KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — On Nov. 19, armed men from a rebel group called the M23 were looking for a prominent civil society leader in a village outside Goma, a provincial capital in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He'd been in hiding for several weeks after receiving text messages threatening him for his public denunciations of M23 abuses. When the rebels didn't find him, they shot his colleague, killing him.
The next day, the M23 — fighters who had integrated into the Congolese army in 2009 but mutinied earlier this year — took control of Goma. Ten days later, most of the M23 fighters began withdrawing, and local residents started telling Human Rights Watch about the abuses that these rebels had committed in many parts of the city and neighboring villages: killings, rapes, looting and other violence. The rebels targeted perceived opponents, including activists, government officials and their family members. Many of those people went into hiding after receiving personal threats.
M23 fighters shot a 4-year-old girl in the head after she asked why they were taking her father away. An 18-year-old woman said that M23 fighters broke into her home and demanded money and cellphones. They beat her and she gave them what she had, but it wasn't enough. One of the fighters loaded his gun and told her, "If you don't have sex with me, I'll kill you." He proceeded to rape her while her 1-year-old daughter lay next to her.