Global Witness today expressed grave concern at the worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo caused by fighting between M23 rebels and the Congolese army (FARDC).
"The M23 and FARDC should cease hostilities immediately. Warring parties and UN peacekeepers must make protecting civilians and averting humanitarian disaster a priority," said Annie Dunnebacke, Campaign Leader at Global Witness.
The M23 now control the provincial capital Goma and according to local residents, civilians in the town were injured and killed by shooting and bombs in the last 24 hours of fighting. The escalating violence in North Kivu province over the past five days has led tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, including many who had already been displaced.
The UN published evidence earlier this year of Rwandan support to the M23 rebels and there have been reports of the group using sophisticated military equipment in this week's clashes. The M23 has been accused of committing serious human rights violations against civilians in recent months, including the recruitment of child soldiers. Dunnebacke said: "It's unacceptable for the Rwandan government to be bankrolling war in eastern DRC and Rwandan officials must immediately cease all support to M23 rebels."
The M23, who defected from the Congolese army in April this year, are mostly made up of former CNDP rebels who integrated with the FARDC in a 2009 peace deal. The CNDP have made millions of dollars over the past three years controlling lucrative mining areas in North and South Kivu, funds which are highly likely to have financed the M23 insurgency.
Global Witness investigations in North Kivu in October 2012 found evidence that M23 commander General Bosco Ntaganda - wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes - controls several mines in Masisi territory, north of Goma. Minerals produced in these sites are smuggled into neighbouring Rwanda and certified for export as domestic Rwandan production.
"The upsurge in violence in eastern DRC is a stark reminder of the risks involved in allowing abusive armed groups to prey on the lucrative minerals. Companies buying minerals from the region should carry out due diligence to international standards to ensure they aren't supporting warring parties through their purchases. Neighbouring countries such as Rwanda should introduce controls in the domestic minerals sector to ensure that Congolese conflict minerals are not being laundered through the country," said Dunnebacke.
Annie Dunnebacke on +44 207 492 5897 or +44 7912 517 127; firstname.lastname@example.org
Civilians caught in crossfire as M23 rebels take Goma.pdf