DR Congo: Investigation reveals Rwandan-backed M23 rebels heinous killing spree and rape of over sixty women
M23 rebels killed at least twenty men and raped dozens of women and girls in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
Attacks were part of a campaign waged by M23 and may constitute crimes against humanity
‘Since these attacks survivors have been living in terror and utter destitution’ - Tigere Chagutah
Members of the March 23 Movement (M23) rebel group killed at least twenty men and raped at least 66 women and girls in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in November last year, Amnesty International reveals in an investigation.
In the last year, M23 has taken control of large territory in Nord-Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, driving half a million people to flee their homes according to the UN.
Investigating the impact of the conflict on DR Congo’s population, Amnesty gathered testimonies from 23 rape survivors and 12 eyewitnesses from the towns of Kishishe, Bambo Centre, and Bugina where the attacks took place.
Survivors and witnesses told Amnesty that after taking control of Kishishe, groups of M23 fighters went house-to-house, summarily killing every adult male they found and subjecting scores of women to rape, including gang rape.
Survivors describe heinous attacks
Aline* was raped by a group of men on 29 November, along with six other women who were hiding in her house in the village of Kishishe. She said:
"They broke through the gate of the compound and rounded up all the men present, seven in total, who they killed. Five soldiers then raped us: six women and me. They called us FDLR wives.”
Eugenie* told Amnesty that she was raped by three M23 soldiers on 30 November outside a church where she had sought refuge with her family following clashes between M23 and other armed groups. She said:
"They said we were all FDLR. They singled out the men and shot them dead, including my husband and two sons. Three M23 soldiers then took me behind the church and took turns to rape me. I thought I would not survive.”
Another survivor who was raped outside the same church told Amnesty that she counted scores of bodies of men who had been killed. She said:
"I counted up to 80 bodies of men who had been shot dead by M23 soldiers at the church. I have never seen so many corpses in my life. I fainted before I could count all of them.”
Of the 13 survivors from Kishishe who said they were raped on 29 or 30 November last year, 12 said their husbands or adult sons had been killed in cold blood.
Immaculée*, 23, was raped by two M23 soldiers. She told Amnesty:
"They took turns brutally raping me in the presence of my terrified little children. After raping me, they took all the valuables in the house and my two goats. We have found refuge, but we lack everything. We survive on the goodwill of the people who do not have much themselves. I have coped with rape, but I do not know if my children and myself will survive hunger.”
Lack of medical care and humanitarian assistance
Following the attacks, many survivors reported inadequate care and a lack of mental health support. Minimal progress has been made in bringing M23 attackers to justice.
Most survivors interviewed by Amnesty said they had received basic medical assistance from local health facilities including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for sexually transmitted infections and received emergency contraceptives and painkillers.
However, many said they were still suffering from persistent pain due to inadequate care, while also mentioning a lack of mental health support.
One health worker interviewed in mid-December last year, said:
“We lack everything from doctors to equipment and medical supplies. Even the PEP Kits are now exhausted with no prospect of replenishment. The situation is untenable.”
Bringing attackers to justice
Days after the attack the Congolese authorities “strongly condemned the heinous crimes in Kishishe and Bambo” and promised to do everything they could to ensure justice. Nearly three months later, there has been little progress.
M23’s actions in the Kishishe area constitute war crimes and, to the extent that these rapes and murders are being committed by M23 as part of what appears to be a systematic attack on civilians perceived to be supportive of the FDLR and other armed groups hostile to M23, they should be investigated as possible crimes against humanity.
M23 campaign to punish and humiliate civilians
The M23 group, which the UN says is backed by Rwanda, claims to be fighting for the implementation of previous political agreements with the Congolese government, which provided for the safe return of Congolese Tutsi refugees who have been in Rwanda for two decades.
It is also fighting the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan rebel group that was established in eastern DRC in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
The information gathered by Amnesty suggests that the November attacks were part of a campaign waged by M23 to punish and humiliate civilians suspected of being supporters of rival armed groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and local Mai-Mai.
Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Regional Director, said:
“Since these attacks survivors have been living in terror and utter destitution. While some rape survivors received basic medical attention from community health facilities most urgently need adequate medical and mental health care as well as humanitarian assistance.
“The DRC authorities’ failure to effectively investigate the allegations of patterns of summary killings, rapes, and other crimes in relation to M23’s resurgence, and their inability to hold perpetrators to account, shows a complete contempt for victims.
“They must urgently take all necessary steps to ensure that survivors of these crimes promptly receive adequate health care and humanitarian assistance.”
*Names of witnesses have been changed to protect their identity.