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Congo civilians forgotten victims of a brutal insurgency

by Zahid Jadwat

A UN peacekeeper and Hema villagers stand amid the wreckage of a village within the Djugu area of Ituri province. [Picture: Alex Mcbride Wilson/Al Jazeera]


While much of the world’s eyes are trained on ethnic cleansing in Palestine, atrocities of tremendous proportion are unfolding in the resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the most ignored conflicts in the world, political instability in eastern parts of the country has been exacerbated by neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda.

In just under three decades, since 1996, ongoing battles between the government and neighbour-backed rebel groups under M23 have displaced more than a million and killed around six million others. The reports of war crimes, including rape and unlawful killings, are plenty. Yet the suffering of civilians in this corner of the world is hardly spoken of.

“I think about the women and the girls we interviewed in the context of our latest reports; women who told us the tragedies they went through and how they were, for instance, raped in front of their children and husbands,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya when asked what was the first thing that came to mind whenever she heard ‘M23’.


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Ongoing violence

The global headlines are littered with stories of civilian casualties from conflicts in Myanmar, Syria, Palestine and elsewhere. But there is little mention of unlawful killings and mass graves deep in the Congo.

“Armed groups and often abusive security forces continue to carry out massacres, abductions, rape and sexual violence, recruitment of children, and other attacks on civilians with near total impunity,” reads a country profile for Congo on Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) website.

In an interview with Al Jazeera’s Femi Oke, the Deputy Africa Director at HRW lamented the “lack of political will” to bring an end to the deadly violence. “It’s a region that has not been able to muster a coordinated action to end the cycle of abuses and hold perpetrators accountable.”

What began in 1996 intensified in 2021. Since a new offensive began in 2021, the situation has deteriorated. M23 seized territory in North Kivu but later withdrew, leaving villagers shattered. At least 14 mass graves were allegedly dug.

Said Nantulya, “Our documentation has uncovered serious crimes. We are calling for forensic preservation of evidence. We’re calling for an end to the support for M23. We’re calling for a human rights due-diligence policy to be within the regional force deployment, the East African Community Deployment, that is ongoing”.


Julie Allie spoke to Musinguzi Goodluck Ronald, a journalist and editor with Kigezi News based in Uganda, to find out more about the ‘silent genocide’ in the Congo. You can listen to that interview here.

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