4, 2013. At least 25 civilians died in the fighting. Most of the civilians killed were Hunde, and many appear to have been targeted by army soldiers because of their ethnicity. To date, no senior army officers have been arrested or prosecuted for these abuses.
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