Amnesty International calls on the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23) armed group to cease targeting civilians following the unlawful killing of dozens of civilians in towns in the east of the country in recent days in indiscriminate attacks and, in some cases, summary killings.
Those killed during attacks in and around the communities of Bambo and Kishishe, among others, between November 28 and December 1 included elderly men and children.
Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes region said: “The M23 rebel group must immediately end deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. We urge all forces in the area, including the Congolese army and the East African Community Regional Force, to take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population while respecting international humanitarian law."
“Even if M23 had assumed that some of the civilians it captured were fighters of another armed group, M23 should have treated them humanely as prisoners. They should not have been killed. The deliberate killing of captives – whether civilians or fighters -- is a war crime."
The statement by Amnesty International comes a day after the Democratic Republic of Congo's army accused M23 insurgents of killing 50 civilians and breaching a five-day-old truce in the country's restive east.
In turn, the M23 responded with a statement describing accusations of a massacre in Kishishe as "baseless allegations" and insisting that "it has never targeted civilian populations".
The ceasefire took effect in North Kivu province last weekend following a summit between DRC and its neighbour Rwanda.
The United Nations and international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said they were aware of the killings in Kishishe in North Kivu province, but could not provide details or information about the number of fatalities.
The DRC has accused its neighbour, Rwanda, of supporting M23, a charge that Kigali has denied.
The M23 rebel group sprung from elements within the Congolese army in 2012, claiming to defend the rights of the Congolese Tutsi ethnic group.
The group was defeated by the Congolese army and the UN Force Intervention Brigade in November 2013, and its members fled to Rwanda and Uganda. In November 2021, the group began operating again in North-Kivu province with support from the Rwandan army, according to a leaked report in June 2022 from the UN Group of Experts.
After a truce, fighting resumed in October between the M23 and the Congolese army, with M23 managing to capture much of the Rutshuru area of North Kivu.
Although fighting between the Congolese army and M23 has abated in the last two weeks, clashes have been regularly reported between the M23 and other armed groups, including the FDLR.
Talks between the DRC government and Congolese armed groups, known as the Nairobi Process, under the auspices of the East African Community, resumed this week in Nairobi, Kenya.
M23 was not invited, with the Congolese authorities setting as a prerequisite for talks the group’s withdrawal from all the areas it has occupied since November 2021.
The impact of M23's resurgence on civilians has been dire, with dozens killed and more than 200,000 displaced since October.