We have just heard horrifying accounts of atrocities committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region, which the Human Rights Council’s team of experts concluded could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity by both Congolese security forces and various militias. Since August 2016, an estimated 5,000 people, and possibly many more, have been killed in the Kasais, and more than 1.4 million people displaced. Only a few low-level criminal suspects have been prosecuted, and no one has been held to account for the murder of the two UN investigators and the disappearance of their Congolese drivers and interpreter in March 2017. Attacks on civilians continue in the Kasais, and there’s a risk of re-escalation as the underlying causes of the violence have not been addressed.
Today, close to 4.5 million people from throughout Congo are displaced. Since last December, violence has escalated in Ituri province, with terrifying incidents of massacres, rapes, and decapitation. Civilians also continue to be targeted in the Kivu provinces, where armed groups and security forces have killed more than 460 people and abducted 730 others since January. In Tanganyika province, more than 200 people were killed and numerous villages and camps burned since violence re-emerged in mid-2016.
Much of the recent violence in Congo is linked to or exacerbated by the country’s political crisis, as President Joseph Kabila has stayed in power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit by delaying elections and quashing dissent. While elections are scheduled for December, repression persists, Kabila has yet to declare explicitly that he will step down, and there is little confidence in the credibility of the process among the opposition and civil society. The risks of further violence, abuse, and repression in the coming months are very real, with potentially devastating consequences throughout the region.
The abuses committed in Congo and the serious potential for renewed outbreaks of large-scale violence amidst the uncertain political context necessitate further human rights investigations and follow-up.
Human Rights Watch believes a dedicated mechanism covering the country as a whole is necessary to conduct the required monitoring and reporting to the HRC, respond promptly to events as they emerge, and make recommendations to the government of Congo and the international community. We therefore urge the Council to renew and expand the mandate of the experts for at least one year to conduct further investigations in the Kasais and beyond, with a view to accountability.