UN uncovers 17 new mass graves in Congo

Africa | The human rights agency has called on the country’s government to investigate
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 4/20/17, 10:55 am

The United Nations on Wednesday said its investigators have found 17 new mass graves in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Central Kasai province, where clashes between security officials and a local militia have persisted.

The latest discovery brings to 40 the total number of mass graves uncovered in the region since August, and the UN has threatened to involve the International Criminal Court if the government fails to act to stop the region’s violence.

The UN human rights agency said its investigators found 15 of the mass graves in a cemetery and two others in another area of the province. The casualties followed clashes between Congolese soldiers and a militia group in the region that killed 74 people, including 30 children. Investigators said they learned soldiers dug the graves following the fighting.

In another incident last month, soldiers killed at least 40 people, including 11 children, in the Central Kasai province capital, Kananga. The UN said the soldiers buried some of the bodies in mass graves in the town’s cemetery.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the scale of violence in the region highlights the need for more government monitoring and called for a transparent investigation, which he said is lacking.

“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,” Al Hussein said.

Fighting between security officials and the Kaumina Nsapu militia increased after soldiers killed the group’s leader in August. The militia has murdered hundreds of civilians, recruited child soldiers, and attacked schools and churches. Rebel groups last month killed an American and Swedish investigator who worked with the UN, along with their interpreter.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said the UN should pass on its evidence and the country’s justice system would begin its own investigations.

“Congo is not under the guardianship of the United Nations,” Mende said. “We ask that they work with the military justice system which is already in place.”

But Nelson Alusala, a researcher with the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, said an international investigation into the mass graves would be more productive since Congolese officials lack the capacity and independence to handle the case. Congo previously denied its soldiers used excessive force against militia members and civilians.

“The government is relatively weak in terms of handling conflict,” Alusala said. “Its own military is suspect, and that’s a state apparatus.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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