An 18-year-old student who was shot while fleeing an attack by unidentified gunmen on a church service in Mutarule, South Kivu in Democratic Republic of Congo on June 6. 2014.

© 2014 Human Rights Watch

(Goma) – The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has failed to deliver justice for the killing of at least 30 civilians in Mutarule, South Kivu province, in June 2014. For five years, victims and their families have sought justice and compensation without success.

Human Rights Watch research at the time found that Congolese soldiers and United Nations peacekeepers stationed in the area were aware of the attack but failed to intervene. The massacre occurred amid rising tensions between ethnic Bafuliro, Barundi, and Banyamulenge groups.

“Five years since the massacre in Mutarule, the Congolese legal system has not brought justice to victims and their families,” said Timo Mueller, Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should reopen investigations into the killings, fairly prosecute those responsible, and provide redress for the victims.”

Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on June 6, 2014, armed assailants attacked the Bafuliro neighborhood of Mutarule. Some of the attackers wore military uniforms and spoke Kirundi and Kinyamulenge, the languages of the Barundi and Banyamulenge ethnic groups. The gunmen opened fire on nearly 200 people who were gathered outside a church, striking many. The attackers then entered the church and started shooting men, women, and children. They also targeted a health center and several houses, shooting people at point-blank range and burning many to death. Numerous others were injured. Most of those killed were from the Bafuliro ethnic group.

Congolese military authorities opened an investigation four days after the attack. Two army officers, Maj. Venance Kayumba and Capt. Déjeune Enabombi, as well as a civilian, Raymond Sheria, were arrested in connection with the killings. In September 2016, a first-instance military court sentenced Kayumba to 10 years in prison for a violation of orders and Sheria to 15 years for illegal possession of weapons. Enabombi was acquitted of all charges.

The court characterized the massacre as a crime against humanity but found that there was not enough evidence to convict Kayumba and Sheria on those charges. In an appeal judgment in July 2018, the Congolese Military High Court overturned the trial verdict, acquitting Kayumba and Sheria of all charges for insufficient evidence.

Mass grave for at least 30 victims of a June 6, 2014 attack on a religious gathering by unidentified gunmen in Mutarule village in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

© 2014 Human Rights Watch

A 69-year-old victim, who testified in court, told Human Rights Watch in May 2019: “People were angry and disappointed [after the trial].” Another victim said he hoped for further judicial proceedings to “convict those who cowardly killed our brothers.”

Two other defendants – Philippe Obed, known as “Bede,” and Espoir Gombarufu, known as “Karakara” – were fugitives and died during and after the trial respectively. Congolese army officer Col. Elias Rubibi, another defendant, was killed in suspicious circumstances in Bukavu in August 2016, shortly before he was due to appear before the judge. Claude Mirundi, the last defendant, remains at large.

Court-ordered compensation payments between US$2,000 and US$60,000 against Kayumba and the Congolese state were cancelled after Kayumba’s acquittal. Dozens of victims of the Mutarule massacre need assistance because of their injuries or the loss of parents or children, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Mutarule massacre was a grievous crime with many victims, yet five years on no one has been held responsible,” Mueller said. “This sends a terrible message throughout Congo that massacres can be committed without any real consequence for those responsible.”