Democratic Republic of Congo: Alleged torture by UN peacekeepers must be investigated

It is alleged that earlier this month Uruguayan MONUC troops arrested Mr Willy Bengwela, a member of Congo's national intelligence service and security adviser to the local government in the eastern state of Ituri, and took him to their camp. He was allegedly then stripped naked, tied hand and foot, beaten, had cigarette burns inflicted on his lips and neck, and was made to sleep on a cold floor for three days.

Mr Bengwela was set free once he agreed to sign a declaration stating that he had not been ill-treated while in detention. No reason was ever given for the arrest. Two of Mr Bengwela's colleagues were also arrested and reportedly suffered similar treatment.

Amnesty International said:

'MONUC, and especially the responsible officials of the MONUC Ituri Brigade, must fully investigate this seemingly isolated incident of torture by soldiers operating under its mandate and ensure that the findings are made public and the perpetrators brought to justice.'

These incidents followed a call for MONUC assistance from the wife of a man who had been threatened by a group of people affiliated to the Hema ethnic group came in Bankonko, Bunia. When MONUC failed to respond a group of local residents, identified as members of the Lendu ethnic group, came to the rescue of the man and his wife and a fight followed which left one Hema person dead. Mr Bengwela was on official duty at the scene investigating these events when he was arrested by the lately arrived MONUC soldiers.

Amnesty International believes that inadequate human rights training and an insufficient number of French-speaking liaison and humanitarian affairs officers are seriously hampering the ability of MONUC to effectively protect human rights and maintain security in the east of the country, particularly in Ituri, following the withdrawal of the French-led Interim Emergency Multinational Force (IEMF) from Bunia on 6 September.

The allegations against the MONUC soldiers come in the wake of an announcement by a UN spokesperson in New York confirming that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has launched an investigation into the reported theft of sacred objects from a church in Bunia by seven Uruguayan soldiers last week.

Amnesty International continued:

'These events raise further questions about the training received and the level of understanding of the local context that troops have when sent to operate in tense and potentially volatile situations such as eastern Congo.'

Despite the recent progress made on the issue of troop deployment in Ituri Amnesty international remains very concerned that the IEMF's contingent withdrew while MONUC forces had not yet been fully deployed, despite sharp increase in tensions in the region that have already led to loss of life in Bunia.

On Monday 9 September Amnesty launched a report on child soldiers in the DRC in which it called on MONUC to fully implement its reinforced mandate under Chapter VII and decisively intervenes to protect Children's rights and civilians in general. For more information visit, www.amnesty.org.

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