A human rights group says civilians in eastern and northern Democratic
Republic of Congo are under increasing attack from all sides of the
conflicts raging there between Congolese and rebel forces. Human Rights
Watch alleges that the United Nations-backed Congolese army is failing
to protect civilians from the rebel forces and is committing its own
acts of atrocities against the local population.
The alleged acts of abuse against civilians in the region include the burning of villages, sexual assaults, killings, abductions, and forced labor.
The Congolese army has been fighting the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, in northern Congo since December and the Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, in eastern Congo since January.
The two outside rebel forces are deliberately attacking civilians as a military tactic and are responsible for the vast majority of the civilian deaths in the area. According to Human Rights Watch, the FDLR has killed more than 400 civilians and the LRA more than 1,000 civilians since the fighting began.
Human Rights Watch accuses the Congolese army of failing to protect civilians from the two rebel forces and of being involved civilian killings itself. The organization also found that Congolese forces are illegally conscripting the local population into forced labor.
The local civilians continue to suffer from widespread instances of rape by the Congolese forces. Since the start of military operations in January, the human rights group found that the rates of rape cases have doubled and tripled across the region.
Allegations of abuse by the Congolese army raise questions about the role of the U.N. peacekeepers in the region assigned in March to logistically support the Congolese forces.
Anneke Van Woudenberg, a Congo researcher for Human Rights Watch, says that the U.N. peacekeepers' relative inaction towards stopping the human rights violations of their partner is unacceptable.
"What worries us is that there has been limited attempt by U.N. peacekeepers to try to reduce the abuses by the Congolese army," said Van Woudenberg. "They need to take urgent steps to try and reduce the abuses or they will risk becoming complicit in those abuses."
U.N. officials in Congo were not able to be reached for comment.
In one instance on May 10, it is alleged that the FDLR killed 86 civilians - the majority of whom were women and children - in the town of Busurungi. This attack was possibly in retaliation for a Congolese attack in late April against an FDLR position of Rwandan refugees near Busurungi.
The LRA, known for its tactic of abducting civilians to fill its ranks, appears to be behind the spike in adult and child abductions in the area.
Human Rights Watch researchers have undertaken nine missions to the region since January to monitor the situation on the ground.
It is estimated that more than one million people in the region have been displaced in the region since this round of fighting began.