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UN investigators unearth 17 more mass graves in DR Congo

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UN peacekeepers in Tshimbulu, Kasai Central Province, DR Congo. Image courtesy of Monusco

UN peacekeepers in Tshimbulu, Kasai Central Province, DR Congo. Image courtesy of Monusco

The UN has said its investigators uncovered seventeen mass graves in two days of operations in the province of Kasai Central in the DR Congo, where a local militia known as Kamwina Nsapu has been fighting government forces since August.

Fifteen mass graves were located in the cemetery of a small town, Tshimbulu, while the other two were found in a locality known as Tshienke.

This discovery brings to forty the number of mass graves unearthed in the Kasai provinces, as 23 other graves had already been discovered by early April.

Evidence availed to the UN suggests that Congo’s national army, the FARDC, dug up the mass graves to bury those killed after it fought with the Kamwina Nsapu in late March. 30 children are believed to be among the at least 74 fatalities of this clash.

“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,” lamented Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The commissioner demanded the Congolese government facilitate independent and transparent investigations into the conflict in the Kasai, failure to which he wouldn’t hesitate to “urge the international community to support an investigation by an international mechanism, including the International Criminal Court.”

Atrocities on both sides

The rebellion by the Kamwina Nsapu, which takes its name from the title of the traditional chief, began as a series of protests against the central government; the area had largely sided with the opposition in the 2011 elections (this despite being of Luba ethnicity as Pres. Kabila), and the local chief protested the imposition of people favored by the central government instead of its local leaders in the regional government.

Kamwina Nsapu Jean-Pierre Pandi and his traditional militia antagonized the government over this and many other local grievances, but their protests escalated in 2016, after police raided his home in Tshimbulu.

In the months after, the government spokesman accused Kamwina Nsapu Pandi of killing police indiscriminately, and armed clashes between his militia and the Congolese police and army occurred with increasing frequency.

The rebellion took a turn for the worse when Kamwina Nsapu Pandi was killed on 12 August 2016; the government also reported that 11 policemen were killed in that firefight.

In February, soldiers were accused of killing more than 100 people they presumed to be Kamwina Nsapu, and in the following month, the Kamwina Nsapu decapitated 40 police officers, sparing only those of Luba ethnicity.

The militia also has child soldiers, some as young as 5 years.