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US Sanctions Rights Abusers in Eastern Congo

For First Time, Senior Rwandan Commander Targeted for Backing M23

M23 fighters in Kibumba, near Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, December 23, 2022.  © 2022 Arlette Bashizi/Reuters

The United States government has imposed financial and property sanctions on six individuals, including senior Rwanda military commander Brig. Gen. Andrew Nyamvumba, for their roles in backing abusive armed groups in the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The US government sanctioned Col. Salomon Tokolonga, a regiment commander of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), and four leaders or senior commanders of the M23 and Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) armed groups operating in North Kivu.

The Rwanda-backed M23 offensive in eastern Congo since early 2022 has resulted in civilian deaths and humanitarian suffering, and the displacement of more than a million people. By sanctioning a senior Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) commander for the first time, the US sends a strong message to Rwanda that its support to the abusive M23 armed group has consequences.

The US Treasury said Nyamvumba led operations for the RDF’s 3rd Division, which has conducted attacks on Congolese army positions and camps together with M23 fighters in 2022. In June, the United Nations Group of Experts on Congo documented that Nyamvumba coordinated RDF operations.

Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the M23’s abuses since its resurgence. Two investigations published in June exposed horrific abuses by the group and called for sanctions against its leaders and Rwandan commanders supporting them.

In July, the European Union imposed targeted sanctions against seven individuals, including RDF Capt. Jean-Pierre Niragire, known as Gasasira. The EU stopped short of sanctioning other more senior commanders or expressing concerns about Maj. Gen. Alex Kagame’s appointment as  commander of the RDF Joint Task Force in Mozambique in June, despite him having led operations in Congo in 2022, according to UN investigators. The RDF operations in Mozambique received financial support from the EU last year.

The EU and US both sanctioned FARDC’s Colonel Tokolonga for his role in the Congolese army’s collaboration with abusive militias in the fight against the M23. Human Rights Watch had documented brutal abuses by these armed groups and called for the Congolese army to end this support and hold senior officers responsible to account.

While the US sanctions raise the costs to the individuals supporting abusive armed groups, further sanctions against senior leaders and officials are needed to end Rwandan support to the M23.

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