The Democratic Republic of Congo’s government recruited fighters from a rebellion it defeated in 2013 to suppress protests by opponents of President Joseph Kabila in December last year, Human Rights Watch says in a new report.
Senior Congolese security officials mobilized “at least 200 and likely many more” M23 combatants from camps in Rwanda and Uganda, where many fighters have been based since the armed group’s defeat in November 2013, the New York-based advocacy group said in a report published Monday.
The 69-page report, “‘Special Mission’: Recruitment of M23 Rebels to Suppress Protests in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” documents that the men were then deployed to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, and the cities of Goma and Lubumbashi where they were given “new uniforms and weapons and integrated into the police, army, and units of the Republican Guard, the presidential security detail,” it said.
Kabila’s decision in December 2016 not to step down at the end of his mandate triggered protests throughout the copper- and cobalt-rich country. A crackdown by the security forces led to the death of at least 62 people and the arrest of hundreds more between Dec. 19 and Dec. 22, according to Human Rights Watch. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office said in a report published in February that gunshot wounds on several victims showed the security forces used a “shoot-to-kill approach” to deal with the demonstrators.
Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende called Human Rights Watch’s allegations “truly ridiculous.”
“We have a professional army and a professional police force,” he said by phone Sunday from Kinshasa, describing M23 fighters as “little killers and thugs.”
Before its defeat in a joint offensive by UN and Congolese forces, M23 was the strongest rebellion in eastern Congo, an area where dozens of armed groups continue to operate more than a decade after the end of the country’s civil war. During a two-year insurgency, M23 controlled large parts of the mineral-rich region and briefly captured its biggest city, Goma.
Congolese police spokesman Colonel Pierrot Mwanamputu and armed forces spokesman General Leon-Richard Kasonga didn’t respond to calls from Bloomberg seeking comment on