Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Rwanda-backed M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo of war crimes including murder and rape in a report released Tuesday.
HRW based the accusations on reports of abuse it documented from November 2022 to March 2023, citing 8 unlawful killings and 14 cases of rape by M23 fighters, with survivors reporting incidents of gang rape involving up to five assailants.
M23’s spokesperson, in a letter sent to HRW, denied the allegations made by the organization.
Presently, the implementation of martial law and the cooperation between the Congolese military and multiple armed groups, primarily based on ethnic affiliations, are worsening the security crisis in the eastern DRC.
Originating from soldiers who defected from the DRC’s army in 2012, the M23 rebels have been repeatedly accused of committing atrocities against the civilian population. Through a recent alliance formed with the Rwandan army, the rebels have been able to extend their dominance over regions in eastern DRC, leading to a surge in violence and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the area.
HRW stressed the immediate need for decisive measures to address the eastern DRC’s human rights crisis. The organization recommended expanding the UN Security Council’s sanctions list to include M23 leaders and Rwandan officials supporting them. HRW Africa Researcher Clémentine de Montjoye also said “Foreign governments currently providing military assistance to Rwanda should recognize that they too may be complicit in rebel atrocities.”
Humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders, reported in April 2023 that over the past year over one million people have been forced to flee their homes due to escalating conflict involving the resurgent M23 armed group.
According to MSF, the dire living conditions in North Kivu have created a conducive environment for the transmission of diseases, leading to reported outbreaks of measles and cholera. The ongoing conflict has disrupted key transportation routes, severely limiting access to healthcare services in North Kivu’s Masisi, Rutshuru, and Lubero territories. Furthermore, the current crisis has resulted in food insecurity, with MSF indicating that approximately three million people, accounting for over one-third of North Kivu’s population, are at risk of hunger.
Despite being regarded as the most resource-rich nation on the planet, decades-long inter-ethnic and tribal conflicts have destabilized the DRC. Some scholars have attributed the prolonged conflict in the region to the underlying instability caused by the Belgian-led and United States-backed coup against and subsequent assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first democratically elected leader, in 1961.