The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC is “highly alarmed” about allegations of killings, forced recruitment and illegal detention of civilians by the March 23 Movement (M23) and has urged humanitarian access to areas controlled by the rebel group.
“The Mission condemns all serious human rights violations attributed to the M23 and reiterates its call to the M23 to fully respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” said Abdallah Wafy, Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC in charge of the rule of law.
The UN Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) “warns the M23 it will be held responsible for the fate of anyone it has abducted or forcibly recruited,” Wafy said.
The Mission said it had received credible reports indicating 10 people were forcefully recruited by the M23 combatants on July 22 at Kibumba in the territory of Nyiragongo, North-Kivu province.
“Three of the 10 victims were reportedly killed by the M23 combatants as they were attempting to escape,” the Mission reported.
MONUSCO also received “reliable allegations” that about 20 houses in Kiwanja, Rutshuru territory, were looted on July 24 by members of the M23.
“After the looting M23 members allegedly abducted at least40 men accused of participating in the looting and subsequent torching of huts and payment points used by M23 combatants,” the Mission said.
Over the past year, the M23, along with other armed groups, has clashed repeatedly with Congolese armed forces (FARDC) in the eastern DRC, with the rebels briefly occupying Goma, the region’s main city, in November 2012.
The fighting, which erupted again in recent days, this time dragging in a group of Ugandan-based rebels, has displaced more than 100 000 people, exacerbating an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region which includes 2.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and 6.4 million in need of food and emergency aid.
MONUSCO said since the new hostilities broke out in mid-July with the FARDC, the M23 has been preventing humanitarian access to some towns and areas devastated by the fighting, especially Mutaho.
“These actions by the rebel group come at a time when many displaced persons are in dire need of humanitarian assistance such as food, shelter, water, health care and sanitation,” the Mission reiterated.
The condemnation comes at a time when South African soldiers are in the DRC as part of the UN intervention brigade, the first UN peacekeeping force ever to be given an offensive mandate. It is charged with ensuring the safety of civilians in the country and will be allowed to use force against M23 and other rebel groups.
SA National Defence Force (SANDF) head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, has until now denied that South African soldiers have been involved in any skirmishes with either M23 or other rebel groups.
In its latest statement, MONUSCO also pointed out that Sultani Makenga and several senior members of the M23 have previously been involved in serious human rights violations, including widespread extra-judicial executions in Kiwanja during November 2008.