M23 rebels in Congo’s North Kivu province have displaced a number of transgender people and left them even more vulnerable to persecution.
M23 rebels last November approached Goma, the province’s capital city, and forced around 180,000 people to leave their homes. Jérémie Safari, coordinator of Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko, a Congolese LGBTQ and intersex rights group, told the Washington Blade that residents of the Kibumba camp where displaced people have settled have refused to assist trans people and have accused them of being sorcerers.
“Trans people went (through) war like everyone else,” said Safari. “In the Kibumba camp where the displaced have settled, the local community there has refused trans people access, accusing them of being sorcerers, bad luck charms and of being the origin of the war following their evil practice.”
Safari said other displaced people who did not want trans women in the camp have attacked them. Safari said these trans women currently sleep in the street in Kibumba without food.
Safari, in addition, said the government has done little to help these displaced trans people, even though consensual same-sex sexual relations are not criminalized in the country.
“The displaced people received help but not the trans people since they do not live in the camp and also the government is still extremely hostile towards LGBTIQA+ organizations in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). No LGBTQA+ organization can be legally recognized by the Congolese State,” said Safari.
Safari said Rainbow Sunrise Mapambazuko currently needs funds to provide housing, food and medicine to the displaced trans people.
“If we could have $7,000 (U.S. dollars) firstly for their survival, since we are afraid of their life and their health which is in danger, that would be of immense help,” said Safari.
The M23 since last May has demonstrated increased firepower and defensive capabilities that have enabled the group to overrun U.N.-backed Congolese troops and hold territory.
The U.N. says the fighting between Congolese troops and M23 rebels has forced nearly 200,000 people to flee their homes.
Human Rights Watch has called upon the U.N., the African Union and governments to publicly denounce M23 abuses found to have been committed by other combatants, maintaining sanctions against senior M23 commanders and expanding them to those newly found responsible for serious abuses and senior officials from across the region complicit in them. Human Rights Watch also said any political settlement should not include amnesty for those responsible for human rights abuses and prevent responsible M23 commanders to integrate into the Congolese armed forces.
“The government’s failure to hold M23 commanders accountable for war crimes committed years ago is enabling them and their new recruits to commit abuses today. Civilians in eastern Congo should not have to endure new atrocities by the M23,” said Thomas Fessy, a senior DRC researcher at Human Rights Watch.
M23 sprung from elements within the Congolese army in 2012.
The rebel group claims it is defending the rights of Congolese Tutsi and originally comprised of soldiers who participated in a mutiny from the Congolese army in April-May 2012. They claimed their mutiny was to protest the Congolese government’s failure to fully implement the March 23, 2009, peace agreement — M23 derives from this date — that had integrated them into the Congolese army.
The Congolese army and the U.N. Force Intervention Brigade defeated M23 in November 2013, and its members fled to Rwanda and Uganda. The group re-emerged in November 2021.