HRW: Mass graves found in east Congo village after M23 rebels retreat

Wednesday June 14 2023
A view from an M23 military position

A view from an M23 military position on the top of a hill surrounding Kishishe, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on April 5, 2023. Human Rights Watch found burial sites in a village in East DR Congo and called for proper exhumations as well as investigations into the killings. PHOTO | ALEXIS HUGUET | AFP


The Democratic Republic of Congo's M23 rebels allegedly executed scores of villagers and militia members between November and April and buried their bodies in mass graves, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday, accusing Rwanda of backing the group.

The M23 staged a major offensive in Congo's restive east last year, triggering an armed response from local and regional forces. Hundreds of thousands have fled fighting near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda.

Last year, the United Nations accused the group of executing at least 131 people in November in retaliation for clashes between M23 and rival armed groups.

The UN's human rights office then later said that 171 civilians were executed in the last ten days of November.

In April and May, after the group withdrew from Kishishe, HRW used photos, videos, testimonies and satellite images to establish the presence of 14 mass graves in the village.

Read: Mass graves haunt east DRC town


The findings appear to be only a few of the total burial sites, it said in a report on Wednesday, calling for proper exhumations and investigations into the killings.

HRW also reiterated accusations by Congo, UN experts, the US and other countries that Rwanda is backing the group.

It said Rwandan officials assisting the rebels were complicit of war crimes and called on the UN Security Council to add them and M23 leaders to its sanctions list.

Rwanda has consistently denied the accusations, which have spurred a diplomatic spat with Congo.

Read: Rwanda denies backing armed group in DRC

"Rwanda is not going to be intimidated by these campaigns of disinformation and distractions from ongoing regional peace efforts," government spokesperson Yolande Makolo said in response to the report.

Formed in 2012, the M23 staged its first major comeback in March last year since being pushed back in 2013.

Congo and Rwanda have both taken part in talks mediated by other African leaders to try to resolve the resurgent conflict. Ceasefires have been agreed and a regional force was announced in April to fight militia groups, but fighting has continued.