Warring parties must ensure that civilians are protected amid the fighting between the Movement of 23 May (M23) and the Congolese army supported by UN peacekeepers in North Kivu province, said Amnesty International today.
“The military escalation in eastern DRC during M23’s resurgence is having devastating consequences for the civilians caught in the middle. All parties to the conflict must strictly respect rules of international humanitarian law, including doing everything to ensure the safety of the civilians”, said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
Fighting between the Congolese army and M23 has resulted in 23 civilian deaths since May 2022, including three children according to the UN.
“Civilians have already suffered in this latest round of this conflict, with more than 80,000 people fleeing their homes since the fighting resumed in April 2022. Some have left for Uganda and others have been displaced internally. The Congolese authorities and all regional and international stakeholders must swiftly and durably address the worsening human rights situation in accordance with international law.”
Since the resurgence of M23 in November 2021, tension has risen between the governments of DRC and Rwanda. In recent days, verbal and physical attacks targeting people designated as “Rwandans” or “Tutsi” have spread online in the DRC.
The Congolese authorities, the UN and several institutions in the DRC and abroad have strongly denounced the advocacy of hatred.
“We welcome Congolese authorities’ clear position against hatred and violence. They must be followed by concrete steps to effectively protect all people without discrimination, and to hold anyone involved in advocacy of hatred and violence to account. The likes of Twitter, Facebook and TikTok should take swift steps to stop the spread of advocacy of hatred on their platforms,” said Deprose Muchena.
Eastern DRC has suffered from armed conflict since the 1990s. The violence has intensified in recent years, with more than 7,380 civilians killed between 2017 and April 2022, according to the Kivu Security Tracker.
President Félix Tshisekedi has imposed a state of siege — similar to a state of emergency — in North Kivu since May 2021 in an attempt to reduce violence. Instead, insecurity has escalated and Amnesty International found that authorities have used the state of siege to restrict the exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, and carry out other human rights violations with impunity.
The M23 movement’s attacks in North Kivu resumed in November 2021, eight years after the group was militarily defeated by the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UN Force Intervention Brigade. Its recent demands include implementation by the DRC government of the 2013 Nairobi Agreement, which provided amnesty to M23 members and included their repatriation to the DRC.
The DRC government accuses Rwanda of aggression using M23 as a proxy, and the speaker of DRC’s National Assembly was quoted in the media as accusing Uganda as having sided with M23 and Rwanda during the battle for Bunagana in North Kivu on 13 June 2022. Conversely, Rwanda accuses the DRC of aggression and colluding with members of the Rwandan Hutu rebellion of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) operating in eastern DRC, which contains remnants of the Interahamwe militia and former Rwandan soldiers responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, as well as fighters not involved in the genocide, including many too young to have participated.
At a summit held in Nairobi on 20 June, Heads of State of the East African Community including DRC’s Félix Tshisekedi called on all armed groups in eastern DRC to cease hostilities and directed an immediate ceasefire. They approved the dispatch of a regional force whose mission would be to disarm local and foreign armed groups that fail to disarm voluntary.