[JURIST] Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) troops committed numerous war crimes, including rape and murder, as they retreated from an advance by the 23 March Movement (M23) [JURIST news archive] rebels last November, according to a UN report [text, PDF] released Wednesday. The report claims [AFP report] Congolese military troops raped at least 97 women and 33 girls, some as young as 6, in villages and towns surrounding the besieged eastern city of Goma. M23 rebels had overtaken the city during a 10-day occupation, forcing Congolese troops into the outskirts of the city. Based on more than 350 interviews with witnesses and victims, the report claims that DRC troops retreated to Minova in South Kivu province where they were seen raping, looting and arbitrarily beating and executing villagers. Investigators claim that these attacks were carried out in a systematic manner and with extreme violence. The 391st battalion, a segment of the Congolese military that has been implicated in these wrongdoings, was trained by the US [Reuters report] in 2010. Following these claims the US Department of Defense said last month that, regardless of which unit is accused, these crimes were condemnable and potential grounds for withdrawal.
DRC and M23 forces have previously faced accusations of war crimes and human rights violations. In February Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that during the siege of Goma M23 forces summarily executed 24 individuals, 21 of which were civilians, and also raped at least 36 women, including 18 wives and a 10-year-old girl. In November the UN condemned M23 [JURIST report] for guerrilla attacks on the DRC and called for an immediate end to all support of the group. In June a leaked UN report [JURIST report] revealed that Rwanda had been helping to create and support M23 and similar rebel groups that have been known to violate human rights.