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MASS GRAVES: Rwanda Backed M23 Rebels Blamed For Mass Killings In DRC – Human Rights

The Rwanda-backed M23 rebel group appears responsible for mass graves containing scores of bodies found in the village of Kishishe, North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch said today. The bodies are believed to be those of villagers and captured militia members that M23 fighters executed between November 2022 and the armed group’s departure from Kishishe in April 2023.

The Congolese government should seek assistance from the United Nations, African Union (AU), and partner governments to conduct proper exhumations, return remains to families, and hold those responsible to account. The UN Security Council should add M23 leaders, as well as Rwandan officials who are assisting the group, to its existing sanctions list.

“Congo, the United Nations, and the African Union need to address the mounting evidence that the M23 committed numerous killings in the village of Kishishe,” said Clémentine de Montjoye, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There’s an urgent need for the proper gathering of evidence, impartial investigations, and informing families about the fate of their loved ones.”

A boy collects mortar casings in the remains of a school building used as a base and allegedly destroyed by M23 fighters in Kishishe, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 5, 2023.Click to expand Image
A boy collects mortar casings in the remains of a school building used as a base and allegedly destroyed by M23 fighters in Kishishe, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 5, 2023. © 2023 AFP/Alexis Huguet
Human Rights Watch documented the M23’s atrocities in Kishishe, with witness accounts, satellite imagery, photographs, and videos. In addition to executions, M23 fighters set fire to at least one house containing bodies, used three schools as bases, one of which was destroyed, and denied students safe access to education.

Congolese authorities, as well as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO), have investigated events in Kishishe, but a more comprehensive, international investigation is needed after M23 forces withdrew.

Human Rights Watch reported in February that, on November 29, M23 rebels summarily killed at least 22 civilians in Kishishe following fighting with factions of Mai-Mai Mazembe, Nyatura, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR). At the time, reliable information collected by Human Rights Watch indicated that the M23 killed at least another 10 civilians while searching for militia members. Further reports by the UN and others concluded that M23 fighters may have unlawfully killed many more people, including captured fighters.

In April and May, after the M23 withdrew from Kishishe, Human Rights Watch interviewed 21 people by telephone, including some who said they had witnessed executions or whom the M23 forced to bury bodies. Others had voluntarily buried bodies after the M23 left the area. Interviewees provided information on 14 mass graves though these appear to be only a fraction of total burial sites. All interviewees believed that the M23, which controlled Kishishe between late November and early April, executed the vast majority of the victims.

Credit: Human Rights Watch

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