Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a damning report, alleging that the M23 militia has been involved in murder, rape, and other war crimes in the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). The report, published on Tuesday, June 13, 2023 documents eight unlawful killings and 14 cases of rape committed by M23 fighters.
Last year, the United Nations accused the group of executing at least 131 individuals in November as a reprisal for clashes between M23 and rival armed groups. The UN’s human rights office later revealed that 171 civilians were executed during the final ten days of November. HRW’s report further strengthens these accusations, uncovering evidence of the presence of 14 mass graves in the village of Kishishe through the use of photos, videos, testimonies, and satellite images.
The M23 militia, predominantly comprised of ethnic Tutsis from Rwanda, has seized control of significant portions of territory in the DR Congo’s North Kivu province since resuming armed activities in late 2021 after a period of dormancy. As a result of the ongoing conflict, over a million people have been displaced.
The DR Congo government has accused Rwanda of providing military support to the M23, a claim supported by independent UN experts and several Western nations, including the United States. However, Rwanda continues to deny these allegations. In response to the HRW report, HRW called on the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on M23 leaders and Rwandan officials who are allegedly assisting the militia.
“The M23’s unrelenting killings and rapes are bolstered by the military support Rwandan commanders provide the rebel armed group,” stated Clementine de Montjoye, Africa researcher at HRW. The report includes harrowing testimonies from survivors, such as a 46-year-old woman who was raped in February. During the assault, one of the attackers allegedly stated, “We’ve come from Rwanda to destroy you.” Tragically, her 75-year-old mother was shot dead for refusing to comply with the fighters’ demands.
The M23 has vehemently denied the allegations, accusing HRW of attempting to tarnish its image. Similarly, the Rwandan government has dismissed the HRW report, with government spokesperson Yolande Makolo declaring, “Rwanda is not going to be intimidated by these campaigns of disinformation and distractions from ongoing regional peace efforts.”
HRW’s report also shed light on the involvement of groups backed by the DR Congo government in the conflict with the M23, revealing instances of these groups perpetrating sexual violence against civilians. The situation in eastern DR Congo remains highly volatile, with the suffering of innocent civilians escalating as the conflict persists.