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Congo (Kinshasa): U.S.-Trained Battalion Implicated in Rapes

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 23, 2013 (130523)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"A Congolese army battalion that received its formative training from the U.S. military went on to commit mass rapes and other atrocities last year, a U.N. investigation has found. Members of the 391st Commando Battalion, a unit created in 2010 with extensive support from the U.S. government, joined with other Congolese soldiers to rape 97 women and 33 girls as they fled a rebel advance in eastern Congo in November, according to the United Nations. U.S. Special Operations forces had spent eight months training the 750-member battalion in a bid to professionalize Congo's ragtag military, which has a long history of rights abuses, including raping and killing civilians." - Washington Post, May 13, 2013

Sexual violence by military forces against civilians or within their own ranks is a phenomenon which has plagued armies throughout history and around the world. There is increasing national and international attention to these abuses, with new revelations often featured in the media. Governments have responded by introducing a wide range of training programs, as part of what is now often labeled "security sector reform." But as illustrated by this new UN report from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, trainings on the responsibility to curb sexual violence are unlikely to have much effect on their own. Far more significant is whether the conditions soldiers are put into are changed, whether military and societal values are genuinely transformed, and, most significantly, if there is effective discipline and sanctions against such behavior.

The recent UN report, citing violence by both rebel M23 combatants and the Congolese army, is only unusual in its direct linkage to an elite battalion recently trained by the U.S. military, including training specifically intended to combat such abuses.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a UN news release on the report, excerpts from an article in the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, and excerpts from the full UN report.

See for full article quoted above:
"U.S.-trained Congolese troops committed rapes and other atrocities, U.N. says" by Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, May 13, 2013

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

UN report confirms nearly 200 women and girls raped by Congolese troops, rebels

8 May 2013 - Congolese armed forces, known by the French acronym FARDC, raped more than 102 women and 33 girls, some as young as six years old, as they fled the advance M23 rebels in country's restive eastern region in November 2012, according to a joint UN report released today.

The report, which details victim and eyewitness accounts of mass rape, killings, arbitrary executions and other gross violations of human rights, was authored by the UN Joint Human Rights Office comprised of the UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.

While the report also cites M23 rebels for committing atrocities, it notes that the serious rights violations committed by FARDC soldiers, in particular, were "perpetrated in a systematic manner and with extreme violence" and may constitute international crimes under human rights law, as well as crimes under Congolese criminal law.

"Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement, calling the sexual violence outlined in the report "horrifying" in scale and systematic nature.

The joint investigation attributes poor discipline among soldiers and officers, as well as improper training and inadequate vetting mechanisms for what happened.

The investigation also expresses serous concern about the failure of the Congolese army to protect civilians, which it says stems from a lack of vetting procedures which allowed former rebels to integrate into the national army without verification of the human rights records.

Most of the cases documented happened on 22 and 23 November 2012 in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu and followed a similar modus operandi: "FARDC soldiers entered houses, usually in groups of three to six, and, after threatening the inhabitants, looted whatever they could find. One or two of the soldiers would leave with the looted goods and at least one would stand guard as the remaining FARDC soldiers raped women and girls in the house."

"Victims were threatened with death if they shouted; some were raped at gunpoint. Most victims were raped by more than one soldier. Almost all cases of rape documented by the UNJHRO were accompanied by death threats and additional acts of physical violence," the report continued.

During the period of their occupation of the towns of Goma and Sake in North Kivu, M23 combatants also perpetrated serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations, according to the report. The UN investigation documented at least 59 cases of sexual violence, 11 arbitrary executions, recruitment of children, forced labour, cruel inhuman and degrading treatment and looting by M23 combatants.

Noting that the DRC authorities have made efforts to investigate the violations, Ms. Pillay urged DRC authorities do more to ensure justice for the victims and re-establish the confidence of the civilian population in the Congolese justice system.

Authorities suspended for further investigation the commanding officers of two of the battalions implicated in the rapes after MONUSCO sent a letter to FARDC's chief of staff requesting the formal suspension of support to these units.

Since then, the Government said it had launched investigations and recorded some 400 testimonies from victims, witnesses and suspects. It added that several arrests had been made as an interim internal disciplinary measure, and a number of officers allegedly involved in these acts had been suspended and put at the disposal of the Military Prosecutor for the purposes of the investigation.

Among these officers are the commanding officers and deputy commanding officers of the two main battalions suspected of committing these acts, as well as officers of eight other units.

The head of MONUSCO and the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in the DRC, Roger Meece welcomed the measures taken by the authorities and affirmed UN's continued support for an independent, credible judicial investigation and the Congolese armed forces.

Mr. Meece added that future efforts to reform the security sector must include a systematic verification of the human rights records of combatants and their commanders in order for the Congolese army to fully ensure the protection of civilians.

On 30 March, Special Representative of the SecretaryGeneral on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, signed an agreement with Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo Mapon to prevent sexual violence.

The Joint Communiqué lists commitments made by the Government, including fighting impunity for crimes of sexual violence, accelerating security sector reform efforts, creating vetting mechanisms when integrating former combatants into the national army, ensuring a better control of mineral resources, and greater support for services to survivors.

"US-trained Congolese battalion among units accused of rape"

by John Vandiver, Stars and Stripes, May 10, 2013

Brief excerpts from article (available at

In 2010, AFRICOM deployed special operations forces to Congo to train a battalion of troops that was to function as a rapid reaction force, capable of responding quickly to a crisis in the volatile nation that's been referred to as the rape capital of the world. AFRICOM and U.S. contractors continued that training mission into 2011.

Initially, the Congolese battalion was deployed to take part in efforts to counter the rebel Lord's Resistance Army efforts, but in 2012 the troops were diverted as part of an effort to confront the rebel group M23, which had seized territory in the country's east.

For their part, AFRICOM and other U.S. officials went into their 2010-2011 training mission knowing about the checkered past of the Congolese soldiers they were training. About 70 percent of the 750-strong battalion was affected by sexual violence, either as victims, witnesses or perpetrators, according to a U.S. trainer involved in efforts to re-educate the battalion.


As part of the training effort, a sexual violence prevention program was created by a team of U.S. trainers that included AFRICOM experts.

The program encouraged solders to discuss their experiences with rape, whether as victims or perpetrators, and the painful ramifications those actions have on communities. The reasons for taking part in such terrible violence ranged from following orders to being numbed by years of unrelenting war, according to a U.S. trainer.

"Some of them said, in war you cease to be human," said Emmanuel Muhozi, a trainer at the time. And in Congo, "there's nothing in the society to discourage this kind of behavior. It's hard to change the core of a society, but I think more can be done here."

The U.S. spent $15 million to build the battalion, just one piece of a multi-million dollar security sector reform effort in the country.

Excerpts from full UN report

Available at:


In April 2012, a mutiny of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu, initiated by General Bosco Ntaganda, led to the creation of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebellion. After occupying part of Rutshuru territory from July 2012, the M23 rebellion seized the towns of Goma and Sake on 20 and 22 November 2012 respectively, while troops from the FARDC retreated towards Minova, South Kivu province. In partial compliance with the communiqué issued on 24 November 2012 by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), M23 combatants began to withdraw from Goma and Sake on 1 December 2012.

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 FARDC soldiers during combat and retreat, and by combatants of the M23 during combat and the period of occupation of Goma and Sake between 15 November and 2 December 2012. The findings of this report are the result of increased monitoring activities and of several field investigations conducted by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) during which more than 350 interviews were conducted with victims and witnesses.

The violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by FARDC soldiers in particular were perpetrated in a systematic manner and with extreme violence, mostly as FARDC units retreated from the front lines and regrouped in and around the town of Minova, Kalehe territory, South Kivu province. In this context, at least 102 women and 33 girls were victims of rape or other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by FARDC soldiers. FARDC soldiers 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.

During the period of occupation of Goma and Sake by the M23, combatants of this armed group perpetrated gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law. The UNJHRO documented at least 59 cases of sexual violence, of which 58 were cases of rape by M23 combatants in Goma and surrounding areas. At least 11 civilians were arbitrarily executed and at least a further two were victims of attempted arbitrary execution by the M23. The UNJHRO also documented cases of recruitment and use of children, forced labour, cruel inhuman or degrading treatment, and looting by M23 forces during the same period. MONUSCO continues to support the judicial investigation by the Military Prosecutors in South Kivu and North Kivu provinces into the allegations of sexual violence, arbitrary executions, rights to property violations and other human rights violations by FARDC soldiers. In December 2012, 11 FARDC soldiers were arrested in connection with these incidents, including two for murder, but only two for related cases of rape. Furthermore, 12 senior army officers have been suspended to date in relation to the investigations into the incidents in Minova. The recommendations made in this report are aimed at ending the violence, and bringing the alleged perpetrators from all sides to justice.


I. Introduction

1. On 15 November 2012, renewed fighting broke out between combatants of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) armed group and soldiers of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) to the north of the town of Goma, North Kivu province. After five days of combat, M23 rebels seized and occupied the town of Goma on 20 November 2012, advancing to the town of Sake, Masisi territory, on 22 November 2012. FARDC soldiers meanwhile retreated towards Minova, Kalehe territory, South Kivu province, where they regrouped. On 1 December 2012, following the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) communiqué of 24 November 2012, M23 rebels began to withdraw from Goma, a process which continued the following day.

2. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO)1 received several allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including sexual violence, arbitrary executions and violations resulting from widespread looting, reportedly committed by both FARDC soldiers during combat and retreat, and by combatants of the M23 during combat and the period of occupation of Goma and Sake. Once informed of such allegations, the UNJHRO increased its monitoring and investigation activities in and around Goma. The present report focuses on the human rights violations that occurred between 15 November and 2 December 2012 during the fall of Goma and Sake, North Kivu, and the retreat of FARDC towards Minova, South Kivu.

3. The information contained in this report only reflects the cases confirmed by the UNJHRO in the context of the constraints outlined below. Thus, this report does not intend to present a comprehensive examination of the human rights situation in all areas affected by the conflict between the M23 and the FARDC during the period from 15 November to 2 December 2012.


III. Context of the combat and of actors present in the area

8. For years, the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu have experienced cycles of violence and armed conflict centred on the huge mineral wealth and fertile land of this part of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Weak state institutions, including the national army, police and justice institutions; persistent impunity; and the interference of external actors3 have undermined efforts to restore security in that region. The security situation in North Kivu and South Kivu provinces has deteriorated since April 2012, concomitant with the emergence of new armed groups, including the M23, and the resurgence of activities of older ones such as the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), and the Raia Mutomboki.

9. The M23 was formed on 6 May 2012, when former rebels from the Congrés national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP), led by General Bosco Ntaganda, mutinied from the national army which they had integrated in 2009. The group's founders cited the supposed failure of the agreements of 23 March 2009 according to which some elements of the CNDP integrating into the national army were to be given key military positions. M23 leaders consider that these engagements were not respected referring to unpaid wages and poor living conditions of integrated soldiers and alleging the killing of former CNDP soldiers in Dungu, Oriental Province. Tensions also arose as, during the period of integration, the government attempted to deploy former CNDP officers outside of the provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu and dismantle parallel chains of command - residual of the CNDP hierarchy - within the army.

10. A number of senior officers in the M23 are allegedly responsible for gross human rights violations, going back, in many cases, for years. For example, Bosco Ntaganda, a senior M23 commander indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), including for the enlistment, conscription and use of children while commander of the Forces patriotiques pour la libération du Congo (FPLC) rebel group in Ituri district, Orientale province, in 2002 and 2003, handed himself over to the United States Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda, on 18 March 2013, where he requested a transfer to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sultani Makenga, another senior M23 commander, has been implicated in the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and is believed to be responsible for the Kiwanja massacre of 4-5 November 2008, when CNDP troops executed at least 67 civilians (mainly young men) in Kiwanja, North Kivu.

11. The FARDC also has a poor human rights record and its soldiers have for years been responsible for many gross human rights violations. Poor discipline of soldiers and officers alike stems in part from the repeated integration of former rebels into the national army without formal training, or vetting mechanisms to ensure accountability. The FARDC lacks basic equipment and logistics, soldiers are poorly and irregularly paid, while allegations of corruption, particularly among senior officers, are rampant.

12. Combat between the mutineers and FARDC began in April 2012 in Masisi territory and, on 6 July 2012, the M23 seized the town of Bunagana, Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province. Two weeks later, the M23 took the towns of Rutshuru and Kiwanja, Rutshuru territory, some 70 km from Goma. After a lull, fighting broke out again on 15 November 2012 in areas to the north of Goma. Following five days of combat, the M23 seized the city of Goma on 20 November 2012, and the town of Sake on 22 November 2012.

13. The FARDC units which were engaged in fighting with the M23 in Kibumba and Munigi, north of Goma, from 15 November 2012 were the 804 and 810 regiments and 391 and 41 battalions from the 8th Military Region (North Kivu) and the 10062 Battalion from the 10th Military Region (South Kivu) which was sent as reinforcement. These units retreated to Sake on 18 November 2012. Soldiers of the 802 regiment and the Republican Guard were deployed to defend Goma airport and held their positions until 19 November 2012. At the same time, the 41 and 391 battalions under the operational command of the 8th Military Region were sent to Minova, in South Kivu province, in order to establish control in case the M23 attacked from Masisi territory. On 20 November 2012, soldiers of FARDC 802 and 804 regiments were engaged in fighting in the western Ndosho area of Goma. Following the fall of Sake to the M23 on 22 November 2012, about 6,000 to 8,000 FARDC soldiers, with dependents, retreated towards Bweremana, Masisi territory, North Kivu province, and Minova, South Kivu province, where the operational centre of the 8th Military Region was subsequently installed. FARDC units - 41 battalion, 391 battalion and 802 regiment - returned to Sake on 1 December 2012. By mid-December 2012, most units of the 8th Military Region had left Minova and surrounding villages.


VI. Measures taken by Congolese authorities

35. On 25 November 2012, following reports of mass rapes in and around Minova, Kalehe territory, South Kivu province, the Head of the Congolese Land Forces, General François Olenga, visited Minova where he met with senior FARDC officers and called for the army to respect its code of good conduct and human dignity.

36. On 7 December 2012, the Senior Military Prosecutor's office of South Kivu deployed a military prosecutor to Minova. Eleven FARDC soldiers have been arrested to date and are awaiting trial, although only two have been arrested on charges of rape and two on charges of murder. A Joint Investigation Team, comprised of military magistrates from both North Kivu and South Kivu, MONUSCO and NGO staff, travelled to Minova and surrounding villages from 6 to 13 February 2013. On that occasion, military investigators took testimony from several hundred victims, including a large number of victims of sexual violence. In order to ensure that the alleged perpetrators are handed over to the judicial authorities, military prosecutors are closely liaising with the provincial FARDC authorities.

37. At the end of March 2013, 10 senior officers were suspended in relation to the Minova incidents pending investigations. The individuals, all FARDC unit commanders, including the commanders of the 41 and 391 battalions, were to be put at the disposal of military justice authorities. The deputy commanders of the 41 and 391 battalions were subsequently suspended, thus bringing the total number of suspensions of senior officers to 12.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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