Ethnically targeted attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s resource-rich Ituri province may be reaching the point of “crimes against humanity,” United Nations officials warned May 27. A report by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) documents a dramatic escalation in hostilities between the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups. In the six months to April 2020, at least 296 people were killed, 151 wounded and 38 raped, including children, mostly by fighters linked to the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) armed group, whose members are predominantly of the Lendu ethnicity.
The government launched an offensive against the group last December. But violence only escalated after the CODECO leader, Ndudjolo Duduko Justin, was killed in a March ambush, leading to reprisal attacks on Hema communities, as well as internecine fighting for control of the group.
Some 200,000 have been displaced by the new violence. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that “the brutality of the attacks, with perpetrators using machetes to kill women and children, raping, looting property, destroying houses and killing livestock, suggests the aim is to inflict lasting trauma on the affected populations, forcing them to flee.”
The UNJRHO included these words of caution: “The persistence of this violence is likely to push members of the communities targeted by the attacks, who have so far shown restraint, to form self-defence militias. This could increase the likelihood of large-scale inter-communal violence in the region.” (Reuters, RFI, Reliefweb)
Photo of displaced persons camp in Ituri: Alexis Huguet/MSF via TNH