About 20 fighters loyal to the notorious warlord Gédéon Kyungu Mutanga attacked government security forces in Lubumbashi, southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on October 11. The Bakata Katanga militia fighters were armed with rifles, machetes, bows and arrows.
Provincial authorities said that security forces killed six of the fighters and arrested two others. Nine security forces members were wounded. Gédéon had been convicted 10 years ago, but he escaped from prison and now openly flaunts his conviction.
A rally for Gédéon’s political party, the Movement of African Revolutionary Independents (Mouvement des indépendantistes révolutionnaires africains, MIRA), was planned for the same day in Lubumbashi, but then cancelled.
MIRA’s communications officer, Thierry Mukelekele, told Human Rights Watch that the fighters entered the town to participate in the rally and meet with Gédéon.
The attack offers a glimpse into the bloody past of Gédéon and his Bakata Katanga fighters. From 2002 to 2006, Gédéon’s forces committed numerous atrocities in an area of central Katanga which became known as the “triangle of death.” The attacks terrorized civilians, killed hundreds, and forced an estimated 150,000 to flee their homes.
Gédéon surrendered in 2006, and in 2009 a military court in Katanga convicted him of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to death. While Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all cases, his conviction could have served as a warning to other potential rights abusers. But he escaped from prison in 2011 and went on to commit serious abuses until he surrendered to local officials in October 2016. Since then, Gédéon has lived comfortably in Lubumbashi. The authorities have never returned him to prison.
The planned rally on October 11 was to commemorate the third anniversary since his surrender. While local officials may be willing to overlook Gédéon’s past, it is unlikely that his many victims and their families do. The Bakata Katanga fighters’ incursion is doubtlessly a painful reminder of the horrific crimes he is capable of committing.
Congolese authorities should promptly return Gédéon to a secure prison. Judicial proceedings into the alleged crimes committed since Gédéon’s escape should be opened. His victims should get the justice they deserve, and other warlords should see that they can’t commit atrocities without consequence.