The M23 – DRC’s New Scapegoat for Torturing Innocents?

Goma —

The M23 has been accused of many human rights violations in North Kivu, including rape, abduction and murder. But some say the notorious rebel group in the DRC are not the only ones committing such atrocities. According to young men in the provincial capital of Goma, national police and FARDC soldiers are persecuting innocent people under an egregiously false premise – being allied with the M23.

“Three guys walked into my house. They produced their IDs and said they were from the police and that they came to arrest me because I have helped the M23,” says a young man who does not wish to be identified and who denies the alleged link.

The M23 was formed by ex-fighters from an ethnic Tutsi rebel group that was integrated into the Congolese military in a 2009 peace deal – one whose terms the mutineers claim were never fully implemented. The rebels have been accused of raping women and girls, abducting young men and boys to fight with them and carrying out summary executions. The group operates mainly in towns close to the Rwandan and Ugandan borders.

But Congolese civilians are also pointing fingers at two other forces – the national police and soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). Some people in Goma say they are tired of being accused – without any proof whatsoever – of collaborating with M23 rebels. They say that every day, based on such accusations, the police carry out arbitrary arrests, torture, assault and imprison innocents. They say the list of injustices goes on and on.

“It was torture”

Recalling his encounter with the police, the aforementioned young man says: “They took my phone, my wallet, my voter registration card and all the documents I had on my person. They dragged me over 50 metres and forced me into a car. They said they were from a special police division. I was forced to spend the night in a cell, in terrible conditions. And nobody from my home was informed. It was torture.”

That night, agents of the national police forced the man to pay them. He says they told him: “Look, we’ll help you. Tomorrow, the chief of prison will transfer you to the central prison in Goma. So, just accept everything we tell you to put in the police statement. And then you go find us some money and we will set you free.”

After fetching 150 dollars for them, he was set free. “But they did warn me not to go to other police authorities to file a complaint against them,” he adds.

“Accused me of wanting to steal”

Another victim of such brutalities is a rickshaw driver at Goma airport, who says he was beaten up by members of the FARDC.

“I was waiting for clients when suddenly four soldiers came and started to rough-handle me,” he recalls. “They accused me of wanting to steal the airport plans for the M23 rebels, which is a big lie. They took me to their tent and started to beat me up, all over my body. They used whatever they could get their hands on – their belts, cords, anything.”

Although the rickshaw driver had no money on him, his aggressors let him go, eventually. “But they warned me not to mention to anyone what had happened,” he says, still seemingly shaken by the whole experience. “I was scared their commander wouldn’t believe me, if I would tell him my story. So, I decided to go back home. My family didn’t understand anything. All they could do was to take care of my wounds.” The driver had to wait a whole month to be fit enough to start working again.

New policies

North Kivu’s provincial police say they have not been made aware of these incidents. Police spokesman Colonel Jean Marie Malosa says he encourages victims to speak up and file complaints against unruly officers so they can be punished accordingly.

To build on a new, more cooperative relationship with civilians, police claim they have come up with new rules that will take effect imminently. “If we receive a number of complaints from the public, we will reach out a helping hand,” says Malosa. “We have even considered placing suggestion boxes in various neighbourhoods and at the offices of large organizations. If people are afraid to approach us, they can simply tip us off by using these boxes. We will work closely with the district chiefs and obtain information from them.”

If such police policies go into effect, Goma’s victims will have a chance to break their silence on those violations of human rights committed by security forces. But the fact remains that not a single police officer or soldier involved in such atrocities has yet been questioned, let alone arrested.



Source: Gaïus Kowene, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, 26 September 2012

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