V. Conflict and Abuses Against Civilians

All parties to the recent military operations in North Kivu—Nkunda’s troops, the Congolese army, and the FDLR—have violated the rights of Congolese civilians through killings, crimes of sexual violence, forced displacement, theft, extortion, and destruction of property. In late November 2006 combat between Congolese army soldiers and Nkunda’s forces provided the context for most of the abuses then occurring. From early 2007, with the beginning of operations by the mixed brigades against the FDLR, it was these two parties that were most responsible for abuses against civilians. The return to armed hostilities between Nkunda’s forces and the Congolese army in August-September raised fears of a return to scenarios akin to those of late-2006 for abuses against civilians. At this writing the situation on the ground in terms of military operations and impact on civilians is unclear, and is consequently not addressed below.

Instead of bringing much needed security to the province, the deployment of the mixed brigades led to a further deterioration of the security and human rights situation as they contested control over local populations with the FDLR. As Bravo brigade moved north and east in Rutshuru territory, its forces kidnapped and killed civilians accused of collaborating with the FDLR. The FDLR retaliated against communities that had accepted control of the mixed brigades, even attacking those people with whom they had previously cohabited relatively peacefully.

According to a surgeon in Rutshuru hospital, doctors there dealt with 65 civilian victims of gunshot wounds in the first four months of 2007 and the numbers continued to grow. He said,

We have even had to construct tents in the hospital grounds to cope with the numbers of bullet wound injuries. Such cases make up the majority of our patients. I have done a comparative study, and not since 1996 have we had to deal with so many cases. 41

Sexual violence

Sexual violence, a crime regularly found in situations of armed conflict in eastern Congo,42 continued at high levels during the military operations of 2006 and 2007. In one two-week period of early January 2007 when Nkunda’s forces fought Congolese army troops, the medical assistance NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) registered 181 cases of rape at its clinic in Mutanda, Rutshuru.43

The prevalence of crimes of sexual violence both reflects and perpetuates the subordinate status of most women throughout Congo. Although nominally granted equality before the law in most respects, women have few opportunities to exercise political or economic power proportionate to their number in the population.

These crimes, sometimes involving multiple attackers and acts of great brutality, have direct, profound, and life-changing consequences for the women and girls attacked and for their wider communities. In some cases soldiers or combatants raped women and girls as young as five years old as part of a more general attack in which they killed and injured civilians and looted and destroyed property. Their intent was to terrorize communities into accepting their control or to punish them for real or supposed links to opposing forces. In cases where there was no larger attack, individuals or small groups of soldiers and combatants also raped women and girls whom they found in the fields, in the forest, along the roads, or in their homes.

Since 2004 several UN agencies, Congolese ministries, and Congolese and international NGOs have collaborated in bringing a variety of assistance—medical, psychological, economic, and legal—to victims of sexual violence. A program funded by the Canadian government within this collaborative framework has assisted 4,222 child survivors of sexual violence in the Kivus and Ituri.44 Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, formally launched the program in North Kivu in May 2007, drawing attention at that time to the extent of the problem of sexual violence and the impunity enjoyed by most perpetrators.45

Looting and destruction of property

Human Rights Watch researchers have compiled a list of over 50 villages that have been looted and over 60 cases of vehicles attacked during the period from January to June 2007.46 Looters often attacked at night, making it more difficult to identify individual perpetrators. From the geographical distribution of incidents, however, it is clear that all parties to recent combat in North Kivu have looted civilian property.

Forced displacement of populations

The displacement of large numbers of people, the majority of whom are women, exacts an enormous cost on the region and works to keep its people in poverty. Among the costs are the lives lost as a result of inadequate food, water, or medical care for people who fled, often into the bush; the actual outlay for humanitarian aid; and the loss to the economy in terms of agricultural productivity and commercial activity.

As violence increased in December 2006 and again in August 2007, further tens of thousands of civilians fled their villages to seek refuge with host families or in displacement sites, sometimes regrouping according to ethnicity.47 Unable to return safely to their villages, civilians remained displaced for longer periods, becoming increasingly vulnerable as they lost their livelihoods, thus provoking an ever growing humanitarian crisis.

Human Rights Abuses Committed by Troops Loyal to Laurent Nkunda

Killing of civilians

Forces under Nkunda and soldiers of the Congolese army fought each other in Sake, Masisi territory, in August and November 2006. The November fighting also spread to other towns such as Jomba, Bunagana, and Tongo in early December.

While it was unclear which side fired first, on November 25 and 26, 2006, soldiers of Nkunda’s 83rd brigade shelled the town of Sake, having given no warning to civilians to evacuate.48 Local sources reported that at least 25 civilians died from the shelling or other injuries as they were caught in indiscriminate weapons fire between Nkunda’s troops and those of the Congolese army, with other civilian victims of the fighting said to have been killed in Kitchanga and Tongo. 49 Residents also reported that mass graves could be found at Tingi, outside Sake, where Nkunda’s troops are said to have buried bodies, though it is unclear whether they were civilian or military.50 The military prosecutor called for an investigation of the events at Sake,51 but to date neither Congolese authorities nor MONUC have conducted such an inquiry.

As the mixed brigades extended their sway over Rutshuru and Masisi territories, Nkunda-affiliated units killed, raped, and otherwise injured scores of civilians. According to accounts from witnesses interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher, Bravo brigade soldiers killed civilians in Buramba, Jomba, Kako, Kisharo, Rubare, Nyahanga, Talika, and Kamapenga, all in Rutshuru territory.52 In many cases, soldiers of the mixed brigades targeted civilians to punish them for supposedly collaborating with the FDLR or in an attempt to extract information about the location of FDLR combatants.53

The attacks and fear of attacks forced hundreds of thousands of persons to flee. They deserted villages all along the line of advance of Bravo brigade troops, such as from Nkwenda to Nyamilima in Rutshuru. They left villages such as Buramba, Kiseguru, Katwiguru, and Kisharo empty and refused to return home until after the troops of Bravo brigade left.54

Massacre in Buramba, Rutshuru

On March 10, 2007, soldiers of the Bravo brigade’s 2nd battalion, commanded by Lieut. Col. Innocent Zimulinda, killed at least 15 civilians in Buramba, including women and children.

According to a representative of a local NGO who investigated the massacre, soldiers of Bravo brigade had forced residents of Buramba to attend a meeting on March 9 during which they threatened to kill anyone who collaborated with the FDLR.55 Later that day a convoy of Bravo brigade officers and troops was ambushed, apparently by FDLR combatants, just outside of Buramba as they moved from Nyamilima to Rutshuru town. Although no one was killed in the incident, troops of the second battalion of Bravo brigade stationed in Nyamilima under the command of Lieut. Col. Innocent Nzamulinda launched a reprisal attack on Buramba on March 10.56

A survivor who lost four members of her family in the incident, including her 10-year-old daughter, told a Human Rights Watch researcher,

When the firing started, people started to flee in all directions. My mother was too old to flee, and she hid inside her house, with eight family members and four neighbors. I was scared, and I hid behind the house, and covered myself in long grass. There were so many bullets, and I had to spend the night like this. Then, at 5:30 in the morning, I saw the soldiers come to the house. There were so many of them. As it was getting light, I could recognize that they were soldiers of Bravo brigade. The people inside the house had been speaking, a baby was crying and they had started a fire to heat food. Smoke was coming out. The soldiers knocked on the door, and massacred eight people inside the house. Only my four grandchildren survived, they are now here with me. [The soldiers] continued firing in the village, and, from where I was, I fled further into the bush. I returned three days later to see the bodies of my children and my mother. The bodies were in latrines; I could see the feet of my mother sticking out.57

One man, worried because his son lived in Buramba, went there on March 11 with the local Red Cross. He said,

At Pamba we found the first bodies. There were two: one was on the road and the other had been thrown into a hole. I was able to recognize both as people I knew. We buried them and then continued. At Buramba, we met soldiers from Bravo brigade, who said that all the bodies were Interahamwe. I found the body of my son behind the school at which he taught. I only recognized him by his clothes as he had been shot in the head and his face was unrecognizable. I was in such grief when I found him. How could they say he was Interahamwe? He was not, he was a schoolteacher. We buried him and three others that day in Buramba. As we buried the bodies we heard many shots and we became scared. We felt the soldiers were trying to distract us from our work and after a while it became impossible to continue. After burying the bodies, we left quickly and returned to Nyamilima. We were able to go back to Buramba only on the following Wednesday. On this day, we found about another 10 bodies. 58

Witnesses all said that it was soldiers of Bravo brigade, identifiable by their pink shoulder bands, who carried out this massacre. One witness told a Human Rights Watch researcher, “The commander who sent these people was Colonel Makenga. We know that he was in Nyamilima, and it was one of his convoys that was attacked on the Friday [March 9]. The soldiers who came were his soldiers.”59

An inquiry by members of the North Kivu provincial assembly concluded that Bravo brigade soldiers were responsible for the killings,60 as did a judicial inquiry carried out by two magistrates and two judicial inspectors, assisted by human rights investigators from MONUC. The judicial report concluded that Colonel Makenga ordered the attack and that soldiers of the battalion led by Lieut. Col. Innocent Nzamulinda perpetrated the killings.61 The report was sent to the military prosecutor in Kinshasa, but to date no action has been taken against any of those found to be responsible and Colonel Makenga continued to command the Bravo brigade. MONUC also separately investigated the incident but has not published its report.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch researchers, Laurent Nkunda stated that the military operation against the FDLR in Buramba was ordered by the Congolese military hierarchy in Goma, and not by him (see also Chapter VII, below). 

Killings in Kiseguru and Katwiguru, Rutshuru

The Buramba massacre was the most serious of several crimes committed by the Bravo brigade’s 2nd battalion as it took control of large parts of Rutshuru. In Kiseguru and Katwiguru, two villages near Buramba, Human Rights Watch researchers documented 10 more killings by the 2nd battalion in the first four months of its deployment in the area. The incidents are similar one to another, with soldiers shooting or using hammers to kill residents accused of collaborating with the FDLR.

The daughter of a man killed on February 8 told a Human Rights Watch researcher that her father had been in the fields working when soldiers arrived in Kiseguru. They were looking for Interahamwe and firing their weapons. She said,

When my father heard shooting, he ran back to the village to see what was happening. Soldiers from Bravo brigade captured him, tied him up and killed him. They buried him in a shallow grave close to the house. My father was 68 years old. He was not a member of the FDLR, and had no contact with them.62

A Katwiguru resident told a Human Rights Watch researcher that soldiers of the Bravo brigade had killed her sister because she said she could not show them where to find FDLR combatants. She said her sister had been staying in the forest where soldiers happened to find her on February 20, when she went to fetch water. According to the woman, who was close by and heard from eyewitnesses what happened, the soldiers hit her sister on the head with a hammer when she said she could not tell them where to find FDLR combatants. The witness said,

This is how the soldiers kill people when they don’t want to use bullets. When I heard that my sister was dead, I ran to see for myself. I found her with a large wound on top of her head. She was dead… She was 20 years old and had two children.63

Murder of Abbé Richard Bemeriki, Jomba parish

On March 9, the day before the massacre in Buramba, soldiers of Bravo brigade shot and killed Abbé Richard Bemeriki, priest of the Jomba parish church in Rutshuru. It is not known which battalion of the Bravo brigade was involved, but witnesses identified the soldiers as Tutsi with Rwandan accents, which strongly suggests that they were from one of the battalions comprising Nkunda-affiliated troops; the 4th battalion, commanded by Maj. Yusef Mboneza, was based locally at the time. According to an eyewitness, two soldiers arrived at the priest’s residence at about 8 p.m. The witness said,

When Abbé Richard returned, he saw the soldier sitting there, and he [Richard] looked scared. I had the impression that he did not know the soldier. He immediately went out of the room, but then returned a few minutes later with the second soldier at his back. The soldier told Abbé Richard to sit down and then he cocked his gun. They spoke in Kinyarwanda. I was shocked and frightened. They asked us to put our telephones on the table in the middle of the room, which we did. They ordered us to lie on the floor. Then they shot at Abbé Richard. He was hit on the arm. The soldier moved closer and took aim at him again and shot him in the stomach. Then they took the mobile phones and left. There was so much blood. We tried to do what we could to help Abbé Richard. He kept saying “What have I done? Why did they do this to me?”

Around 10 p.m., the soldiers returned. We immediately dimmed the lights and stayed very quiet. One of the soldiers asked a guard where the priest was. He told them everyone had fled because of the shooting. We heard later the soldiers had gone to the hospital in Jomba to look for Abbé Richard, but they did not find him since he had been taken to another hospital. I think they came to see if they had finished the job.64

Abbé Richard was transferred to Kigali for medical care, but he died on April 8—Easter Sunday.

Rubaya, Masisi

Other mixed brigades have been responsible for killings. In the village of Rubaya, in Masisi territory, four civilians were killed on April 29, 2007, when soldiers of the Charlie brigade opened fire on two motorbike taxis.65 The two drivers and the two passengers were killed on the spot. According to witnesses, the soldiers were members of the personal guard of the deputy commander of the brigade, Col. Wilson Nsengiyumva, an officer formerly in Nkunda’s units.


In several cases soldiers of the Bravo brigade’s 2nd battalion abducted residents from areas under their control. These victims, taken in the hope of acquiring information or property or in the hope of pressing them into military service, have not been heard from since their abduction and are presumed dead.

On February 21, for example, Bravo brigade soldiers entered Katwiguru and rounded up a group of residents. One witness who was part of the group said,

I was at the house and I saw a crowd of soldiers come and they surrounded us. They asked us questions, for example what we did. We said that we were just farmers. They ordered us to strip naked. We were with the family of my elder brother, who was a teacher, and his wife. The soldiers then said to them, “You are intellectuals, you work with the enemy.” We were allowed to leave, and the soldiers told us that if we hesitated we would also be killed. The next day we came back to the village, and we found that their house had been completely looted. In the house I found their two children and I took them with me. Since then I have heard no news of my brother and his wife. We waited one week, two weeks, three weeks with no news. I am almost certain that they have been killed.66

In another case from Katwiguru, it seems likely that the soldiers of Bravo brigade were searching for information about the location of FDLR combatants.  A witness told a Human Rights Watch researcher that on February 15 soldiers of the Bravo brigade had taken and beaten several young men, including two of his brothers. He said,

Two of my brothers were in a group taken into the bush and the soldiers asked them to point out where the FDLR positions were. I waited for them to come back, but they never did. I think they are dead as we cannot find them. Others have suffered the same fate: people are taken and they are never found. After this, the whole village fled.67

Other abductions seem to have been motivated by desire for property rather than by desire for information. During December 2006 when the town of Jomba was in the hands of Nkunda’s soldiers, a local health worker, Serukeza, disappeared. According to local sources, Serukeza had fled with his family to Uganda and disappeared when he returned to recover some possessions from his house, then occupied by Nkunda’s soldiers. He has not been seen since.68

In Mitumbala, Masisi territory, Vadio Kibiriti and the driver of a motorbicycle taxi who was transporting him, Kinsawa, disappeared on November 29. The two men were last seen at Ruvunda, Masisi territory, accompanied by soldiers from Nkunda’s forces.69

Crimes of sexual violence

During 2006 and 2007 soldiers of Laurent Nkunda’s forces, some of whom in early 2007 started to join the mixed brigades committed numerous rapes in North Kivu, as documented by local health centers, organizations that help victims of sexual violence, and MONUC investigators. Up until the formation of mixed brigades, these forces were directly under Nkunda’s command.

In January 2006 troops from the 83rd brigade commanded by Maj. David Rugayi fought with Congolese army troops near the village of Kibirizi, Masisi territory. In the period just after, the local health centers registered 90 cases of sexual assault. A MONUC investigation team spoke to 12 victims of rape, the youngest of whom was five years old. From the data gathered, the MONUC investigators concluded that soldiers of the 83rd brigade had committed widespread and systematic rape, but the report remains unpublished and there has been no investigation by Congolese judicial authorities.70

A woman from Jomba told Human Rights Watch researchers that she had narrowly escaped being raped by soldiers from the 83rd brigade. The soldiers took her into a banana plantation and robbed her, but eventually were driven away after other residents got an officer to intervene. The woman had nonetheless been badly beaten and was hospitalized. Once well enough to travel, she fled to Uganda.71

A Congolese organization specializing in assisting victims of sexual violence documented 87 cases of rape in and around Sake during military operations of November and December 2006. According to testimony given by the victims to therapists, most of the rapes were committed by troops who at the time were under the command of Laurent Nkunda.72 During a visit by Human Rights Watch researchers to the organization’s premises in February 2007, three rape victims arrived in the space of a few hours to seek help. One was a 14-year-old girl still suffering psychological problems from a rape two months before. According to her father, the girl had been raped by Nkunda’s soldiers.73

A doctor working near Jomba and Bunagana told a Human Rights Watch researcher that in the six weeks following December 26 his center had treated 12 victims of sexual violence. “This is much more than normal,” the doctor said. “Usually we have between three and five cases per month. One woman died after having been raped. She left five children.” The doctor pointed out that in his experience fewer than one victim in four comes forward to seek medical help.74

In some cases soldiers raped women as part of the punishment meted out to communities believed hostile to their control. One woman from Katwiguru whose husband was killed on suspicion of having supported the FDLR described to Human Rights Watch her rape by Bravo brigade soldiers (the Bravo brigade’s 2nd battalion had a position at Katwiguru at the time):

It was at night on February 25 [2007] when the soldiers came to our house. When I opened the door my husband saw the soldiers and he tried to run. The soldiers captured him and accused him of being an Interahamwe. I ran in a different direction, but I had my baby on my back and his cries alerted the soldiers to where I was hiding in the grass. Two soldiers found me not far from the house. They had pink armbands and were from the Bravo brigade. They said that I was the wife of an Interahamwe. They threw my baby to the side and then each one of them raped me. The hit me when they raped me. When they finished they left and I ran back to the house to get the other children. Then I fled. I am too scared to go back. I went for treatment at MSF [health center] and there I found about 20 other women from my village who had also been raped.75

In other cases, soldiers raped women in the course of a theft or looting property. One woman from Kisharo was raped when four soldiers came to her house late at night in February to ask for money. Her husband said he had none and was taken from the house. The soldiers then raped the woman and her three daughters:

They hit us and beat us. Each of the soldiers took one of us. I could hear the screams of my daughters. After they finished with us they looted our house and then left, taking my husband with them. I have not seen him since. I still have troubles and pains from the rape. I know of five other women who were raped in my village in February. All of them were raped by soldiers from the Bravo brigade.76

Kisharo is close to Katwiguru, where the 2nd battalion of the Bravo brigade was stationed.

Looting and other abuse of property rights

Soldiers looted to acquire goods and also to punish people thought to be supporting the enemy. In March 2007 soldiers of the 2nd battalion of Bravo brigade systematically looted the villages of Rutshuru, Nyamilima, and Tongo.77  Similarly, Nkunda’s troops looted homes and businesses in Sake and Jomba during military operations in November and December.78 One man who lost everything when his home in Jomba was looted recalled that some 20 soldiers came to his house, beat him with sticks, and struck him with a machete before making off with his property. He was left with nothing.79

In some cases, Nkunda’s troops looted public facilities. In Jomba they ransacked the local hospital in December 2006.80 A church official who worked at the hospital compared the extent of the damage to 1996, a period of intense warfare in the region. “We have to start from zero,” he said. “One person died because we were not able to treat her; that really touches you.”81

Human Rights Abuses Committed by FDLR Combatants

Throughout 2006 the FDLR looted communities in Katwiguru, Bwisha, Makoka, and surrounding areas of Rutshuru territory, causing residents to flee to the town of Kiwanja. According to the head of a displaced persons’ camp in this town, people had fled out of fear of looting, rape, and other violence. He remarked of the FDLR, “They have taken over our villages.”82

In other areas, however, such as parts of Masisi where residents were Congolese Rwandophones of Hutu ethnicity, FDLR combatants caused little disturbance to local life through early 2007. As one villager from Kiruma, Masisi said, “They did not threaten us, so we stayed. We had no reason to leave.”83

In some areas, Congolese army troops also tolerated the presence of FDLR combatants and made no effort to implement the supposed national policy of eliminating the groups. According to one captain in the Congolese army, he and his troops posted near Tongo avoided problems with the FDLR in the period until early 2007 when the mixage process began. He said, “Our order was to leave them alone as we were in collaboration with them.”84 A resident of Rutshuru territory told Human Rights Watch researchers that the good relations between Congolese army soldiers and the FDLR had been evident to her and others in her community.85

With the establishment of the mixed brigades and the launching of more aggressive action against the FDLR, FDLR combatants began attacking civilians with whom they had previously enjoyed relatively harmonious relations. In seeking to prevent the mixed brigades taking over territory where they had once operated without difficulty, the FDLR resorted to violence and threats of violence to deter local people from cooperating with the mixed brigades.  According to a local chief displaced from Katwiguru, “The FDLR have changed their behavior. Before, they got on with people. Then the Bravo brigade arrived, and now the FDLR target people who they accuse of being close to the Bravo brigade. People are scared to go home because of the FDLR.”86

Disappearances of civilians

Since February 2007 three local chiefs have been abducted by the FDLR in the village of Katwiguru, all accused of collaborating with the soldiers of Bravo brigade. On each occasion the victims were targeted after having been seen talking to Bravo brigade soldiers. Similarly, in the village of Kiseguru an elder who had been seen greeting the arriving Bravo brigade was abducted by FDLR combatants soon after. A witness to the abduction said,

I saw four people who had come to look for him, and four others who remained hidden in the bush. People recognized the FDLR because it was daylight. They told the elder that he was a spy and that he must go with them into the bush. He was not able to refuse. He was taken by Commandant Soki. I think he must be dead—they never bring people back safely.87

Crimes of sexual violence

According to witnesses and victims, FDLR combatants have committed crimes of sexual violence. One woman now sheltered in a camp for displaced people told a Human Rights Watch researcher that she had been raped late at night by two combatants who forced their way into her home. She said,

They took me by force, and the children started to scream. One of them raped me and then they ran away, because my children were screaming. When they left they took my goats.

She said that she had been raped again two weeks later while working in her field near Katwiguru, an attack from which she still suffered injuries at the time of the interview. She had fled to the displaced persons’ camp, leaving her two children with their grandfather, and was afraid to return home. She said,

It is difficult to go back as there is still disorder. My house has been destroyed. These people are still there, they come and steal. I hear that in the last few days people have been killed in my village.88

In a second case a woman who works as a counselor for victims of sexual violence was assisting a rape victim near Ngungu, Masisi territory, when she herself was harassed and then raped by FDLR combatants. She related that she had found the other victim tied to a tree on December 27, 2006:

There was a piece of wood inserted into her vagina. I pulled it out, and I put the victim on my back. I carried her for about two miles and the victim then died on my back. She just passed away. All the time we were being followed by combatants. I was standing there, not knowing what to do with the body. I asked for a sheet... from the Interahamwe. They told me no, that I was to dig a shallow hole. I had to measure the size of the body and I dug the hole, by myself. The Interahamwe said that if I was too slow they would kill me, so I worked quickly. When I finished, they said that they would rape me. I told them, if you want to rape me, let me first pray. There were eight of them. I prayed. When I stopped praying, four refused to rape me, but the other four said that they would not leave without raping me. They raped me, they hit me, for six hours, from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m. When they finished their dirty task they fled into the bush, firing shots. I was left there on my own, I was left naked, beaten. I couldn’t move. By chance a person saw me and she gave me clothes to wear and took me to a dispensary. I got back home, I went to my organization, as now I was a victim. They helped me with medical care, and I am still taking medicines. I still have some infections and I worry if I have HIV.89

This woman’s husband had been killed and she and her two daughters had been raped in 2003. She believed that the soldiers responsible for those crimes had been troops under Nkunda’s command. 

Looting and other abuse of property rights

In 2006 and 2007 FDLR combatants looted the property of civilians both for immediate profit and—particularly after their territorial control was challenged by the mixed brigades—to punish residents for supposed tolerance of or for assistance to soldiers of the mixed brigades.

According to an analyst who studied the FDLR operations in 2006, the combatants were ordered to operate a system of “non-conventional logistics,” meaning each unit had to provide for its own support. In addition to raiding to survive, some combatants looted and pillaged simply for personal enrichment.90 In some areas, Congolese reportedly said, “We cultivate and the Rwandans harvest.”91

In 2006 FDLR combatants based in nearby forests looted the villages of Mosinga, Makoka, Kasave, Bwisha, Musamba, and Nyakezenga, causing residents to flee to displaced dispersions camps in Kiwanja.92

In May 2007 FDLR combatants looted the village of Mutabo in Rutshuru territory twice in one week. One resident of Mutabo said,

Last week both the lower village and the upper village were looted on separate occasions. The FDLR came in from the bush. They went into the health center and they hit the patients. One man was hit with a machete. The second time they came, they even used the young men from the village as porters to carry off their booty. Since then I no longer sleep at home. Instead, I sleep in the bush, but even there the FDLR come from time to time.93

FDLR combatants have also been responsible for many of the ambushes of vehicles in the region. Since January 2007 at least 60 trucks, buses, and other vehicles have been attacked on roads in the two territories of Masisi and Rutshuru. At least 19 civilians have been killed in these attacks.94

Soldiers and combatants from all parties to the conflict have also ambushed vehicles and it is often difficult to determine the identity of the assailants. A significant proportion of the attacks, however, have taken place in areas controlled by FDLR combatants, making travel in such areas always risky and sometimes impossible.

FDLR combatants ambush vehicles to profit from the goods transported and to demonstrate their control over the region. In addition, they attack to interdict the travel of government army soldiers who often get rides on civilian vehicles, sometimes by force. FDLR combatants ambushed a truck carrying some 40 passengers, two of them soldiers, near Kalengera, Rutshuru territory, on May 15, 2007. They managed to capture one of the soldiers, but the other escaped. At least three civilians, two of them young girls, were killed and five more were injured seriously enough to require hospitalization. The combatants also stole the goods of the passengers.95 In similar ambushes on the road between Kiwanja and Nyakakoma, Rutshuru territory, on May 19, assailants killed at least two and injured at least 18 civilians.96

Human Rights Abuses Committed by the FARDC

Many human rights abuses committed in the DRC are perpetrated by soldiers of the Congolese army, the FARDC. Poorly trained and poorly disciplined as well as frequently unpaid and lacking essential supplies, government soldiers commit many crimes in the course of looting.  According to MONUC, 40 percent of all human rights violations recorded by its human rights division throughout the country in the second half of 2006 were perpetrated by FARDC soldiers including summary executions, beatings and rape.97 North Kivu is no exception.  Here too, Congolese army soldiers have committed killings, arbitrary arrests, detention, crimes of sexual violence as well as looted the property of civilians.

Killing of civilians

During the fighting against Nkunda’s troops in Sake in December 2006, government soldiers from the 14th integrated FARDC brigade killed at least two civilians near the village of Rutobogo, according to witnesses. In Bunyambeba, soldiers engaged in looting shot Shukuru Sembirite, a 12-year-old boy, on December 5, 2006, while in another incident, soldiers also from the 14th brigade beat Muhindo Safari to death when he refused to let the soldiers take his goats.98  According to MONUC, similar incidents of killings during lootings also occurred in Kirothse village.  On December 10, 2006 FARDC soldiers from the 16th brigade fired several times at a house when its occupiers refused to open the door, killing a young boy on the spot.99

Arbitrary arrests

The deputy commander of the 8th Military Region, Col. Delphin Kahimbi, allegedly illegally arrested and detained persons in his private residence in Goma. One victim arrested in Goma on December 18, 2006, was beaten with a belt and tortured with electric shocks.100   In an interview with Human Rights Watch the victim explained what happened,

They accused me of being a spy of Laurent Nkunda, but this is not true…. I said that I am FARDC not CNDP….  [Colonel] Delphin [Kahimbi] himself hit me, and intimidated me with a pistol. I was tied up at the wrists and also at the ankles. He put electric things on my body and gave me shocks. This happened many times.101

In MONUC’s six monthly human rights report published in February 2007, the organization reported that attempts to intervene directly with Colonel Kahimbi had failed as he claimed to have the support of individuals working at the president’s office in Kinshasa.  MONUC expressed publicly its serious concern at the ability of Colonel Kahimbi to operate with impunity.102  MONUC continued to document illegal detentions carried out on the order of Colonel Kahimbi throughout 2007.103  When contacted by Human Rights Watch Colonel Kahimbi denied that he was responsible for arbitrary arrests, but said that “it was his job to arrest those who were suspect.”104

Crimes of sexual violence

As noted above, a Congolese NGO that provides assistance to victims of rape recorded 87 cases of rape in and around Sake following the combat in December. According to a therapist who took testimony from victims, 10 of these rapes were committed by soldiers of the government army.105

Persons familiar with the conduct of government army soldiers in Bunagana, not far from Sake, said that soldiers of the 9th brigade raped women working in their fields on at least one occasion. One of those women was raped by three soldiers.106

Looting and other abuse of property rights

Government troops systematically looted property while carrying out military operations. During the combat in Sake and Bunagana in December 2006 soldiers took over the homes of local residents and stole the crops from their fields.107 A resident from a village outside Sake saw his crops looted three times by different brigades of government soldiers. He said that with the exception of just two households, every resident in his village had had property looted.108

Crimes by Unidentified Assailants

Military operations have been so frequent over the past decade in North Kivu that some residents say they live in a time of continuous war. Groups of soldiers and combatants may follow one another in close succession or overlap in their exercise of authority over a region, or soldiers from a single force may be moved from one post to another in fairly rapid succession. Soldiers of the national army, including those in mixed units  who came from Nkunda’s forces, wear uniforms, but sometimes other combatants, such as the FDLR, can also wear military garb that they have found, stolen, or otherwise obtained in some unauthorized manner. Given these conditions, it is not surprising that victims of crimes sometimes have trouble identifying even the military force to which their assailants belonged, far less the particular unit and its commanding officer.

To attempt to make it easier to identify national soldiers, each battalion created in the mixage process was assigned a distinctive color of armband to be worn as part of the uniform (see text box in Chapter IV, above). In some cases, this measure has assisted victims, who have been able to report that those who abused them wore a particular color. But in other cases assailants wore no such armband, either because they had removed it or because they were not part of a unit participating in the process.

The case of the killing of at least five civilians at Rudehe, Rutshuru, on May 16, 2007, illustrates the problem of identifying assailants. When local residents were working in the fields, combatants came, tied up five people and killed them. One man, who himself had been taken and tied up, managed to escape. He said assailants killed the first victim by cutting his throat and then shot the others. A girl who had been working in the fields with her father saw him tied up by the assailants. She left before he was killed but heard the shots being fired from a short distance away.109

These two witnesses and a third referred to the assailants as FDLR combatants, perhaps because they wore no identifying armbands. But one of the witnesses said that one of the assailants was certainly Tutsi. Very few FDLR combatants are Tutsi.110 Investigators from MONUC initially believed that the assailants were FDLR but after two more investigations, MONUC concluded that it was soldiers from the Bravo mixed brigade, who had a post nearby, who were responsible.111

Discovery of Mass Graves in Rutshuru

In late August and early September 2007, MONUC peacekeepers discovered mass graves in four separate locations in Rutshuru territory near the villages of Rubare, Kiseguru, and Katwiguru. A number of the graves were found in or around former military positions of the 2nd and 4th battalions of the Bravo brigade and contained the bodies of at least 21 persons. Congolese judicial officials assisted by MONUC human rights staff conducted preliminary investigations at the mass grave sites between September 18 and 21. Because the bodies were badly decomposed and because members of the team lacked forensic expertise, the investigators failed to determine how the victims had died or even their sex or age. In most cases it was unclear whether the victims were civilian or military, though at one location some civilian clothing was found around the grave site. Two of the bodies discovered at Rubare had their hands and feet tied, indicating they may have been prisoners who were executed, and a further three bodies were found in an area that appeared to have been a latrine.112 At one of the military posts, MONUC peacekeepers also found a shallow pit that they believed may have been a place of detention.113

In a letter to the UN Security Council on September 18, the Congolese government was quick to conclude that this “gruesome discovery” provided further evidence of the crimes committed by Laurent Nkunda and requested assistance to arrest him.114

In an interview with a Human Rights Watch researcher, Nkunda confirmed that there were graves in some former military locations where Bravo brigade soldiers had been based, but stated that these graves held the bodies of soldiers who had died in battle, not civilians. He said that at least four of the bodies found at Rubare may have been FDLR combatants, but could not confirm how they might have died.115 He also noted that Rubare had been a military base of the Congolese army before mixage.116 A MONUC source told Human Rights Watch in early October about allegations MONUC had received that commanders of the 2nd and 4th battalions had been summarily executing those who tried to desert from the battalions, which might account for some of the bodies discovered in the mass graves.117

Congolese judicial investigators interviewed few witnesses and spent only a short time at some of the grave sites during their preliminary investigations.118 Further detailed investigations, including interviews with local witnesses and the gathering of forensic evidence, will be required to confirm the identity of the victims, the circumstances in which they died, and those responsible.

41 Human Rights Watch interview with a surgeon at Rutshuru hospital (name withheld), May 15, 2007. In 1996 the forces of Laurent Kabila, the AFDL forces, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, fought in this region against soldiers of the national government and local groups, known as Mai Mai, determined to protect their home territory.

42 See Human Rights Watch, Democratic Republic of Congo – Seeking Justice: Prosecution of Sexual Violence in the Congo War, vol. 17, no. 1(A), March 2005,; and Democratic Republic of Congo – The War within the War: Sexual violence against women and girls in Eastern Congo, June 2002, Prof. Yakin Ertürk, special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence Against Women, reported on the critical situation of sexual violence in Congo following a late July 2007 visit. Although she drew her information from South Kivu, Ituri, and Equateur, she found the same patterns of widespread violence perpetrated by members of armed groups, soldiers, and police, as well as the same impunity for these crimes, as has been found in North Kivu. "UN expert on violence against women expresses serious concerns following visit to Democratic Republic of Congo," United Nations Office in Geneva, July 30, 2007, (accessed August 22, 2007).

43 United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), “North Kivu Situation Report,” January 19, 2007.

44 UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2007/391, June 28, 2007, paras 67-68.

45 MONUC, "Monthly Human Rights Assessment: May 2007," June 19, 2007, (accessed August 22, 2007).

46 Information compiled on the basis of local sources and MONUC and OCHA reports.

47 UN OCHA, “DR Congo: UN humanitarian chief visits displaced in North Kivu”, September 7, 2007, (accessed September 8, 2007).

48 Human Rights Watch interview with local nurse (name withheld), Sake, November 29, 2006.

49 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents, Sake, February 6, 2007.

50 Human Rights Watch interview with local resident (name withheld), Tingi, February 27, 2007.

51 Human Rights Watch interview with Maj. Magistrat Bwa Mulundu Guzola, military prosecutor, Goma, February 16, 2007.

52 Human Rights Watch interviews with internally displaced persons, Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Kako, and Rubare, May 14-16, 2007, and Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC human rights officer (name withheld), Goma, February 9, 2007.

53 Human Rights Watch interviews with internally displaced persons, Kiwanja, Rutshuru, Kako, and Rubare, May 14-16, 2007.

54 Human Rights Watch interviews with internally displaced persons, Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

55 Centre de Recherche sur l’Environnement, la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme (CREDDHO), “Mixage des FARDC au Nord Kivu: un véritable fléau contre les droits de l’homme,” March 22, 2007, p. 1.

56 UN OCHA, “North Kivu Situation Report,” March 12, 2007.

57 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

58 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

59 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

60 Provincial Assembly of North Kivu, “Report of an investigation mission into cases of insecurity in North Kivu province” (“Rapport de mission d’investigation sur les cas d’insécurité dans la province du Nord Kivu”), March 31, 2007, p. 27 (hereafter cited as Provincial Assembly, “Rapport de Mission”).

61 Auditorat Militaire Superieur, “Mission Report of the Enquiry into the Massacres of Buramba,” March 27, 2007.

62 Human Rights Watch interview, Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

63 Human Rights Watch interview, Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

64 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Goma, May 13, 2007.

65 UN OCHA, “North Kivu Situation Report,” May 2, 2007.

66 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

67 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

68 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents, Jomba, February 3, 2006.

69 Human Rights Watch interview with local administrator (name withheld), Sake, February 14, 2007.

70 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC official (name withheld), Goma, February 21, 2007.

71 Human Rights Watch interview with victim of attempted rape (name withheld), Jomba, February 3, 2007.

72 Human Rights Watch interview with therapist dealing with cases of sexual violence (name withheld), Sake, February 6, 2007.

73 Human Rights Watch interview with father of a rape victim (name withheld), Sake, February 14, 2007.

74 Human Rights Watch interview with doctor (name withheld), Rwanguba, February 3, 2007.

75 Human Rights Watch interview with rape victim (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

76 Human Rights Watch interview with rape victim (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

77 MONUC, “Human Rights Weekly Assessment 1 – 7 April 2007,” April 9, 2007.

78 Human Rights Watch interviews, Sake and Jomba, February 2007.

79 Human Rights Watch interview with victim of looting (name withheld), Jomba, February 3, 2007.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with local priest (name withheld), Jomba, February 3, 2007.

81 Human Rights Watch interview with local church official (name withheld), Jomba, February 3, 2007.

82 Human Rights Watch interview with internally displaced person (name withheld), Nyangere, February 2, 2007.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with internally displaced person (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

84 Human Rights Watch interview with army captain (name withheld), Rutshuru, May 15, 2007.

85 Human Rights Watch interview with local resident (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 14, 2007.

86 Human Rights Watch interview with local chief (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 15, 2007.

87 Human Rights Watch interview with eyewitness (name withheld), Kiwanja, May 16, 2007.

88 Human Rights Watch interview with rape victim (name withheld), Nyangere, February 2, 2007.

89 Human Rights Watch interview with rape victim (name withheld), Minova, February 6, 2007.

90 Romkema, “Opportunities and Constraints,” p. 54.

91 Romkema, “Opportunities and Constraints,” p. 56.

92 Human Rights Watch interview with president of IDP camp (name withheld), Nyangere, February 2, 2007.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with local resident (name withheld), Mutabo, May 15, 2007.

94 UN OCHA, “North Kivu Situation Reports,” January-June 2007, and Radio Okapi.

95 Human Rights Watch interview with victim of looting (name withheld), Rutshuru, May 16, 2007.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with victim of looting (name withheld), Rutshuru, May 21, 2007.

97 MONUC, “The Human Rights Situation in the DRC from July to December 2006,” March 7, 2007, (accessed July 4, 2007).

98 Human Rights Watch interview with local official, Rutobogo, February 17, 2007.

99 Ibid., MONUC, “The Human Rights Situation in the DRC from July to December 2006,” para 57.

100 Ibid., para 63; and Human Rights  Watch phone interview with MONUC official, October 12, 2007.

101 Human Rights Watch interview with victim (name withheld), Goma, January 23 and February  5, 2007

102 Ibid.

103 Human Rights Watch phone interview with MONUC official, Goma, October 15, 2007.

104 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Col. Delphin Kahimbi,  February 2007 and October 15, 2007.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with therapist who assists rape victims (name withheld), Sake, February 6, 2007.

106 Human Rights Watch interviews with residents, Bunagana, February 3, 2007.

107 Human Rights Watch interview with residents, Sake and Rutobogo, December 2006 and January 2007.

108 Human Rights Watch interview with resident (name withheld), Kimoka, December 5, 2006.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with internally displaced person (name withheld), Nkwenda, May 21, 2007.

110 Human Rights Watch interview with internally displaced person (name withheld), Nkwenda, May 21, 2007.

111 Human Rights Watch interview with MONUC official (name withheld), Goma, June 19, 2007.

112 Human Rights Watch phone interview, UN official, Kinshasa, October 1, 2007.  See also “North Kivu: At least 12 bodies found in graves discovered in August” (“Nord Kivu: au moins 12 corps dans les fosses découvertes en aout”), Agence France-Presse, September 27, 2007; MONUC press briefing, August 15, 2007, sent to Human Rights Watch by email, August 15, 2007; and MONUC press briefing, August 22, 2007, sent to Human Rights Watch by email, August 22, 2007.

113 MONUC press briefing, August 22, 2007.

114 UN security council, “Letter dated 18 September 2007 from the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of  the Congo to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council,” New York, S/2007/550, September 20, 2007.

115 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Laurent Nkunda, September 30, 2007.

116 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Laurent Nkunda, October 5, 2007

117 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with MONUC official (name withheld), October 5, 2007

118 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with UN official (name withheld), Kinshasa, October 1, 2007.