Congo national army accused of systematic rape and pillaging

Saturday May 11 2013

By KEVIN KELLEY Special Correspondent

Soldiers and officers of the national army of the Democratic Republic of Congo have carried out “systematic” rapes as well as thefts of the country’s mineral wealth, according to two separate reports issued last week.

“High-ranking members of the Congolese army” profit from the smuggling of tonnes of gold from the eastern DRC, the London-based advocacy group Global Witness says on the basis of field investigations.

Members of Burundi’s army also benefit from the illegal trade, the group reports. Uganda plays a role as well, Global Witness says, adding that Rwanda likewise benefits from the smuggling of minerals out of the DRC.

“Up to 10 tonnes of gold is smuggled annually from DRC’s South Kivu province into Burundi,” the report states, noting that it is then laundered through Burundi’s domestic gold sector before being exported to Dubai. “Much of the gold produced in North Kivu and Ituri provinces transits through Uganda,” the report states.

Units of the Congolese army, known by its French acronym FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo), also extort payments from gold mine operators and workers, Global Witness says. Such “taxation rackets” are common throughout the Kivus, the report finds. It calls the extortion “evidence of the gaping disconnect between public commitments made by the Congolese authorities to demilitarise the mining sector, and what is happening in the mines.”

Rebel groups, especially the “notoriously abusive” Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in the eastern DRC, also engage in gold smuggling, Global Witness says.

And gold is not the only commodity that helps enrich FARDC officers and rebel leaders, the report indicates.

“Much of the tin, tantalum and tungsten produced in North and South Kivu benefits rebels and members of the [DRC] state army,” the report observes. “The minerals are smuggled out of Congo into Rwanda and Burundi for export. Tin and tantalum smuggled into Rwanda is laundered through the country’s domestic tagging system and exported as ‘clean’ Rwandan material.”

FARDC troops were also accused last week by United Nations investigators of raping at least 130 Congolese women and girls, some as young as six, during a rampage last November.

The sexual assaults committed by members of two FARDC battalions were “perpetrated in a systematic manner and with extreme violence,” the UN found, adding that these attacks may constitute international crimes under human-rights law.

One of the two battalions accused of rapes in the town of Minova was trained by the United States in 2010.

The recently appointed UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region meanwhile cautioned last week that a new UN-sponsored intervention brigade should conduct only limited attacks on rebel groups in the eastern DRC.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, told the Security Council that the brigade “should act mostly preventively, as a deterrent, with limited strategic military operations.

Many in the humanitarian community, and officials in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, expressed concerns about the need to manage the potential consequences of the military operations.”