Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map
Human Rights Watch - Home Page


The civilians of eastern Congo are trapped between the armed contenders for power in the region. Both the RCD-Goma and its Rwandan and Burundian allies, on one hand, and the Mai-Mai and predominantly Hutu combatants on the other, kill civilians whom they accuse of supporting their enemies. They have systematically violated international humanitarian law through indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions, torture including rape, other kinds of cruel treatment, pillage and the destruction of civilian property.

The war in the DRC has an international dimension as well as an internal dimension. All parties involved in the armed conflict in eastern Congo are obliged to respect the most fundamental guarantees established by international humanitarian law. As a minimum legal standard, Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions lays down provisions that apply to government forces and armed groups that are combating each other in an internal armed conflict. Common Article 3 prohibits attacks on civilians, e.g. persons taking no active part in the hostilities. In particular, it prohibits violence to life and person, cruel treatment and torture, taking of hostages, outrages upon personal dignity, and the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court.2

In order to ensure respect for the civilian population and civilian property, all parties to the conflict must distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants, and between civilian property and military objectives. International humanitarian law also prohibits acts or threats of violence with the primary purpose to spread terror among the civilian population, in particular murder, physical or mental torture, rape, mutilation, enforced prostitution, pillage, collective punishments, or taking of hostages. It also prohibits starving civilian populations, destruction or removal of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as food-stuffs, agricultural areas for food production, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works. Methods of warfare that are likely to cause damage to the environment and can put in danger the health or survival of the population are also prohibited.3

Additionally, Rwanda and Burundi, the two foreign powers involved in the conflict in eastern Congo, are bound by the full regime under the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949 and Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions. To a large extent, these fundamental guarantees overlap with those afforded to civilians in internal armed conflict, and are relevant legal obligations for Rwanda and Burundi in the context of eastern Congo.

Although eastern Congo is occupied by authorities opposed to the government of the DRC, the Congolese laws continue to apply according to international humanitarian law. Under international humanitarian law, those exercising authority have a responsibility for maintaining public order and to ensure that justice is observed. The courts of the occupied territory must continue to function for all crimes covered by the national legislation. The courts shall apply only those provisions of law which were applicable prior to the offence, and in accordance with general principles of law, in particular the principle that the penalty shall be proportionate to the offence. Court proceedings must be regular and respect the rights of detainees.

During the recent Human Rights Watch visit to eastern Congo, witnesses told researchers of attacks on civilians by the RCD and its allies and by armed opposition groups in Mushabagwe, Tongo, Binja, and Kirumba in Rutshuru; Ngungu, Kibirangiro, Bufamando, Kinigi, and Mahanga in Masisi; Mutero, Kibati and Kashemberi in Walikale; Chabwinemwami, Ciharano, and Cizenga in Kabare; Mwenga Center in Mwenga; Kalonge in Bunyakiri; and Mugogo in Walungu. Their names have been withheld for their security. Congolese human rights groups have independently collected reports confirming these and similar violations. They have also documented similar violations by Burundian armed forces and FDD rebels in Uvira and Fizi.4 Below we document a number of cases from North and South Kivu.

A man from Masisi told Human Rights Watch researchers:

The soldiers come looking for Interahamwe and the Presidential Guard.5 When they come looking for the Interahamwe, they come to the village and ask, "Why do you support those people?" But the Interahamwe have guns. They come through and force us to give up food. When the Tutsi [RCD troops] come through, they kill us and burn our villages. When the Interahamwe come, they attack us and they burn our villages.6

An eleven-year-old child who had fled from Kiribangiro in Masisi told a similar tale: "The Interahamwe and Mai-Mai came and said that we were friends of the soldiers. When the RCD came, they said that we were friends of the Interahamwe and Mai-Mai."7

Because of the number of different forces operating in eastern Congo, victims and witnesses of attacks sometimes had difficulty identifying the perpetrators. Some distinguished between RPA and Congolese RCD troops, but many simply referred to "Tutsi" or to "RCD" soldiers without distinction. Similarly witnesses sometimes used the terms "Mai-Mai" and "Interahamwe" interchangeably, although most identified those who spoke Congolese languages as "Mai-Mai" and those who spoke Kinyarwanda and looked stereotypically Hutu as "Interahamwe." In recent months the RPA has sent Hutu Rwandans soldiers to the Congo, which has further complicated the identification of perpetrators of abuses. Some witnesses reported an informal complicity between Hutu RPA troops and predominantly Hutu armed groups, with the RPA soldiers refusing to fire on the Hutu armed groups that were attacking people in such places as Kalonge and Bunyakiri.8

Attacks in North Kivu

Kilambo, Masisi Territory

In recent months, the people of Kilambo and its neighboring villages north of Masisi town have suffered attacks by both sides in the war, illustrating the vulnerability of the civilian population. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the RCD and allied RPA troops launched a campaign in the area around Kilambo in November 1999, ostensibly seeking Hutu militia. During the week that these troops were camped at Kihuma and Kilambo, they indiscriminately attacked civilians and burned houses in Kibirangiro, Buabo, Mafuo, Kihuma, Kilambo, Chamarambo, Bushuwi, Kanii, Lwanguba, and Busekeri. The information from these witnesses was confirmed by activists from several Congolese human rights groups.9

One man reported that he was at his home in Buabo when he saw homes burning on the neighboring hill. He heard gunshots and then people came running saying that the RCD was burning the village. He fled into the bush.10 Returning to the village later, this witness found a sixty-year-old woman, Pauni, dead from a gunshot wound behind her right ear. She had been shot beside her home, apparently as she was attempting to flee. He also found Kateci, seventy-seven, with his throat cut and Lazaro and his wife and two children shot dead in their home. Among others killed were Kaurwa, a secondary school student and Marina, an elderly woman. The witness helped to bury approximately fifty people in his village and several neighboring villages. The RCD soldiers remained in the area for about two weeks after the attack then left the area.11

In late December 1999, a group of Hutu combatants moved back into the district and began in turn to terrorize the population. As one witness testified, "They came to pillage and anyone who resisted them was killed." They shot and killed Kasongo, a seventeen-year-old boy from Mafuo, around Christmas and on January 1, 2000, they killed five Hutu in nearby Muhemba.12 Another witness told Human Rights Watch that Hutu fighters whom he called Interahamwe attacked his village, Lwibo, just beyond Kilambo, during the last week of January. They raped a number of women, including the witness's wife, and pillaged most of the homes, stealing livestock, food, clothing, and other items.13

On February 5, 2000, a group of RCD and RPA soldiers launched another operation in the area, again ostensibly in pursuit of Hutu militia. As during the November operation, the troops fired indiscriminately at anyone they encountered. One elderly man reported, "Very early in the morning, I went out and found soldiers. There were many, many. Four trucks full. There were many, many dead. When I went out, I saw many cadavers."14 As the witness stepped out of his house, soldiers opened fire at him and he fled into the forest. In the woods, he encountered other Hutu combatants who beat him and held him for four hours before releasing him.15

Another witness living just beyond Kilambo reported that he fled up a hill and into the woods when he heard gunfire. As he fled, he saw a large number of RCD and RPA soldiers arriving in his village and shooting at the population. A short time later, soldiers went through the village and called out to people in hiding that it was safe to come out, because the fighting was over. The witness was among those who then came down out of the woods. When he went to check on his family, he found his mother dead on her doorstep where she had been shot as she fled the house. As he was tending to her body, the witness heard gunfire again. Once again he fled up the hill and into the forest. He climbed a tree at the edge of the forest. From there he could see RCD troops as they rounded people up and executed them. He reported:

The soldiers went into people's homes and killed some there. Others they took and tied up. They took the men and tied them up, then they raped the women in front of their husbands. Then they started to massacre people. They shot people and stabbed them.16

Those killed in this attack included Kumulia, a forty-four-year-old woman; Mutsindu, a thirty-year-old woman; Luteerwa, a teacher in his twenties; Sifa, an adult woman; and Kashiki, an elderly man.17 Local human rights groups provided Human Rights Watch with the names of an additional twenty-five people killed in this attack.18 Accordingto witnesses and local human rights activists, the RCD had previously attacked Kilambo in August 1999 and killed almost thirty persons.19

Nyabiondo, Masisi Territory

Armed groups apart from the RCD and its allies have killed and otherwise abused civilians in North Kivu. On October 18, 1999, an armed group attacked a community near Nyabiondo. A Red Cross volunteer who helped to collect bodies after the attack told Human Rights Watch researchers, "We took at least seven children out of the Loash River and two mothers out of the Mbizi. One of the mothers had a baby on her back that was still alive. The mother was shot dead, but the baby was still alive."20 The Red Cross volunteers directed people fleeing the violence toward Bukombo. But after a large crowd had gathered at Bukombo, Hutu combatants arrived, followed shortly after by RCD troops coming from Nyabiondo. As these two forces began fighting, civilians again ran for cover. The Red Cross volunteer reported, "Around 8 p.m., there was a little calm, so we crept back to the village to see what had happened. We found many dead, so we went back into the bush and told people to stay there."21

In the morning, twelve Red Cross volunteers came to Bukombo and found seven RCD soldiers dead. They also saw four Hutu combatants and six civilians, four young boys and two small girls, who had been shot dead with their arms tied behind their backs and one elderly man who had been tied up and thrown into a home that had been set afire. RPA soldiers present in the village called on the Red Cross workers to bury the dead. While the volunteers, clearly identified by Red Cross vests, were burying the dead, the soldiers pillaged homes in the village and then, around mid-day, they began burning them. One of the Red Cross volunteers had a camera and began to photograph the burning homes, but soldiers saw him and gave chase. Before being caught, he hid the camera. According to the witness, the RCD soldiers tied up the twelve Red Cross volunteers and interrogated them. He reported,

They demanded to know what we were doing there and who had taken the photos. They interrogated us from 1:30 in the afternoon until 4 p.m.. They took everyone down to the river and lined us up. They said that they were going to kill us one by one until we told them where the photos were. Jean-Pierre Muimo Luendo was first. They shot him, but he didn't fall down, so they stabbed him in the neck. He fell into the river, but he was tied to a tree, so he floated there. After this one man was killed, an officer arrived and stopped the soldiers. "He said, we don't kill Red Cross."22

As the officer questioned the soldiers about what had happened, there were shots from the direction of Nyanga. RCD soldiers were fighting a much larger group of Mai-Mai, who soon routed them. The Mai-Mai, who spoke Nyanga and Tembo, came and released the Red Cross workers. The volunteers buried Luendo and returned to Masisi. The volunteer concluded, "Arriving in Masisi, we heard that the commandant had come looking for those who had seen the Red Cross member killed, so each of us managed to find our own way to flee."23

Walikale Territory
People in Walikale territory have similarly suffered from successive attacks by both sides. According to one witness, Hutu combatants repeatedly pillaged the village of Mwitwa. When RCD and RPA troops arrived at the village on September 23, 1999, they surprised some Hutu combatants there and shot two of them before turning their guns on the population. The soldiers shot dead Luanda, an eighteen-year-old youth; Tamari, a mother; Matata, a boy in the sixthyear of primary school; and Lawi Sukuma, a man of thirty-six. The soldiers raped two women and burned a number of homes.24

Three days later Hutu combatants returned to accuse local people of befriending the Tutsi, because their two comrades were killed in the village. They raped three women, pillaged, and burned more homes. According to the witness, thirty-six of the 300 homes of Mwitwa were burned in these two attacks. After the second attack, many people hid in the nearby woods, remaining close enough to their homes to harvest their crops.

Hutu combatants attacked Ngenge, Walo wa Yungu, about twelve miles from Mwitwa, on November 21, 1999 and pillaged forty cattle. Two days later, as the meat from cattle killed in the raid was being sold at market, RCD troops arrived and, without warning, launched a bomb into Ngenge which landed on the grade school. Here and in the neighboring villages of Kangati and Kaliki the soldiers shot at local people, driving them into the woods.

The next day, the soldiers called to people to come back from the woods. Distrusting the soldiers, a delegation of villagers came to see if it was safe to return. When they arrived in the village, the soldiers seized them and the few others who had come out of the woods, tied their arms behind their backs, and began beating them. The only one to survive the attack showed Human Rights Watch researchers scars on his head and chest and related, "I was the first. There was one man in front of me, one behind, and one to the side. They beat me with a branch from a tree, and they cut me with knives across the chest."25 The soldiers left him unconscious and bleeding, assuming that he was dead, and went on to beat twenty-six others to death. The witness regained consciousness several hours later when it began to rain and found himself in a pile of corpses. He dragged himself into the woods, where he was found and assisted by others.26

According to this witness and to local human rights groups, those killed in Ngenge included Petero Bulenda, the chief of the village; Reverend Mafuluko Luendo of the Neo-Apostolic Church; Jean-Pierre Lulemba; Martha Cephanie, a mother of eleven children; Namartha; Mirimo Bitasimwa, father of two children; Lewis Shekibuya, father of six; Ernest Luendo, father of three; Batundi Muisa Ndaye; Muloko, father of two. Several elderly residents of the neighboring village of Kangati were also killed, including Napolina Kahindo; Mungazi, and his wife, Nyamateso; and Karubandika, a widower. While some soldiers were killing the captives, others spread into the woods to hunt down those in hiding. The soldiers raped several women and killed others. Some people remain missing. The soldiers also burned approximately 200 homes.27

Survivors of the Ngenge attack passed through Mwitwa as they fled the area. Their reports of the brutality of the attack caused many the residents of Mwitwa to leave the area. As one witness said, "When we heard about Ngenge, we fled."28

In both attacks, RCD soldiers and Hutu combatants treated unarmed civilians as proxies for their armed opponents and targeted them for indiscriminate attack, as well as engaging in rape, pillage, and destruction of property.

Attacks in South Kivu

Bunyakiri Territory, Northern Area

Here, as elsewhere in eastern Congo, all parties to the war have killed and otherwise abused civilians. Bunyakiri territory, in South Kivu, adjacent to Walikale territory in North Kivu Province, had been occupied by Mai-Mai and Hutu combatants since September 1998 when the Congolese army had fled the region. On February 19, 1999, two columns of RCD troops converged on Bulambika, one passing through Bitale and Miowe, the other passing through Katana, Mushunguti, and Maibano. Both columns killed civilians and burned homes as they advanced. Those killed included Semi, his wife, and nine children; Baguma, a nurse; Kaluku, his wife, and three children; and Chiza in Bitale; Faustin Mulongo in Miowe; Muzungu, with his son Amukuni and his older brother Mukaba; Bombo; Mushika; and Safari. After the attack, the RCD troops returned to their base at Kavumu.29

A week later, the RCD returned with their allies and set up a camp at Bunyakiri Center. They searched out people hiding in the forests, killed some-particularly young men-and forced the others back to the villages. By the end of April, over half of the population had returned to their homes with the rest still hiding in the forests. The RCD recruited and trained civilians as a civil self-defense group to monitor the population and prevent infiltration by armed groups. From this base in Bunyakiri, RCD troops and their allies attacked combatants in southern Walikale, in the process killing some twenty-five civilians in Hombo in August 1999 and many others in a major offensive in October on Otobora and Hombo. Among the victims were Chalondowa and Kimabo in Otobora, Pastor Mbilika in Hombo and Lutula in Musenge.30

Armed combatants, who were Hutu according to local people, began raiding and plundering in Bunyakiri again in September 1999. By early 2000 they were killing villagers whom they accused of supporting the RCD because they participated in the civil self-defense force and because they lived next to a military post. On February 18, 2000, Hutu combatants killed Mirindi Kashaganyi, and on February 20, they killed eleven people at Chigoma, including Mulimbi, his wife, and three children and Paluku Ndalemwa. One man told Human Rights Watch that he had fled Bunyakiri in October 1999 because RCD troops killed five members of his family, saying they were part of an armed opposition group. He came back in February, but two weeks later Hutu combatants attacked and killed his father, who had just come back from the woods to get supplies. After cutting the father down with machetes, they pillaged the house.31

Bunyakiri Territory, Kalonge
In March 1999, RCD troops attacked Kalonge in the southern part of Bunyakiri territory where Mai-Mai, Hutu combatants, and former soldiers of Mobutu's army had been present for several months. The soldiers killed civilians and drove others from their homes. The RCD established camps at Cifunzi and Butwashenge in late April but Hutu combatants continued to control the area around nearby Chaminunu. Local people called Cifunzi "Kigali" and Chaminunu "Kinshasa." After the RCD established their camps, some who had fled returned to their homes, but they continued to suffer both pillage by the armed opposition groups and subsequent reprisal killings by RCD soldiers. In June, for example, RCD soldiers stopped a man named Mahano near Chaminunu. They accused him of having stolen the sheep he had at his home, and they stabbed him to death in front of his wife.32

On July 10 armed groups attacked the RCD at Cifunzi and soon after the soldiers began training young men there for a civil self-defense force.33 The armed combatants renewed their attacks on local people whom they accused of complicity with the RCD with more brutality. They committed crimes of sexual violence more often and they burned the homes that they once just raided for food or other goods. In an attack on the RCD position at Cifunzi on October18, 1999, armed men injured two civilians and pillaged and burned several homes. On November 22, they staged a more extensive attack, with one group attacking Cifunzi and another pillaging in Rambo, the site of Kalonge Catholic parish. The parish priest, George Kakuja, was killed during this attack, some say by armed opposition forces. Others, citing his friendship with both Hutu combatants and Mai-Mai, say he was more likely slain by RCD soldiers who arrived after the others retreated.34

The opposition combatants then camped at Mule and Chaminunu and began nightly raids, raping and pillaging, and killing any who resisted their demands. They murdered Kifundera, for example, when he tried to prevent them from raping his wife. One man told Human Rights Watch that he was at home on January 8, 2000, when he heard someone shouting, "The enemies are here!" He fled into the woods and came back a short time later to find all seven buildings at his compound burned. Twenty-five other compounds were attacked and eighty-three houses burned. The assailants shot and killed Banyurerhe Kucuhire, a thirty-four-year-old man; Mwanyabebe Zalasha, a fifty-four-year-old woman; and MwaKabumbu, a forty-three-year-old woman.35 The assailants kidnapped Bavurhe Mwahukanya on January 23, forced him to lead them to a herd of cattle, then killed him with machetes.36 A woman from Cifunzi reported that a few weeks before this incident, an armed Hutu group had captured her neighbor, Mwanabokonjo, and her twelve-year-old daughter and ordered them to lead them to cattle. The daughter was released but the woman was found dead in the woods the next day, blindfolded and with her arms tied behind her.37 One man told Human Rights Watch that he was at the market in Fendula in December when a group of about fifty armed Hutu combatants opened fire, killing at least two women and eight men. They then pillaged the goods at the market.38

The RCD troops responded to the increased number of attacks by stepping up their own attacks on civilians. At Mamba on December 3, 1999, they killed Bisimwa and Jean Marie Kalolo and their five children, Nyamushushu, and Nyalembe Mukabuza and they burned fifty-five homes. On January 18, 2000, RCD soldiers on patrol shot Deo Mufita Nyangaka, an unarmed civilian, who lived near their camp.39 On February 28, 2000, RCD soldiers supposedly chasing armed opponents at Chaminunu captured three women who had been hiding in the fields: Mwantuboba; Mwachigozi, a mother of five; and Silene, a seventeen-year-old girl. They made the three kneel down, then shot them. The soldiers then found Mulashe, the sixty-year-old husband of Mwantuboba, and slit his throat. Surviving family members speculated that Mwantuboba and Mulashe had been executed because one of their sons belonged to an armed opposition group, to which he was recruited forcibly in 1998.40

Shabunda Territory

One resident of Shabunda, the western region of South Kivu bordering on Maniema, told Human Rights Watch researchers that in his area too civilians bore the worst of violence from all contenders. He remarked, "The war in Shabunda has been against the population."41

Mai-Mai, identified by local people as such because they speak Congolese languages, came to Shabunda in May 1999, apparently displaced from Bunyakiri and Kalonge by RCD operations. The Mai-Mai at first pillaged primarily in rural areas but in January 2000 they began raiding closer to Shabunda town. Local people, particularly women and children, fled into the surrounding bush. On January 23, 2000, Mai-Mai attacked Shabunda town and after two and one half hours of combat, drove out the RCD. At dawn on January 25, 2000, Congolese RCD troops counterattacked. They killed at least one civilian as well as several combatants. The armed combatants fled and the troops pillaged the town thoroughly and sent off the booty by the plane, according to witnesses.42

Following this January confrontation, the Congolese RCD troops were reinforced with RPA troops and they jointly launched a campaign to take control of the population. Just after the attack, RCD officers held a public meeting in which they told those remaining in Shabunda to bring their families out of the forest. They warned that civilians who remained in the forests would be considered enemies and subject to attack.

Yet residents of Shabunda hesitated to come home because they feared insecurity in the town. They told Human Rights Watch that many people were arrested following the attack and many others "disappeared." They said the bodies of some of these have been found in town, including those of two decapitated men found in early February. Large areas of the territory, including Katungu, Lulingu, and Kigulube remain under Mai-Mai control and so are cut off from the center. Meanwhile, as witnesses told Human Rights Watch, "Authorities forbid people from going into their fields to work, because they are accused of complicity with the Mai-Mai. You have to get special permission to go, and if you are allowed, you have to check in before and after, and there is no time to work."43 As a result, markets are not functioning and prices are extremely high. Commented one witness, "The population is now held hostage in town. We were forced to come back, but we have no food, no work, no health services. . . ."44

Sexual Violence

Rape and other forms of sexual violence have become widespread as the war in eastern Congo has grown increasingly bitter.45 One Congolese women's rights group registered 115 rapes between April and July 1999 in just the two regions of Katana and Kalehe of South Kivu, with thirty in just one April 5 attack on Bulindi and Maitu. Groups of ten or more men sometimes gang rape one woman. Assailants sometimes take women hostage to be used as sexual slaves.46 Both soldiers and armed opposition groups have engaged in such abuses, but Hutu armed groups are reported to have perpetrated rapes more often than other groups. They use sexual violence to terrorize civilians, especially those thought to be RCD supporters and most especially those who participate in civil self-defense forces.47

Many of the survivors of attacks told Human Rights Watch researchers that rape had been used systematically used against their communities. Despite the stigma attached to being a rape victim by Congolese society, several women were willing to speak about the sexual violence used against them One woman from Chabwinemwami in Kabale told Human Rights Watch researchers how Hutu combatants raped her during a June 17, 1999, attack. The assailants arrived around community 8:00 p.m. and shot in the air, causing most people to flee their homes. The witness related, "They took what they wanted. First they looted, then they raped." Assailants pillaged her house, then beat her with clubs, and raped her while her four young sons were present. She was badly injured and had to be hospitalized for one and a half months. She still limps from the injuries suffered in the attack and her husband has rejected her, even refusing to pay her hospital costs, because he feels so humiliated by her rape.48

Another twenty-one-year-old woman from Cizenga in Katana, Kabare, was raped by Hutu combatants on July 5, 1999. The assailants, armed with firearms and machetes, broke into her house around 10 p.m. They tied up her husband and forced her to leave the house. They demanded dollars and clothes, but the family had been robbed before, so they had little to offer. The men held a flashlight in her eyes, beat her, and threatened her with a gun, so she gave them what little money she had and gave them her goats as well. The assailants, whom the witness said were many and who allspoke Kinyarwanda, went on to the next house, that of her brother-in-law, where they again beat the residents and apparently tried to abduct his wife. In the meantime, the witness had freed her husband and they went to warn the older brother in the family, but some of the assailants had already arrived there. The witness told Human Rights Watch researchers,

Someone called me. I still had my child on my back. The one who called told me to take the child off my back and to lie down. I refused. I was forced to beg, to kneel down and beg, and the man left me. But the one who came after was less understanding. He raped me. He was a barbarian. It was not human. He threw the baby on the ground. I cried out, and the man strangled me. He threatened to kill the baby with his gun. I struggled, but I had no force left to resist. My three-year-old was there at my side. After an hour, he left. I couldn't get up. I was ashamed for my whole family.49

After her attacker left, she crawled back into the house. She told her husband and he took her to the health center the next day. "That night many women were raped. In every house, every woman. Maybe 200 women altogether. But many are too ashamed to say anything."50

Women in North Kivu have also suffered from rape. A woman from Kashebere, near Masisi center, explained that Hutu combatants attacked her village on October 7, 1999. "On a Wednesday morning, we woke up and the village was already surrounded. They came and fired in the air and people fled. We were three who fell into an ambush. They captured us and we were immediately raped. There were more than fifty men and ten men took each woman." The militia members beat the three women, then took them into the forest with them. "After two days, my family came and found me in the woods and took me back home, because I didn't have the strength to walk." One boy and two small children were killed during the attack, and the community was looted.51

Though seemingly less frequently and systematically than the Hutu militia, RCD and RPA troops have also engaged in sexual violence, as in the attacks on Kilambo described above. Two women from Mwenga town described to Human Rights Watch researchers a particularly egregious use of sexual assault in torturing women prisoners there. According to their testimony, RCD troops under the command of Commander Frank Kasereka regularly beat and raped women in their custody, sometimes inserting sticks and hot pepper in their vaginas. According to one woman, who herself said she was detained and tortured by Kasereka's troops but who escaped their custody, "All the women were raped every day and beaten in the morning, in the early afternoon, and at night."52

Both women described an incident in early September in which soldiers publicly tortured five women who had been arrested, supposedly after a soldier's wife accused them of sorcery. They said soldiers took the women to a field beside a government office, an area used by the troops for detaining prisoners. There they beat them, stripped them, and raped them. They said soldiers put hot pepper in the women's vaginas, then placed the women in several holes that were dug in the ground and that were filled with salt water that came up to the women's chests. This attack took place in front of a crowd of people who had gathered, as one woman said, "to see that it was not your mother or your sister."53

One woman told Human Rights Watch researchers,

The next day we heard gunshots coming from where the women were. My husband, who was a [RCD] soldier, said, `I am going to go see if they are killing those women.' I went along, so I saw what happened. They had taken the women out of the hole, and after they had beaten them badly, they stripped the women. Then they took five sticks and they raped the women with the sticks. Then they put them in two holes and buried them. They put two in one hole and three in another and covered them with dirt, but they were still alive.54

According to Congolese human rights groups and to the two women from Mwenga, the torture, sexual assault, and execution by burial alive of women was common practice in areas under Commandant Kasereka's command.55 Such abuses were apparently used both to terrorize the population and to extort money, since families could save members from this fate by paying large bribes to the soldiers. One of the witnesses was herself arrested on October 17, 1999. She said she was placed in a hole filled with salt water along with another woman, whose husband was thought to be a Mai-Mai. "The water was up to my chest. You could not even sit down. The other woman told me to watch out, because there was a still-born baby in the water. A woman imprisoned earlier had miscarried." When the witness overheard soldiers saying that they were going to dig a hole to bury the two, she and the other woman pleaded with the soldiers to release them and promised to pay them well. The two were released, and they escaped.56


In addition to the attacks to punish supposed complicity with their enemies, the RCD and its allies, and the Mai-Mai and Hutu militias have all attacked civilians to pillage their goods. They rob the poor to get their crops or animals. As one witness remarked,

They have sent Congolese soldiers without any means to pay them, so to feed themselves, these soldiers have to go through the villages and take the harvest. The soldiers pass from town to town stealing from the population.57

They rob the rich to get their money or other goods. On February 1, 2000, for example, a group of more than twenty Congolese RCD soldiers arrived at the home of Valentin Makuta, a prosperous merchant who lives in the Kadutu area of Bukavu. According to witnesses, some soldiers entered the house, while others rounded up the children who were in the compound and forced them into the house, beating one girl. The soldiers, who spoke Lingala and Swahili, told the family that they were looking for Mai-Mai, but their primary interest seems to have been theft. The soldiers demanded money and beat members of the family with the butts of their guns. They threatened one daughter with a knife and cut her in the face. Her father went to get money for them, but at least one of the soldiers opened fire, and the family scattered. One daughter was hit by four bullets-once in the leg, twice in the right arm, and once in the chest. When the father gave money to the soldiers, one cut him with a machete. The assailants discussed killing him but decided to spare his life because he had given them what they wanted. A neighbor who had gone to help the wounded girl was herself shot in the foot as she tried to carry the girl to safety.58

As is often the case in such circumstances in the major cities of Goma and Bukavu, military authorities undertook only a limited investigation following this robbery and have made no arrests. The unprovoked use of violence in the crime is typical: even when people give their money or other goods without resistance and follow the orders of their assailants, they may still be shot, stabbed, beaten, or raped, adding to the terror of such attacks.

RCD Official Explanation

When questioned about civilians killings, RCD officials in Goma told Human Rights Watch researchers that their troops killed civilians only if they mistook them for combatants. But the details of many of the attacks described above belie this explanation. In the attack in Walikale, for example, RCD soldiers and their allies tied up civilians before killing them. In other cases, they lured civilians out of hiding before executing them, clearly showing an intent to do them harm.59 The use of rape, beatings, and the destruction of property also indicate an intent to terrorize the population.

RCD Response to Attacks on Civilians by Armed Opposition Groups

The RCD claim to be legitimate authorities in the region. They and their RPA allies have said they are seeking to protect the local population from Mai-Mai and bands of Hutu combatants. Yet in a number of cases, local people have appealed in vain for this protection. Numerous people displaced from Bunyakiri told Human Rights Watch researchers that their repeated calls for help had gone unanswered by RCD troops. As one witness reported, "We go to tell the RCD where the Interahamwe are camped, and they tell us, `It is your affair. They are your family.'"60

Displaced persons from Kalonge too reported that the RCD have refused to confront armed combatants.61 On January 23, 2000, James Ntwana was shot dead by militia just beside the RCD camp at Cifunzi. One man told Human Rights Watch, "When I saw that they could kill people even right there next to the camp and the soldiers would not respond, I realized that I had to flee."62

When Hutu combatants attacked Cizenga in November and abducted a number of people to carry pillaged goods to their base in the woods, others sought help from RCD soldiers stationed about three kilometers away. The soldiers refused to intervene, reportedly saying, "The Interahamwe are your brothers."63 The next day villagers saw RCD soldiers with some of the looted goods and concluded that there was complicity between the attackers and the soldiers. It is equally possible that the soldiers in turn raided and seized the goods from the Hutu combatants. But that local people presume collusion between the two sides suggests the extent to which they have been disappointed in efforts to secure RCD protection from the combatants.

The Internally Displaced and Humanitarian Consequences of Attacks on Civilians

The repeated attacks on the civilian population of eastern Congo have caused more than half a million persons to flee their homes and created a growing humanitarian crisis in the region. According to the director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Eastern Congo, Charles Petrie, the crisis has grown substantially in recent months with about half the more than 500,000 persons displaced having taken flight since the first of the year.64 After Hutu combatants increased attacks on Kalonge in January, for example, some 10,000 took flight in the first week of February.65

The largest groups of displaced are in Goma and Bukavu. One church worker told Human Rights Watch that at least a quarter of the population of Goma is now comprised of people displaced from the interior. But even in the small community of Kavumu in South Kivu there are more than 4,000 displaced persons, some 1,200 from Bunyakiriand Walikale and nearly 3,000 from Kalonge.66 These are the numbers of those officially registered and the actual number may be far higher. There are no camps for the displaced so they move in with family and friends, themselves already impoverished, or they squat wherever they can in the towns. As one church worker commented, "They have no work, no home, they're not accustomed to the city. They become beggars, are exposed to illnesses. They are the most affected by cholera, AIDS, and other diseases."67 Recently displaced persons told Human Rights Watch researchers that many of those who remained in their communities are too afraid of attack to spend their nights at home and sleep outside the house where they are exposed to inclement weather and to illnesses such as malaria.

According to Petrie, malnutrition among the displaced is enormous.68 But the problems of food supply are becoming serious for the rest of the population as well. Insecurity keeps farmers from their fields, reducing crop yields and driving prices beyond the reach of most people.69

2 Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. The DRC has signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions and Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977. Rwanda and Burundi have signed and ratified the Geneva Conventions as well as Protocol I and Protocol II of the Geneva Conventions (Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non- International Armed Conflicts), 8 June 1977). 3 Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non- International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977. Although the DRC has not yet ratified Protocol II, it offers further guidance for the protection of civilians, and many of its provisions are regarded as customary law. 4 Congolese human rights organizations provided Human Rights Watch with evidence of many attacks in Masisi, Walikale, Bunyakiri, Kalehe, Katana, Mwenga, Fizi, and Uvira. Because of the risks involved in publishing such information, most groups do not issue public reports, but several still do so. See Heritiers de la Justice, "Situation des droits de l'homme en République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), cas du Sud-Kivu, Rapport du 2ème semestre 1999," Bukavu, January 12, 2000 and Cojeski, La Voix de la Jeunesse, no. 18, February 28, 2000. 5 Elite troops of the former Rwandan army, the Presidential Guard initiated and directed the genocide. 6 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 10, 2000. 7 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 9, 2000. 8 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kavumu and Bukavu, March 16, 2000.

9 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma, March 9 and 10,. 2000.

10 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 9,.2000.

11 Ibid.

12 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 10, 2000.

13 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 10, 2000.

14 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 9, 2000.

15 Ibid.

16 Human Rights Watch, Goma, March 10, 2000.

17 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma, March 9 and 10, 2000.

18 Three local human rights organizations reported the attack at Kilambo. One recorded the names of twenty-eight victims, another of twenty-three, with considerable duplication between the lists.

19 Human Rights Watch, interviews, Goma, March 9, 2000 and reports by human rights organizations in Goma and Masisi. Four separate reports discuss the August attack. One lists twenty-five victims killed, another twenty-seven, a third, twenty-eight and the fourth, fifteen. There is some duplication among these lists.

20 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 10, 2000.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid. A local human rights organization confirmed this account.

24 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 10, 2000.

25 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 9, 2000.

26 Ibid.

27 Human Rights Watch interview, March 9, 2000. Two local human rights organizations in Goma and one in Bukavu confirm this account and provide similar names of those killed in Ngenge, Kangati and Kaliki.

28 Ibid.

29 Human Rights Watch, interviews, Kavumu, March 16, 2000.

30 Ibid.

31 Human Rights Watch interview, Kavumu, March 16, 2000.

32 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 13, 2000.

33 Witnesses from Kalonge told Human Rights Watch that there were thirty-eight men in the self-defense program, divided into three groups by collectivity.

34 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, March 13-16; Kavumu, March 16, 2000.

35 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 16, 2000.

36 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 13, 2000.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, Kavumu, March 16, 2000.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 13, 2000.

39 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, March 12 and 16; Kavumu, March 16, 2000; reports from three human rights groups in Bukavu.

40 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kavumu, March 16, 2000.

41 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 13, 2000.

42 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, March 13, 2000.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Whether treated as an internal or as an international conflict, rape and other forms of sexual violence constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law.

46 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 13, 2000, and other interviews in Bukavu and Goma

47 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 12, 2000.

48 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 14, 2000.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 Human Rights Watch interview, Goma, March 9, 2000.

52 Human Rights Watch interview, March 16, 2000.

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid.

55 Heritiers de la Justice, "Situation des droits de l'homme en République Démocratique du Congo (RCD) cas du Sud-Kivu, Rapport du 2ème semestre 1999," Bukavu, January 12, 2000, pp. 6-7, and unpublished reports by several other human rights groups.

56 Ibid. See also Heritiers de la Justice, Nota Bene, nos. 47 and 50, Bukavu: December 15, 1999, and February 5, 2000. Another human rights group from Bukavu reports that on December 15, 1999, Kasereka sent seventeen soldiers from Mwenga to Kitamba in Basile groupement of Mwenga, where they arrested and buried alive four women.

57 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 13, 2000.

58 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 14, 2000.

59 Human Rights Watch interviews, Goma, March 7 and 17, 2000.

60 Human Rights Watch interview, Bukavu, March 15, 2000.

61 Human Rights Watch interviews, Bukavu, March 12 and 16; Kavumu, March 16, 2000; reports from three human rights groups in Bukavu.

62 Human Rights Watch interview, Kavumu, March 16, 2000.

63 Human Rights Watch, Bukavu, March 14, 2000.

64 Quoted in "Thousands Flee Congo Fighting," New Vision (Kampala), March 17, 2000.

65 IRIN, "Democratic Republic of Congo: Heavy displacements continue in South Kivu," Nairobi, February 9, 2000. See also, IRIN, "Democratic Republic of Congo: Villagers flee Interahamwe Attacks," Nairobi, March 3, 2000.

66 Human Rights Watch interviews in Kavumu, March 16, 2000. Witnesses reported that the actual number of displaced in the community is much higher, since many people are afraid to register.

67 Human Rights Watch interview in Goma, March 9, 2000.

68 "Thousands Flee Congo Fighting."

69 Human Rights Watch interviews in Goma and Bukavu, March 2000.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page