DR Congo: M23 Rebels Kill, Rape Civilians
Human Rights Watch
22 July 2013
M23 rebels have summarily executed at least 44 people and raped at least 61 women and girls since March 2013 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Local residents and rebel deserters reported recent forced recruitment of men and boys by the M23 in both Rwanda and Congo.
After a nearly two-month-long ceasefire, fighting resumed on July 14 between the Congolese armed forces and M23 rebels near the eastern city of Goma.
Residents and rebel deserters described recent support from within Rwanda to the abusive M23 forces. This includes regular movements from Rwanda into Congo of men in Rwandan army uniforms, and the provision of ammunition, food, and other supplies from Rwanda to the M23. The M23 has been recruiting inside Rwanda. Rwandan military officers have trained new M23 recruits, and have communicated and met with M23 leaders on several occasions. (…)
The latest Human Rights Watch findings are based on more than 100 interviews since March, including with former M23 fighters who left the movement between late March and July and civilians living near the Congo-Rwanda border, some of whom were victims of abuses.
In addition to M23 abuses, Human Rights Watch documented several cases of killings and rapes by Congolese Hutu militia groups operating in and around M23-controlled territory. Some Congolese army officers have allegedly supported factions of these groups, as well as factions of the allied Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group, some of whose members participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Since its inception in April 2012, the M23 has committed widespread violations of the laws of war. Despite numerous war crimes by M23 fighters, the armed group has received significant support from Rwandan military officials. After briefly occupying Goma in November, then withdrawing on December 1, the M23 controls much of Congo’s Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories, bordering Rwanda. (…)
Since June, M23 leaders have forced local chiefs in areas under their control to undergo military and ideological training and obtain recruits for the M23. The M23 considers these chiefs to be part of their “reserve force” that can be called upon to provide support during military operations.
M23 fighters have arrested or abducted dozens of civilians in recent weeks in Rutshuru, most of them Hutu. The M23 accused many of them of collaborating with the FDLR or allied Congolese Hutu militias. M23 fighters beat them severely, tied them up, and detained them. The M23 then forced many of them to undergo military training and become M23 fighters. (…)
Those recruited in Rwanda into the M23 include demobilized Rwandan army soldiers and former FDLR fighters, most of whom had become part of the Rwandan army’s Reserve Force, as well as Rwandan civilians. A 15-year-old Rwandan boy told Human Rights Watch that he and three other young men and boys were promised jobs as cow herders in Congo, but when they got to Congo were forced to join the M23. They were given military training by Rwandan officers in Congo and told they would be killed if they tried to escape. Other M23 deserters also said Rwandan officers were training new M23 recruits.
Former M23 officers who had been part of previous Rwanda-backed rebellions said they recognized officers serving with the M23 who they knew were members of the Rwandan army. Congolese deserters told Human Rights Watch that a number of M23 fighters admitted freely that they were Rwandan. Some said they had served in the Rwandan army’s peacekeeping contingent in Darfur.
Recent M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch described frequent – in some cases weekly – arrivals of soldiers and recruits from Rwanda. Sometimes these were rotations, with new soldiers replacing others who had returned to Rwanda. Weapons, ammunition, large containers of milk, truckloads of rice, and other supplies were brought to the M23 from Rwanda. M23 deserters also described phone conversations and meetings in both Rwanda and Congo between senior M23 leaders and people the deserters were told or knew to be Rwandan officials. (…)
Rwandan government and military officials did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s requests for a meeting. Rwandan officials in the past have repeatedly denied allegations that the government is providing support to the M23.
The Rwandan government should immediately halt all support to the M23 because of its broadly abusive behavior, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations and United States special envoys for the Great Lakes region and donor governments should publicly denounce continuing Rwandan support to the M23 and call for sanctions against senior Rwandan officials responsible for backing the armed group.
The Congolese government should immediately suspend, investigate, and prosecute as appropriate Congolese military officers and government officials who have provided support to the FDLR or allied groups. The government should make clear that abusive militia commanders will not be integrated into Congo’s army as part of any political settlement. (…)
Congolese military officials should appropriately discipline officers and soldiers responsible for mistreating corpses, and ensure that such acts cease immediately. Military and judicial officials should ensure that captured combatants and civilians are treated in accordance with due process standards, including being promptly brought before a judge and charged, or released. Detainees should not be mistreated or held in inhumane conditions.
Summary Executions and Other Attacks by the M23
Human Rights Watch has documented 44 summary executions committed by the M23 since March. M23 fighters have also killed and wounded an unknown number of civilians, including some caught in the crossfire during fighting. (…)
Others summarily executed by the M23 since March were new recruits and prisoners who unsuccessfully tried to escape. (…)
Rape by the M23
Human Rights Watch has documented 61 cases of rape of women and girls by M23 fighters between March and early July. Because of the stigma surrounding rape and fear of reprisals, the actual number of victims may be much higher. (…) Most of the rapes occurred close to M23 positions, and some victims recognized the attackers as M23 fighters they had seen before. The rapists frequently told their victims that they would be killed if they spoke about the rape or sought medical treatment. (…)
Forced Recruitment, Including of Children, and Abductions by the M23
Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases of forced recruitment by M23 forces since March, including of children. Recruitment appears to have increased in recent months as the M23 has struggled to keep its forces’ numbers up. (…)
Since June, the M23 leadership has held several meetings with local chiefs and other community leaders and demanded their help in recruiting new fighters. In early June, the M23 forced local leaders and chiefs to attend a week-long military training conducted by Rwandan officers. They also received “ideological training,” which included the M23’s vision for taking over Congo.
The chiefs were released but are supposed to form part of a “reserve force” that can be called upon when necessary. (…)
The M23 have arrested Hutu civilians whom they accused of collaborating with or supporting the FDLR or Congolese Hutu militia groups. The fighters detained, beat and whipped these civilians, and took many of them to an M23 military camp, where they were trained and forced to become M23 fighters. (…)
M23 Recruitment in Rwanda and Other Rwandan Support
Based on interviews with 31 former M23 fighters who deserted since late March and numerous civilians living on both sides of the border, Human Rights Watch has documented military support from Rwanda to the M23. The support includes the provision of weapons and ammunition. Armed men in military uniform have moved regularly from Rwanda into Congo to support the M23; these could be new recruits and demobilized soldiers who were given uniforms before crossing into Congo, or serving Rwandan soldiers.Rwandan army officers have been seen at M23 bases, leading training for new recruits, and recruiting for the M23 in Rwanda.
Those recruited in Rwanda and taken across the border to fight with the M23 include demobilized Rwandan soldiers and former FDLR fighters who are part of the Rwandan army’s Reserve Force, as well as civilians, including boys. (…)
M23 deserters and Rwandan villagers said that Rwandan soldiers and new recruits often crossed the border on foot at night, using remote trails through Virunga National Park. (…)
Rwandan Support for M23 Military Operations
M23 deserters and civilians from near the Congo-Rwanda border reported an increase in support from Rwanda to the M23 at the time of three recent periods of heavy fighting – during infighting between two M23 factions in March; during fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army around Mutaho in late May; and before the fighting north of Goma in mid-July.
After the M23 split into two factions, Rwandan officials backed the faction led by Sultani Makenga against Bosco Ntaganda. (…)
Abuses by Hutu Militia with Support from Congolese Military Personnel
The M23’s control of territory weakened following the infighting between two M23 factions in March. Since then, Congolese Hutu armed groups, including the Popular Movement for Self-Defense (Mouvement populaire d’autodéfense or MPA), have carried out attacks in and around M23-controlled territory, and killed and raped several civilians. UN officials and former Hutu militia fighters told Human Rights Watch that some factions of these groups have received support from Congolese military personnel. (…)
Some of these Congolese Hutu groups are allied with the FDLR, which has long carried out horrific abuses against civilians in eastern Congo, including killings and rapes. Sources interviewed by the UN Group of Experts, cited in the group’s leaked interim report in June, said that Congolese army soldiers have supplied ammunition to the FDLR and that local Congolese army officers operating near M23-controlled territory and FDLR commanders “regularly meet and exchange operational information.”
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