DR Congo: Rwandan Rebels Slaughter Over 100 Civilians

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DR Congo: Rwandan Rebels Slaughter Over 100 Civilians

Congolese and Rwandan Forces Should Make Protecting Civilians a Priority

NEW YORK - The rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR)
brutally slaughtered at least 100 Congolese civilians in the Kivu
provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between January 20
and February 8, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed dozens of victims and
witnesses who recently arrived from neighboring areas of Ufamandu and
Walowaluanda (North Kivu province) and from Ziralo (South Kivu
province) at displaced persons camps near Goma, the capital of North
Kivu. Their accounts are the first reports of killings of civilians by
the FDLR since joint operations between Rwandan Defense Forces and the
Congolese army against the group began on January 20. Some of the
civilians died during the fighting between these forces. 

"The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven't seen this level of
violence in years," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in
the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "We've documented many
abuses by FDLR forces, but these are killings of ghastly proportions."

The joint military operations are intended to dismantle Rwandan
armed groups that have been present in eastern Congo since 1994. Some
leaders of the FDLR are accused of having participated in the 1994
Rwandan genocide.

As Rwandan and Congolese coalition forces advanced toward the FDLR's
former headquarters at Kibua, in Ufamandu, North Kivu, the FDLR
abducted scores of local residents from neighboring villages and took
them to their camp, apparently intending to use them as human shields
against the impending attack. Witnesses said that when coalition forces
attacked Kibua on January 27, the trapped civilians tried to flee. The
FDLR hacked many civilians to death and others died in the crossfire.

One witness at Kibua saw FDLR combatants kill at least seven people,
including a pregnant woman, whose womb was slit open. Another saw an
FDLR combatant batter a 10-year-old girl to death against a brick wall.

As the FDLR fled the military confrontation, they abducted dozens of civilians, forcing them to carry their goods.

In Remeka village in Ufamandu, the FDLR rebels called a meeting at
which they accused the population, local leaders and the Mai Mai armed
group with whom they had been allied, of having betrayed them. A local
resident present at the meeting said the FDLR told residents they would
not be allowed to leave and that they were "sharpening their spears and
machetes." Another said, "The FDLR told us that if they were shot at by
anyone that they would hold us responsible and kill us."

Following the meeting, the FDLR erected barriers to prevent people
from fleeing. When some tried to flee, the FDLR attacked them, killing
dozens with guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and machetes. "As I ran, I
saw bodies everywhere - men, women and children," said one witness.
"They had all been killed by the FDLR."

FDLR combatants also raped more than a dozen women whom they accused
of having joined the government side against them. For instance, in
southern Masisi territory (North Kivu), on January 27, FDLR combatants
raped and killed a woman and then raped her 9-year-old daughter.

The message given at the Remeka meeting was repeated in a letter
sent from the FDLR to the governor of South Kivu in early February. In
the letter, the group warned that if the local population collaborated
with the Rwandan army they would be considered the FDLR's "mortal
enemy" and treated as a "belligerent party."

Following the attacks in Ufamandu, FDLR forces fled through
Walowaluanda in Walikale territory to the Ziralo region in South Kivu,
where they continued to kill civilians. A woman from Lulere village in
Ziralo told Human Rights Watch that the FDLR said they would not leave
Congo without "first exterminating the Congolese people." The FDLR
forces then killed her 73-year-old father and 80-year-old uncle by
smashing their skulls with small hoes.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that FDLR forces abducted at least
50 civilians in early February in Lulere, Mianda, Kalingita, Katale,
and Kirambo villages, on the border between North and South Kivu
provinces. They were reportedly taken to Kinono forest in Ziralo, South
Kivu. Their fate is unknown.

The Congolese government nominally leads the joint operations
against the FDLR, but the coalition troops that attacked the FDLR in
Ufamandu were largely soldiers from the Rwandan Defense Forces. These
Rwandan soldiers were allegedly responsible for having raped several
women since the start of operations against the FDLR.

"The Tutsi [Rwandan] soldiers accused me of being the wife of an
FDLR combatant, just because I'm Hutu," said one woman who was raped by
a Rwandan army soldier in Remeka. "After they raped me, they burned my
house, saying it was the house of an FDLR. I was pregnant, but there's
no more movement in my womb. I think I have lost my first child."

The United Nations Mission in Congo, MONUC, has a mandate to protect
civilians and provides logistical support to the Congolese army, but it
was not involved in planning  the joint operation. Although the
coalition forces say they are open to sharing information with MONUC
about their campaign, such information-sharing has been scant and too
late to permit the UN forces to be able to plan for providing the
needed protection.

In November 2008, the UN Security Council authorized an additional
3,000 troops for the mission to help carry out its mandate to protect
civilians. None of these additional troops have yet arrived.

International humanitarian law - the laws of war - applies to both
states and non-state armed groups. Parties to a conflict must take all
feasible steps to minimize harm to the civilian population, including
permitting civilians to flee to safer areas. The laws of war prohibit
murder, rape and abductions. Those who commit such acts are responsible
for war crimes. 

"Protection of civilians needs to be given a top priority in the
military operations to help prevent, once again, Congolese civilians
paying the highest price," said Van Woudenberg.

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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