Crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in DRC with risk of further ethnic violence

June 28, 2018 Africa , HUMAN RIGHTS , News , OPINION/NEWS

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Following its investigation in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Team of International Experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council said it believes a number of the violations perpetrated by the defence and security forces, the Kamuina Nsapu militia and the Bana Mura militias since 2016 constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.


The Congolese defence and security forces, as well as the Kamuina Nsapu militia and the Bana Mura militias deliberately killed civilians, including children, and committed atrocities – such as mutilations, rapes and other forms of sexual violence, torture, and exterminations. The Kamuina Nsapu militia also recruited children, girls and boys.


The Team of International Experts were of the opinion that the attacks were carried out against civilians of several ethnic groups in a generalized and systematic fashion constituting crimes against humanity. Some of the abuses committed could also amount to persecution based on ethnicity. The crimes and destruction continue to take place two years after the conflict began, resulting in the displacement of people, and the enslavement of women.


“We are shocked by this disastrous situation that has claimed the lives of several thousand people and continues to rage in the region, without provoking national or international attention,” said Bacre Waly Ndiaye, President of the Team of International Experts. “It is high time for justice to put an end to impunity if we do not want the ethnic dimension of the conflict to worsen.”


The violence has also resulted in an alarming humanitarian situation, affecting in particular the children in the Kasai region, the Team of International Experts warned. The Kasai crisis has led to the internal displacement of some 1.4 million people who remain in a very precarious situation. Another 35,000 people have fled to Angola. According to the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization, about 3.2 million people continue to be severely food insecure, and malnutrition rates, especially for children, are high.





The Team of International Experts demanded that a policy of disarmament of the militias be urgently implemented, along with a reconciliation process to avoid another wave of violence and allow the return of the displaced and refugees. It also made a number of other recommendations.


It emphasized that responsibility to prosecute those guilty of international crimes – and to put an end to the impunity that persists in spite of the gravity and extent of the crimes – lies first and foremost with the Congolese authorities. The Team proposed that the capacity of military investigative entities be built up so that the perpetrators of the international crimes committed in Kasai since 2016 – including by officials in the highest positions – can be investigated and prosecuted.  It also called for proper care to be provided to the survivors of rapes and sexual violence.


The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating the situation in the DRC, has expressed her concern about the acts of violence committed in the Kasai region and that she intends to monitor the situation closely.



Background to the report


Following the upsurge in violence that has swept the Kasai region since 2016, the Human Rights Council unanimously decided on 23 June 2017 to dispatch, as per Resolution 35/33, a Team of International Experts on the situation in Kasai for a period of one year.


The resolution requests that the experts submit a detailed report to the Human Rights Council during the enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation in the Kasai region on 3 July 2018.


The international experts, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Fatimata M’Baye and Luc Côté, have conducted the investigation independently, in line with international norms.


As part of its investigation, the Team has collected information from a variety of sources on the wave of violence, focusing on the most severe and emblematic incidents – violations of the right to life, of physical integrity, including gender-based sexual violence, and violence against children.


The Team interviewed 524 victims, witnesses, alleged perpetrators and other sources. It has reviewed documents, photographs and videos that support the testimony collected.



Children: the main victims


The violence has particularly affected the children of the Kasai region. They have indeed been both the main victims and main actors of the violence. While the United Nations Children’s Fund has said 1,220 boys and 658 girls had been recruited and used as soldiers by the Kamuina Nsapu militia by 30 August 2017, the Team of International Experts believes the numbers are much higher and that the recruitment of children continues. Many children have been kidnapped, injured, mutilated, detained or executed. Some have seen their parents being beaten or decapitated and their mothers raped.


“Many children were forced to fight, sent to the front-line without weapons or with toy guns or traditional weapons, while others were forced to kill and decapitate,” M’Baye said. “You cannot imagine the breadth of the physical and psychological trauma that causes, not to mention the stigma requiring long-term treatment.”



Sexual violence


A large number of women were raped – often gang raped or repeatedly raped – in front of their husbands, children or other family members.


Many victims of sexual violence, mostly rape, spoke about the difficulties they face.  Beyond the medical and psychological difficulties they endure, survivors end up ostracized by their own families and communities, due to the weight of tradition and the consequent economic and social burden.


The very social fabric of Kasai is therefore affected by the consequences of sexual violence. Most rape survivors are reluctant to speak about the crimes for fear of being stigmatized and because of the pervasive mistrust towards the justice system, the absence of effective remedies, and the ostracism they suffer.






Kasai, one of the five provinces created in 2015 (Kasai, Central Kasai, Oriental Kasai, Lomami, and Sankuru), is one of the least developed regions of the DRC in spite of its rich natural resources.  Extreme poverty and chronic under-development persists due to the State’s under-investment in basic services in the region.


One cannot isolate the crisis in the Kasai region from pre-existing local conflicts among customary chiefdoms and over the sharing of land and mineral resources, nor from the ethnic divisions in the territory among Luba, Chokwe and Pende populations.


Kasai, whose people are majority Luba, is traditionally a fiefdom of the main opposition party, the Union for Democracy and Social Development, which explains to some extent the marginalization of the region relative to the rest of the country. The wave of violence in the Kasai region since 2016 has taken place against a context of countrywide tensions surrounding the presidential elections, and customary powers that are closely connected to ethnic identity.






The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) represents the world’s commitment to universal ideals of human dignity. We have a unique mandate from the international community to promote and protect all human rights.

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