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Congo (DRC): hold army to account for war crimes

Human Rights Watch (HRW) publicou hoxe unha nota de prensa sobre os crimes de guerra perpetrados polo exército da República Democrática do Congo na provincia de Kivu Norte, que inclúen asasinatos de civís, violacións, secuestros de mulleres para a escravitude sexual e pillaxe. Copio un extracto a continuación:

“DR Congo: Hold Army to Account for War Crimes. UN Security Council Should Demand Government Hold Soldiers Responsible”

The United Nations Security Council, visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo today, should vigorously condemn war crimes by Congolese army soldiers in the eastern part of the country, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch urged the Security Council to condition UN support for Congolese military operations on the removal of known human rights abusers from command positions.

“The Congolese army is responsible for widespread and vicious abuses against its own people that amount to war crimes,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division at HRW. “The government should take urgent action to end these abuses. A military operation that targets the very people the government claims to be protecting can only lead to disaster.”

Since late January 2009, soldiers from the Congolese armed forces, the FARDC, on military operations in eastern Congo, have attacked villages and killed at least 19 civilians in North Kivu province, including two women and two elderly men. Army soldiers have also raped more than 143 women and girls in the same period, more than half of the 250 cases of rape documented by HRW. Some women were taken as sex slaves by soldiers and held within military positions.

In at least 12 villages in North Kivu province, including Miriki, Bushalingwa, and Kishonja in Lubero and Walikale territories, soldiers burned to the ground hundreds of homes and numerous schools and health centers. They pillaged and looted homes, and arbitrarily arrested at least 85 persons whom they accused of supporting rebel forces. Many of these people have been held without charge, subjected to beatings, and often released only after significant sums were paid. Civilians told HRW researchers that they feared army soldiers as much as the Rwandan militias the army is supposed to be neutralizing.

In mid-January, the Congolese army began a joint military operation with the Rwandan armed forces against Rwandan militia groups, the Rally for Unity and Democracy (RUD) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), some of whose leadership participated in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The operation “Umojo Wetu” (“Our Unity”) followed a rapprochement between the two countries and the demise of a Rwandan-backed Congolese rebel group, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), which gave up its struggle against the Congolese government and joined the operation.

During a rapid integration process, at least 12,000 combatants from the CNDP and other rebel groups who agreed to join the military operations entered the Congolese army ranks. The integration has swollen the army’s numbers in eastern Congo to an estimated 60,000 soldiers, exacerbating problems of discipline, pay, and command control that have plagued it for many years.

Operation Umojo Wetu ended in late February, when Rwandan soldiers left eastern Congo following an agreement that the Congolese army would continue military operations against the Rwandan militias with support from the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (MONUC). This second phase, known as Kimia II, began in North Kivu in mid-April and is expanding to South Kivu province.

Since the start of military operations against them, the FDLR and RUD militias have committed war crimes in brutal “reprisal” attacks in North and South Kivu, deliberately attacking and killing at least 200 civilians. In an attack on May 9 and 10, an estimated 60 civilians were reportedly killed and many others wounded in Busurungi, in Walikale territory. Reports from local officials and witnesses indicate the FDLR were the attackers and that Congolese army soldiers based in Busurungi retreated, or were killed, leaving the civilian population unprotected.

During both phases of military operations, Congolese army soldiers have killed, raped, and looted. After Rwandan militias attacked the Congolese army at Miriki (Lubero territory) on March 7-8, killing at least 12 soldiers, including an officer, the Congolese army sent in reinforcements. According to local authorities and Miriki residents, Congolese army soldiers then summarily executed the local police commander, who had reportedly been arrested along with 39 other civilians accused of collaborating with the FDLR militia. Congolese army soldiers then proceeded to pillage and burn 155 houses. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch they saw two truckloads of well-armed soldiers returning to Kirumba later that day with the pillaged goods from Miriki.

In Bwavinyo, also in southern Lubero territory, Congolese army soldiers arrested the village chief on March 8, accusing him of having been aware of an FDLR attack on Bwavinyo earlier that day and not informing the Congolese army. He was released days later, after payment of over US$1,000 to Congolese army authorities. Soldiers then pillaged the village, saying that all the goods had belonged to the FDLR. On March 12, following a warning that the FDLR were close by, army soldiers began shooting randomly, killing four civilians who were on their way back to Bwavinyo from their fields nearby.

Congolese army soldiers repeatedly committed rape during operations, often accusing women of being supporters or wives of the FDLR. Many women and girls have been gang raped. In Kihonga (South Kivu), a woman was raped in her home by two soldiers, who then abducted her husband and forced him to transport their looted goods. He still has not returned. Days later, a 15-year-old girl was raped in the same village by two soldiers, while four other soldiers looted the house and then abducted her mother, who is still missing. Other women were abducted by soldiers to be sex slaves in their camps; they were told that if they ever tried to resist when soldiers wanted to have sex with them, they would be killed.

UN peacekeepers who support the Congolese army in these military operations have tried to minimize some of the abuses by army soldiers, but have been unable to do so in many circumstances. In at least one incident recently, UN peacekeepers fired warning shots over the heads of Congolese army soldiers to try to minimize their abusive behavior.

The 3,000 additional peacekeepers authorized by the UN Security Council in November 2008 have still not arrived in eastern Congo, despite promises from council members that they would urge a rapid deployment. Helicopters and intelligence support, desperately needed by the mission, have also not materialized. On April 9 in New York, Alan Doss, the head of the UN peacekeeping force, warned the Security Council that without such assets, MONUC’s “capacity to respond quickly to emerging threats and protect civilians would be curtailed.”

“Civilians are trapped, targeted by all sides in this conflict,” said Van Woudenberg. “During their visit to Congo, Security Council members should tell President Joseph Kabila that UN peacekeepers cannot support military operations in which war crimes are being committed and that ongoing support will be conditional on concrete action by the Congolese government to bring such crimes to an end.”

Human Rights Watch again raised concerns about the role played by known human rights abusers in the military operations supported by UN peacekeepers, including Bosco Ntaganda, who has been given a leadership role in the Congolese army despite an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC), and Jean-Pierre Biyoyo, appointed a colonel in the Congolese army despite being found guilty by a Congolese military court of recruiting children into a militia group in March 2006.

Human Rights Watch also urged the council to ensure that Ntaganda is immediately removed from military duties, and to condition future MONUC operational support on his arrest.

“MONUC and the Security Council cannot turn a blind eye when known human rights abusers are in senior positions in military operations they support,” said Van Woudenberg. “Congolese civilians urgently need protection from militia groups and abusers in their own army. If the council fails to act, it too will be complicit in putting civilians at risk.” […]


19 Maio 2009 - Posted by | Congo (DRC), Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Politics, Rwanda

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