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Pic of crying boy from 1994 cholera outbreak in DRC refugee camp for Rwandan refugees – not recent M23 rebel conflict

IN SHORT: A distressing photo of a small child and the body of a man who appears to be dead has gone viral on social media in late 2023 with the claim it shows recent events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But the photo is over thirty years old.

A photo of a crying toddler pulling on the seemingly lifeless body of a man in an open field has been circulating on social media since November 2023, with the claim it shows recent violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

“Congo is silently going through a genocide,” reads a typical caption. “Don’t stay silent. Speak up for our Congolese brothers and sisters.”

Another of the photo’s captions is more detailed. 

“A genocide is currently going on in DR Congo,” it reads in part. “Conflict has erupted at Mugerwa in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, between Congolese government forces and M23 rebels, which has resulted in several deaths with a number of people injured.”

Lying in central Africa, the DRC is the largest country in the sub-Saharan region and the second-largest on the continent, after Algeria.

The DRC contains large mineral resources, such as gold, cobalt and copper. Control of these resources has led to conflict between its government, local militias and foreign interests.

Since 2022 eastern DRC has been riven by fighting between M23 rebels, said to be backed by neighbouring Rwanda, and the country’s military aided by the United Nations’ Monusco peacekeeping force. The fighting intensified in late 2023.

The international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch recently accused M23 of “unlawful killings, rape, and other apparent war crimes” in eastern DRC since 2022.

But was the photo of the crying child really taken during this conflict?

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Cholera breaks out in Goma refugee camps in 1994

A Google reverse image search reveals that the photo is three decades old. It is indeed from the DRC – then still called Zaire –  but shows a different human tragedy.

The photo can be found on the Getty Images stock website, dated 1994. Its caption reads:

A Rwandan boy cries over the dead body of his father, who has just died from cholera in a refugee camp in Zaire. Several minutes after this picture was taken a Zairean man found the boy and brought him back to his village and adopted him. (Photo by Peter Turnley/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

In 1994 reprisals against the Hutu genocide against Tutsi people in Rwanda forced about 2 million people, mainly Hutu, to flee to neighbouring countries. Camps around Goma, a city in eastern DRC on the Rwandan border, housed up to a million of these refugees.

In July that year a deadly outbreak of cholera hit the camps near Goma. A reported 12,000 people died.

The social media posts using the photo do seem to be trying to draw attention to possible recent war crimes in eastern DRC.  But although the photo was shot in the same region, it shows a child from Rwanda in a refugee camp in 1994.

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