UN report issued on Congo human rights violations

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UNITED NATIONS -- Congolese government soldiers and a rebel group known as M23 committed gross violations of human rights -- including murder, rape and forcing children to be combatants -- during clashes in November and December, according to a UN report.

The 17-page report released Wednesday by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office documents crimes committed against civilians and combatants on both sides from Nov. 15 to Dec. 2, adding that some of the violations may amount to international crimes under human rights law.

"The present report outlines gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including killings and arbitrary executions, mass rape, and violations resulting from widespread looting, committed by . . . [Congolese] soldiers during combat and retreat, and by combatants of the . . . [March 23 Movement] during combat and the period of occupation of Goma and Sake," read the report.

It said further that: "The violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by . . . [Congolese] soldiers in particular were perpetrated in a systematic manner and with extreme violence."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement: "Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted."

As many as 11 Congolese soldiers were arrested in connection with these crimes, two for murder and two for rape; 12 senior army officers were suspended.

Congo in 2010 was dubbed by a UN official as the "rape capital of the world" because combatants so often engage in sexual violence as a weapon of war. Most of the cases occurred Nov. 22 and 23 in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu, Congo's eastern region.

The report comes two days after Mary Robinson, the UN's envoy for Africa's Great Lakes Region, visited several countries in the area and reported to the UN Security Council that she's encouraged by the prospect of peace in the war-torn region.

"I believe we do meet at a moment of renewed opportunity," she said, according to a UN report of her closed-door briefing for Security Council members this week.

Robinson has been assigned to monitor the implementation of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region, a comprehensive framework reached in February designed to end the cycles of violence in the Great Lakes region. The area erupted in April 1994 when nearly 1 million people were killed in Rwanda in a 3-month period when Hutus attacked Tutsis and sympathizers.

Recently, Congolese soldiers raped more than 102 women and 33 girls, said the report, the product of 350 interviews.

They were also "responsible for the arbitrary execution of at least two people, violations of the right to physical integrity of at least 24 civilians, cases of forced labour and the widespread looting of villages."

The report said the rebel group was responsible for "at least 59 cases of sexual violence, of which 58 were cases of rape by M23 combatants. . . . At least 11 civilians were arbitrarily executed and at least a further two were victims of attempted arbitrary execution by the M23."

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