The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR) are living under the threat of death at the hands of a rebel group known as the M23. This group has been credited with 29 murders of innocent civilians, two of whom were teens, since June. The M23 has taken control of certain parts of the DCR, which has led to a constant aura of fear in the state, and a worsening situation for the UN-backed Congo government and army.
So far, the government has been unable to protect its citizens by bringing the commanders and soldiers of the M23 to a halt, or to justice; meaning their actions have gone largely unpunished. If, as some believe, Rwanda and Uganda are backing the M23 in hopes of advancing their own goals in the state, this would create fear for the UN and the government of the DCR that war may be on the horizon, which in turn will put the lives of more innocent civilians in all involved states at risk, as war is just as unpredictable as it is deadly.
On the M23 situation, Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher for the Human Rights Watch has reported that “since M23 took control of several towns and villages in June, they’ve committed the same kind of horrific abuses against civilians that we’ve documented in the past.” He goes on to call out the DCR leadership by saying, “the government’s failure to hold M23 commanders accountable for war crimes committed years ago is enabling them and their recruits to commit abuses today.” His comments emphasize that the government must shoulder responsibility for failing to stop the resurgence of the M23 and that they must take steps to ensure that their people are safe in the future.
The M23 has come to prominence in the DCR because of the destabilised political situation in the state; many other armed groups have tried, or are trying, to seize power away from the government. This political turmoil has created a state where people are constantly living in fear of being a victim of murder, rape, or other horrific and unlawful abuses at the hands of these groups. Furthermore, the fact that Rwanda and Uganda are thought to be backing the M23 means that the possibility of war in the region is on the table. These states have backed the M23 in the past.
Unfortunately, the M23 is not unlike other groups in the past, but this does not mean nothing can be done. Perhaps the best solution for helping the people of the DCR is for other states or international organizations to send diplomats and state builders rather than peacekeepers or soldiers. This could help because if the DCR is given the tools to create a lawful state which has a system of laws that allow the government to be respected, then perhaps the constant uprising of these rebel militias which terrorize civilians will stop. A diplomatic intervention in the region through the African Union or even the UN may help to facilitate peace talks between the three states and thus lead to the proper punishment of the M23 in a peaceful way.
The situation is on a knife’s edge because the DCR and the UN must protect the innocent people of the state from the crimes of the M23, without responding in a way that would antagonize Rwanda and Uganda to escalate the conflict into war. However, the DCR government must above all, protect their citizens from the human rights atrocities that the M23, and groups alike have been terrorizing their citizens with. The people have the right to be protected by the state, and know they can walk the street, go to school, or live their lives without fear of being killed by a rogue, ungoverned militia group.