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Map of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Banyamulenge, are Tutsi ethnic group that arrived in Congo in 1930s mainly from Rwanda. Banyamulenge is a term historically referring to the ethnic Tutsi concentrated on the High Plateau of South Kivu, in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, close to the Burundi-Congo-and Tanzania border .

The term “Banyamulenge” never existed until the mid-1970s in order to distinguish themselves from Banyarwanda of Rwanda, they adopted the term “Banyamulenge”. At the time, they were called “Banyarwanda of Congo”. The main ethnic groups in the late 1990s claimed the Banyamulenge numbered no more than 400,000, while the Banyamulenge sympathizers claim up to ten times that number. The population of Banyamulenge in the early 21st century is estimated at between 50,000 and 70,000 by René Lemarchand[1] or by Gérard Prunier at around 60,000–80,000, a figure about 3–4 percent of the total provincial population.[2][3]

Lemarchand notes that the group represents "a rather unique case of ethnogenesis." The Banyamulenge of South Kivu are not culturally and socially distinct from the Tutsi of North Kivu and the Tutsi. The ambiguous political and social position of the Banyamulenge has been a point of contention in the province. The Banyamulenge played a key role in tensions during the run-up to the First Congo War in 1996–7 and Second Congo War of 1998–2003.

Origins and early political status[edit]

Watusi princes of the Belgian Congo

The Banyamulenge name, which since 1996 has been used to mis-designate all Congolese refugees, only refers to those who are Mulenge (literally: the asylum seekers of Mulenge). Mulenge is a place (for some a river, for others a mountain) where is located the village of this name south of Uvira, in the territory of Bavira and Bafulero or Bafuliro. The first territories were created between 1912 and 1914 and were named either by the name of the chief town, ethnicity, a watercourse, or a geographical feature of the landscape By Bamushi and Bafuliru. It is divided into six territories namely Beni, Lubero, Rutshuru, Goma, Masisi and Walikale. The chief place was Goma. And today for North Kivu, it is always the same Kasaians with the Bashi of South Kivu. The indigenous populations of North Kivu Province there are Pypmoid and Bantu. The indigenous peoples of North Kivu Province were Pypmoid and Bantoid. The pygmoid breed includes the Mbute that occupy the forest part of North Kivu where they practice hunting and gathering as part of a nomadic life. They are found in the territories of Masisi, Beni, Rutshuru and Lubero. Their way of life is in decline because of the destruction of the natural habitat (forest) and the influence of the neighboring Bantu tribes. The PIRI (Beni Territory) are more receptive to this evolution because we meet more and more farmers among them. The Bantu constitute the majority of the indigenous population of North Kivu.

The first significant recorded influx of Banyamulenge into South Kivu is dated to the 1950s. There were 550,000 refugees, predominantly Tutsis, in Central Africa, most of whom fled Rwanda in the pogroms that followed the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy in 1959. This group was mostly Tutsi and their Hutu abagaragu (clients), who had been icyihuture (turned Tutsi), which negated interethnic tension. They settled above the Ruzizi Plain on the Itombwe Plateau. The plateau, which reached an altitude of 3000 meters, could not support large-scale agriculture, but allowed cattle grazing.[4] In 1928 the territory of Uvira was divided into 3 chefferies: one ruled by the Bavira, one by the Bafuliru and one by the Banyindu. By granting each a chefferie, the Belgians gave Banyamulenge the customary rights to the land. The Bafuliru contested this several times during and also after independence. The tensions and competition between the two communities became sharpened by poverty and underdevelopment, by poor management of land issues and by the governance crisis caused by the absence of the state at a local level. This absence created a lot of space for a customary chief (Mwami) whose role is important, but rather vaguely described in the laws.

The Union Minière du Haut Katanga recruited more than 7000 workers from 1932 to 1936. From the 1940s, Banyamulenge immigrants continued coming in search of work, with a major influx of Tutsi refugees in 1959–1960 following the "Social Revolution" led by Hutu Grégoire Kayibanda. While the early migrants lived primarily as pastoralists in the high plains, colonial labour migrants moved to urban areas. Refugees were placed in refugee camps.[5] In 1924, the pastoralists received permission from colonial authorities to occupy a high plateau further south.[6]

The groups received further immigrants during the anti-Tutsi persecutions in 1959, 1964 and 1973.[2] Many Banyamulenge initially joined the Simba Rebellion of 1964–5, but switched sides when rebels, fleeing Jean Schramme's mercenaries and government troops, came onto the plateau and began killing the Banyamulenge's cattle for food.

After the war, the group took advantage of a favourable political environment to expand their territory. Some moved south towards Moba port and Kalemi, while others moved onto the Ruzizi plain, where a few became chiefs among the Barundi through gifts of cattle. Still others went to work in the Bukavu, the provincial capital, or Uvira, a town experiencing a gold rush economic boom. These urban dwellers could make a fair living selling meat and milk from their herds to the gold diggers, though the group lacked the political connections to Kinshasa and the large educated class which was possessed by the North Kivu Banyamulenge.[7]

Unlike the Barundi, the Banyamulenge of South Kivu did not have their own Native Authority because they were refugees settled by the government, and they were thus reliant upon the local chiefs of the area that they had settled. The pastoralists were located within three territoires: Mwenga, inhabited by the Lega people; Fizi of the Bembe people; and Uvira, inhabited by the Vira people and Bafuliro.[8] The term "Banyamulenge" translates literally as "people of Mulenge", a groupement on the Itombwe plateau.[9] They chose the name "Banyamulenge" in the early 1970s to avoid being called "Banyarwanda" and because they were foreigners.[7] Ethnic tensions against the Tutsi rose following the end of the colonial period, as well as during the 1972 mass killing of Hutu in Burundi. In response the Tutsi appear to have attempted to distance themselves from their ethnicity as Rwandans and lay claim to a territorial identity as residents of Mulenge. As they moved, they continued this practice. Some Tutsi Banyarwanda in South Kivu call themselves the Banya-tulambo and Banya-minembwe, after the places they were located.[9]

Political tensions (1971–1992)[edit]

After 1971, such practices were considered increasingly more controversial. The 1971 Citizenship Decree by President Mobutu Sese Seko granted citizenship to the Banyamulenge who had arrived as refugees from 1959 to 1963. However, some leaders, such as Chief of Staff Barthélémy Bisengimana, were concerned that this change was an alarming sign of the growing influence of the Banyamulenge in the administration.[10] In 1976, the word "Banyamulenge" first came into wide usage after Gisaro Muhazo, a South Kivutian minister of parliament, began an initiative to reclassify the Banyamulenge of Mwenga, Fizi, and Uvira into a single administrative entity. Muhazo's attempt failed, but the term he introduced remained. Over decades, it became used as a catchall label for the Kivutian Tutsi.[1] Some will always quibble with where to begin this story, whether with colonial favoritism for the Tutsis by Belgium in the first half of the twentieth century, or with Brussels's flip-flop in 1959 in favor of the Hutus on the eve of Rwandan independence, which led to the anti-Tutsi pogroms that sent Kagame's family and those of so many others of his RPF comrades into exile in Uganda. These events in turn had far-reaching effects on Rwanda's small neighbor Burundi, a German and later Belgian colony that gained independence in 1962 and, like Rwanda, has a large Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. In 1972, an extremist Tutsi regime there, driven by a fear of being overthrown, carried out the first genocide since the Holocaust, killing 300,000 Hutus. In the West, the Burundi genocide is scarcely remembered, but its consequences live on in the region. Terrorized Hutus streamed out of Burundi into Rwanda, helping to set Rwanda onto a path of Hutu extremism, and priming it for its own genocide two decades later.

The final instigator of the Rwandan tragedy was the mysterious shooting down of a presidential plane on April 6, 1994, which killed presidents Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and Cyprien Ntaramyira of Burundi, who were both Hutu. This precipitated the horrific massacre of Rwandan Tutsis, but also a broader Hutu-Tutsi conflict, which by 1996 had begun to tear apart large swaths of eastern Congo. To trace this history and observe how social dynamics can influence the trajectory of armed insurrection, it is useful to review the community struggles in Kivu, many of which were linked to the immigration of nearly 300,000 Rwandans into these provinces. Mountainous during the colonial period (1930-1960). Much has been written about this period and land and citizenship policies under Mobutu encouraged violence in the Masisi hills in 1993. Violence in Masisi emerged when local and national politics collided, with leaders in Kinshasa and Goma seeking to profit from community strife in an increasingly uncertain political climate. In 1993, a deep political crisis engulfed Zaire as the country, deeply impoverished and corrupt, began to open up to multiparty democracy. Violence in Masisi emerged when local and national politics collided, with leaders in Kinshasa and Goma seeking to profit from community strife in an increasingly uncertain political climate. In 1993, a deep political crisis engulfed Zaire as the country, deeply impoverished and corrupt, began to open up to multiparty democracy. The weakness of the state had in the meantime fueled the emergence of mutuelles, community-based, community-based mutual aid groups that filled the void left by the state. These groups became important political actors during the period of democratization, vehicles of political lobbying intended to protect the interests of the community and to carry out projects of basic development. Tensions arose quickly between the Banyamulenge- including many descendants of immigrants from the colonial period - and the so-called "indigenous" communities: Hunde, Nyanga, Tembo and Nande. The most important of these associations was the Virunga Agricultural Mutual (Magrivi), formed in Kinshasa in 1980 by Hutu leaders to promote solidarity and development in their community. For its part, the Hunde community, whose traditional chiefs ruled most of Masisi, formed a similar organization, Bushenge-Hunde. These two mutuals armed self-defense groups and the murders responding around the control of the land and political power proliferated. In March 1993, militias swept through the Masisi following the killing of a local chief in Ntoto, killed by Hutu peasants, which led to the massacre of Hutu by young Hunde. In the Hutu community of Masisi, which, because of its past immigrant does not have customary chiefs, the leaders of the local branch of Magrivi often became the commanders of these militias, like many teachers, ecclesiastics and other local businessmen. The main objective of these militias - alternately called Hutu fighters and magrivists (although the Magrivi party has no official link with them) - was self-defense.

Conflict (1993–1998)[edit]

Paul Kagame's Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) invaded Rwanda from Uganda in 1990, launching a four-year campaign of guerrilla warfare. Open support for Rwanda's then-Hutu-led government from French paratroopers failed to prevent the RPA victory of August, 1994, following the coordinated genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Tutsis by hard-line Hutus, Force Armee Rwandaise (FAR) and affiliated Interahamwe (Hutu) militias from April to July. Critics such as Wayne Madsen, author of Genocide and Covert Operations in Africa 1993-1999, assert that Kagame and the RPA orchestrated the April 6, 1994 assassination of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi -- shooting down their plane on approach to Kigali airport with SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles taken from Iraq by France in 1991, then delivered by the US military to Uganda, the base for RPA guerrilla operations against Rwanda prior to 1994. Journalist Charles Onana of Cameroon, author of The Secrets of the Rwandan Genocide, also aired claims of RPA involvement in the incident, and was sued for defamation by Paul Kagame. A Paris court found in favor of Onana. Meanwhile, of course, defense attorneys working at the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR) maintain that the standard figure of 800,000 Tutsis killed in the 1994 genocide was grossly inflated. US, European and South African military interests continued to support various factions in Central Africa, arming militias and rebel groups through proxy armies from Uganda (UPDF), Rwanda (RPA), Burundi and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in south Sudan. Terror continued in Rwanda under the new RPA government of Paul Kagame, with Amnesty International documenting a pattern of assassinations, arbitrary imprisonment and "disappearances.

"Nearly all political opponents -- Tutsi or Hutu -- have been labeled "genocidiares", and Amnesty has protested that some trials and executions of accused genocidiare collaborators have been tainted and politically-motivated. Interviews with survivors across the country document crimes against humanity and acts of genocide committed against Congolese civilians by all sides in the ensuing war. "In May 1997, hundreds of unarmed Hutu refugees were massacred in the town of Mbandaka by soldiers of Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL), operating under apparent Rwandan Army (RPA) command," wrote Human Rights Watch in June 1998. In an October 1997 report ("What Kabila is Hiding: Civilian Killings and Impunity in Congo"), Human Rights Watch concluded that "Rwandan troops had a role in some of the killings of Rwandan Hutu refugees on Zairean territory."

Thousands of Hutu refugees were slaughtered in Mbandaka in May, 1997, on the day that the Allied Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Congo (AFDL) arrived there. One eyewitness told this reporter:

"We ran down to the beach [port] because we heard the shooting. I saw two people shot but there were bodies all lined up on the beach. The soldiers were also throwing dead bodies in the [Congo] river. There were a lot of Tutsi soldiers but we couldn't distinguish. I saw soldiers question one woman. The woman was not able to talk in [Congolese] Lingala. He said, yes you are among the Rwandais Hutus. He said to the woman, 'Turn, face the river, prey your God, because you are about to meet your God.' Then he shot her in the back with an automatic weapon."

"US special forces were involved," asserted one DRC army captain interviewed recently. The AFDL forces included UPDF, RPA and US military advisers, he claimed. Colonel James Kabarebe, now Chief of Staff of the Rwanda Defense Forces, is said to have led a campaign to annihilate fleeing Hutu refugees. Kabarebe has been sited in UN reports for massive violations in Ituri[disambiguation needed]. Kabarebe was reportedly the biggest advocate of Rwandan support to [ethnic] militias. The RPA joined with the UPDF to invade DRC again in 1998 after ADFL leader Laurent Kabila rejected U.S. and Bechtel Corporation plans for the newly liberated country, annulled mining contracts signed with some powerful western companies before he had even taken power in Kinshasa -- including the America Mineral Fields, based in Hope, AK, and said to be linked to then-President Clinton through "Friend of Bill" investors -- and ejected the Rwandan and Ugandan military allies that brought him to power. The Congolese government called it the "War of Aggression," but it was dubbed "Africa's First World War" by the western press, as it involved six regional nations as well as arms and advisers from western countries. Troops from Rwanda and Uganda (now backing anti-Kabila rebels) as well as Zimbabwe (allied with the DRC government) worked with commercial agents pilfering DRC's ivory, diamonds, gold, timber, cobalt and other natural resources. Foreign agents moved these plundered resources onto the international market, as militia groups raked in local profits.

According to the influential Africa Confidential newsletter, Major Gen. Paul Kagame visited the Pentagon in August of 1996, conferring with Washington prior to setting in motion a grand plan to unseat Mobutu Sese Seko. While the US public was consumed with the 1996 presidential elections, Rwanda was preparing its war against Zaire -- and it began with the shelling of Hutu refugee camps in eastern Congo with Katusha missiles, killing noncombatant men, women and children. RPA joined with Ugandan People's Defense Forces (UPDF) and the guerilla army of Laurent Kabila's Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) in the "War of Liberation" that subsequently ended the decades long reign of President Mobutu Sese Seko in Congo (Zaire). American military personnel were seen on the ground advising the joint UPDF/RPA invasion which swiftly moved across the vast forested territory of Zaire. Wayne Madsen reported that the US established major communications and listening stations in Uganda's Ruwenzori Mountains. Communications equipment was also seen on Idjwe Island in Lake Kivu, on the DRC-Rwanda frontier.

Two years earlier, Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from neighboring Uganda, defeating the government in Kigali. Some two million Hutu refugees fled to UN-run camps, mostly in Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. These provinces, which occupy an area of about 48,000 square miles—slightly larger than the state of Pennsylvania—are situated along Congo’s eastern border with Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi and together have a population of more than five million people. In addition to containing rich deposits of minerals, North and South Kivu have, since the precolonial era, been subject to large waves of migration by people from Rwanda, including both Hutus and Tutsis. In recent decades these Rwandans have competed with more established residents for control of land.The decisive moment of this evolution took place during the reign of the RCD, supported by Rwanda, on North Kivu (1998-2003). Faced with a violent insurgency in northwestern Rwanda, with rear bases in North Kivu, it became imperative for Kigali to seal an alliance between Hutu and Tutsi communities within the RCD itself in order to convince the local population to disassociate itself from rebels of the Rwanda Liberation Army (ALiR). The result was the recruitment of leading Hutu figures, including many magrivists, by the RCD. Commanders such as Robert Seninga, Emmanuel Munyamariba, Janvier Mayanga and David Rugayi, who had been fought in the 1993 fighting, were integrated with a majority of Hutu militiamen and were given influential positions in the RCD [35].

At least 3.5 million congolese died due to warfare in DRC, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) report on the region for the period from 1998 to 2001. From 1999-2001, through networks of Rwandan military and commercial agents, Rwandan interests aligned with the state earned some $120 million in the sale of coltan (columbo-tantalite) -- a precious ore essential to Sony play-stations, laptop computers and cell-phones. The main RPA-supported rebel group in DRC earned some $600,000 in coltan sales In December 2000. Coltan moved through criminal syndicates to American, Swiss, Belgian and German clients. Rwandan syndicates continue to dominate the coltan trade out of eastern DRC, local sources claim. The DRC frontier with Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi has remained the locus of instability and guerrilla warfare since before the first Rwandan invasion of Congo in 1996 and the rising insecurity and terrorism has not gone unnoticed by the local civilian populations. North and South Kivu provinces continue to suffer from widespread violence, and killings in the Goma and Bukavu areas are rampant. The Ituri region of Orinetale Province, bordering on Uganda, Sudan and Central African Republic, is cited as one of the bloodiest corners of the world by numerous human rights agencies. The UN Security Council's Special Report on Ituri, January 2002-December 2003, outlines the history of conflict in Ituri, the role of Ugandan and Rwandan government forces in arming factions, bombing villages, massacring and torturing civilians, and provoking and, at times, abetting, acts of genocide. Given the rising insecurity in Ituri in recent months, with assassinations and nightly shootings, the population in Bunia increasingly sees MONUC as a hostile and aggressive force of foreign military occupation. Said one Bunia resident formerly employed by MONUC:

"Public opinion is that MONUC has done nothing. People thought that MONUC came here to bring peace but to their surprise people find that MONUC is like a spectator in a football match. But people are dying in their presence. People are being terrorized in their presence. People are being killed in there presence. And MONUC is doing nothing." "Firing incidents occur daily," admitted one public information officer for MONUC. "I don't think there is any area except maybe in Bunia [town] where the human rights situation is improving." Reports of MONESCO personnel buying and transporting contraband goods -- leopard and okapi skins, gold, ivory -- are also widespread.

Arms continue to flow into the region. Arms shipments reportedly destined for the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC), a regional militia aligned with Rwanda, were seized by the Armed Forces of the Congolese People (FAPC), a rival Congolese militia in control of the lucrative Ituri Province customs posts in northeastern DRC. The story was picked up by a Chinese news service only. According to local sources, local government officials have delivered firearms to civilians in Masisi, North Kivu, long the site of conflict between different political and military groups. Other shipments were delivered to Ituri, another persistently troubled area in northeastern Congo. 300 Congolese high school students, refugees in neighboring Rwanda, left their schools abruptly and had to undergo military training. According to recent reports from northern Ituri, the FAPC has reportedly executed child soldiers seeking to enter the DDR process, and attacked the families and looted the homes of reintegrated ex-child soldiers. The UPC and the Force for National Liberation (FNI), another militia, continue to extort a weekly war tax from citizens, persecute those who refuse to comply, and terrorize the citizenry. All armed groups in Ituri have integrated children into their ranks. At least 40 percent of each militia force are children below the age of 18, with a significant minority below the age of 15. The MONUC investigation found that Ugandan and Rwandan military were frequently training children abducted and forcibly or willingly recruited into DRC militias. MONUSCO documented cases where hundreds of children were taken by road or plane to Uganda or Rwanda for military training. Child soldiers were sometimes "trained" by child soldiers. Some children have been passed from one group to another. The UPC and the Force for National Liberation (FNI) another militia, continue to extort a weekly war tax from citizens, persecute those who refuse to comply, and terrorize the citizenry. Said one witness,

"The UPC is collecting money. They say, 'either you pay 100 francs Congolese or we come at night.' Then when they come they cut off your hand or violate women".

Sexual violence is a national epidemic in DR Congo. involving all military factions, both current and past military forces involved in the internal affairs of the DRC, and it appears to be sanctioned by all levels of military command. SRI research completed in Equateur and Orientale (Ituri) from September to November 2004 indicates that the scale and frequency of sexual violence committed during the successive wars (1996-2004) is unprecedented and unquantifiable." Hundreds of internally displaced girls and women currently resident in Mbandaka has spawned commerce in prostitution and survival sex involving both Armed Forces of Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and MONESCO troops. FARDC further prey on female sex workers by forcing sexual relations, raping those who refuse, and universally robbing desperate females of their livelihood. FARDC soldiers in rural areas and population centers continue to steal and abduct the wives of civilians, and to abduct women and adolescent girls many of whom are impregnated and abandoned.

Second Congo War (1998–2003)[edit]

Bafuliru repairing a road between Lemera and Mulenge, South Kivu, ca. 2003

US allies Rwanda and Uganda invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo, starting the Second Congo War in 1998. Though a peace treaty was signed in 2003, the violence, displacement, and mass killing continue. War epidemiologists working with the International Rescue Committee estimated the death toll at 5.4 million during just 10 years of the nearly 20-year old conflict. 6 million Congolese were killed in a series of invasions and violent conflicts often instigated by armies and militias from neighboring countries such as Rwanda and Uganda, which are both U.S. allies. The battles centered on access to Congo’s vast mineral deposits. But the vast majority of the millions who have died in Congo were either killed outright in armed clashes instigated by foreign-backed militias, or were driven out of their villages and died of starvation and disease after being displaced into the forests. Hundreds of thousands of women and girls were raped as a systematic tool of mass shame to break the will of entire villages. Banyamulenge Militia groups terrorize villages, particularly the women. Mark Joseph Carney:

“I can’t even say they ‘rape’ the women. They will inflict a form of sexual terrorism on the women, destroy their reproductive systems, humiliate them by raping them in front of their husbands and their children, or even force the children to rape their mother.” Such unspeakable horror has led entire villages to be physically and psychologically destroyed and displaced. The invading militias then have easier access to the mineral resources such as gold, coltan or tin under the land where the villagers once lived.

Meanwhile, Congo’s government under the leadership of President Joseph Kabila is too weak to defend itself and to adequately rule the more than 70 million strong population. Kabila’s government “lacks legitimacy among its people.” Because of that, different groups, even from outside Congo, simply enter the land and claim precious minerals. Congo’s borders are porous, even leading to serious questions of who exactly are defined as citizens.

Coltan, one of Congo’s most sought-after minerals, is used in the making of tantalum capacitors, which are ubiquitous in today’s electronic devices. Gold, tin and tungsten are also traded by armed militias for profit. Carney paraphrased Museveni, who likened Congo to a “banana plantation,” meaning that “everybody goes in and grabs what they want.”

More recently Kagame was in the habit of kidnapping and assassinating Rwandan refugees in Uganda whom he considers his political enemies, triggering Museveni’s recent crackdown on Rwandan spies. Kagame has been trying to force Rwandans who’ve crossed into Uganda fleeing famine to return home.

M-23 War and Present (2012–2019)[edit]

The M23 was formed in April 2012 after a mutiny by former members of a previous Rwanda-backed rebellion, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), whose members had integrated into the Congolese armed forces in 2009. With significant support from the Rwandan military, the M23 gained control of much of Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories in Congo’s North Kivu province. In late November, the M23 seized the main eastern city of Goma, again with significant Rwandan military support. The M23 withdrew from Goma on December 1, when the Congolese government agreed to peace talks. The M23 rebels have brought havoc to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since April 2012. The atrocities that M23 committed in DRC caused such international outrage that it finally spurred the US and the UN Security Council to action, but their solution was ultimately as fraudulent as the Congolese names of Rwandan and Ugandan forces in DRC. The UNSC deployed a UN combat brigade to chase M23 back into Rwanda and Uganda. At least 800,000 Congolese fled their homes and at one point, there were fears a new regional war could break out, Rwanda and Uganda were backing the rebels. They are mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, a banyamulenge rebel in eastern DR Congo but with ties to Rwanda's leaders. They were led by several top-ranking officers who were members of a former militia called the CNDP - including Col Sultani Makenga and Gen Bosco Ntaganda, who faces war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court. M23 rebels have summarily executed at least 1,000 congolese and raped at least 61 women and girls since March 2013 in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Local residents and rebel deserters reported recent forced recruitment of men and boys by the M23 in both Rwanda and Congo. After a nearly two-month-long ceasefire, fighting resumed on July 14 between the Congolese armed forces and M23 rebels near the eastern city of Goma. Residents and rebel deserters described recent support from within Rwanda to the abusive M23 forces. This includes regular movements from Rwanda into Congo of men in Rwandan army uniforms, and the provision of ammunition, food, and other supplies from Rwanda to the M23. The M23 has been recruiting inside Rwanda. Rwandan military officers have trained new M23 recruits, and have communicated and met with M23 leaders on several occasions.

Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Daniel Bekele said:

“Not only is Rwanda allowing its territory to be used by the abusive M23 to get recruits and equipment, but the Rwandan military is still directly supporting the M23. This support is sustaining an armed group responsible for numerous killings, rapes and other serious abuses.”

Human Rights Watch documented several cases of killings and rapes by Hutu militia groups operating in and around M23-controlled territory. Some Congolese army officers have allegedly supported factions of these groups, as well as factions of the allied Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group, some of whose members participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Since its inception in April 2012, the M23 has committed widespread violations of the laws of war. Despite numerous war crimes by M23 fighters, the armed group has received significant support from Rwandan military officials. After briefly occupying Goma in November, then withdrawing on December 1, the M23 controls much of Congo’s Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories, bordering Rwanda.

  • On April 25 and 26, M23 fighters killed 15 ethnic Hutu civilians in several villages in Busanza groupement in Rutshuru territory, and at least another 6 in mid-June, in an apparent attempt to “punish” villagers for crying out against them.
  • On July 5, four M23 fighters gang-raped a 12-year-old girl as she went to fetch water in her village in Rutshuru. An M23 fighter who accosted an 18-year-old woman near Bunagana shot her in the leg on April 15 when she refused to have sex with him.
  • Since June, M23 leaders have forced local chiefs in areas under their control to undergo military and ideological training and obtain recruits for the M23. The M23 considers these chiefs to be part of their “reserve force” that can be called upon to provide support during military operations.
  • M23 fighters have arrested or abducted dozens of civilians in recent weeks in Rutshuru, most of them Congolese.
  • Former M23 officers who had been part of previous Rwanda-backed rebellions said they recognized officers serving with the M23 who they knew were members of the Rwandan army. All of the recent M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that Rwandan soldiers, officers, and trainers were present throughout their time with the M23, and that there had been new arrivals from Rwanda in recent months. Rwandan government and military officials did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s requests for a meeting. Congolese deserters told Human Rights Watch that a number of M23 fighters admitted freely that they were Rwandan. Some said they had served in the Rwandan army’s peacekeeping contingent in Darfur.
  • In late May, M23 fighters shot dead a 62-year-old man in Ntamugenga because he refused to hand his sons over to the M23. On May 15, M23 fighters stopped a motorcycle driver outside Kiwanja and killed him because he did not give them money. In mid-June, M23 fighters shot a moneychanger several times in the chest, killing him. They then told his wife, “Give us money or we’ll do to you what we did to your husband.” She handed over their money, and the fighters left.
  • In Kibumba in mid-May, an M23 officer, Col. Yusuf Mboneza, ordered the execution of a 24-year-old man whom he accused of being a thief. After the execution, Mboneza called the villagers to a meeting and displayed the young man’s corpse, saying it should serve as a warning to anyone else who might steal. Others summarily executed by the M23 since March were new recruits and prisoners who unsuccessfully tried to escape.

Rape by the M23[edit]

Human Rights Watch has documented 61 cases of rape of women and girls by M23 fighters between March and early July. Because of the stigma surrounding rape and fear of reprisals, the actual number of victims may be much higher. Many of those raped were in their fields or collecting firewood. M23 fighters accused some of them of being the “wives” of FDLR fighters. Most of the rapes occurred close to M23 positions, and some victims recognized the attackers as M23 fighters they had seen before. The rapists frequently told their victims that they would be killed if they spoke about the rape or sought medical treatment.

A 12-year-old girl told Human Rights Watch that an M23 fighter caught and raped her in June as she and her friends were buying sugar cane in a field near an M23 position in Rutshuru:

I saw a [M23] soldier. I started running, but I tripped on a piece of sugar cane and fell. The soldier caught up with me and said he would kill me because I tried to flee. I stopped then because I was very scared. Then he raped me. I cried out, but he closed my mouth.

A 17-year-old girl said M23 fighters had raped her twice. The second time, in June, occurred when she was alone in her house after M23 police abducted her husband and forced him to join a night patrol:

The M23 fighter came into my house and asked me where my husband was. He then put a knife to my chest and said he was going to kill me, and that I should give him money. I told him I didn’t have any money, that my husband took it with him on patrol. I was sitting on the bed with my child. The soldier fought with me on the bed. He was stronger than me and he had a gun. Then he raped me.

A 35-year-old Hutu woman who was raped by an M23 fighter near Bunagana in June told Human Rights Watch:

When he finished, he left me in the forest. I was shaking and turned toward the ground, crying.… The one who raped me was an M23 fighter whom I know. I recognized him, but what can I do to him?

Forced Recruitment, Including of Children, and Abductions by the M23[edit]

Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases of forced recruitment by M23 forces since March, including of children. Recruitment appears to have increased in recent months as the M23 has struggled to keep its forces’ numbers up. Over 700 M23 fighters and political cadres fled to Rwanda when Bosco Ntaganda’s faction of the M23 was defeated by an M23 faction led by Makenga in March, an estimated 200 M23 fighters were killed during the infighting, and scores of fighters have deserted.

Since June, the M23 leadership has held several meetings with local chiefs and other community leaders and demanded their help in recruiting new fighters. In early June, the M23 forced local leaders and chiefs to attend a week-long military training conducted by Rwandan officers. They also received “ideological training,” which included the M23’s vision for taking over Congo.

The chiefs were released but are supposed to form part of a “reserve force” that can be called upon when necessary. The M23 ordered them to find recruits in their villages and send them to the M23. One local leader who participated in the training told Human Rights Watch that they had been told to give M23 officials the names of demobilized youth in their villages, so that the M23 “could then go themselves, find the demobilized youth, and make sure they joined up.”

The M23 have arrested Hutu civilians whom they accused of collaborating with or supporting the FDLR or Congolese Hutu militia groups. The fighters detained, beat and whipped these civilians, and took many of them to an M23 military camp, where they were trained and forced to become M23 fighters.

A 19-year-old secondary school student told Human Rights Watch that he was recruited by the M23 in March while he was farming near Kalengera, in Rutshuru:

I saw the M23 come and surround me. They asked me if I was an FDLR, and I said no. After that, they started whipping and beating me. They tied me up and took me to Rumangabo, where they locked me in a cell. After two days, they untied me, but left me in the cell for a week. After, they told me I would become a soldier. They then started the military training. There were 80 of us being trained. There were 10 officers from Rwanda who led the training. They told us we had to become soldiers so we could fight to liberate Goma and then continue on to South Kivu.

On June 3, the M23 went from house to house in Kiwanja’s Kachemu neighborhood, apprehending about 40 young men and boys whom they accused of collaborating with a local militia group. The fighters beat the civilians and detained them in a cell at the M23’s base in Nyongera. Many had difficulty walking the next day as a result of the ill-treatment. About half of the youth were released after their families paid the M23 guards; 20 were taken to Rumangabo to be trained as fighters.

In other cases, families do not know what happened to abducted relatives. In March and April, for example, M23 fighters in Busanza abducted four young men whom they accused of collaborating with a Congolese Hutu militia. Their families have not heard from them since.

Congolese army soldiers captured by M23 fighters described torture and other ill-treatment in detention. One soldier, who was taken by the M23 in December and escaped in early July, said that two other soldiers held prisoner with him were beaten to death. For three days, the rebels hit the prisoners with sticks and stomped on their chests, while their legs and arms were tied together. While beating them, the M23 demanded information about where the Congolese army was hiding its weapons. The two men were not given medical treatment and died in detention.

M23 Recruitment in Rwanda and Other Rwandan Support[edit]

Based on interviews with 31 former M23 fighters who deserted since late March and numerous civilians living on both sides of the border, Human Rights Watch has documented military support from Rwanda to the M23. The support includes the provision of weapons and ammunition. Armed men in military uniform have moved regularly from Rwanda into Congo to support the M23; these could be new recruits and demobilized soldiers who were given uniforms before crossing into Congo, or serving Rwandan soldiers.Rwandan army officers have been seen at M23 bases, leading training for new recruits, and recruiting for the M23 in Rwanda.

Those recruited in Rwanda and taken across the border to fight with the M23 include demobilized Rwandan soldiers and former FDLR fighters who are part of the Rwandan army’s Reserve Force, as well as civilians, including boys. Between January and June, UN peacekeepers demobilized and repatriated 56 former M23 fighters who said they were Rwandan nationals. But M23 deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch, as well as the UN Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that Rwandan army officers forcibly brought back Rwandan nationals who escaped the M23 and tried to return to Rwanda.

Human Rights Watch has documented the cases of seven Rwandan children, ages 15, 16, and 17, who were forcibly recruited in Rwanda in March and April, forced to fight with the M23, and were later able to escape. Human Rights Watch has received reports of other children recruited in Rwanda in recent months who have not been able to escape. A 15-year-old Rwandan boy told Human Rights Watch that he was forcibly recruited from his village in Nyabihu district in Rwanda with two other boys and a young man in late April. The four of them were making bricks when two men in civilian clothes offered them jobs as cow herders in Congo. The two men then took them by motorcycle to the Congolese border, and on to an M23 military camp. They were forced to become M23 fighters and were warned that they would be killed if they refused or tried to escape. The 15-year-old said that Rwandan army officers gave them military training for 10 days and that many other Rwandans were in his group of 58 new recruits. He said some of the Rwandan recruits tried to escape, but they were caught and brought back to the camp. A tutsi M23 officer who deserted in late May told Human Rights Watch that Rwandan recruits and soldiers arrived regularly throughout his time with the M23, from November through May. He said the soldiers would come and go, as they rotated in and out. The recruits were given military training and forced to stay in Congo. Many tried to flee back to Rwanda, he said, but some were caught once they crossed into Rwanda and were taken back to the M23.

One deserter told Human Rights Watch that a Rwandan soldier in his unit had told him in April that he was a demobilized soldier and had come to fight in Congo so he could have a higher rank in the Rwandan army when he went back. He said that two other Rwandans in his unit had escaped to Rwanda in March, but had been re-recruited and brought back to the M23. A former M23 officer said that two Rwandans in his unit escaped in mid-April. Soon after they arrived in Rwanda, the former officer said, neighborhood authorities informed military intelligence officials, who brought the young men back to the M23. They were detained by the M23 for a week, then redeployed.

M23 deserters described deliveries of weapons, ammunition, food, phone credit, and other supplies from Rwanda. One former officer said that the wives of Rwandan officers often came to the M23’s positions in Congo to visit their husbands, bringing with them letters from family members in Rwanda. All of the M23 deserters Human Rights Watch interviewed said the presence of Rwandan soldiers, officers, and trainers continued throughout their time with the M23, and that new arrivals – often bringing with them military and other supplies – continued coming from Rwanda in recent months. Three former M23 officers close to the movement’s leadership told Human Rights Watch that the M23’s senior commanders spoke on the phone and met regularly with senior Rwandan army officers until at least late May or June, when the three deserted. Sometimes Rwandan officers came to Tshanzu or Rumangabo to meet with the M23 leaders, and sometimes the M23 leaders went to Rwanda for meetings.

Rwandan Support for M23 Military Operations[edit]

M23 deserters and civilians from near the Congo-Rwanda border reported an increase in support from Rwanda to the M23 at the time of three recent periods of heavy fighting – during infighting between two M23 factions in March; during fighting between the M23 and the Congolese army around Mutaho in late May; and before the fighting north of Goma in mid-July. After the M23 split into two factions, Rwandan officials backed the faction led by Sultani Makenga against Bosco Ntaganda. A former M23 officer in Makenga’s faction told Human Rights Watch: “We were saved by Rwanda, and it’s thanks to their support that we were able to defeat Ntaganda’s group. They sent us ammunition and well-armed troops.”

  • On May 20, for example, a teacher in Kasizi, who lives next to the border, saw three trucks arrive at the border at about 5 p.m. A large number of armed men in Rwandan military uniforms with Rwandan flags on their uniforms got out of the trucks and crossed the border into Congo on foot, through the forest, just to the side of the official border crossing.

  • On May 21, a local resident told Human Rights Watch, he saw at least several dozen soldiers with Rwandan flags on the shoulders of their uniforms by the Ruhunda market in Kibumba at about 11 a.m., walking in single file. They had weapons and some were carrying boxes. Some who appeared to be of a higher rank carried walkie-talkies.

Human Rights Watch also received reports of increased movements of armed men from Rwanda into Congo in the days leading up to the fighting that broke out on July 14.

  • A farmer told Human Rights Watch that on the evening of July 10 he was visiting a relative who lives next to the Rwanda border in Kibumba groupement when he heard the sound of vehicles, looked out the window, and saw armed men in uniform going from the border toward Kibumba. Some were on foot and others in vehicles.
  • A farmer who lives on the Rwandan side of the border said he saw similar movements of trucks between July 7 and 11, in the evenings, bringing soldiers to the Rwandan army military position at Njerima. The men got out of the trucks at the border and crossed into Congo on foot.
  • Another Rwandan civilian who lives near the border, in Rubavu sector, told Human Rights Watch that Rwandan army officers called him and other local residents to a meeting in early July. A Rwandan army captain leading the meeting told those present that the FDLR was close to the border. “Instead of letting the war come to Rwanda,” he said. “We will go to the other side.”
  • Four days later, the same Rwandan civilian saw hundreds of Rwandan soldiers cross the border into Congo, carrying heavy weaponry. “Some had heavy guns, the kind that break down and three men each take one section,” he said. “Others were carrying mortars. Most of the men were on foot, but they also used two trucks covered with sheeting.”
  • A Rwandan farmer who lives near Kabuhanga village said he saw groups of several dozen Rwandan army soldiers cross into Congo between June 20 and June 30. He also saw a larger group cross on July 12, two days before fighting broke out.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Lemarchand, 10
  2. ^ a b Prunier, 51–52
  3. ^ Lemarchand states the figure of 400,000 given by Joseph Mutambo [Les Banyamulenges, (Limete: Impremerie Saint Paul, 1997), 26 (in French)] is "grossly exaggerated." Lemarchand, 10
  4. ^ Prunier, 51
  5. ^ Mamdani, 247–248
  6. ^ Mamdani, 250
  7. ^ a b Prunier, 52
  8. ^ Mamdani, 248
  9. ^ a b Mamdani, 248–249
  10. ^ Mamdani, 252


  • Lemarchand, René (2009). The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4120-4.
  • Mamdani, Mahmoud (2001). When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-05821-0.
  • Prunier, Gérard (2009). Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-537420-9.
  • Ruhimbika, Manassé (Müller). – Les Banyamulenge (Congo-Zaïre) entre deux guerres (préface de B. Jewsiewicki)

Paris, L’Harmattan, 2001, 299 p.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hiernaux, J. "Note sur les Tutsi de l'Itombwe," Bulletin et Mémoires de la société d'anthropologie de Paris 7, series 11 (1965) (in French)
  • Vlassenroot, Koen. "Citizenship, Identity Formation & Conflict in South Kivu: The Case of the Banyamulenge", in Review of African Political Economy – Vol. 29 No. 93/94, (Sep/Dec 2002), pp 499–515
  • Weis, G. Le pays d'Uvira (Brussels: ASRC, 1959) (in French)
  • Willame, J.C. Banyarwanda et Banyamulenge: Violences ethniques et gestion de l'identitaire au Kivu, Brussels: CEDAF, 1997. (in French)