The UN investigators in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have confirmed the existence of at least 17 more mass graves in Kasai Central Province, which has been the scene of clashes between soldiers and members of a local militia known as Kamuina Nsapu.
This brings to 40 the number of mass graves documented by the UN in Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental Provinces since August 2016, the agency announced Wednesday.
The presence of the additional graves was confirmed during an investigation mission to Kasai Central between 5 and 7 April by staff from the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) and UN Police (UNPOL).
Fifteen of the mass graves were in a cemetery in the town of Tshimbulu and two in the locality of Tshienke. The UN team gathered information that soldiers from the Forces armées de la Republique démocratique du Congo (FARDC) had reportedly dug the graves, after clashing with presumed elements of the Kamuina Nsapu militia between 26 and 28 March. At least 74 people, including 30 children, were reported to have been killed by soldiers as a result of these clashes.
The UN team also visited Kananga to gather information about alleged abuses and violations there. Between 28 and 30 March, FARDC soldiers were reported to have shot dead at least 40 people, including 11 children and 12 women, in the Nganza commune of Kananga, and injured at least 21 others. The majority of the victims were said to have been killed in their homes as soldiers went door to door looking for militia members.
Two of the victims died in hospital, while the remaining 38 were reportedly buried by the local population in three mass graves. FARDC soldiers were also reported to have buried an unknown number of bodies in a fourth mass grave in Nganza cemetery.
UNJHRO also received reports that at least two women and three girls had been raped by FARDC soldiers during the same operation in Nganza. Defence and security forces were alleged to have arrested and detained 27 people, including 10 boys and a 15-year-old girl.
The UN investigators, who also visited the Katoka commune of Kananga, heard reports that during search operations by officers from the Police nationale congolaise (PNC) on 28 March, a 23-year-old man, a 17-year-old boy and a one-month-old baby had been killed. The UN team was told that the baby had been fatally injured after being trampled on by police officers searching their house.
The Kamuina Nsapu militia, which is loyal to a local customary chief killed by the army on 12 Augustlast year, has been accused of recruiting hundreds of children into its ranks, and targeting state agents and symbols, including government premises, schools, hospitals, police stations, as well as churches. An example of such violence happened on 30 March when about 30 alleged Kamuina Nsapu militiamen attacked the parish church of Saint-Jean de Masuika in Luiza territory, where they ill-treated at least three nuns and a priest, threatening to kill them. In addition, the priest and one of the nuns were reportedly abducted and then released the next day after money was paid. The militiamen also vandalized the church, breaking doors and windows, and burning the priest’s chasubles.
“The discovery of yet more mass graves and the reports of continued violations and abuses highlight the horror that has been unfolding in the Kasais over the last nine months,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“It is absolutely vital that the Government of the DRC takes meaningful steps, which to date have been lacking, to ensure that there is a prompt, transparent, and independent investigation to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by all parties, and other abuses of justice. My Office has offered its assistance in conducting such a credible investigation. We reiterate our request for access to all sites of mass graves, as well as to all witnesses, including those in detention, and other relevant information necessary to determine responsibility at all levels,” Zeid said.
“The scale and nature of the violence increasingly underscore the need to monitor the situation closely. Should there be no effective national investigation, I will not hesitate to urge the international community to support an investigation by an international mechanism, including the International Criminal Court, which recently reminded the DRC authorities of their primary responsibility under the Rome Statute to investigate and prosecute the alleged acts of violence in the Kasais,” the High Commissioner said.