GOMA, DRC — The United Nations has released details of what it calls horrifying abuses committed by the Democratic Republic of Congo's armed forces and by the M23 rebels after heavy fighting in eastern Congo in November of last year. A report on the abuses documents nearly 200 cases of sexual violence and 13 arbitrary executions of civilians over a two-week period in North Kivu province.
The U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC, which wrote the report, says it is not an exhaustive account of all the abuses committed by the Congolese army and the M23 rebels at that time but it gives an insight into what went on.
The office’s director in the DRC, Scott Campbell, told journalists in Goma on Wednesday that the report is based on 350 interviews with victims and witnesses.
He said its main conclusions are that during two weeks beginning November 20, Congolese army troops were responsible for at least 135 cases of sexual violence and two arbitrary executions, while the M23 rebels were responsible for at least 58 rapes and 11 arbitrary executions.
The researchers found the government troops’ abuses were mainly committed after they had retreated in disorder to the town of Minova, where soldiers looted houses and raped at least 102 women, and 33 girls aged from 6 and 17.
A few weeks later the DRC authorities launched an investigation. They have since suspended 12 army officers.
The commander of the U.N. police detachment in Congo, General Abdallah Wafy, who also presented the report on Wednesday, was asked by a journalist if the U.N. was satisfied by the government’s response.
He says yes and no, yes insofar as the U.N. recognizes the authorities’ willingness to carry out an investigation and suspend army officers, but he says the U.N. is still awaiting the outcome. Wafy added that the actions taken by the government so far are significant and show a considerable advance on their attitude to these kinds of accusations a few years ago.
He says these are not just low-ranking officers that have been suspended. And he adds that the U.N. is continuing to put pressure on the authorities to follow through on their investigation and bring those responsible to trial.
The U.N. secretary-general’s special representative in Congo, Roger Meece, has said he welcomes the measures taken so far by the Congolese authorities.
He has also called for the ongoing investigation to be pursued in an independent and credible fashion, and for justice to be delivered to the victims.
As for the M23, they do not appear to have launched any investigation into their alleged abuses.
Scott Campbell says that in contrast to the government, the M23 simply issued a statement denying that they were involved in the abuses committed in Goma.
The U.N. has warned that the violations outlined in the report may constitute international crimes under human rights law.