Rebels and government troops in Congo committed atrocities including mass rape, cannibalism and dismembering civilians, according to testimony published by a team of UN human rights experts who said the world must pay heed.
The team investigating conflict in the Kasai region of Democratic Republic of Congo told the UN Human Rights Council they suspected all sides were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Their detailed 126-page report catalogued gruesome attacks committed in the conflict, which erupted in late 2016, involving Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias and Congo’s armed forces, the FARDC.
The testimony included boys forced to rape their mothers, little girls told witchcraft would allow them to catch bullets, and women forced to choose gang-rape or death.
“What happened in the Kasai beggars description,” Congo’s Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa told the Council.
“One victim told us in May 2017 she saw a group of Kamuina Nsapu militia, some sporting female genitals (clitorises and vaginas) as medals,” the report said.
“Some witnesses recalled seeing people cutting up, cooking and eating human flesh, including penises cut from men who were still alive and from corpses, especially FARDC and drinking human blood.”
Lead investigator Bacre Waly Ndiaye told the Council in one incident, at least 186 men and boys from a single village were beheaded by Kamuina Nsapu, many of whose members were children forced to fight, unarmed or wielding sticks and were convinced magic made them invulnerable.
Many child soldiers were killed when FARDC soldiers machine-gunned them indiscriminately, he said.
“The bodies were often buried in mass graves or were sometimes piled in trucks by soldiers to be buried elsewhere.”
There were initially thought to be about 86 mass graves, but after investigating the team suspects there may be hundreds, he said.
A Congolese government spokesman told Reuters information should be passed to magistrates in Congo.
“We were not aware of this and it is curious. It is clearly a politically motivated press campaign that has nothing to do with justice,” he said.
Mushobekwa said government gave the expert team its whole-hearted co-operation and wanted the truth to come out, but said some findings were “rather doubtful” because the investigation had been done quickly.
“One thing is absolutely certain. Each element of law enforcement and security forces responsible for these crimes will answer for their actions and will be severely punished,” she said.