Civilians say the M23 fighters committed horrific crimes during their occupation of Goma. William Lloyd George reports.
On the evening of the M23’s departure from Goma, Congo, the city’s civilians were secretly excited to finally see the rebels leave. “We’re terrified of the M23,” one motorbike-taxi driver told me, as we swerved down a potholed road past U.N. peacekeepers. “They just cause problems. It is time they left.”
A “pro-M23” march, scheduled for the day before the departure, demonstrated the city’s lackluster support for the rebels. In a city of 1 million, only 100 people turned up, most of them street kids. “As you can see, we just want them to leave,” one shop owner whispered timidly as the march went by.
The next day, to the relief of many, M23 soldiers bundled onto trucks, marking the end of an occupancy that started Nov. 20 and lasted more than a week. The M23—named after a peace agreement in March 23, 2009, between leaders of a former rebel group, the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), and the Congolese government—started their recent insurgency in April of this year, claiming that the government had not stuck to its original agreement. Although the M23 have not retreated to the agreed 15 miles outside Goma—they are still two and a half miles from the city center—talks with the Congolese government have commenced in neighboring Uganda.
Humans-rights groups, though, are concerned that the peace talks could result in the integration of the rebels—whom they accuse of war crimes—into the national Army. “No agreement should lead to the reintegration of M23 commanders who are suspected perpetrators of serious human-rights abuses into the Congolese Army,” says Theo Boutruche, Amnesty International’s Congo researcher. “There is a critical need not to repeat the same mistakes made in the past.” Despite the M23 leaders’ vows to protect civilians, research done by human-rights groups in the region is starting to unearth a very different picture. “The M23’s claim that civilian protection is their priority does not stack up with our findings on the ground,” says Boutruche. Amnesty International documented a range of human-rights abuses supposedly committed by the M23, including unlawful killings of people who refused to collaborate, forced recruitment of children, and rape. Read More