For Immediate Release
DR Congo: Massive Increase in Attacks on Civilians
Government and UN Peacekeepers Fail to Address Human Rights Catastrophe
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo - United Nations-backed Congolese armed forces conducting intensified
military operations in eastern and northern Democratic Republic of
Congo have failed to protect civilians from brutal rebel retaliatory
attacks and instead are themselves attacking and raping Congolese
civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks on civilians from
all sides have resulted in a significant increase in human rights
violations over the past six months.
"The Congolese government's military operations have been a disaster
for civilians, who are now being attacked from all sides," said Kenneth
Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, on a visit to eastern
Congo. "Congo and the UN need to take urgent measures to protect people
and keep this human rights catastrophe from getting even worse."
Since January 2009, nine Human Rights Watch fact-finding missions to
frontline areas found a dramatic increase in attacks on civilians and
other human rights abuses in Lubero, Rutshuru, Masisi, and Walikale
territories in North Kivu, Kalehe and Shabunda territories in South
Kivu, and Haute Uele district in northern Congo.
The Congolese army initiated military operations against the Ugandan
Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in December 2008 in northern Congo,
followed a month later by the launching of operations in eastern Congo
against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), the
Rwandan Hutu militia. Since then, the rebel forces and Congolese army
troops combined have killed more than 1,500 civilians, raped thousands
of women and girls, abducted hundreds of adults and children, and
burned to the ground thousands of homes, sometimes entire villages.
According to the UN, more than a million people have been forced to
flee for their lives from these conflict areas, adding to the tens of
thousands of others displaced from earlier waves of violence. Many of
those newly displaced have limited or no access to humanitarian
Retaliatory Attacks by FDLR and LRA Rebel Groups
FDLR and LRA combatants are responsible for the great majority of
killings of civilians documented by Human Rights Watch. Both armed
groups are deliberately terrorizing and punishing civilians and
attacking their property as a military tactic in retaliation for
Congolese government military operations. Those who committed or
ordered such attacks are responsible for war crimes.
On May 10, for example, FDLR combatants brutally massacred at least
86 civilians, including 25 children, 23 women, and seven elderly men at
Busurungi, in the Waloaloanda area of Walikale territory, North Kivu.
Twenty-four others were seriously wounded. Some of the victims were
tied up and executed; others were shot or their throats were slit by
knives or machetes as they tried to flee. A number of people were
burned to death when FDLR combatants deliberately locked them in their
homes and torched the village.
One witness who lived near the village outskirts took four of his
children by the hand and ran, calling on his wife to take the other
children. "I was the first out the door holding the children behind me
and calling on my wife to follow," he told Human Rights Watch. "But she
was too late. The FDLR pushed her back in the house with my daughter
and brother and then set it on fire. We heard their screams as we ran
The FDLR carried out similar attacks in Mianga, Walikale territory,
on April 12, killing 45 civilians including decapitating the local
chief, and in Chiriba, Kalehe territory, around May 25, killing 10
civilians. Human Rights Watch found that in total at least 403
civilians were killed by the FDLR since January 2009.
The LRA, whose leaders are wanted by the International Criminal
Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Uganda,
are currently in northern Congo and continued their brutal attacks
against civilians, bringing the death toll to more than 1,000 civilians
since December. Abductions of children and adults have increased,
indicating that the LRA may be seeking to replenish its ranks. In two
attacks in early June in Dakwa, local sources reported that the LRA
abducted some 135 adults and children.
The Congolese army's operations against these two cross-border
groups were initially supported by Ugandan forces in northern Congo and
Rwandan forces in eastern Congo, and since March by UN peacekeepers in
Congo (MONUC). These forces have provided only limited protection for
civilians from the deliberate and brutal rebel attacks.
"Rebel atrocities against civilians in eastern and northern Congo
seem boundless," said Roth. "The Congolese army should recognize by now
that offensive military operations need to include effective measures
to protect vulnerable civilians from these predictable retaliatory
Abuses by the Congolese Army
Congolese army soldiers have also committed war crimes against
civilians. Soldiers have deliberately attacked civilians whom they
accused of collaborating with the FDLR, raped women and girls, looted,
unlawfully forced civilians to act as porters, and torched homes in
villages that they claim harbored FDLR supporters.
In an attack on an FDLR position in Shalio, near Busurungi, in late
April, Congolese army soldiers killed an unknown number of FDLR family
members and Rwandan refugees. This possibly led to the brutal May 10
reprisal attack by the FDLR on Busurungi.
Rape cases have also dramatically increased in areas of Congolese
army deployment. In nearly all the health centers, hospitals, and rape
counseling centers visited by Human Rights Watch, rape cases had
doubled or tripled since the start of military operations in the Kivus
in January. While all sides continue to use rape and other sexual
violence as a weapon of war, the majority of the rape cases
investigated by Human Rights Watch were attributed to soldiers from the
The Congolese army's practice of forcing civilians to provide
dangerous labor has put civilians further at risk. Hundreds of
civilians have been regularly forced at gunpoint to carry heavy
ammunition and other supplies for Congolese forces. On June 21, Human
Rights Watch researchers witnessed dozens of civilians being forced to
carry supplies for the army from Bunyakiri in Kalehe territory while
soldiers deployed to frontline positions in South Kivu.
Salary arrears, limited food rations, and an unclear chain of
command following the integration of more than 12,000 former Congolese
rebel combatants into the army's ranks in early 2009 have contributed
to the rise in abuses against civilians. In Kalehe territory in South
Kivu, soldiers who had not been paid for five months are regularly
pillaging, looting, and extorting the civilian population. On June 15,
government soldiers, angry because they had not been paid, tried to
kill their commander and then attacked a UN base in Pinga, North Kivu.
On June 17, more than 30 armed soldiers who had not been paid deserted
in Ngora, Walikale territory.
Senior army officials conceded the problem of salary arrears and
told Human Rights Watch that soldiers involved in military operations
were now being paid, although Human Rights Watch could not
independently verify the claim.
The integration into the top ranks of the Congolese army of
individuals implicated in serious human rights abuses further
exacerbates an already dangerous human rights environment. The most
glaring example is Bosco Ntaganda, now a general in the Congolese army
involved in military operations in eastern Congo, who is wanted on
war-crimes charges by the International Criminal Court.
"The government's failure to feed and pay its soldiers regularly is
a virtual invitation for them to prey on the civilian population," said
Roth. "Then to allow these troops to be led by commanders like Bosco
Ntaganda with a known track record of horrific abuse creates a climate
in which atrocities flourish."
Limited Protection of Civilians by UN Peacekeepers
UN peacekeepers in Congo, MONUC, have provided logistical, planning,
and other support to the Congolese army's operations, known as "Kimia
II." But the peacekeepers have not exerted adequate pressure on the
Congolese army to stop brutal abuses.
The peacekeepers began an initiative in early 2009, known as joint
protection teams, to act as an early-warning system in areas where
civilians might be at risk of attack. While these teams have gathered
important information and sometimes contributed to reducing abuses,
their recommendations to UN peacekeepers and Congolese forces have
rarely been followed.
Following the Busurungi massacre in May, a UN assessment team
visited the area and recommended urgently setting up a base nearby to
protect local people. To date, no base has been established, and there
have been no regular UN patrols from existing bases. UN officials told
Human Rights Watch that a base is due to be established in the coming
days. Congolese soldiers who fled the area following the attack have
also not provided adequate protection for civilians.
"Civilians at risk of rebel attack in the Waloaloanda area have been
left too long without adequate protection even though MONUC has
identified the area as a priority protection zone," said Roth. "The
MONUC command should not delay any further, and should urgently deploy
peacekeepers to the area."
Congolese forces and UN peacekeepers have also yet to establish
promised humanitarian corridors that would allow a safe exit from
conflict zones for thousands of Rwandan refugees and FDLR combatants
who wish to disarm voluntarily. Congolese and UN officials have said
that such individuals will be allowed safe passage.
"UN peacekeepers should not support Congolese armed forces that are
committing war crimes and failing to protect civilians and refugees,"
said Roth. "By continuing to back such military operations, the
peacekeepers risk becoming complicit in abuses."
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.