(Goma) – The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and United Nations peacekeepers should urgently act to arrest the rebel leader Sylvestre Mudacumura and transfer him to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Human Rights Watch said today. Forces under Mudacumura’s command continue to be implicated in serious abuses against civilians in eastern Congo.

Sylvestre Mudacumura, the military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). 

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Mudacumura, the military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), on July 13, 2012, on nine counts of war crimes in eastern Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. The alleged crimes include attacks on civilians, murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property, pillage, and outrages against personal dignity. 

“FDLR fighters under Mudacumura’s command have been responsible for some of eastern Congo’s worst atrocities, yet there has been little effort to arrest him,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “With Mudacumura at large, FDLR fighters have been committing horrific attacks against a long-suffering population.”

Three Years After ICC Warrant Issued, FDLR Leader Still At Large

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and United Nations peacekeepers should urgently take steps to arrest and transfer Sylvestre Mudacumura, military commander of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), to the International Criminal Court.

In new research Human Rights Watch has found that FDLR fighters have killed at least 94 civilians, raped dozens of women and girls, forcibly recruited children into their ranks, kidnapped people for ransom, and destroyed countless homes since 2012 when the ICC arrest warrant was issued. Human Rights Watch has heard allegations of many more war crimes by FDLR fighters during this period.

Those who have sought to expose and denounce the FDLR’s continued crimes have also been killed, tortured, or otherwise threatened. In one incident on January 12, 2015, in Ruhanga, Masisi territory, FDLR fighters killed a school director and his teenage son, whom they accused of having given information about the FDLR to government officials. Their bodies were later found decapitated, with their heads on sticks.

FDLR fighters under Mudacumura’s command have been responsible for some of eastern Congo’s worst atrocities, yet there has been little effort to arrest him. With Mudacumura at large, FDLR fighters have been committing horrific attacks against a long-suffering population.

Kenneth Roth

executive director of Human Rights Watch.

The FDLR is a largely Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in eastern Congo, some of whose leaders participated in the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. UN experts estimate the group to have around 1,400 active fighters in 2015, compared with 6,000 in 2008.

FDLR forces have been involved in atrocities against Congolese civilians since the group’s inception in 2000. The ICC has sought Mudacumura only for alleged crimes committed between January 2009 and September 2010, when the Congolese army, together with the Rwandan army and later with support from the UN peacekeeping mission, waged a military campaign against the FDLR.

An FDLR fighter standing guard in a remote forest region of eastern Congo in February 2009. 

© 2009 Reuters
 
During this period, Human Rights Watch documented the targeted killings of over 700 civilians by FDLR fighters, many of whom the rebel group was “punishing” for alleged collaboration with its enemies. Most victims were women, children, and the elderly whom the rebels hacked to death with machetes or hoes or burned to death in their homes. These attacks were accompanied by widespread rape and other sexual violence. Human Rights Watch also documented abuses by Rwandan and Congolese soldiers during the military campaign.
 

Over the past two decades, the Congolese government has oscillated between considering the FDLR and its predecessor movements an ally and considering the group an enemy. The UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo has reported extensive cooperation at times between Congolese army officers and their FDLR counterparts, some of which has reportedly continued in recent months. Congolese army officers have also shared in the spoils of the lucrative mineral and charcoal trades in which the armed group is involved, UN experts say.

A 50-year-old woman whose arm was chopped off by FDLR fighters when they attacked her village in May 2012. During the attack, FDLR fighters with machetes killed her daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and baby grandson.

© 2013 Ida Sawyer/Human Rights Watch

The Congolese government should send a strong message to its military and civilian officials that any collaboration with the FDLR is strictly prohibited and that those involved will face disciplinary action or prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.

In late 2013, after the defeat of the M23, a Rwandan-backed armed group in eastern Congo, the Congolese government and UN forces were under increased pressure to launch new military operations against the FDLR. Their planned operations were delayed when the FDLR’s political leadership announced that its fighters would voluntarily surrender beginning May 30, 2014. In the months that followed, only an estimated 300 mostly low-level FDLR fighters surrendered.

Throughout this period, UN officials, international envoys to Africa’s Great Lakes region, and Congolese government officials working through church officials and other intermediaries tried to convince Mudacumura to surrender, but without success.

In February, the Congolese army began a military operation against the FDLR, known as “Sokola 2” (sokola means “clean-up” in Lingala and Swahili). UN peacekeepers were closely involved in planning the military campaign and expected to join the operations, but withdrew their support following the last-minute appointment of Gen. Bruno Mandevu as the army’s commander for the operation and Gen. Sikabwe Fall as the army’s regional commander for North Kivu province. The alleged involvement of Mandevu and Fall in past human rights violations has prevented UN peacekeepers from providing any support to an operation in which the two commanders are involved.

Since the operation began, the Congolese army says it has captured over 250 FDLR combatants. The operation does not appear to include efforts to apprehend Mudacumura, who is believed to be hiding in the remote area bordering North Kivu’s Walikale and Lubero territories.

The Congolese government and UN peacekeepers should make Mudacumura’s arrest a top priority, Human Rights Watch said. In April 2013, the US government announced a monetary reward of up to US$5 million for information leading to his arrest, transfer to justice, or conviction as part of its War Crimes Rewards Program.

“Mudacumura’s arrest is critical to ending attacks on civilians in eastern Congo and would advance international justice,” Roth said. “Whether it’s Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir or the FDLR’s Mudacumura, no one wanted on an ICC arrest warrant should ever think they are safe from arrest.”

Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda
The FDLR is a predominantly Rwandan Hutu armed group based in eastern Congo that uses military force to seek political change and greater representation for ethnic Hutu in Rwanda. It has strong links to Hutu extremists who organized or supported the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and to the former Rwandan armed forces and the Interahamwe, the Rwandan militia that actively participated in the genocide. Some FDLR leaders are believed to have taken part in the genocide, although the vast majority of its fighters today are unlikely to have played any role since they were too young at the time and many are Congolese recruits.

In the two decades since the genocide, Rwandan Hutu militia based in eastern Congo have reorganized politically and militarily, going through various name and leadership changes. The rebel group’s current configuration, the FDLR, was established in 2000. Mudacumura has been in charge of FDLR military operations since 2003. During the genocide in Rwanda, he was a battalion commander at Rutare.

The Congolese government has repeatedly turned to the FDLR and its predecessor movements for support in its fight against Congolese rebel groups backed by Rwanda and against the Rwandan army. In the 1998-2003 war in Congo, well-trained Rwandan Hutu militias were among the most important front-line troops for the Congolese national government of then-President Laurent Désiré Kabila, fighting alongside the Congolese army and its other allies throughout the war. The FDLR and its predecessor movements have carried out sporadic attacks into Rwanda, but these have decreased significantly in recent years. The Rwandan government has repeatedly used the FDLR’s incursions to justify its own military operations and support for armed groups inside Congo.

As part of the agreement ending Congo’s war in 2003, the Congolese government made a nominal commitment to dismantle the FDLR and facilitate its members’ return to Rwanda, but its efforts were often half-hearted and had limited success. The Congolese army continued to turn to the FDLR when it needed military support to fight ethnic Tutsi-led armed groups in eastern Congo, such as the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), and later the M23. This support to the FDLR has been a significant source of tension between Congo and Rwanda.

Military Operations Against the FDLR in 2009 and 2010
In January 2009, in exchange for Rwanda’s assistance in defeating the CNDP, President Joseph Kabila permitted Rwandan troops to enter eastern Congo for joint operations against the FDLR. This operation, known as “Umoja Wetu,” lasted 35 days. It was followed a few weeks later by another military operation known as “Kimia 2,” conducted by the Congolese army with support from the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.

The FDLR responded to these offensives by deliberately attacking Congolese civilians to “punish” them for the government’s military operations. The ICC arrest warrant for Mudacumura is based on crimes during this period.

In the worst single incident, the FDLR massacred at least 96 civilians in the village of Busurungi, in the Waloaluanda area, in North Kivu, on May 9-10, 2009. FDLR fighters tied up some of the victims before “slitting their throats like chickens,” as a witness told Human Rights Watch soon after the attack. They deliberately locked other victims in their homes and then burned their houses to the ground.

The abuses committed by the FDLR and the Congolese army during the 2009 military operations are detailed in the December 2009 Human Rights Watch report You Will be Punished.”

Ongoing FDLR Abuses
Since the ICC’s arrest warrant against Mudacumura, FDLR fighters have continued to carry out abuses, sometimes jointly with other Congolese armed groups such as the People’s Alliance for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS) and the Nyatura, a loose alliance of Congolese Hutu armed groups.

Summary Executions
Human Rights Watch has documented the deliberate killing by FDLR fighters of at least 94 civilians between May 2012 and April 2015. The majority of these victims were killed between May and August 2012 in Kalehe and Walikale territories. During this period, the Raia Mutomboki, an alliance of local defense groups purporting to protect local populations from the FDLR, carried out vicious attacks against FDLR dependents and other Hutu civilians. The FDLR in response attacked communities it accused of supporting the Raia Mutomboki.

For example, on May 5, 2012, the FDLR attacked the village of Lumendje, in Kalehe territory, killing at least 14 civilians, including 5 women and 5 children. The attackers left a note at the scene, stating it was only their first operation and warning that other attacks would follow. On May 14, 2012, the FDLR made good on the threat, attacking Kamananga village, also in Kalehe, killing 36 civilians, including 17 children, and burning dozens of homes. Some of the victims were shot dead, many were killed with machetes, and others were burned alive in their homes.

A 40-year-old pastor from Kamananga returned home the day of the attack:

We saw thatched homes burning. We saw a dead woman’s body lying in a pond. A few meters from her, my neighbor’s child had been cut in half. I found my aunt had been killed. Lying next to her body was her grandson, also dead. When I went toward my own home, I saw the corpse of my brother-in-law. Nearby, I saw my brother-in-law’s sister’s body. She had been shot dead with a bullet to the head; her head was completely destroyed. When I got home, all of my children were crying. They told me their mother had been killed. Her body wasn’t in the house, but in the manioc field behind our home. She had been stabbed in the heart and the knife was sticking out of her back. When I saw her there, I started crying with the others.

In July 2012, after a series of military confrontations with the Raia Mutomboki, the FDLR attacked the village of Mundjuli, in Walikale territory, killing 39 civilians and burning 93 houses.

Abductions
The FDLR have also kidnapped people for ransom. A cow herder in Bwito, Rutshuru territory, told Human Rights Watch that his 17-year-old son was kidnapped and later killed by FDLR fighters in early April 2015 after the father did not pay the $3,000 they demanded on time. He later found his son’s decapitated body.

FDLR fighters frequently rob and extort money from civilians living in areas under their control. They abduct and ill-treat or torture people who are unable to pay the “taxes” they demand. A former child soldier with the FDLR told Human Rights Watch he saw FDLR fighters tie up their victims with hands to one tree and feet to another and then beat them until they were “half-dead.” A 25-year-old pregnant woman was so seriously injured by FDLR combatants that she suffered a miscarriage.

A Congolese human rights activist told Human Rights Watch in November 2013 that three FDLR fighters came to his house and took him to their base in Buleusa, in Walikale territory, because he had reported their abuses to local government authorities. The FDLR fighters tortured him to make him name those who were giving him information. When he refused, they threw him into a hole in the ground that they used as a makeshift prison. They kept him there for eight days. “When it rained, all the rain entered into this hole,” the activist said. “I spent the nights there in the mud like a pig.”

Sexual Violence
Like other abusive forces in eastern Congo, FDLR fighters have raped thousands of women and girls throughout their areas of operation, kidnapped many, and forced them to serve as sex slaves for their commanders. The UN secretary-general’s annual report on conflict-related sexual violence lists the FDLR in its annex of parties credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for acts of rape or other forms of sexual violence.

On May 7, 2012, FDLR fighters rounded up and raped more than 30 women and girls from Kipopo village, Masisi territory. Three girls, ages 7 to 11, died after being gang-raped. In November 2012, the FDLR attacked Kipopo village again, this time abducting three women and a baby. A 28-year-old mother of five told Human Rights Watch that she and the others were taken to the FDLR camp and raped repeatedly: “I don’t know how many raped me in total, but probably at least 10 men each day.” She and the others were rescued three days later when youth from her village attacked the FDLR.

FDLR fighters raped a female farmer, 30, from Bukonde, a remote village in Masisi territory, on September 28, 2013, while she was in her field with her young child and 15-year-old babysitter:

All of a sudden I saw three armed men in military uniforms and black boots. They were on the path that crosses my field. They approached me and said in Kinyarwanda [the language of Rwanda]: “You will see how we suffer here.” Then they pushed me hard and I fell to the ground. They immediately started pulling my skirt and tearing my underwear with a knife. One of them raped me and I started to yell, and then the other came on me after him. Afterwards, they took the babysitter, threw the baby to the side, and did seriously bad things to her as well. They left, saying: “It’s not finished. We are going to do horrible things in your village.” That same night around 10 o’clock, the [FDLR] came to our village to loot and burn houses.

Forced Recruitment of Children
FDLR fighters have forcibly recruited hundreds of children into their ranks, including many Rwandan Hutu refugee boys and other FDLR dependents, as well as Congolese Hutu children, among others. The UN secretary-general has identified the FDLR as a “persistent perpetrator” of child recruitment, and for more than ten years, has listed the FDLR for grave violations against children in his annual reports to the Security Council. UN child protection officers documented the recruitment by the FDLR of at least 123 children in 2012, 47 in 2013, 63 in 2014, and 27 in the first quarter of 2015. The actual numbers are likely significantly higher.

Many of the children were abducted during FDLR attacks on their villages. Others were abducted on their way to or at the market, on their way home from school, or while working in the field. Some were family members of FDLR combatants.

A former FDLR fighter told Human Rights Watch that the FDLR attacked the Institute Bumbasha, a secondary school in Rutshuru, in July 2013, kidnapping 13 students (10 boys and 3 girls) as well as two other girls from the village. The fighters forced all of the children to join the FDLR and serve as combatants or forced laborers. They raped at least one of the girls. Around the same time, the same group of FDLR combatants attacked a Protestant church in Kivumo, Rutshuru territory, during Sunday service, and kidnapped five people.

Children in the FDLR have been forced to participate in armed combat, guard the camps, conduct looting expeditions, and collect “taxes” along the road. The youngest children, some as young as 9, are often forced to be porters, spies, and cooks.

One 14-year-old boy who was forcibly recruited by the FDLR told of the violence some of the children endured. He said he saw a senior FDLR commander force a 13-year-old boy into a latrine where he shot him fatally in the head because he was accused of having revealed information about the FDLR.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which Congo ratified in 2001, prohibits any recruitment or use of children under 18 by non-state armed groups.

International Efforts to Bring FDLR Leaders to Justice
The ICC’s arrest warrant for Mudacumura relates to crimes allegedly committed in Congo. Although Mudacumura is a Rwandan citizen, and was a military officer in the Rwandan army during the time of the genocide, he was not indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the UN-run tribunal set up to prosecute those responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law in Rwanda in 1994. The ICTR, which concentrated on the prosecution of those accused of playing a leading role in the genocide in Rwanda, has nearly concluded its operations.

In September 2010, the ICC had issued a sealed arrest warrant against FDLR executive secretary Callixte Mbarushimana for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in eastern Congo in 2009. Mbarushimana was arrested in France in October 2010, but the ICC’s pretrial judges declined to confirm the charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence. He was released from the court’s custody in December 2011. Mbarushimana is also under investigation by a French war crimes unit in relation to alleged crimes committed during the genocide in Rwanda.

Two political leaders of the FDLR, former president Ignace Murwanashyaka and vice-president Straton Musoni, were arrested on November 17, 2009, in Germany, where they had been living for many years, and charged with 26 counts of crimes against humanity and 39 counts of war crimes allegedly committed by FDLR troops in Congo between January 2008 and November 2009. They were also charged with belonging to a terrorist group. Their trial before a local criminal court in Stuttgart, Germany, began on May 4, 2011. The trial is now drawing to an end, with a verdict expected in the coming months.

Three Rwandans accused of leading a diaspora network that provided significant financial support to the FDLR- Bernard Twagiramungu, Félicien Barabwiriza, and Jean Bosco Uwihanganye- were also arrested in Germany, in December 2012, and charged with belonging to or supporting a terrorist organization. They were found guilty in a local court in Düsseldorf on December 5, 2014, after confessing. They received sentences ranging between two to four years in prison.

Ten FDLR leaders are named on a UN sanctions list and subject to a travel ban and asset freezes: Murwanashyaka, Musoni, Mbarushimana, Mudacumura, Gaston Iyamuremye, Léodomir Mugaragu, Léopold Mujyambere, Félicien Nsanzubukire, Pacifique Ntawunguka, and Stanislas Nzeyimana. On December 31, 2012, the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee added the FDLR as an organization to the list of individuals and entities subject to sanctions.

ICC member countries increasingly recognize that there can be no justice so long as those wanted on ICC arrest warrants, such as Mudacumura, are not brought to trial. Discussions are ongoing among member states within the Assembly of States Parties, which provides management oversight of the administration of the ICC, about adopting an action plan on arrest strategies.