(Kampala, 16 January 2018) International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) today published a new report about violence and displacement in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It describes how attacks by a militia were followed by abusive military operations and mass killings by a pro-government militia, causing the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands.
IRRI spoke with 45 Congolese asylum seekers in Angola who described how the violence was driven by national political events, ethnic tensions and local government support to a militia.
“The DRC is currently one of the world’s most serious displacement and humanitarian emergencies and the Kasai is just one of many regions in DRC where a combination of local tensions, security force abuses and political manipulation has resulted in extreme violence,” said Thijs Van Laer, programme manager at IRRI.
The conflict in the Kasai, a previously stable but impoverished part of the country, broke out after Congolese security forces killed a customary leader, prompting his supporters to create an anti-government militia, known as the Kamuina Nsapu. Asylum seekers described how in March and April 2017, this militia killed state officials and, on some occasions, ordinary citizens in towns in the south of the region.
Witnesses told IRRI that when the military retook the town, instead of protecting civilians who had suffered from the militia’s presence, soldiers raped women, killed civilians and pillaged their belongings. They also used disproportionate violence in their operations against the poorly armed militia, the majority of whom were children.
In Cinq, a militia supported by local government, the Bana Mura, defeated the Kamuina Nsapu militia, and then went on to target citizens, especially those from the ethnic group they associated with the Kamuina Nsapu. According to the UN, these killings may amount to crimes against humanity.
Many survivors of the violence initially fled within the DRC, but moved to neighbouring Angola when the Angolan authorities opened the border. Angola currently hosts more than 27,000 asylum seekers from this conflict, but has no procedure to grant them refugee status. In addition, more than 800,000 people remain internally displaced in the wider Kasai region, despite significant returns.
Despite the ethnic dimension to this conflict, it should be understood in the wider context of national political developments in the DRC. Interviewees said that the flawed 2011 presidential elections and the creation of new provinces in 2015 created tensions in their towns. The DRC is currently undergoing a profound political crisis.
“Tangible action is urgently needed to defuse the national political crisis and the local conflicts it stimulates,” Van Laer said. “International actors should press the government to fully cooperate with a UN inquiry into the Kasai violence and should strengthen MONUSCO in its role to deter violence and protect civilians. The Congolese government should take measures to prevent further violence from erupting in other parts of the country, and must support accountability for atrocities committed in the Kasai.”
Notes to Editors:
For further information:
o In Uganda: Thijs Van Laer, or +256 777 188 962 (English, French, Dutch)
o In UK: Dr Lucy Hovil, or +44 7860 349 578 (English)