Today, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is reporting ongoing brutal rapes by Rwandan rebel soldiers and regular Congolese army troops in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwandan rebel forces have also been implicated in the deaths of most of the 180 civilians killed since January 23, HRW said in a statement.
Image: IDP camp near Goma, DRC © 2009 Nienaber
The Rwandan Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) attacked and burned dozens of villages and towns in Masisi and Lubero territories (North Kivu) as well as in Kalehe territory (South Kivu) in recent weeks, committing numerous deliberate killings, rapes, and acts of looting. Blaming government military operations, the FDLR deliberately targeted civilians, used them as human shields, and accused civilians of having betrayed them.
"The FDLR are deliberately killing and raping Congolese civilians as apparent punishment for the military operations against them," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Both the fighters who commit such horrific acts and the rebel commanders who permit them are responsible for war crimes."
On or about January 22, Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Nkunda of the CNDP (Congress for the Defense of the People) was arrested and detained by Rwandan military forces in Gisenyi, Rwanda. The CNDP maintains that Nkunda protected Congolese people of all ethnicities who lived in the territories under his control, especially against atrocities and violence perpetrated by FARDC and the FDLR. The arrest of Nkunda in an action of apparent betrayal by the government of Rwanda, which had supplied him with aid and logistics, marked the beginning of an unprecedented joint military operation between the governments of Rwanda's Paul Kagame and DRC's Joseph Kabila.
During January and February, according to the HRW report, the FDLR were temporarily held at bay and pushed out of their strategic positions. However, following the withdrawal of Rwandan forces after February 24, the FDLR reoccupied its former positions.
On January 27, HRW reports FDLR combatants "hacked to death dozens of civilians used as human shields at their military position in Kibua." One witness at Kibua interviewed by HRW "saw an FDLR combatant batter a 10-year-old girl to death against a brick wall."
The immediate result has been tragic for 250,000 persons who have been added to the already crowded and filthy conditions in IDP camps. In recent weeks rape and murder are increasing.
Most recently, at least seven civilians were killed and 24 others wounded during FDLR attacks in Beni and Walikale in early April. On March 20, 2009, the FDLR attacked Buhuli, North Kivu, and four other nearby villages, killing at least five civilians, including two women, an elderly man, a 7-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. On February 13, the FDLR attacked the village of Kipopo, killing at least 13 people, who were burned to death in their homes.
In late February, the FDLR abducted at least a dozen women and girls from Remeka, in Masisi territory, North Kivu. Two women who escaped reported that FDLR combatants brutally killed nine of the women and girls when they resisted attempts to rape them. The fate of the others is unknown.
Human Rights Watch also reports atrocities by the regular Congolese army, which has been implicated in numerous rapes.
"In March, Congolese soldiers raped at least 21 women and girls in southern Masisi and northern Kalehe territories. Many of the victims were violently gang raped while the soldiers were on looting sprees.
On March 24, four women from Ziralo, South Kivu, were returning from the market when they were stopped by a group of army soldiers at a makeshift barricade. The soldiers took the sacks of food the women were carrying and then said they were going to examine the women's vaginas for any hidden money. The soldiers took the women into the nearby forest and gang raped each of them for hours. One woman was six-months pregnant and was raped so brutally that she lost her unborn child.
Image: Congolese Midwife and Rape Counselor © 2009 Nienaber
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