Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the Democratic Republic of Congo to bring suspected war criminals to justice ahead of November's general election in the war-ravaged African country.
"Even if the elections go well, Congo will not be a paradise afterwards," Anneke van Woudenberg, a senior researcher for HRW, told a conference on DR Congo held at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
"But if we start to make arrests, it would tear away the culture of impunity in Congo, and a good place to start would be with the arrest of General Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes committed in the east of the country," she said.
The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, said two years ago that it wanted to try Ntaganda for alleged offences in DR Congo's northeastern Ituri region, particularly enlisting child soldiers in 2002-2003, but the Kinshasa government refused to arrest him.
More than five million people have died in the brutal wars that devastated DR Congo for years, which were supposed to have ended with the signing of a peace treaty in late 2002 between the government in Kinshasa and rebel groups.
But lawlessness and unrest continued after the peace deal, especially in the east of the country, where extreme violence against women earned the region the title of "rape capital of the world."
Opening the conference, Cindy McCain -- the wife of 2008 Republican candidate for the White House John McCain -- said that two out of three women in eastern DR Congo have been raped.
McCain is an investor in the Eastern Congo Initiative, a US-based advocacy group founded by actor/director Ben Affleck.
"A fundamental problem that needs to be addressed is rule of law. Congo is still run by rule of the gun, not rule of law," HRW's Van Woudenberg said.
About 32 million people are registered to vote in DR Congo's presidential and legislative elections in November, only the second free elections in the country since those held on independence from Belgium in 1960.