Rebel Group M23 Allegedly Responsible for Civilian Deaths
(New York) – Amnesty International today called on the United Nations Security Council to pressure the Rwandan government to stop providing support for the M23 armed group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s North Kivu province.
The United Nations and authorities in eastern Congo say Rwanda has backed the non-state armed group M23, which has driven back the Congolese government army in a determined offensive over the last few days.
Although this is a claim denied by officials in the Rwandan capital Kigali, a U.N. report last month provided substantial evidence that senior Rwandan officials have backed the M23 armed group, led by Bosco Ntaganda, a former general in the Congolese army who is under an International Criminal Court arrest warrant.
"While redeploying U.N. troops to Goma to protect civilians is a positive step, the situation in the North Kivu is so tense, it has the potential to turn into a regional conflict if the international community does not take urgent measures," said Aster van Kregten, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Africa.
The armed group named themselves the M23 after a failed peace agreement signed on 23 March 2009. The M23 defected from the Congolese army in April this year amid pressure on the government to arrest General Ntaganda.
Amnesty International has received reports from numerous sources that M23 is using heavy artillery and is forcibly recruiting civilians. According to credible sources, two civilians were killed by the M23 in Bunagana on Sunday when they refused to join the group, while two other civilians were killed during the fighting that ensued.
Although Rwanda appears to have breached a UN arms embargo, the UN Security Council has done nothing to put pressure on the country to end its support for the M23.
"The Council must condemn the reported breach of the UN arms embargo by Rwanda and take concrete measures to prevent any further violations of human rights or international humanitarian law," van Kregten said. "The recent violence in North Kivu has already led to human rights abuses against civilians and any escalation in the violence will place civilians at further risk."
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission (MONUSCO) in the DRC has a robust mandate which allows the use of "all necessary means, including deadly force," to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.
Despite this, MONUSCO has been unable to adequately protect civilians and help restore calm to the volatile North Kivu region and has instead focused on providing technical support to the poorly trained Congolese army.
Although MONUSCO has a presence in the region, the M23 captured the strategic towns of Rutshuru and Kiwanja over the weekend without facing any opposition from the UN forces. Recent reports also indicate that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) - whose leaders are believed to have taken part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda - and other armed groups such as the Mai Mai are also in Rutshuru territory, increasing the fear of violence against civilians.
"The future of the eastern Congolese people now mainly lies in the hands of the UN Security Council. It’s crucial that MONUSCO now uses its mandate to effectively protect civilians,” van Kregten said.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.