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Atrocities Watch Africa Newsletter

Atrocities Watch Africa (AWA) is a non-partisan civil society organisation that provides continental leadership in matters pertaining to the prevention of mass atrocities within Africa. Our strategies and approaches are grounded in the realisation that atrocities can be prevented through various interventions, including, but not limited to, early warning mechanisms, diplomatic efforts, use of social media and new technologies, litigation, and advocacy campaigns.

This newsletter builds on our team’s continuous monitoring of the region that allows us to identify deteriorating situations where atrocities may be committed as well as track ongoing situations of ongoing atrocities to detect increasing tendencies or opportunities for improvement.

This month's newsletter covers:

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo

  • Mali

  • Zimbabwe

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for 20 December but the security situation poses a threat not only to the campaigning but also to the polls, demonstrations have been prohibited and some politicians have been arrested, according to Trésor Kibangula, an Ebuteli political analyst. At least six opposition candidates already warned of possible fraud and irregularities as the National Independent Electoral Commission is seen as biased in favour of the ruling party. The International Crisis Group reported that over a million people haven’t been able to access their voter cards due to insecurity and others were prevented from registering by election officials. The security situation is an additional concern with experts warning about possible abuse of force by security forces, clashes between supporters of various parties, increased attacks by armed groups or violence at polling stations if civilians are unable to cast their votes. Crisis Group warned that if the election results are questioned, a wider political crisis could develop, which could be aggravated if fighting continues or worsens in the east. Crisis Group’s Richard Moncrieff shed light on an alarming rise in inflammatory rhetoric from politicians exploiting existing feuds towards certain communities and neighbouring countries, particularly Rwanda.

Clashes resurfaced at the end of October in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after almost six months of calm. In the past month, the pro government Wazalendo militia regained control of Kitshanga – Masisi territory – creating a shift in the power balance and further complicating regional dynamics. It is unclear with whom the Wazalendo collaborated, but speculations include the  Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Hutu-dominated militia who Rwandan President Paul Kagame accuses of complicity in the 1994 genocide. Dr. David Matsanga, a London-based Ugandan expert on conflict resolution and chairman of Pan African Forum UK LTD, speculates that the presence of FDLR fighters so close to the Rwandan border could increase tensions and provoke a military response.

As peacekeeping forces are set to withdraw, fighting intensified and the rebels nearly reached Sake, a town just 20km outside of North Kivu’s capital, Goma. Rebels also took over the town of Mushaki, which they had returned to the army in February this year. However, a 72-hour ceasefire aimed at advancing the implementation of confidence building measures to protect civilians and de-escalate tensions was secured by the US on 11 December and was supported by both the DRC and Rwanda. 

The renewed clashes directly impacted civilians with at least 450,000 newly displaced in just six weeks and over 3,000 reported human rights violations, including both rape and arbitrary killings in October alone, nearly double the figure from the previous month. 

Civil society called on the UN Security Council (UNSC) to pressure the parties of the Nairobi and Luanda peace processes to ensure a political solution to the crisis in the region and for a greater inclusion of civil society in the processes. The UNSC is expected to hold a briefing on the situation in the DRC in December 2023 where they will discuss the renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, which is set to expire on 20 December. Although the mandate is expected to be renewed, it is anticipated that this will be paired with the mission’s drawdown. 

In the context of the extremely volatile security situation, it is concerning that M23 and other armed groups may exploit gaps in security and advance further. While the SADC plans to deploy troops imminently, if there is delay or insufficient capacity this may have a negative impact on civilians. There is a risk that increased tensions may lead to election-day violence or post-election unrest. In light of the current situation there is an urgent need for well-coordinated efforts to ensure stability and protect the citizens of the DRC.

International response:The European Union (EU) cancelled its election monitoring mission due to security concerns. 

Huang Xia, the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes, warned about the problems collaboration between the FARDC and armed groups could cause with neighbouring Rwanda. The risk of direct confrontation remains high. 

Tshisekedi and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) signed an agreement allowing SADC troops to deploy to the east of the country to work alongside FARDC and restore peace and stability in the region. The troops are to be deployed in the coming days and will be deployed for an initial 12 months to “neutralise negative forces and armed groups.” There is, however, some uncertainty around when troops will be able to fully deploy with some States indicating a lack of funds for this. Analysts raised concerns around SADC exclusively targeting M23 rebels, to the exclusion of other important actors and of being seen to side with the FARDC. 

The East African Community (EAC) Regional Force agreed to withdraw its troops, formally ending its mandate on 8 December 2023 and expecting to complete withdrawal by 8 January 2024. EAC member states Kenya, Burundi and Uganda all have existing bilateral arrangements with the DRC, which will allow them to maintain a presence. 

This piece was developed ahead of the elections on December 20, reflections on the outcome of elections will be shared in the next newsletter.


Following a spike in violence in the Kidal region in October, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) documented that political violence events again rose by nearly 40% in November compared to the previous month. During the conflict in Kidal, clashes erupted between Malian armed forces (FAMa) troops and the Wagner Group, against the Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP) rebel coalition. Following intense drone strikes, the CSP retreated, leading to Kidal’s capture by the FAMa and Wagner forces. The Wagner mercenaries were among the first to enter the town, hoisting their flag on the fortress of Kidal, marking a pivotal triumph for the mercenary group.

According to ACLED, violence increased by six times compared to the previous month. It reached levels not seen since the French military operation in 2013. The joint forces of FAMa and Wagner advanced northward, encountering intense confrontations in the Kidal and Tessalit regions. They seized control of Anefis and the former Amachach base of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission (MINUSMA). With the bolstered presence of Wagner and FAMa at the Amachach base, tensions escalated with the CSP attempting to surround the base while Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen (JNIM) directed heavy gunfire towards MINUSMA, FAMa, and Wagner cargo aircraft. This offensive resulted in violence against civilians, leading to the reported deaths of over 30 civilians and significant damage to schools, residences, and businesses.

With the commencement of the MINUSMA withdrawal in July 2023, there has been a surge in insecurity. The conflict between militants and the national army has reignited, leading to an escalation in militant attacks. Mali’s security situation, already delicate, risks reverting to the levels witnessed in 2012 when jihadists attempted to seize key towns, including Timbuktu. The withdrawal has exacerbated rivalries between armed groups present in the north of the country and the Malian state.

The withdrawal of MINUSMA also has implications for those working with the mission.

Translators for German UN troops in Mali expressed concerns for their safety as the UN mission concludes its operations. They wrote to the German government asking for protection as the jihadist groups that operate in northern Mali regard those who work with the UN as traitors. The terrorists have been openly saying that any person working for international forces is considered an enemy.

On 14 November, a convoy of MINUSMA peacekeepers withdrawing from the military base in Kidal in northern Mali was hit by two improvised explosive devices, injuring 22 people. This was the 6th incident since since the peacekeepers began leaving their base in Kidal on 31 October, bringing the total number of peacekeepers injured in the convoy to 39.

A mass grave was found in the town by Malian armed forces who recaptured the town from ethnic Tuareg separatists on 16 November 2023. The Mali forces retook Kidal while MINUSMA left their camp there as part of an agreement to withdraw from the country by the end of the year. Tuareg rebels claimed to have seized another Malian army base in Bamba in northern Mali on 1 October, the fourth since August. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the Islamist fighters affiliated with the Al-Qaeda-linked Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimeen, JNIM) have been responsible for the deaths of over 160 civilians, including at least 24 children, since the beginning of April. During the counterinsurgency operations, the 

Malian armed forces have killed up to 40 civilians, including at least 16 children. Critics have pointed out that the Malian government has not sufficiently safeguarded civilians in regions affected by conflict. 

This year, ACLED has documented an average of over 100 civilian fatalities each month. This follows a decade in which civilians were targeted for killings, injuries, torture, kidnappings, conflict-linked sexual violence, and the looting of essential livelihood resources. The persistent conflict has compelled many to abandon their homes, leading to over 550,000 individuals as internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries. This shows a slight decrease from the 580,000 reported in March, which was the highest number of displaced persons ever recorded by the UN in Mali.

The International Crisis Group highlights that the ongoing conflict isn’t merely isolated clashes but carries the risk of evolving into a protracted, costly conflict for all parties involved. Both the transitional authorities and the armed rebel groups appear to face challenges in achieving swift victories.

International response:

On 16 June  2023, Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop told the United Nations Security Council to withdraw the UN MINUSMA “without delay,” citing a “crisis of confidence” between the Malian authorities and the 15,000-member UN peacekeeping force. 

On 30 June, the UN Security Council decided toterminate MINUSMA’s mandate,” ceasing its operations, transferring its tasks and withdrawing its personnel by 31 December 2023. 

MINUSMA has  abandoned 13 positions in Mali but continues to maintain its presence in sites located in the northern regions of Gao and Timbuktu.

On 8 December  2023, the UN mission in Mali handed over one of its last camps in the country. This marks the end of its 10-year deployment in Mali. A liquidation phase will follow the withdrawal deadline of 1, January involving activities such as handing over equipment to the authorities.


In the aftermath of the Zimbabwean general elections on 23 – 24 August, Human Rights Watch, Southern Defenders, and Amnesty International issued a statement on 15 November condemning a pattern of violence including instances of abductions, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and killings of parliament members, members of the CCC, and human rights defenders. Emmerson Mnangagwa of the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU – PF), the successor to long-time President Robert Mugabe, defeated Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) to secure the presidency.

In the lead up to the elections, human rights defenders, including Obey Shava, a lawyer representing CCC members and other opposition activists, were subjected to brutal attacks by unknown assailants, with Shava attacked on 5 July. During a CCC press conference held on 26 August, suspected security agents attempted to abduct CCC spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi, and were prevented from doing so by CCC activist Nelson Mukwenha. Later that day, Mukwenha was abducted from his home, and tortured and dumped in a forest outside Harare. 

Followers of the ZANU-PF have also been implicated in human rights abuses. On 3 August, a CCC activist Tinashe Chisunge was stoned to death by party supporters on his way to a CCC rally in Harare.

Violence continued following the announcement of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of by-elections for parliamentary seats, with former opposition member of parliament James Chidhakwa abducted and subjected to torture and injected with an unknown substance on 22 October. On 1 November, 24-year old CCC parliamentarian Takudzwa Ngadziore recorded himself on facebook live being chased by a man wielding a military assault rifle. The CCC later reported that Ngadziore was beaten, injected with an unknown substance, and found naked and dumped in a Harare suburb. On 13 November, the body of CCC activist Tapfumanei Masaya was found on a farm. Tapfumanei had been abducted alongside activist Jeffrey Kalosi on 11 November during the CCC’s by-elections campaign. Both men were subjected to torture, and Kalosi was also dumped in the same area but survived.

The by-elections were triggered when Sengezo Tshabangu, representing himself as the CCC Secretary General, recalled dozens of elected CCC members of parliament on 3 October reporting that the parliamentarians had run as CCC candidates but were no longer members of the party. The CCC reacted by stating that Tshabangu was not a party member and holds no official position. Despite the CCC’s statement, Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda wrote to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declaring the seats vacant. By-elections to be held to fill the seats were held on 9 November, 11 December, and a third round is scheduled for 3 February 2024. The move by Tshabangu is believed to be aimed at reducing the number of CCC members in parliament, who after winning 100 seats in the elections broke the two thirds ZANU-PF majority needs to make constitutional changes.

Zimbabwe has a long history of electoral violence and increasing tightening of civic space. The 2018 elections following Mugabe’s removal from power saw Mnangagwa elected in elections marred by serious irregularities and voter intimidation, and excessive use of force by security services who fired live ammunition at protestors demonstrating against the results. Five people were killed and 35 injured, with the subsequent Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry established by Mnangagwa failing to take on recommendations calling for accountability, reform of the electoral act, and changes in policies that allow the military to be deployed in response to demonstrations. In the days before the 2023 elections, concerns were expressed that failure to implement the recommendations could lead to a repeat of the violence. Legislation enacted in July 2023, such as the “Patriotic Bill” allowing for the prosecution of anyone considered to be undermining the country also led to deep concerns that opposition members and civil society would be subjected to arbitrary arrest and criminal prosecutions.

While Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution prohibits torture, the Zimbabwe NGO Human Rights Forum has noted that there is no enabling legislation allowing for prosecution of torture as a criminal offence nor policies put in place for state actors to prevent its occurrence. 

International response:

Days after the elections, outside observers noted that while the elections themselves were relatively peaceful, violence was likely to occur in reaction to the results as rigging typically occurs beforehand. Freedom House stated that Zimbabwe had denied accreditation and visas to national and regional civil society monitoring groups, as well as barred journalists from American, German, and South African media outlets from reporting on elections. The Carter Center also reported widespread irregularities and voter intimidation with both the ZANU-PF and CCC present in polling stations, and a raid and closing on election night of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network and the Election Resource Center. 

The EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) noted that “the process curtailed fundamental rights and lacked a level playing field, which was compounded by intimidation. During the post-electoral period, the EU EOM observed a climate of retribution”. In September, the EU stated that they were withdrawing five million dollars in funding to the ZEC, citing inconsistencies and a lack of transparency. A joint AU-COMESA-EOM (Common Market for East and Southern Africa), and the EOM (Election Observation Mission) initiative had a relatively positive view of the elections, with a preliminary statement on technical observations on the electoral framework in place being well-adhered to and the polling process itself having limited violence in comparison to past elections.

In response to the announcement of by-elections, the US State Department stated that it would place visa restrictions on Zimbabwean individuals believed to be responsible for “undermining democracy”.

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