The UN-backed Rwanda-Congolese operation launched last January against rebel groups in eastern Congo has been criticized as a “humanitarian disaster” by rights groups. The FDLR, a Rwandan Hutu militia group, and FARDC, the Congolese Armed Forces, have both engaged in widespread atrocities. Since January, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, 7,000 women and girls have been subjected to rape and extreme sexual violence, and nearly 900,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.
Satellite imagery collected by the American Association for the Advancement of Science shows extensive destruction of homes and villages occurring as recently as September. Since the launch of the offensive, over 6,000 homes have been burned down in the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu. The Congo Advocacy Coalition calculates that for every rebel combatant disarmed, one civilian has been killed, seven women and girls have been raped, six houses burned and destroyed, and 900 people have been force to flee their homes. According to UN statistics, only 1,071 FDLR rebels — out of a force as large as 6,000 to 7,000 combatants — have surrendered since January. Many reports indicate that the FDLR has recruited continuously to maintain its numbers.
The Great Lakes Contact Group meets this week in Washington, DC to discuss the situation in eastern Congo and the wider region. Rights groups are calling on diplomats and UN officials attending the meeting to increase protection for civilians and prosecute those responsible for serious human rights abuses, in addition to disarming the FDLR.