Rebel group M23 in Human Rights Watch reported Monday that 29 civilians have been executed in areas under their control in the troubled east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo since mid-June.
M23 — or the March 23 Movement — rose to prominence when it briefly captured the eastern Congolese city of Goma in 2012 before being driven back in a joint UN-Congo offensive.
After lying largely inactive for years, the group resumed hostilities last November. Since then, the rebels have made significant gains in the eastern part of the Congo.
Last month, M23 fighters captured the strategic city of Bunagana on the Congo-Ugandan border.
“Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that on June 21, after fighting around the village of Ruwumu, M23 rebels collectively killed at least 17 civilians, including two teenagers whom they accused of informing the Congolese army of their positions and hideouts.” , HRW said.
“Some were shot while trying to escape, while others were executed at close range,” the human rights activist said.
Other deaths occurred in subsequent attacks on the same village and in the villages of Ruseke and Kabindi, bringing the death toll to 29, HRW reported.
“Since the M23 took control of several towns and villages in North Kivu in June, they have committed the same horrific crimes against civilians that we have documented in the past,” said Thomas Fessy, HRW senior Congo researcher.
The DRC has repeatedly accused neighboring Rwanda of supporting the M23 movement, but the small Central African country has always denied the accusation.
HRW said there were “heightened concerns” that the M23 was “receiving Rwandan support for its operations in North Kivu”.
“Donor countries should suspend military assistance to governments found supporting M23 and other illegal armed groups,” the New York-based organization said in a statement.
HRW called on the UN, the African Union and international donors to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to “support a clear strategy to fight impunity for serious violations.”
Such a strategy should include “a screening mechanism for the security and intelligence services, an internationalized justice mechanism and a comprehensive reparations program, as well as an effective demobilization program,” he added.