UN denounces sexual violence, other serious violations in eastern DRC
GENEVA, Switzerland, May 8, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law were committed in November 2012 during fighting between government forces and rebels of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) over the town of Goma in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and during the subsequent retreat of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) to South Kivu province, a UN report has found.
The report by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO)* details victim and witness accounts of mass rape, killings and arbitrary executions, and violations resulting from widespread looting. It noted that particularly systematic and violent abuse was committed by some FARDC elements as they retreated from the towns of Goma and Sake in North Kivu province and regrouped in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu.
The UN investigation documented 135 cases of sexual violence perpetrated by FARDC elements in and around the town of Minova as units retreated from the front lines. The victims included 33 girls aged between 6 and 17. FARDC soldiers entered houses, looted them, and raped the women and girls they found inside, and in many cases committed additional acts of physical violence.
During the period of their occupation of Goma and Sake, M23 combatants also perpetrated serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations. Rebel combatants of the M23 were responsible for at least 59 cases of sexual violence. The UN investigation also documented at least 11 arbitrary executions, recruitment of children, forced labour, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment and looting by M23 combatants.
Poor discipline among soldiers and officers alike may be partly explained by the repeated integration of former rebels into the national army without adequate training, and by the lack of appropriate vetting mechanisms. The M23 leadership is also well-known for its worrying human rights record. The violations outlined in the report may constitute international crimes under human rights law, as well as crimes under Congolese criminal law.
“Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. “The people of the DRC have endured an intolerable level of violence in recent years. In particular, the sexual violence outlined in this report is horrifying, both in its scale and systematic nature. Recent efforts made by the DRC authorities to investigate these violations in North and South Kivu are an important step towards accountability. But much more needs to be done to ensure justice for the victims and to re-establish the confidence of the civilian population in the Congolese justice system,” she added.
In December 2012, a judicial investigation was launched, supported by MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DRC, and other partners. As of the end of March 2013, 12 senior officers had been suspended in relation to the Minova incidents while the investigation by Congolese justice authorities is ongoing.
“I welcome the measures taken so far by the Congolese authorities, including the decision to suspend senior officers allegedly connected to the mass rapes,” said Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) in the DRC, Roger Meece. “The UN continues to offer its support to both the judicial investigation and the Congolese armed forces However, for this support to be continued, the ongoing investigation should be pursued in an independent and credible fashion, and justice should be delivered to the victims. Future efforts to reform the security sector must include a systematic verification of the human rights records of combatants and their commanders in order for the Congolese army to fully ensure the protection of civilians.”
* The UN Joint Human Rights Office, which was established in February 2008, comprises the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.