The United Nations has reported the discovery of an additional 38 mass graves in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making the total count of mass graves found in recent months at least 80.
The mass graves were found in the Kamonia territory of Kasai province, an area that has been host to heavy fighting between government and militia forces in the past year. According to Al Jazeera, The UN says the graves were discovered by “an investigative team from the local UN human rights office and the Congo’s military justice authorities.” While the Congolese government has blamed the mass graves on the members of the militia group once headed by Kamuina Nsapu, investigators from the UN allege that the graves also contain the bodies of said militia members. The heightened violence in Kasai comes at the same time the notoriously troubled nation is trying to hold their long-awaited presidential elections; unfortunately, because of the conflict, voter registration has not been able to begin in Kasai and Central Kasai provinces. The High Commissioner of the United Nations has called the Kasai region a “landscape of horror” and says recent reports “indicate the situation in the Kasais has not only escalated but has also become much more complex.” As is often the case, civilians have borne the brunt of the atrocities committed by the various fighting factions.
The once-peaceful Kasai region fell into turmoil when the government did not appoint Jean-Pierre Mpandi, also known as Kamuina Nsapu, into a local government position. Nsapu then deployed his armed group of supporters to fight the government military presence in the area. Though Nsapu himself was killed early on during fighting in August 2016, violence in the region has only escalated, especially since the arming of a militia group known as Bana Mura, which is supposedly there to fight the supporters of Kamuina Nsapu. In reality, civilians claim that Bana Mura is responsible for countless atrocities. Those who escaped the horror say the Bana Mura have “shot dead, hacked or burned to death, and mutilated, hundreds of villagers, as well as destroy[ed] entire villages.” In his report to the U.N. Human Rights counsel, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, describes harrowing accounts of “children as young as two whose limbs had been chopped off[,] many babies [with] machete wounds and severe burns…[and] pregnant women [who] were sliced open and their fetuses mutilated.” These reports are especially disturbing because their perpetrators are said to be working with the Congolese government—some survivors even reported that local authorities, soldiers, and even traditional chiefs have joined the Bana Mura attacks. In April, the UN reported that 400 people had died due to the fighting. As of late June, according to the Catholic Church, more than 3,300 have been killed. Over 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to the intense violence, adding to the 3.7 million people already internally displaced in the country.
The Congo is at a critical turning point; its President, Joseph Kabila, finally grudgingly agreed to step down from power after first refusing in December of last year. In power since 2001, Kabila is able to remain in office past the constitutionally approved 2 terms until after the election, which was planned to take place in 2017. Unfortunately, given the fighting and the president’s reluctance to secede power, the president of Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission has said that elections probably won’t happen this year. Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, insists that “the current political impasse, the rising insecurity, and the worsening human rights and humanitarian situation in the DRC require a concerted response from regional and international partners.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo, despite having an estimated $24 trillion in high-demand natural resources, is one of the poorest nations in the world and has been home to the deadliest conflict since World War II. Its history of leadership begins and ends with ruthless exploiters who care little for the Congolese people, and a democratically-held presidential election is one of the few chances to break this pattern. The Congo’s future hinges on the ability to bring democracy, peace, and prosperity to the millions of innocent people who want to call the DRC home, not Hell. The discovery of another 38 mass graves is not only a reminder that the Kasai region is in peril, but that the entire country is still in desperate need of help.
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