A coalition of 50 human rights NGO’s and civil society groups has launched a formal complaint against a Congolese army colonel for brutally treating women, children, and refugee victims of war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Human Rights Watch spearheaded Monday’s appeal to urge senior DRC officers to investigate and relieve Lieutenant Colonel Innocent Zimurinda of his command. The petitioners claim that since 2007, Zimurinda has massacred civilians, ordered rapes, and the recruitment of child soldiers, and directed the slaughter of more than 100 Rwandan Hutu refugees during an offensive in North Kivu province last April.
Human Rights Watch senior Congo researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg says that unless senior commander, General Amuli Bahigwa, replaces Colonel Zimurinda, the abuse will continue during a U.N.– DRC offensive planned to start early this year.
“He’s been involved in multiple massacres in eastern Congo, specifically in the province of North Kivu – three big massacres, the most recent of which occurred in April of last year, when the colonel himself organized an operation against refugees, killing at least 129 of them in a really brutal and vicious operation, where many women were raped and also numerous people were killed, often at point-blank range. But he also has a track record of forced labor, of illegally taxing people, and also, of course, of widespread rape. And we’re saying that it’s time that proper judicial investigation start,” she said.
After the refugee massacre, according to a U.N. report last October, survivors scattered in several directions, making it difficult for humanitarian groups to safeguard them from further violence.
“What we’ve been able to piece together, as well as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions, is that the individual responsible for those killings was this Lieutenant Colonel Innocent Zingurinda. And it’s extraordinary that that individual remains in a position of command. And basically what we and 50 Congolese NGO’s are saying is that it’s time he’s removed,” she said.
Zimurinda has reportedly taken part in U.N-backed Congolese military operations in eastern Congo during the past year and is expected to have a role in a new U.N.-supported offensive known as Amani Leo that is due to start within the next few weeks unless, Van Woudenberg says, the DRC command takes action to relieve him.
“Until we start someplace, we’re never going to see any progress. And it starts one step at a time. And this is an important step for the Congolese army to take. Hold this man to account. Arrest him. Suspend him from the area of operations, and ensure that he’s held to account,” she said.
The Human Rights Watch researcher Van Woudenberg says that senior Congolese commander, General Bahigwa, is generally well-respected as a leader by his troops and has abided by a policy of zero-tolerance for war crimes and brutality committed against Congolese civilians. She says the petitioners are hopeful that the Goma command will draw the line and eliminate the torturous collateral treatment of war victims.