M23 rebels defeated under diplomatic and military pressure

Last year on Thanksgiving weekend, our partners in Congo were under siege. 

The M23 rebels, under the command and control of the Rwandan military, had invaded the city of Goma, and were terrorizing its residents. (They kicked off their campaign in the spring of last year by murdering 2 children, kidnapping 6 boys, and raping 12 girls in a Falling Whistles-funded rehabilitation center.) The UN peacekeepers who were charged with protecting Goma stood aside and let the rebels in. The Congolese army retreated to the town of Minova a few miles away, and retaliated against civilians for their defeat, raping hundreds of women. 

The rebels’ first moves upon arrival were to release thousands of prisoners into the streets, loot the central bank, and take control of the airport and the central armory. Under cover of darkness, they kidnapped dozens of Congolese whistleblowers from their homes. Several more were executed in public. 

During this critical moment, you stood in solidarity with our partners and rallied with us to #StopM23. We had been working behind the scenes in collaboration with dozens of partners for many months, but needed massive public pressure to tip the scales and change international policy towards Congo and Rwanda.

Together, working from a microsite that we built in 48 hours - - we bombarded Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, with over 25,000 Tweets, asking the US government to sanction and cut aid to M23’s chief backers in the Rwandan government. This campaign generated 60 million impressions and trended on Twitter in the US over the course of 24 hours.

It worked. International headlines exposed the connection between the Rwandan government and M23. Congress held emergency hearings on the issue. 9 Western countries cut or froze nearly half a billion dollars in aid to the government of Rwanda. 

One the same day that these cuts totaled 1% of Rwanda’s GDP and would have triggered pay cuts for civil servants, the M23 rebels retreated from Goma to attend peace talks. President Obama followed up on the rebels’ retreat with a personal phone call to Rwanda’s President to reiterate the consequences of continuing to support the rebels. 

The temporary withdrawal of Rwandan support sent the rebels into disarray. After days of bloody infighting, the rebels’ top commander, Bosco Ntaganda, showed up on the doorstep of an American embassy and asked the US government to fly him to Holland to face prosecution for war crimes. 

After Bosco’s arrest, the rebels reorganized and consolidated their control over the mineral-rich North Kivu province. They used their territory to traffic in conflict gold and insulate themselves from international pressure on their Rwandan backers. Every time the peace talks collapsed, the rebels would return to violence. 

In this context, key parties finally implemented recommendations that our coalition had promoted for years: 

The US government finally implemented our recommendation to appoint a US Special Envoy to Congo - former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. The UK and EU followed suit by appointing Envoys, too. 

The UN finally got serious about its peacekeeping mission, installing 2 decisive and aggressive new leaders and deploying an extra 3000 peacekeepers with a unique mandate to neutralize M23 and other rebel groups. 

Congo’s government finally implemented critical army reforms, flushing out corrupt commanders, paying soldiers their salaries, and improving logistics. 

10 weeks ago, the rebels reacted to these reforms by raining bombs on the city of Goma and killing dozens of civilians.

Fortunately, the terror was short-lived as the Congolese army and peacekeepers took heavy losses to push them back from the outskirts of Goma, forcing them to return to peace talks - this time the talks were brokered by the 5 Special Envoys. Around a week ago, the talks broke down again, and the rebels returned to their bunkers. 

The day after the talks broke down, Secretary of State John Kerry made a phone call to Rwanda’s President to deliver this message: “The peacekeepers are coming for your rebels. They are going to win. Stay out of it.”

And win they did. In 5 short days of fighting with limited civilian casualties, the UN and Congolese army flushed out the M23 rebels, liberating all of North Kivu from their occupation. 

Almost immediately, the liberators uncovered 3 fresh mass graves on former-M23 territory. The scope of M23’s abusive occupation is just beginning to come to light.

“[Rwandan President Paul Kagame] does not like the reputational damage that has come from people saying that his country has given support to an illegal armed group. It doesn’t fit the positive narrative he is building for his country … I am hoping that Rwanda has decided being tainted by the M23 is not in its interests." - US Envoy Russ Feingold


Takes sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. - E. WIESEL

The deadliest war in the world wages on in Congo. Please click the link to urge Ambassador Rice to take action via twitter or FB. This cause is urgent and it’s easy to make a big difference by pushing a button and forcing the issue on the conscience of our government officials, who can take action and help stop the bad guys. 

On Human Rights Day, give your whistle away. Today is the day we celebrate the declaration of human rights.  In 1948, it was the first written, global expression of the rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.

On this day, we ask that you go out into the street.  Find a friend, enemy, stranger or neighbor.  And give your whistle away.  Give it as a gift of love.  And let it spark a conversation about what is currently happening in Congo.  Ask that person if they would tweet Ambassador Rice to #StopM23.  And ask them if they would join you in speaking up for peace.

Take Action Now To #StopM23 proxy militia in the #Congo! Send a tweet to Ambassador Rice at @AmbassadorRice and/or call the US Mission to the United Nations at 212-415-4404 and demand that the US take decisive action against Rwanda at the United Nations.

Tweets Proposed:

We want peace in Congo, now @AmbassadorRice @Whitehouse #StopM23 #SanctionRwanda

@AmbassadorRice Name Rwanda

explicitly in @UN resolutions calling for an end to aggression against Congolese by Rwanda-backed militia #M23

@AmbassadorRice Sanction high-level Rwandan govt officials who back #M23 in Congo such as James Kabarebe, Charles Kayonga, Jacques Nziza.

@AmbassadorRice Sanction Rwanda for violating UN embargo on supplying weapons to armed militias in the DRC such as #M23 militia

“When elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.” - Swahili proverb

The past week has been devastating for our friends and partners in Congo. Last Wednesday and Thursday, the Congolese army and the Rwandan-backed M23 rebels started trading fire in the hills, just a few miles from the bustling city of Goma. After taking heavy losses, the M23 rebels upped the ante, firing 11 bombs straight into the residential neighborhoods of Goma.

Learn more on the Intel blog


Yesterday, the Falling Whistles coalition launched the #STOPM23 campaign and

The campaign goal is to provide an overwhelming public response directed to Susan Rice, United States ambassador to the United Nations. Through the sharing tool on the site, visitors can demand peace in Congo and sanctions on Rwandan and Ugandan leadership supporting the rebel group M23 by tagging her in public posts.

In response to the urgent threat, the campaign technology created a platform for users to reach US officials across social media channels, that have the power to enact sanctions on leaders supporting the group. 

Congo’s neighboring country Rwanda, receives approximately $200mm per year in aid from US taxpayers. Sanctions and a freeze on that support could result in the halt of support and resources to the M23 rebel group. In reaction to the irrefutable evidence of this fact, the Falling Whistles coalition spoke up:

We want peace in Congo, now @ambassadorrice @whitehouse #StopM23 #SanctionRwanda - Get LOUD! RT RT RT!!

— Sophia Bush (@SophiaBush)

November 28, 2012
  • 1500 sent tweets and posted demands within 12 hours. Demanding peace in Congo and sanctions on Rwanda to @AmbassadorRice.
  • Over 2 million people saw the campaign with wide reaching support by friends of the coalition Sophia Bush, Adam Braun, Nicole Crowther, Gillian Zinser, Jeremy Cowart, Dream Hampton and many more.
  • Susan Rice’s name was trending in the US on Twitter during the afternoon on east coast time.
  • U.S. officials responded. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, spoke out condemning the actions of M23, but again, failed to directly mention the support of Rwanda.
  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, met with Rwanda’s Foreign Minister to deliver a stern message on the country’s support of M23. 
  • M23 faces a Friday deadline to pull out of the city of Goma. This strategic retreat was coordinated by Rwandan President Kagame, Congolese President Kabila, and Ugandan President Museveni during closed-door talks in Kampala. Each of these leaders is facing increased international pressure.
  • It’s still not clear whether the rebels will actually leave Goma. If they do, they’ll haul away 1000 tons of weapons and ammo collected from the Congolese army. [from the ground via. Reuters’ news team]. 
  • These signs do not point to victory, but show the success of strategic diplomatic actions and the threat of sanctions as an effective path towards peace.

M23 has displaced over 800,000 Congolese citizens in their rapid advance on the mineral rich eastern Congo region of the Kivus since their formation in April, including an estimated 140,000 IDPs in the last week during their invasion of the regional capital, Goma. An estimated 60 have died in this recent siege of Goma, with hundreds injured and refugee camp situations deteriorating.

Falling Whistles has collected the world news coverage of this international humanitarian crisis on as a reference and education on the current affairs in the region and the world response.

To bring resolution to our world’s deadliest war, we must continue to provide an overwhelming public demand for sanctions on officials in Rwanda who are supporting the rebel group. Please visit, read and share the site to spread the word. | @FallingWhistles |

Dear Mr. President

Three weeks ago thousands of you demanded that Ambassador Rice Stop M23.  

Today, we join 14 global organizations in making your demands official, and getting them on a very important desk. 

It is working.  And it is because of you.

First, thank you. This letter is powerful.

Then, follow us for updates, donate for our partners affected by M23 violence last week, buy a whistle and use it as a tool.

Every single day, you have conversations. Elevate Congo. Speak for peace in the deadliest war of our time.

Towards peace.

- FW

No one understands the devastation of Congo’s rebellion industry better than the Congolese people. Today, a growing and committed group of Congolese activists stand at the forefront of a peaceful resistance movement. Justine is one of them.

Just before Bosco Ntaganda launched the M23 rebellion, Justine Masika Bihamba took to the airwaves to demand accountability for his crimes. As the founder of Synergie des Femmes, an acclaimed women’s rights organization in eastern Congo, Justine has a reputation for telling the unvarnished truth, no matter the consequence. [Check out our profile of her work with Synergie here.]

On March 14, 2012, during an interview on BBC radio, Justine called for the arrest of Bosco Ntaganda, a war criminal serving as a general in Congo’s army:

“The BBC interviewed me after the conviction of Thomas Lubanga last March [a Congolese found guilty of war crimes by the International Criminal Court]. The journalist asked me what I thought of the verdict. I of course praised it as a landmark decision in the fight against impunity, but I insisted that Lubanga’s accomplices should also be arrested and transferred to The Hague [where the international court is based]. I openly named Bosco Ntaganda as one of them.”

A few weeks later on April 10th, Justine joined dozens of Congolese civil society leaders in a rare face-to-face meeting with Congo’s President Kabila. In that meeting, they repeated Justine’s clarion call for Bosco’s arrest. That meeting was the first time that Kabila indicated that he might be open to the idea, and the word spread quickly. 

Bosco answered Justine’s activism with death threats:

“On April 16, Bosco and the members of his group organized a meeting about me in a hotel in Goma [the capital of North Kivu Province]. The purpose was to gather all possible information about me — my past, my activities and my schedule. On April 27, I received death threats by SMS text message. I started to hide from them; first in hotels, then within my family. Unfortunately, Bosco managed to locate me and his men surrounded my youngest brother’s house. So I had to leave Goma.”

Generous family members, friends, and fellow activists stepped in to assist Justine and Synergie during her time in exile.

Exactly 1 year and 4 days after Justine’s fateful BBC radio interview, Bosco turned himself in. His rebels were forced to retreat from Goma due to intense international and diplomatic pressure on his backers in the Rwandan government, and his control over the M23 movement faltered as a result. Fearing for his life, he showed up at the doorstep of the American Embassy in Rwanda and asked to be flown to the Hague to face prosecution for war crimes.

With Bosco locked up in the Hague, Justine gave a triumphant interview to Human Rights Watch:

“It is a feeling of happiness. Truly, it’s a strong signal in the struggle against impunity. I think all the warlords now know that one day they will be tried for the acts that they committed. During the reign of Bosco I suffered a lot, and couldn’t even stay at my house. I was forced to leave my country. I was forced to stop working. When I returned, every time I met someone on the street and if that person stared at me, I thought: that person is working with Bosco, and he is going to follow me. I lived in horror. And now, today, thank God, he’s going to the tribunal. What gives me the most comfort is that when you think you are a warlord and you are untouchable as he was called – ‘The Terminator’ – you should know that one day justice will triumph. That’s what gives me joy. Because now, he will be judged for his actions. And especially because justice is there to honor the memory of his victims.”

Today, not only is Bosco in prison, but his entire rebel force has been defeated on the battlefield. 1500 rebels have been arrested in Uganda, and the hunt continues for the high-ranking commanders. Good news like this is hard to come by in eastern Congo. Today we celebrate along with Congolese whistleblowers like Justine.

Last year, when M23 invaded the city of Goma, the blue helmeted Peacekeepers (under the leadership of American diplomat Roger Meece) stepped aside and let them in. The rebels released thousands of prisoners onto the streets, looted the central bank, raided the armory, cut power and water to most of the city’s residents, and assassinated Congolese whistleblowers by the dozen.

[Pictured: Congolese protestors carry the body of a civilian shot by UN peacekeepers.]

Congolese civilians had considered the peacekeepers irrelevant for many years, but suddenly the scandal was laid bare for the world to see. World headlines might as well have declared: “$1.5 Billion Budget and 17,000 troops Fail to Protect Fortified City from Band of Mutineers." 

The UN quickly reorganized, authorizing a new "Intervention Brigade” with a mandate to act aggressively to neutralize illegal armed groups alongside the Congolese army. The governments of Tanzania, Malawi, and South Africa contributed a total of 3,000 new troops to this Brigade. 

New commanders took over, as well. Germany contributed Martin Kobler as the top civilian commander of the peacekeeping force. The Brazilian General who had gone to battle with Haiti’s street gangs - Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz [pictured above] - took over military command of the new Brigade. 

Kobler & Santos Cruz abandoned the Congo peacekeeping mission’s historic stance of “impartiality,” got out of their air-conditioned SUVs, and made clear they were siding with the Congolese army against the rebels. They were immediately praised for their aggressive, no-nonsense approach. 

Quelle surprise … it worked. 

Using their helicopters to provide Congo’s army with air support, and risking life and limb to provide advice on the front lines, last week the peacekeepers stopped M23. Today, the last stronghold of the rebel leaders fled to neighboring countries and the remaining troops are in the process of being fully disarmed. 

The price has been steep. At least 4 UN peacekeepers paid with their lives to stop M23, and dozens more were wounded. 


Photos from the protest at the Peace Market in South Kivu.

Last week, the Falling Whistles coalition rose to protest. In the urgent and limited time we had, we shared the story the American media has not. Millions of people saw the #STOPM23 campaign because thousands of you tweeted Ambassasor Rice and posted status updates on Facebook.

It is working. Here’s what’s happened;

- M23’s Facebook page, one of their main platforms for distributing propaganda, has been removed from Facebook for violating terms of use. Facebook will not allow a group with ‘violent criminal activity" to maintain a page on their site.

- The United Kingdom has frozen $33 million in aid to Rwanda. 

- Germany froze $16 million in aid to Uganda over its support for M23.

- The Senate has passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, authorizing the President & Secretary of State to pass sanctions against M23 supporters. They still have not called out the Rwandan officials supporting M23 by name.

- The UN Security Council enacted targeted sanctions against Baudoin Ngaruye and Innocent Kaina. Both are former CNDP rebels integrated into the Congolese army under the March 23, 2009 peace deal. The Security Council still hasn’t sanctioned any Rwandan officials named in the UN Group of Experts reports.

- The UN Group of Experts has found even more extensive evidence of Rwanda and Uganda backing, equipping, and commanding M23 forces.

- M23 invaded a displacement camp the Falling Whistles team recently visited in Mugunga, a deadly displacement camp of conflict refugees. Six women were raped in the raid.

- Over the weekend, M23 engaged in a looting spree and a campaign of assassinations in Goma.

- As part of its looting spree, M23 invaded our partner CAMME’s rehabilitation center for war affected children, attacking the night guard, and stealing $2500 in equipment. Fortunately, no children were harmed or abducted.

It does not end here, keep spreading the word:

Congolese need equal partners and not saviors to rescue us from our "misery."

The arrogance of international organizations amaze me. Some wants to decide for the Congolese people by pushing for economic integration. Others flatly just claim they stopped M23. All that’s in my head right now is the many Congolese soldiers who have died in the front fighting for peace in the Congo.

Let’s remember there are new mass graves in the Kivus that have been found while we are trying to get credits.

In the summer of 2012, M23 was months into their violent occupation of eastern Congo as UN reports surfaced linking the rebels to the government of Rwanda.

In Stockholm, a group of whistleblowers rallied their city to Stop M23. On August 8 & 9, local leaders Anders Olsson, Sacha Jean-Baptiste, Naomi Pilgrim, Jimmy Hansen, David Levin, and Valter Frank put together a two-day event for 1500 attendees at the nightclub F12 to raise awareness of the M23’s abuses and to demand that the Swedish government cut its aid to Rwanda.

The same week as the F12 event, the Stockholm Whistler Society arranged an hour-long segment about the war in Congo on Swedish public radio. Following the radio broadcast and the F12 event, Stockholm was buzzing with news of a war they had previously known little about.

On August 13th, 2012, the Swedish Government cut 32 million dollars in aid to Rwanda.

Later that year when M23 invaded Goma, the Stockholm Whistler Society sprung to action again. The day after Falling Whistles went live with, they created a duplicate Swedish version - - which directed Swedish activists to Tweet to their Minister of Foreign Affairs, asking him to sanction Rwandan officials supporting M23.

At the same time, they launched a campaign to raise emergency funds for FW’s partners whose work and personal security were threatened by M23’s invasion. In 5 days, they raised 90211 SEK ($13,866) and wired the money directly to accounts in eastern Congo. In a time of profound crisis for our partners, the Stockholm Whistler Society provided critical support.