New HRW Dossier Now Links Uganda, Rwanda To DRC Crisis
From the CHIMPREOPORT
The Human Right Watch (HRW), an organization which Rwanda has accused of fanning flames of the DRC crisis with inaccurate reports, has released yet another dossier linking Kigali and Uganda to the security upheavals in Kivu.
According to the human rights group, M23 rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are responsible for widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and forced recruitment.
It claims 33 of those executed were young men and boys who tried to escape the rebels’ ranks.
“Rwandan officials may be complicit in war crimes through their continued military assistance to M23 forces, Human Rights Watch said. The Rwandan army has deployed its troops to eastern Congo to directly support the M23 rebels in military operations,” reads part of the report released on Monday.
The groups says it based its findings on interviews with 190 Congolese and Rwandan victims, family members, witnesses, local authorities, and current or former M23 fighters between May and September.
“The M23 rebels are committing a horrific trail of new atrocities in eastern Congo,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“M23 commanders should be held accountable for these crimes, and the Rwandan officials supporting these abusive commanders could face justice for aiding and abetting the crimes.”
The M23 armed group consists of soldiers who participated in a mutiny from the Congolese national army in April and May 2012.
Based on its research, Human Rights Watch says it documented the forced recruitment of at least 137 young men and boys in Rutshuru territory, eastern Congo, by M23 rebels since July.
“Most were abducted from their homes, in the market, or while walking to their farms. At least seven were under age 15,” the report reads.
Witnesses reportedly told Human Rights Watch that at least 33 new recruits and other M23 fighters were summarily executed when they attempted to flee and some were tied up and shot in front of other recruits as an example of the punishment they could receive.
One young recruit allegedly told Human Rights Watch, “When we were with the M23, they said [we had a choice] and could stay with them or we could die. Lots of people tried to escape. Some were found and then that was immediately their death.”
Rwandan Support to the M23
In July, according to the HRW report, several hundred Rwandan army soldiers, (possibly more), were deployed to eastern Congo to assist the M23 take the strategic border post town of Bunagana, Rumangabo military base, the towns of Rutshuru, Kiwanja, and Rugari, and surrounding areas.
HRW says local residents and M23 defectors reported earlier Rwandan army deployments in which Rwandan soldiers came for short periods to support the M23 in key battles, withdrew, and then returned when needed.
“A UN peacekeeping officer in North Kivu corroborated regular surges of support for M23. He told Human Rights Watch, “Whenever [the M23] make a big push, they have additional strength.”
Local residents and escaped M23 fighters allegedly told Human Rights Watch that on July 5 and 6, during an attack on Bunagana, several hundred Rwandan army soldiers from Gen. Emmanuel Ruvusha’s division based in Gisenyi (northwestern Rwanda) were deployed to the area to reinforce the M23.
“Defectors told Human Rights Watch they recognized the division’s officers. M23 rebels coordinated their offensive with the Rwandan forces against the Congolese army, who were supported by UN peacekeepers,” HRW reports.
UN peacekeepers present during the attack told Human Rights Watch that the forces that attacked Bunagana were well-equipped and spoke English, and that their behavior was markedly different from that of Congolese soldiers, leading them to conclude that the attacking forces included Rwandan soldiers.
“Many Rwandan army soldiers deployed to support the M23 passed directly from Rwanda into Congo, using various footpaths, including near Njerima and Kanyanje. Others reportedly passed through Ugandan territory to enter Congo, including via a path on the Ugandan side of Sabyinyo volcano. M23 defectors and local residents told Human Rights Watch that Rwandan soldiers used Ugandan territory and Ugandan vehicles to enter Congo,” HRW notes.
Congolese and Rwandans, including local authorities who live near the Rwanda-Congo border, also reportedly told Human Rights Watch that they saw significant numbers of Rwandan soldiers crossing from Rwanda into Congo in June, July, and August. They had also seen Rwandan soldiers later returning to Rwanda from Congo.
“In early July, just before the M23 rebels attacked Bunagana with support from Rwandan troops, a Congolese farmer from Hehu hill, near Kibumba, was visiting a friend in Kasizi, Rwanda, when he was taken by Rwandan soldiers and forced to carry boxes of ammunition.”
He purportedly told Human Rights Watch that he had counted seven army trucks filled with Rwandan soldiers, weapons, and ammunition.
“The soldiers took me, my friend, and other civilians… and forced us to carry boxes of ammunition to Njerima [near the Congo border]. I was forced to do three trips and then I managed to get away. The soldiers were well-armed and wearing military uniforms… I asked one of the soldiers walking next to me where we were going. He replied that they were going to fight in Congo.”
The report further notes that Rwandan military officials have also continued to recruit by force or under false pretenses young men and boys, including under the age of 15, in Rwanda to augment the M23’s ranks.
Recruitment of children under age 15 is a war crime and contravenes Rwandan law.
M23 leaders deny that they or their forces have committed any crimes. In an interview with Human Rights Watch on August 8, Col. Makenga, one of the M23’s leaders, denied allegations of forced recruitment and summary executions, claiming those who joined their ranks did so voluntarily.
“We recruit our brothers, not by force, but because they want to help their big brothers…. That’s their decision,” he said. “They are our little brothers, so we can’t kill them.” He described the repeated reports of forced recruitment by his forces as Congolese government propaganda.
“The Rwandan government’s repeated denials that its military officials provide support for the abusive M23 rebels beggars belief,” Van Woudenberg said.
“The United Nations Security Council should sanction M23 leaders, as well as Rwandan officials who are helping them, for serious rights abuses.”
In an interview with Belgian newspaper Le Soir on August 29, the Rwandan defense minister, James Kabarebe, denied that the Rwandan army supported the M23.
“Everyone knows that Rwanda does not have a single soldier amongst the M23 and does not give it any support.” When asked if uncontrolled Rwandan soldiers could be acting in support of the M23, he said that the Rwandan army was “solid, well-organized, well-commanded, well-disciplined” and that there could not be any “uncontrolled elements” within it.
“WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR CONGO’S PROBLEMS”
In May Rwanda sternly warned Human Rights Watch (HRW) against releasing a “provocative report” that could stoke tensions in the country and region.
Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo stated that her country would not tolerate any “reckless interference by non-state actors” in the region.
Mushikiwabo said the government was aware of a new fundraising effort by Human Rights Watch who were planning to release “another batch of recycled rumours” designed to implicate Rwanda, and warned the region is not a “playground for non-state actors to play politics or raise money while fomenting violence and human suffering.”
Mushikiwabo asked: “Who benefits from continued instability in the eastern DRC? Not the Rwandan people, not the Congolese people. The primary beneficiaries are the FDLR terrorists who feast on insecurity.”
She further stated: “But unaccountable actors like Human Rights Watch also profit from this by raising millions of dollars through the dissemination of simplistic reports based on the same old unverified reports and lies.”
The Minister said Rwanda would not fall for all these provocations and so-called leaked reports designed to inflame tension and create conflict.
“Far from it. Rwanda and the DRC have been working even closer than before to resolve the situation in DRC.”
She said the Government of Rwanda has already warned Human Rights Watch and other non-state actors in the region against conduct that can result in human suffering, including more than one hundred women who have been raped by FDLR and other rebels who have taken advantage of the insecurity breach.
President Kagame has repeatedly denied supporting the M23, saying his government does not benefit from the chaos in Congo.
Uganda has also denied providing any assistance to the M23 mutineers.
The Great Lakes region on Saturday resolved to send a neutral international force to crush rebels in eastern Congo and maintain peace and stability there under the AU and UN mandate.