Background Briefing

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Human Rights Abuses of Civilians by Armed Groups in Walungu

In recent years the eastern Congo has suffered more than any other part of the country from armed conflict and related abuses against civilians. The International Rescue Committee estimates that nearly four million Congolese have died since 1998 as a result of war in the Congo, the great majority in eastern DRC. Many victims were displaced people who died from exposure, hunger, or lack of medical assistance.1 The Global and All Inclusive Peace Agreement which set up the transitional government in June 2003 and subsequent bilateral and regional security agreements have not resulted in peace in the eastern provinces where civilians continue to suffer attacks, systematic sexual violence, and looting by a host of armed groups and Congolese army soldiers. Since November 2004, some 200,000 people in North and South Kivu have fled their homes, seeking safety in other communities or in the forest.2 Some witnessed armed conflict between Congolese army soldiers and the rebel troops, but others, familiar with the noise and the consequences of armed combat, fled simply because they heard gunfire or reports of troops arriving.

Rwandan Armed Groups

Groups of armed Rwandans, mostly ethnic Hutu, regularly loot and extort goods from Congolese civilians who live in their vicinity and sometimes kill, rape, or otherwise injure them. These armed groups - generally called “ex-FAR” (for those once part of the former Rwandan army, Forces Armées Rwandaises, FAR) and “Interahamwe” (the militia that killed many Tutsi) - carry a special stigma because some of their members participated in the genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. Those who actually committed genocide constitute the minority, 3 but the association with the genocide taints all. In a November 29 statement to the Security Council, the permanent representative of Rwanda to the United Nations acknowledged the importance of recent recruits to these groups. He said that the Rwandan armed groups recruit and train “many others, including young people and children who did not physically participate in the genocide of 1994.”4

The most experienced and now the oldest members of these Rwandan armed groups fled to Congo, along with hundreds of thousands of civilians, after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power in Rwanda in 1994, ending the genocide. Some of them retain the objective of returning home, by force or by negotiation, including many grouped in the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR). This politico-military movement numbers between 8,000 and 15,000 and has some political leaders in Europe and North America.5 Others now operate more as outlaw bands without a political objective, like the Rastas described below. Still others who arrived in 1994 are no longer combatants but have turned to farming and trade and live side by side with Congolese.

In 1996 and 1998 Rwandan officials justified the Rwandan invasion of Congo by asserting that Rwandan armed groups posed a threat of genocide to Tutsi in Rwanda and in the Congo itself, the same argument made by Rwandan authorities in November 2004. In a speech before the Rwandan senate, Rwandan President Paul Kagame cited a November 15, 2004 incident in which several shells were fired into Rwandan territory, as well as the massacre of Congolese refugees at Gatumba in Burundi in August 2004 as proof of the danger posed by the Rwandan Hutu fighters in Congo.6 The identity and motives of all those responsible for these incidents have not been established.

Ambassador Richard Sezibera, the Rwandan envoy to the Great Lakes, told international donors in Kigali on December 9 that combatants based in Congo were responsible for eleven attacks on Rwanda in the previous three months. But, perhaps recognizing the great superiority of the Rwandan army in numbers, training, and arms, Sezibera also acknowledged in an interview with the International Crisis Group that the FDLR “no longer constitute an immediate threat to government.” He added, “They are a security problem to people's lives, property and our economic growth.”7

FDLR combatants have based themselves in rural areas in both North and South Kivu.8 In Walungu, South Kivu, the area chosen for the first joint disarmament operations of the Congolese army and MONUC, the FDLR live in or near villages, while a splinter group known as the Rastas are based in a nearby forest.9 Numbering fewer than one hundred combatants, the Rastas have committed serious recent abuses during night-time attacks in villages in the Kanyola and Izege areas of Walungu.10 FDLR leaders have distanced themselves from the Rastas, but local authorities say Rastas fear no interference from FDLR and often pass FDLR positions when returning to the forest after their attacks.11

Witnesses described nighttime looting raids by Rwandan armed groups who abducted men and women, killing, raping or beating them and forcing them to transport their goods. Elise,12 a nineteen-year old woman abducted at Mukama village around midnight on October 4, 2004 said,

They took me with my husband… into the forest and sent me to find kanyanga [a local drink]. After that they killed my husband at four on Monday afternoon. After killing him they raped me. Nineteen people raped me in the forest.13

Elise said her attackers were armed and some of them wore military uniforms. They spoke Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. She saw them beat a young man to death with sticks and then steal his cows. The following day she escaped with another young boy who had been taken captive. A local official who tried to intervene with the combatants was also killed. His body and that of Elise’s husband were later found on a hill; another two bodies were found nearby.14

In late August and September 2004, a Rwandan armed group attacked Budodo village in the Kanyola area three times. On August 27 these attackers abducted two teenaged girls and systematically looted property, including twenty-six cows. On August 30 the attackers returned to the home where they had found the two girls only days earlier and raped a twenty-year-old woman from the same family. She said, “They came into my house and started kicking me, asking for our clothing. I even had a child on my back. The commander started beating me, and told me to put the child down. Then he took me outside and raped me.”15 A week later, on September 6, the attackers returned, this time wielding axes. They raped and then killed another woman and injured three other persons, including a young boy. According to witnesses, the Rwandan fighters may have been joined in one or more of these attacks by local Congolese combatants, known as Mayi Mayi, who took up arms in the early years of the war to fight against Rwandan army soldiers and the forces of the RCD-Goma.16 As a result of the repeated attacks, some 2,000 civilians fled their homes and sought safety in Walungu town.17

Rasta combatants abducted Maria, seventeen years old, along with her cousin on December 22, 2003 and held her, raping her repeatedly, for over ten months. She told a Human Rights Watch researcher that a group of about thirty armed men speaking Kinyarwanda and poor Swahili, held her along with twenty-one other girls whom they also repeatedly abused sexually. Maria said,

I was kidnapped in the night and taken with my cousin. We were attached onto their belts.18 They took us to where they lived. Every night we were obliged to move because they were afraid soldiers from Walungu would try to attack them. It was difficult because the men would beat the women. They guarded the women well. We were accompanied to fetch water and even to the toilet…. There was only one man who used me. When he wanted to have sex with me he did it savagely. In one night he would use me even five times.19

When the Congolese army attacked the area where the Rastas had set up camp in late October 2004, Maria managed to escape and found safety in Walungu town. She became pregnant as a result of having been raped.20

Like many armed groups in eastern Congo in recent years, the FDLR imposed illegal “taxes” and systematically looted goods from the local population once they took control of an area, causing further misery for already impoverished communities. FDLR combatants charged fees for access to markets and on occasion pillaged the markets themselves. In Mulamba, an area in southern Walungu, FDLR combatants required each locality to provide approximately U.S. $6 and 50 kilograms of flour. They later demanded an additional $1 per person “war tax,” a sum that exceeds the weekly income of most local residents.21 UN officials also reported that civilians were sometimes forced to pay the FDLR a large part of their profit from mining coltan,22 one of the few income-producing activities in the area.23

Abuses by FARDC and former Mayi Mayi groups

The Congolese army, the FARDC, is a single army only on paper. It is currently being formed from the forces of the various rebel movements that signed the Pretoria Agreement in 2002. The FARDC troops in Walungu include a large contingent of forces formerly part of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (ex-MLC), along with others once part of the forces of RCD-Goma, and others from a local militia group known as Mudundu-40. Colonel Kyembwa Wa Kagela, of the former national Congolese army (FAC), is in charge of the FARDC operation in Walungu, with an operational commander under him originally from the Mudundu-40.24

FARDC forces came to Walungu on June 2, 2004 after being driven out of the provincial capital of Bukavu by a mutiny among other FARDC troops, formerly part of the forces of RCD-Goma.25 As the FARDC soldiers retreated to Walungu they raped many women and looted goods from the local population. Thirteen victims of sexual violence by FARDC soldiers were later treated at a local health center in Walungu, a small number of the total victims according to local women’s rights activists.26 Women’s organizations told a Human Rights Watch researcher that FARDC General Budja Mabe addressed the population in Walungu shortly after the arrival of his troops, apologized for the conduct of the soldiers and said that he did not have effective control of his forces.27

During this same period, FARDC soldiers looted homes, offices, and shops in Walungu town, beating any who did not comply with their demands. A local resident said, “The soldiers went to each house and demanded cows, goats, and money. They took my four goats, chickens, US$ 25, furniture, everything. They asked for US$ 2,000. When I said I didn’t have anything, they started beating me. I spent two months in the hospital [because of my injuries].”28

On November 16, FARDC troops who had come to Mulamba market as part of the operation to disarm Rwandan combatants looted property of traders at the market.29

Among the newly integrated Congolese forces are former combatants of the Mayi Mayi, a group that has also committed grave abuses against the population. In October 2004 a Mayi Mayi combatant raped eight young children in Walungu. He was arrested and supposed to stand trial, but several weeks later a human rights activist checking on the case could not locate him at any military place of detention.30

On November 18, FARDC troops arbitrarily arrested a leader of the Budodo villagers still living temporarily in Walungu stadium after having fled the attacks by Rwandan armed combatants described above. He was accused of the unlikely charge of collaborating with the assailants whom he had fled. He had previously denounced both attacks by Rwandan armed groups and Mayi Mayi collaboration with these groups.31 FARDC troops, possibly displeased by his drawing attention to past cooperation with Rwanda armed groups, were responsible for his arrest. MONUC staff members intervened and the man was released later the same day.32

[1] International Rescue Committee and Burnet Institute, Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from a Nationwide Survey, December 2004.

[2] Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 17to19, Butembo and Lubero, December 17 to 20, 2004.

[3] Human Rights Watch interviews, London, May 9, 2001;one experienced UN officer estimated that 60 percent of the supposed Rwandan combatants had actually been born in Congo, December 16, 2004.

[4] Statement by the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda before the United Nations Security Council, 29 November 2004.

[5] This paper generally uses the term “Rwandan armed group” and speaks of the FDLR only when that specific organization is meant. In September a group of FDLR activists in Europe separated from the original group and formed the R-FDLR.

[6] Speech of the President of Rwanda before the Rwandan Senate, November 30, as broadcast on Radio Rwanda, 19:00.

[7] International Crisis Group, “Back to the Brink in the Congo,” Africa Briefing, December 17, 2004, p. 4, available at . Sezibera repeated the same assertion to a journalist in an interview in late December, Human Rights Watch electronic communication, December 23, 2004.

[8] Rwandan officials estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 combatants; MONUC estimates between 8,000 and 10,000. International Crisis Group, “Back to the Brink in the Congo,” December 17, 2004.

[9] The Rastas may also include some former Congolese Mayi Mayi. Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 17 to 19, 2004.

[10] Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 17, 2004.

[11] Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 17, 2004. See also FDLR communiqué, " Les FDLR condamnent les viols des femmes et jeunes filles en RDC et demandent à ce que les responsables de ces crimes soient traduits en justice," November 11, 2004, available at

[12] Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.

[13] Human Rights Watch interview, Walungu, November 19, 2004.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Human Rights Watch interview, Walungu, November 18, 2004.

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid.

[18] This was done to make escape impossible.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview, Walungu, November 18, 2004.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 17 to 19, 2004.

[22] Coltan, a combination of columbite and tantalite, is a scarce and currently highly-priced mineral used in making cellular telephones and other technical equipment.

[23] Human Rights Watch interview, Walungu, November 17, 2004.

[24] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu and Walungu, November 2004.

[25] See Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, War Crimes in Bukavu, June 2004.

[26] Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, July 20 and 21, 2004, and Walungu, November 17 to19, 2004.

[27] Human Rights Watch interview, Women’s organizations Bukavu, July 21, 2004.

[28] Human Rights Watch interview, Walungu, November 18, 2004.

[29] Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 17 to 19, 2004.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview, Walungu, November 17, 2004.

[31] Human Rights Watch interviews, Walungu, November 18, 2004.

[32] Ibid.

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