The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Kasai region between the Congolese army and the Kamuina Nsapu movement is disrupting health infrastructure, preventing delivery of basic services, and depriving an estimated 400,000 malnourished children of life-saving interventions, warns UNICEF.
The five Kasai provinces have long been troubled by poverty. According to UNICEF, at least one in ten children does not reach the age of five due to malnutrition and preventable diseases, and many of them are stunted. With the conflict escalating in recent months, this situation has taken a turn for the worse.
Insecurity, looting and lack of medical supplies led to the closure of many health centres across the region. There is little access to food, clean water or medicine, and farming has become increasingly difficult for people fleeing the violence and living in unsafe conditions. The UN reported that several hundreds, or as many as one thousand people, have been killed in the greater Kasai region, and over 1.3 million people were displaced.
Widespread violence erupted in August 2016 after the killing of tribal leader Kamuina Nsapu by military forces. While the Congolese army is loyal to President Joseph Kabila, who is still in power although his constitutional two-term limit ended last year, Kamuina Nsapu supported leaders of the opposition. The proliferating Kamuina Nsapu movement is said to have split into numerous subgroups with conflicting political aims, and local politicians are believed to be fuelling tensions by manipulating militias of different ethnic groups to attack each other, reported the UN.
The atrocities are piling up on both sides – Congolese soldiers have killed hundreds of people suspected to be Kamuina Nsapu supporters, among them many women and children, while Kamuina Nsapu have recruited child soldiers and killed government officials, says Human Rights Watch. According to the UN, at least 42 mass graves have been discovered since the fighting broke out. In March 2017, two UN Experts on Congo, an American and a Swede/Chilean who investigated human rights violations, were found brutally murdered and thrown into a shallow grave.
This week, the 35th session of the Human Rights Council is held in Geneva. A coalition of 271 Congolese and international NGOs demands from the Council to open an in-depth investigation of the human rights violations in the Kasais, including documentation of abuses, identification of perpetrators, and justice for the victims and their families. Human Rights Watch reported that although the conflict has caused unimaginable suffering, the Congolese government has so far not made credible efforts to launch a prompt, transparent investigation into the atrocities committed by both parties, and to collaborate with the UN and African Union (AU) to end the bloodshed.
According to AP, in a step in the right direction, Congolese authorities have now announced the investigation of a former government minister in relation to the murder of the UN expert team and the killings and mutilation of hundreds of other people. Several suspects have been identified, some of which are awaiting trial. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) emphasizes the importance of the Human Rights Council’s intervention to protect civilians and to send a strong message that war crimes will not go unpunished.