(Goma, July 30, 2020) – Criminal gangs have kidnapped for ransom at least 170 people near the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo between April 2017 and March 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. Small groups armed with guns and machetes have beaten, tortured, and murdered hostages, raping women and girls, who make up more than half of them, while using threats to extort money from their families.
Congolese law enforcement should take steps to dismantle the criminal gangs and arrest those responsible for the kidnappings and sexual violence in the Bukoma area of Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, MONUSCO, which has a field base within a 10-kilometer radius of the agricultural fields and areas where most kidnappings have occurred, should protect civilians by actively patrolling in high-risk areas, consistent with its mandate.
Criminal gangs in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga Park have kidnapped scores of people for ransom since 2017, including many women and girls who endure sexual violence during captivity.
“I felt people grabbing my shoulders… They hit me on the head with the butt of their rifle.”
Kidnapped on her way home from working in the fields
“We started walking into the forest. There were other hostages.”
“When we stopped along the way they whipped us badly on our backsides. We were in so much pain that we could barely sit up.”
“Then, they showed us human skulls and said that if our family didn’t pay our ransom, we would die.”
Survivors recount constant death threats, beatings, rape, and exposure to harsh weather as they were held outdoors for several days.
“One of them put his gun to my head and said that if I tried to move it, he would kill me.”
“After that, he would do anything he wanted to me. When I dared to cry, he would hit me in the head.”
“They raped us in the morning, during the day, and at night.”
“They’d rape us next to the male hostages who had their feet and hands firmly tied.”
Hostages are released only after relatives pay a ransom. Back home, they struggle with trauma and often face stigma.
“I dream about these scenes in my sleep. When I’m in the fields, I get scared thinking they’re still coming to get me.”
“My husband says he’s being laughed at everywhere because of what happened to me. He keeps saying that he’ll just go away to Uganda and leave me here.”
“So many women are victims of those gangs. We thought it was going to end, but it still goes on.”
Congolese police should protect communities and bring perpetrators to justice.
The government should provide survivors with all the help they need--including medical, legal, financial, and mental health--to rebuild their lives.