December 1, 2022

U.S. ‘strongly condemns’ resumption of fighting between Rwanda and DR Congo, puts the blame on M23 armed group

U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price briefs reporters during a department press briefing, from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/
U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price briefs reporters during a department press briefing, from the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2021. [State Department photo by Ron Przysucha/

The United States on Monday condemned the resumption of fighting between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saying that it has caused significant human suffering and death.

The U.S., however, put the blame on the March 23 Movement (M23) armed group in the DRC, referring to it as “the U.S.- and UN-sanctioned M23 armed group,” and calling “on all actors in the region to stop any support or cooperation with M23 or other non-state armed groups.”

“The United States strongly condemns the resumption of fighting by the March 23 Movement (M23) armed group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The resumption of hostilities since October 20 has caused significant human suffering, including deaths and injuries among civilians and significant numbers of newly displaced persons,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Price added, “The United States calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  We call for the U.S.- and UN-sanctioned M23 armed group to withdraw from its positions, disarm, and rejoin the Inter-Congolese dialogue (Nairobi process) in preparation for disarmament, demobilization, and community reintegration offered by the Government of the DRC.

“We call on all actors in the region to stop any support or cooperation with M23 or other non-state armed groups.  We remain deeply alarmed by the increase in hate speech and urge a halt to violent rhetoric.  We also reiterate that involvement in planning, directing, sponsoring or conducting attacks against UN peacekeepers constitutes a basis for sanctions designations pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“We urge an  immediate resumption of the Nairobi Process and of the Luanda trilateral mediation process to find a lasting resolution.  All state parties of the East African Community (EAC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) must uphold the principles agreed through the East African Heads of State Conclave and the Luanda mediation Process. Finally, we express our strong support for the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC.”

The proxy war between Rwanda and DRC has been raging for months and has left thousands of people dead and many displaced. United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken tried to bring all parties together when he visited both countries in August to announce the new U.S. policy for Africa. And it seemed to have worked. But now, fighting has resumed and civilians are at risk once again.

In June, Human Rights Watch called on Congolese security forces and the M23 armed group in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to minimize harm to civilians during renewed fighting, noting that past fighting between government forces and the rebels resulted in widespread abuses against the civilian population and prolonged humanitarian crises.  

Armed conflict in North Kivu province since May 22, 2022 has forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, as M23 rebels launched their biggest offensive against government troops in a decade. On May 25, heavy fighting reached the outskirts of the provincial capital, Goma. The fighting in eastern Congo is bound by international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prohibit summary execution, rape, torture, forced recruitment, and other abuses, the organization said.

“The M23 armed group was responsible for countless atrocities in the past and the renewed fighting in North Kivu raises grave concerns about the danger to civilians in the area,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “All parties, including rebel forces, security forces of Congo and its neighbors, and United Nations peacekeepers, are obligated under international law to spare civilians.”

Since hostilities resumed, the governments of Rwanda and Congo have exchanged accusations about the fighting.  Rwanda said that the Congolese army fired rockets onto its territory, “injuring several civilians and damaging property.” Congo alleged that the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) was actively fighting alongside M23. 

Rwanda has alleged that the Congolese army was collaborating with the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR), a largely Rwandan Hutu armed group operating in Congo, some of whose members took part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and had attacked Rwandan forces and “kidnapped two of its soldiers while on patrol” along the border. On May 29, a Congolese military spokesman said it was holding two Rwandan soldiers “captured by the population.”  

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