Editor’s note: The story of the alleged massacres committed by the M23 rebels in Kishishe, eastern DRC, is of particular interest to the Pan African Review. Indeed, as a publication, we are committed to bringing a conscientious perspective to African stories – one that humanizes Africans. Accordingly, when UN investigators accused the M23 rebels of having massacred more than a hundred Congolese civilians, we could not remain indifferent. We know all too well how indifference reduces African lives and deaths to faceless numbers which are then used by unscrupulous individuals and entities to advance political and economic interests. Indifference to African lives has also characterized approaches taken by African institutions in conflict resolution. This was the case recently during the conflict in northern Ethiopia, Tigray region, where accusations of genocide were not properly investigated by the African Union and relevant regional organisations. Similar indifference from African institutions was observed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, which most likely would have never been recognized without the decisive military victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). We believe that if Africa is to find peace with itself, we must first and foremost restore the value of African lives. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to examine the accusations leveled by UN investigators against the M23 rebels. The report published here attempts to scrutinize those accusations. We welcome those with a different perspective on the issues at hand to scrutinize this work.
These efforts must be complemented however by the work of our institutions. In this regard, we call for a proper investigation by the African Union and the East African community into the events that took place in Kishishe. Any individual involved in acts that constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of genocide should be held accountable.
The Kishishe Report
On 30th November 2022, in her recent address to the United Nations Security Council, the UN Secretary General’s Special envoy to DRC and Head of MONUSCO, Ms. Bintou Keita, “called on the Council to condemn these crimes”, and to “ask the immediate release of the survivors that are prevented from leaving the area held by the M23. She further asked for those responsible to be prosecuted nationally and internationally.” She did not request for an investigation on the ground.
On 30th November 2022, a day before the allegations on Kishishe massacres surfaced, the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Ms. Alice Wairimu Nderitu, had issued a statement following a four day visit (10-13 November 2022) to the DRC, raising the alarm that “indicators and triggers contained in the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes were present in DRC including; dissemination of hate speech, widespread and systematic attacks, including sexual violence against especially the Banyamulenge community on the basis of their ethnicity and perceived allegiance with neighboring countries.”
It is against this backdrop that a group of journalists and one Human Rights lawyer entered in contact with M23 to travel to Kishishe so they could learn what really happened from the ground, in order to shed more light on the events. The inquiry focused on reconstructing the timeline, establishing facts and sequences of the events, locating potential mass graves, identifying the number, identity and category of victims and how they died and finally, identifying the suspected perpetrators.
The facts finding mission started on 9th December 2022 and lasted for five days. It covered the villages of Kishishe and Bambo. The team conducted individual and group filmed interviews of residents found in their two villages.
The field research was conducted in the presence of elements of M23 providing security. A representative of M23 signed an agreement with the research team, not to interfere in the research methodology nor to influence respondents. Separate interviews were conducted with an M23 liaison officer, Lt. Col. Julien Mahano. However, other junior elements of M23 were interviewed by stealth, to give an unscripted version of facts. Interviews were conducted in French, Kiswahili and Kinyarwanda. Except M23 soldiers, no other respondent admitted to being a member of other militias that allegedly operate in Kishishe, namely Mai-Mai, Nyatura and FDLR.
As videos demonstrate, the presence of M23 soldiers during group interviews did not prevent the residents from speaking their mind, as they did not fear to accuse M23 directly of the killings that recently took place in the locality in the recent days.
A questionnaire was sent to other protagonists who commented on Kishishe’s alleged massacres, namely: Government of DRC, GoR and MONUSCO, for a right to comment.
To download the PDF version of the report, click on the following link.
A French version of the report is also available here.