Editor's Note: In the first post in a series about a number of deadly civilian attacks in Beni territory in North Kivu, we described the initial surge of violence in October, and tensions between local populations and the authorities meant to protect them – local government and MONUSCO peacekeepers. In this post, we begin with the last of the October attacks to report on the deadly 2 months that followed.This post was written by Enough Project intern Jasper Kubasek.
On the morning of October 31st, a gruesome discovery undermined expressions of good intention made by government and MONUSCO authorities to local populations. As many as 18 bodies were found in the region. After nearly two weeks of reprieve in violence, this further fueled civilian discontent that had been smoldering throughout the month. Renewed protests in response to attacks broke out, and Reuters reported that a mob of outraged individuals stoned a young man to death in a revenge attack, suspected of links to the massacres because he was carrying a machete and unable to speak the local language.
The last day of October also coincided with President Kabila’s trip to Beni in response to the unrest. In the midst of the renewed protests, Kabila asked for a strengthened UN presence and expressed his determination to bring the perpetrators to justice. A few short hours after his departure though, an armed group – again, widely alleged to be the Ugandan rebel group, ADF – murdered 14 individuals, among them women, children, and two soldiers. Continuing the pattern, the people of the region took to the streets in protest, this time ripping down and destroying a statue of Kabila, setting up barricades on major roads to check identities, and attacking the city hall.
UN Special Representative in Congo Martin Kobler welcomed President Kabila’s requests and announced reinforcement by MONUSCO’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB). On November 2nd, Richard Muyej revealed that a number of arrests had been made, and that Congolese citizens were among the suspects. He also noted a growing fear that, by day, ADF or ADF sympathizers operate in the city among the population. On November 3rd, a curfew was introduced, that would last “however long it takes” to help the responding forces better understand and react to the attacks.
In the following days the UN announced that more than 200 people had been arrested in relation to the attacks. Kobler explained, “We cannot be in every village,” but that by means of efficient intelligence networks, UN-Congolese forces could increase their capacity to react rapidly. But by mid-November four more civilians were hacked to death, two more shot dead during protests, and more than 10,000 families displaced.
On November 20th the atrocities continued. Sources report different casualty counts, ranging from 50 to 100 dead. One Member of Parliament told AFP, “I have figure of 95 bodies buried in a common grave,” while also reporting that the Congolese military was attempting to prevent people from searching for more bodies in the surrounding forest. Human Rights Watch has confirmed this, noting that UN forces attempted to access the massacre site as well, but were blocked by Congolese authorities. It was soon announced that the curfew in the town of Beni would extend to the entire region.
On December 2nd two women and a twelve year old boy were found murdered in their homes. The next day MONUSCO announced that they would use drones in Beni to help monitor the situation. Three days later, the perpetrators massacred 36 civilians in the village of Oichia with machetes and axes. Within one day of this massacre, the casualty count increased again by at least 13 in the third attack of the week. Finally, on December 13th MONUSCO and the FARDC were officially re-launched joint operations against ADF.
These attacks have been characterized not only by their magnitude, but also by their excessive brutality, including beheadings, mutilations, rape, and the targeting of women and young children. One source even reports the use of child soldiers, describing an attack during which children as young as seven were marched into the villages and forced to partake in the killings.
The UN and Congolese army have increased their response, though their slow reaction time has provided space enough for the slaughter of more than 250 civilians and instilled contempt, along with fear and despair, among the affected population. It is of the utmost importance that the trajectory of both of these trends be reversed and the perpetrators identified, apprehended, and prosecuted. UN and Congolese forces must earn back the trust of the people they serve to protect, and the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children must come to an end.
Photo: MONUSCO Conducts Joint Operation with Congolese Forces in Beni, UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti