KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Human rights groups said members of the M23 rebellion committed numerous war crimes while occupying a portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said the rebels freely looted homes, stores and offices, raped numerous women and girls and executed men they believed opposed their "liberation." Bekele called on the United Nations to urge a peacekeeping force deployed in the region since the November 2012 take-over of Goma, in eastern DRC, to help find those M23 rebels suspected of committing war crimes and hold them for prosecution.
Bekele also called on U.N. negotiators to make sure those responsible for such attacks don't wind up in positions of power once a final peace accord is reached.
Human Rights Watch also criticized international apathy for crimes committed in Africa, saying the lack of prosecution has led rebels to believe they are free to pillage without fear of international reprisals.
"The killings and rape by M23 and government forces around Goma were fueled by an environment in which horrific abuses are rarely punished," Bekele said. "The U.N. and others involved in talks should send a strong message to rebel leaders and Congolese army commanders that they will not be rewarded for their atrocities."
HRC has documented at least 24 summary executions by the M23, named for a fighting group that rose up following a peace accord reached March 23, 2012. It documented another 36 rapes of women and young girls.