This week’s guest writer is Jean-Calvin Kitata, Coordinator of Peace and Justice Programs for MCC Quebec. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he came to Canada in 1996 as a student, but he became a refugee when political events at home made it impossible for him to return. He lives outside Montreal with his family.
Hundreds of thousands of Congolese, both in the country and in the diaspora, held mass demonstrations on May 26, 2016, to demand answers from their government about the resurgence of civilian deaths in the territories of Beni, Butembo and Lubero in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to the provincial coordination of the North Kivu Civil Society, more than a thousand people have been killed since October 2014.
These massacres, among the worst in recent Congolese history, have been met with a curious indifference and media silence. That is why I am writing this article.
The protesters, mainly Congolese from civil society groups and opposition political parties, marched throughout the DRC and in a number of cities throughout the world in solidarity with the victims of these barbaric murders and to express their dismay about these recurring massacres that devastate families and displace thousands who find themselves in unbearable misery.
The territory of Beni has been a subject of focus since 2014. This part of the country is home to both extraordinary natural resources and murderous ravages. Armed groups invade villages, and even cities, and kill with machetes, spades, hoes, and axes, leaving the civilian population traumatized.
The murder by machete of dozens of civilians overnight on May 12 became the straw that broke the camel’s back and enraged Congolese around the world. Images of the carnage are heartbreaking, and inspired an outpouring of emotion online and on social media.
The attack was carried out by Ugandan rebel group “Allied Democratic Forces” (ADF). ADF is a militia group formed in 1995 by Jamil Mukulu.
Oddly, these horrific murders are occurring in a zone where the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is working to “protect the civilian population.” Note that the UN mission has been in the DRC for over 15 years and, at 17,000 troops, is the largest UN contingent deployed in the world.
The despairing civilian populations who have been victims of these crimes are fed up with this mission. They do not believe that MONUSCO soldiers are doing enough to end the massacres. Their joint military actions with the Congolese government army to ease the people’s terror of the rebels have failed to bring peace.
Furthermore, a report by the Congo Research Group states that “responsibility does not lie with the ADF alone. In addition to commanders directly tied to the ADF, members of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC), the national army; former members of the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie–Kisangani/Mouvement de libération (RDC–K/ML), as well as members of the communal militias have also been involved in attacks on the civilian population.”
Following the May protests, the members of the North Kivu Civil Society sent an open letter to the President of the Republic, Joseph Kabila. The letter stated that, between October 2014 and May 2016:
- More than 1,470 people have been abducted or are missing
- More than 1,750 homes have been burned, sometimes with people and goods inside
- At least 13 health centres have been burned, sometimes with sick patients and healthcare personnel inside
- More than 27 schools have been destroyed, others abandoned, still others occupied by displaced people, military dependants, or armed groups
- Several villages have been entirely occupied by armed groups
- Women have been raped and children have been unable to go to school.
The collective of North Kivu Civil Society organizations is also calling on the international community to “declare the targeted massacres in the territories of BENI and LUBERO genocide and to launch an independent international inquiry to identify and try the perpetrators.” Along similar lines, two Congolese internet users, Wondo and Kyaghanda, have launched an online petition addressed to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.
As a peacemaker, I pray that their actions will convince judiciary authorities to launch an international inquiry to identify not only the perpetrators of the massacres, but also those who ordered them and their accomplices.
So, in the spirit of “Je suis Charlie,” “Je suis Paris,” “Je suis Bruxelles,” … I declare in solidarity and support — “Je suis BENI.”