Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces are abducting civilians, and using them for forced labor. That's according to Human Rights Watch, which says government forces in the northeastern Ituri District are using civilians as porters, miners and farm workers.
A Human Rights Watch statement says Congolese government forces in the northeast of the country are kidnapping civilians, and then using them for forced labor.
The New York-based rights organization says the army is abducting civilians in the Ituri District to dig in gold mines, work in fields and ferry goods. In some cases, the organization says, the civilians have been killed.
Coming just two weeks before the Democratic Republic of Congo holds a presidential run-off election, the report is a stark reminder of the continuing violence and abuse in the former Belgian colony.
Congo's October 29 presidential and provincial elections are the final stage in years of work and billions of dollars that have been invested in trying to end a five-year war that killed more than four million people. Militias fighting the government attacked civilians, killing, raping and torturing those they considered to be their enemies.
Despite three years of official peace and attempts to merge tens-of-thousands of fighters from a range of armed groups into a unified army, government forces remain chaotic and ill-disciplined.
Human Rights Watch says that, instead of protecting civilians in Ituri, the army had become the worst abuser of human rights. The organization calls for authorities to investigate and prosecute those found to be guilty.
According to the Human Rights Watch statement, the army denied responsibility, and blamed the abuses on the militias they are fighting against.