A week ago, President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo gave the order to arrest a notorious warlord responsible for atrocities in the southern region of Katanga. Two days earlier, Gédéon Kyungu had escaped from house arrest in Lubumbashi after dozens of his militiamen entered the city and other towns in the region.
Gédéon – he is known by his first name – should never have been under mere house arrest. He had escaped from prison in 2011, two years after being convicted for crimes against humanity and sentenced to death. When he surrendered in 2016, the government of then-President Joseph Kabila placed under him under house arrest instead of sending him back to prison.
Between 2002 and 2006, Gédéon’s operational zone was known as the “triangle of death” because of the many atrocities that his militia committed. They spread terror among local people and clashed with government troops. Hundreds of civilians were killed and an estimated 150,000 people were forced to flee their homes. In some of the worst cases, Gédéon’s fighters publicly tortured victims to death and cannibalized them.
On March 28, Gédéon’s men walked through the streets of Lubumbashi and five other towns, brandishing guns, knives, and sticks, and chanting war songs. They killed a police officer just outside Lubumbashi and wounded two security force members in Likasi. Congolese rights groups alleged that the response from the security forces was heavy-handed, with at least 31 militiamen reportedly shot dead. Dozens were arrested.
When the shooting stopped, Gédéon was gone.
Congo’s human rights minister, André Lite, called on the security forces to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. “When you serve the flag, there are certain things you cannot afford to do,” he said. Lite also said he saw “horrible things in videos that we cannot accept in any way.” The government and the national human rights commission have announced investigations.
Gédéon should be arrested and sent to prison. But government forces need to act in accordance with the law to prevent a new escalation of violence in the region.