The United Nations and United States placed Sultani Makenga under sanctions

The United Nations and United States have ordered sanctions against the head of a rebel group accused of atrocities as it seized territory in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UN on Tuesday ordered a travel ban and assets freeze against Sultani Makenga, head of the M23 rebels who have been accused of killing and raping civilians as they carve out a mini-state in the mineral-rich east of the African country.

The US government ordered the seizure of any Makenga assets in the United States and banned Americans from dealing with the 38-year-old former DR Congo army colonel. Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations, accused Makenga of “heinous atrocities”.

UN experts have accused both neighbouring governments of aiding the rebels.

Makenga is behind “killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction, and forced displacement”, said a statement by the UN sanctions committee for DR Congo.

“Under the command of Sultani Makenga, M23 has carried out extensive atrocities against the civilian population,” including the rapes of women and children aged as young as eight, the statement added.

“New US and UN sanctions on Sultani Makenga show the world will not stand for heinous atrocities committed on his orders by the M23,” Rice said on Twitter.

“These new sanctions send an important message to other perpetrators of atrocities in DRC: accountability,” she added.

“Makenga is responsible for extensive atrocities against the population in the DRC, including the recruitment of child soldiers, and campaigns of violence against civilians,” said Adam Szubin, director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, in a statement.

Treasury’s designation of Makenga was taken under authority provided by an executive order (pdf) targeting people contributing to the conflict in the Congo.

The group Makenga leads, known as M23, operates in the eastern part of the country, and is made up of rebels from the armed forces, Treasury said. Under Makenga’s leadership, the group has since its formation been responsible for carrying out atrocities against civilians, Treasury said.

Treasury’s statement cited a press release from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which said the leaders of M23 “figure amongst the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the [country], or in the world for that matter.”

The UN statement said M23 has received arms and other material “in violation of measures taken by the DRC to implement the arms embargo” against the country.

The statement did not say where the arms had come from. Rwanda and Uganda have strongly denied any link to M23 and have condemned a report by UN experts which alleged their backing of the rebels.