Human Rights Watch accuses DRC troops of war crimes

By Frank Nyakairu |

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Democratic Republic of Congo’s army on Tuesday of widespread abuses against civilians that it said amounted to war crimes.

Congolese soldiers and the U.N. peacekeeping force MONUC have been conducting joint operations in eastern Congo targeting Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels including leaders of neighbouring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

But New York-based HRW said local troops were committing atrocities in the area’s remote North Kivu province.

“The Congolese army is responsible for widespread and vicious abuses against its own people that amount to war crimes,” Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in HRW’s Africa Division, said in a statement.

“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.”

HRW accused government soldiers of raping more than 143 women and girls since January — more than half of the total number of rape cases documented by HRW researchers.

Congolese military officials were not immediately available to comment. They have denied misconduct in the past.

U.N. Security Council envoys flew to Goma in eastern Congo on Monday to bolster a U.N. drive to help resolve years of conflict in the region and ultimately allow the 17,000-strong U.N. force there to leave.

“Security Council members should tell President Joseph Kabila that U.N. peacekeepers cannot support military operations in which war crimes are being committed,” Woudenberg said.