UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called for an independent international investigation into hundreds of recent killings in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His call comes amidst reports of toddlers and pregnant women being hacked to death, and the inability of the central government to protect citizens. Al Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council that he was “appalled by the creation and arming of a militia, the Bana Mura, allegedly to support the authorities in fighting the (rebel group) Kamwina Nsapu.”
In his report to the UNHRC, Al Hussein outlined the escalating violence perpetrated by the group in the preceding two months, and specifically mentioned the “horrific attacks against civilians from the Luba and Lulua ethnic groups.” In May, police said that 510 people had been killed in the restive Kasai region since the start of the year. However, a new report from the Catholic Church places that number at closer to 3,400. The detailed report from the church outlined that state security forces had destroyed 10 villages in the border areas with Angola in an attempt to end the insurrection. The report also accused the Kamwina Nsapu rebellion of destroying four villages and attacking church property, with the aim of removing state troops. With that said, both sides have been accused of atrocities throughout the fighting.
Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council estimates that nearly 1.3 million people have been displaced in the fighting. In a report published in Newsweek, Ulrika Blom of the Norwegian Refugee Council said that there is a “woefully inadequate number of aid agencies” and “pitiful amount of money” being channelled towards the crisis. The Newsweek article outlined that of the $65 million appeal announced by the UN’s humanitarian office in April, only $5.2 million, or eight percent, of the funds had been provided to be used for the crisis.
As such, the violence in the Kasai region has the potential to spark larger conflict in the DRC. Tensions are already heightened due to the continuing Presidency of Joseph Kabila, who has chosen to stay in power beyond the end of his mandate in December 2016. Despite agreeing to a deal with the opposition that was brokered by the Catholic Church, which resulted in the ending of political violence and guaranteed July elections, little progress has been made. With this in mind, the Kasai region represents a stronghold for opposition to Kabila’s ruling party, and the current wave of violence is linked to the continuing political upheaval in the country. The authorities have been accused of putting emergency laws put in place to deal with the violence and to persecute political opponents. Altogether, this illuminates the fact that DRC has never had a peaceful transition of power since it gained its independence in 1960.
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