Rising alarm over increasing reports of serious human rights violations in the Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental provinces of Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations human rights chief said the scale and nature of the allegations could warrant an investigation by an international mechanism, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), between April 5 and 6, a team of human rights and police officials found 17 further mass graves in Kasai Central province, the site of clashes between security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu, a local militia.
“The discovery of yet more mass graves and reports of continued violations and abuses highlight the horror unfolding in Kasais over the last nine months,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.
“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,” he added.
Fifteen of the recently discovered mass graves are in a cemetery in the town of Tshimbulu and two in the locality of Tshienke.
According to information received by UN investigators, soldiers from FARDC (the DRC defence force) reportedly dug the graves after clashing with presumed elements of Kamuina Nsapu between March 28 and 28. At least 74 people, including 30 children, were reported to have been killed by soldiers.
The militia, loyal to a local tribal chief who was killed in August last year, has been accused of crimes and human rights abuses, including killings and abduction, recruitment of children and targeting schools, hospitals and churches.
“It is vital that government takes meaningful steps, which to date have been lacking, to ensure 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,” the UN human rights chief said.
The UN team also visited Kananga in Kasai Central where between March 28 and 30, FARDC soldiers were reported to have shot dead at least 40 people, including 11 children and 12 women, in the town’s Nganza commune and injured at least 21 others. There are also allegations that at least two women and three girls had been raped by soldiers.
The UN investigators were also informed of the killing of three individuals, including a 17-year-old boy and a one-month-old baby during search operations by the DRC police.
Zeid offered his office’s assistance in conducting a credible investigation into the reports and allegations stressing it must be provided with unfettered access.
“We reiterate our request for access to all mass grave sites, as well as to all witnesses, including those in detention and other relevant information necessary to determine responsibility at all levels,” he added.