The UN has accused government troops and M23 rebels of raping and killing civilians and looting towns during battles in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last month.
The United Nations said on Friday that UN investigators had confirmed that M23 rebels and government troops had committed serious abuses in their battle for control of mineral-rich North Kivu province and its capital Goma.
The investigations indicate that Congolese army soldiers committed rapes, looting and other human rights violations after they retreated from Goma following its capture by M23 rebels.
The UN mission could not confirm reports that 72 rapes were committed in the Minova area, about 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of Goma, but its initial investigation found that several violations, including rape and looting, were committed by Congolese army elements, UN deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey said.
“Preliminary investigations by MONUSCO indicate that several human rights violations, including rape and looting, were committed by FARDC (Congolese army) elements (in Minova),” del Buey told reporters in New York.
“MONUSCO cannot confirm the reported figure of 72 rapes but is on the ground conducting further investigations,” he said.
The UN also accused M23 rebels of killing civilians and looting when they took Goma last month.
“MONUSCO is also able to confirm several serious human rights violations, including the killing and wounding of civilians as well as looting, committed by the M23 in Goma.” The UN spokesman said.
However, criticism over the conflict has also been levied on the UN.
Yoweri Museveni, Ugandan president and key broker in the crisis, said at a summit on Saturday that the inability of UN peacekeeping forces to prevent the conflict was shameful.
“It is a very big shame,” Museveni said of MONUSCO, during a summit of the southern African bloc SADC in the Tanzanian economic capital Dar es Salaam. “It is some sort of military tourism.”
Congolese troops, aided by a UN peacekeeping mission known as MONUSCO, have been battling the M23 rebels – who UN experts and Congo say are backed by neighbouring Rwanda – for the past eight months in the resource-rich east of the country.
Kinshasa regained control of Goma on Monday after M23 rebels withdrew as a UN Security Council group of experts presented new evidence alleging the M23 had received “direct support” from the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) to capture the city on Nov 20.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous, who briefed the Security Council on Friday on the UN mission in Congo, said
peacekeepers were regularly patrolling camps housing Congolese displaced by the fighting to prevent further rights violations.
He also said he discussed with the 15-member council some options for altering or boosting the UN mission to cope with the eastern rebellion.
MONUSCO has more than 17,000 troops, but is stretched thin across a nation the size of Western Europe and struggles to fulfil its mandate of protecting civilians.
Ladsous said options included additional “force enablers” – such as helicopters and drones – support for the Joint
Verification Mechanism, a regional body created to investigate incidents between Congo and Rwanda, or the creation of an international neutral force to fight the rebels, which has been proposed by countries in the Great Lakes region.
A group of experts has reported to the UN Security Council that Rwandan troops are reinforcing M23 operations and supplying weapons and ammunition, while Rwandan Defence Minister James Kabarebe has been commanding the entire rebellion from Kigali.