M23 Rebels Continue Attacks On Congolese Civilans

Starting from mid-June 2022, the U.N. has reported 29 people killed in Goma in the Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (D.R.C.) by the M23 rebel group. Since the Congo Crisis began, countless civilians have died unjustifiably, even after the Luanda Summit was held to bring peace. Many Congolese blame the Rwandan government for supporting rebels: however, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his government have categorically denied any involvement in instability in the D.R.C., despite reports of sightings of members of Rwandan Defence Force personnel in the D.R.C.’s territory.

In the eastern part of country, villagers have suffered years of depredations ranging from deaths to destruction of property. Nearly 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, and the U.N. estimates nearly 20,000 children may be unable to complete their end-of-year exams in July. Since last year, the security situation in Eastern Congo has been deteriorating. There have been claims of unlawful killings and unjustifiable violence committed by both armed rebel groups and government soldiers.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on 21 June 2022, following fighting around the village of Ruvumu, M23 rebels summarily killed at least 17 civilians. The dead included two teenagers. These young people were accused of informing the Congolese army about rebel positions and hideouts, and some appear to have been shot dead as they attempted to flee while others were executed at close range.

Human Rights Watch has published a report detailing accounts from survivors, witnesses, local authorities, activists, U.N. staff, security personnel, and diplomats since June, which seems to confirm that all combatants have made use of explosive weapons indiscriminately in populated areas. There are widespread reports of shelling of playgrounds, schools, and villages.

On 17 July 2022, the M23 rebel group denied any responsibility for the killings. M23 blames the Forces Démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR), a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group operating in the D.R.C., and the Nyatura, an armed Congolese group which aims to protect Hutu communities.

Continued diplomatic pressure must be applied to the governments of both Rwanda and the D.R.C. in an attempt to find a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has caused so much suffering. The U.N., the A.U. and other influential international bodies must step up their attempts to broker a solution to the conflict, that brings peace to the D.R.C., and equally importantly, punishes those responsible. Deliberate killings of civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law: they are  war crimes, and perpetrators must be prosecuted. Indeed, the historic failure to prosecute the perpetrators of human rights abuses in the D.R.C. has arguably emboldened those responsible, and contributed to the grave situation in the eastern part of the country today.

Sarah Namondo