Congolese civilians fleeing after fighting between the Congolese army and rebels in North Kivu, May 2012
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The Democratic Republic of Congo government and United Nations peacekeepers should “urgently act to arrest the rebel leader Sylvestre Mudacumura and transfer him to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague”, says Human Rights Watch. It said forces under Mudacumura’s command continue to be implicated in serious abuses against civilians in eastern DRC.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched the appeal in a statement published Monday in Goma, provincial capital of North Kivu in eastern DRC, where HRW said forces of the Rwandan Hutu rebel leader Mudacumura are continuing to rape and kill.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Mudacumura, military commander of the FDLR rebel group (Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda, FDLR) on July 13, 2012, accusing him of nine counts of war crimes committed in North and South Kivu provinces of the DRC.

Crimes listed in the ICC arrest warrant include attacks on civilians, murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, rape, torture, destruction of property, pillage, and outrages against personal dignity. 

“FDLR fighters under Mudacumura’s command have been responsible for some of eastern Congo’s worst atrocities, yet there has been little effort to arrest him,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “With Mudacumura at large, FDLR fighters have been committing horrific attacks against a long-suffering population.”

Human Rights Watch said its research found that “FDLR fighters have killed at least 94 civilians, raped dozens of women and girls, forcibly recruited children into their ranks, kidnapped people for ransom, and destroyed countless homes since 2012 when the ICC arrest warrant was issued”. It also said it has heard allegations of many more war crimes by FDLR fighters during this period.


Decapitated bodies

HRW says that people who have tried to expose and denounce FDLR crimes have been killed, tortured or threatened.  

It cites the example of a school director and his teenage son, killed on January 12, 2015 in Ruhanga, Masisi territory. HRW says FDLR fighters accused them of having given information about the FDLR to government officials. Their bodies were later found decapitated, with their heads on sticks.

The FDLR is a largely Rwandan Hutu rebel group based in eastern DRC, some of whose leaders participated in the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. UN experts estimate the group to have around 1,400 active fighters in 2015, compared with 6,000 in 2008.

Relations between Kinshasa and Rwandan rebels in the east of the country have fluctuated in the last 20 years.

The UN Group of Experts on the DRC has reported extensive cooperation at times between Congolese army officers and their FDLR counterparts, some of which has reportedly continued in recent months. Congolese army officers have also shared in the spoils of the lucrative mineral and charcoal trades in which the armed group is involved, UN experts say.

HRW said the Congolese government should “send a strong message to its military and civilian officials that any collaboration with the FDLR is strictly prohibited and that those involved will face disciplinary action or prosecution”.

“The Congolese government and UN peacekeepers should make Mudacumura’s arrest a top priority,” Human Rights Watch said. According to HRW, he is hiding in the remote border region between the Walikale and Lubero territories of North Kivu.

In April 2013, the US government announced a monetary reward of up to US$5 million for information leading to Mudacumura’s arrest.