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(New York) – United Nations Security Council members should use their visit to the Great Lakes region of Central Africa to help end human rights abuses and impunity for the worst crimes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Security Council members sent on October 2, 2013. Security Council members are to leave on October 3 for a 6-day trip to Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

“Civilians in eastern Congo have suffered atrocities without end, but very few of those responsible are ever brought to justice,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director. “Security Council members should use their visit to press governments in the region to end all support for abusive armed groups and to arrest war crimes suspects.”

The Security Council should adopt a resolution requiring Rwanda to end all support to the M23, an abusive armed group responsible for numerous atrocities in eastern Congo, and imposing sanctions on senior Rwandan officials behind the support.

A woman from Rutshuru told Human Rights Watch researchers this week that she was raped by an M23 rebel fighter who said to her, “We also had wives, but they stayed in Rwanda. So that’s why we rape you.” After the woman was raped, the fighter shot her in both thighs.

The Congolese government and the M23 have held faltering peace talks in Kampala, Uganda, since December 2012. Past agreements between the Congolese government and other armed groups have allowed rebel commanders responsible for grave abuses to be rewarded and integrated into the Congolese army. Many of these commanders then carried out further atrocities against civilians while officers in the Congolese army and later created new rebellions.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, should make every effort to protect civilians from the most urgent threats the M23 and other armed groups pose for civilians. It should give particular attention to Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka’s militia group, whose fighters have killed, raped, and mutilated dozens of civilians since May 2013. On September 27, they attacked a series of villages in Masisi territory, killing several children, raping women, and burning homes.

Congolese army soldiers have also been responsible for serious abuses, including raping at least 76 women and girls in and around Minova, South Kivu province, in November 2012. Security Council members should press the Congolese government to investigate, arrest, and appropriately prosecute security force officials found responsible for war crimes and other serious human rights abuses.

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