The United Nations envoy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has warned that fighting in the east of the country could spiral out of control, amid reports of grave human right abuses in the region’s restive provinces.
A recent flare-up of heavy fighting has revived decades-old animosities between the governments of DRC and neighbouring Rwanda, with the former blaming the latter for a resurgence of a fighter group called “M23”. Rwanda has denied backing the rebels.
“Should the M23 continue its well-coordinated attacks against FARDC and MONUSCO with increasing conventional capabilities, the Mission may find itself confronted by a threat that goes beyond its current capabilities,” UN envoy Bintou Keita told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, referring to Congolese and UN forces.
“Ongoing M23 and armed group activities in eastern DRC threaten to reverse hard-won progress in security and stability in Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region,” Keita said.
Keita asked the Security Council for its help in bringing peace to eastern DRC and said an upcoming African summit in Angola should be used by the DRC and Rwanda “to resolve their differences through dialogue”.
Several East African countries agreed earlier this month to form a regional force to deploy in eastern DRC to help end violence in the volatile region. Keita stressed the need for “coordination” with the UN stabilisation mission and clarification of roles and responsibilities regarding the protection of civilians during future operations.
Meanwhile, rights group Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (SOFEPADI) told Council that women were being subjected to severe human rights abuses by fighter groups.
Speaking at the session, SOFEPADI’s President Julienne Lusenge shared the story of a Congolese woman who was kidnapped twice by fighters, repeatedly raped and forced to cook and eat human flesh.
The first time, the woman was abducted by fighters from the armed group CODECO, whom she saw slit a man’s throat. “They pulled out his entrails and they asked me to cook them. They brought me two water containers to prepare the rest of the meal. They then fed all of the prisoners human flesh,” Lusenge told the council, recounting the woman’s story.
Lusenge said the woman was released after a few days, but while trying to return home she was kidnapped by another fighter group whom she did not identify and whose members also repeatedly raped her.
“Again I was asked to cook and eat human flesh,” said the woman, who eventually escaped, according to SOFEPADI.
CODECO is one of several armed groups that have long been fighting over land and resources in the DRC’s mineral-rich east, a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions over the past decade.
The Congolese army has been locked in heavy fighting since late May with the M23, one of the most notorious rebel groups, which is waging its most sustained offensive since a 2012-2013 attack that seized vast swathes of territory. This month, the group captured a key trading town in eastern DRC.
Keita warned the UN that M23 has increasingly acted as a conventional army during escalating military action in the east and could threaten the UN peacekeeping force charged with protecting civilians.
UN peacekeepers have been deployed in the DRC for more than 20 years.