A Year of Anguish: Remembering the Killings and Sexual Violence in Kishishe

One year ago, on November 29, 2022, the village of Kishishe and its surroundings in North Kivu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), were plunged into darkness when fighters from the M23 rebel group – which the UN says it is backed by Rwanda – launched a brutal attack on the civilian population.

In a horrific display of violence, M23 fighters systematically targeted men, women, and children, killing at least 20 men and subjecting at least 66 women and girls to rape, including gang rape. The United Nations in DRC estimates a much higher number of 170 people killed. These attacks left communities in shock and despair, and survivors continue to grapple with physical and emotional scars of this violence.

Amnesty International’s investigation into the Kishishe massacre revealed a pattern of targeted killings and widespread sexual violence. In our brief report, “DR Congo: Rwandan-backed M23 rebels perpetrating summary killings and rapes,” published on 17 February, we documented the harrowing experiences of survivors, who spoke of being hunted down in their homes and subjected to unimaginable cruelty. Men and boys were taken away and never heard of since, while others were killed on the spot. Survivors and witnesses told Amnesty International that the brutality against the civilian population in Kishishe and its surrounding villages was in retaliation for alleged support for the FDLR and other armed groups opposed to the M23 in this area. An eyewitness who saw bodies of those killed by M23 at a local church, counted at least 80 lifeless bodies.

Women and girls were raped, and gang raped, in front of their loved ones. One woman told us that out of seven M23 rebels who stormed into their compound, five raped her while calling her an FDLR wife. A 23-year-old with small children told us she was gang raped by two M23 rebels in front of the children and all her valuables were taken by the same men. These victims have received little to no humanitarian and other vital medical assistance. Even after seeking safety in IDP camps, women and girls continue to be subjected to sexual violence and sexual exploitation. The UN Children Fund reported more than 38,000 cases of GBV in 2022, including 600 hundred cases reported in IDP camps and their surroundings.

It is our assessment that the M23 committed war crimes in Kishishe and its surrounding villages between 21 and 20 November 2022. These violations – that the M23 denies – could amount to crimes against humanity. Little has been done to investigate these incidents and bring those responsible to account. Less, to preserve evidence of this despicable violence. Many had hoped that the withdrawal of the M23 rebels from Kishishe in April of this year was an opportunity for justice. However, that hope was short lived. The rebels retook the city of Kishishe on 12 November. Intense fighting has resumed in the surrounding villages, despite multiple regional and UN peace initiatives. UN agencies estimate close to 1 million people have been displaced due to the ongoing fighting. Civilians continue to be targeted by warring parties. The DRC government has called on the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation. In June, the ICC said it would promptly conduct a preliminary investigation on the situation in North Kivu.

On this one-year anniversary of the Kishishe massacre, and as we mark the 16 days of activism against violence against women, we remember the victims and stand in solidarity with survivors. Their stories must be heard, and their pain demands our compassion and unwavering support. The Congolese government and the international community must end the violence in eastern DRC. Only through justice and accountability will people in Congo enjoy human rights and lasting security.

Act here for justice for Kishishe.