(New York) — Human Rights Watch today condemned the killing on Monday of at least 37 civilians, including five priests and nuns, by rebels fighting to unseat President Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The organization also expressed alarm at press reports pointing to rebel threats to destroy electricity installations at the hydroelectric Inga dam, which supplies the DRC and neighboring countries with power.

We call on the rebel movement to immediately order a thorough investigation of the killings and to punish those found responsible," said Peter Takirambudde, the Africa Director of Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch urged the rebel Congolese Rally for Democracy to grant full access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to areas under their control. The organization also urged the rebels not to destroy the Inga power utility. "International humanitarian law provides for the protection of objects essential to the survival of civilian populations, such as foodstuffs and drinking water installations and supplies. It also prohibits the destruction of structures containing dangerous forces, namely dams," noted Takirambudde.

Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that on Monday night the rebels rounded up and summarily executed villagers and missionaries at the Catholic mission in Kasika in the eastern province of South Kivu. The massacre was apparently in reprisal for an attack on rebel forces the previous day.

The rebels overran Inga hydroelectric dam in the early phase of their offensive on the capital Kinshasa from bases in the southwest of the country. Since then, they have repeatedly interrupted the power supply to the capital, leading to the disruption of running water supplies to the population. Medical services and supplies were also severely affected by the outage. Following the recent intervention on the government side of forces from Angola and Zimbabwe, the military balance dramatically shifted in favor of loyalist forces and their allies. According to reports in an Angolan government-owned newspaper, rebels besieged in the dam area threatened to destroy the electricity installations if they were not granted safe passage out of there.

The rebels, who announced the Congolese Rally for Democracy on August 12, appointed a commissioner for justice and human rights, and have repeatedly pledged in press statements and public rallies to restore democracy and respect human rights. Human Rights Watch urged that the commissioner undertake an investigation of Kasika massacre and restrain field commanders in the Inga dam area from carrying out their reported threat of destroying the electric installations of the dam.