An investigation by the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC found that at least 701 people were killed and 168 injured following attacks involving Hema and Lendu communities in the province of Ituri, in the northeast of the country, between December 2017 and September of last year.
“In addition, at least 142 people were victims of acts of sexual violence,” the report said, “most of them members of the Hema community.”
Since September 2018, Lendu armed groups have increasingly organized themselves to carry out attacks against Hema and members of other ethnic groups such as the Alur, investigators said.
One of their goals is to take control of the lands of the Hema communities and their associated resources, they added.
The report mentions numerous cases of women raped, children – some in school uniform – killed, looting and burning of villages.
Rapes and beheadings
On June 10, in the district of Torges, a Hema man who was trying to prevent armed assailants from raping his wife saw his 8-year-old son beheaded.
“The barbarity that characterizes these attacks, including the beheading of women and children with machetes, the dismemberment and removal of body parts from the victims as trophies of war, reflects the attackers’ desire to inflict lasting trauma Hema communities and forcing them to flee and not return to their villages,” the report said.
“The documented violence…may contain some elements of crimes against humanity through murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, pillage and persecution.”
Schools and clinics have been attacked and destroyed. The report indicates that most of the attacks occurred in June around the harvest period and in December during the planting season. “This makes it harder for the Hema to cultivate their fields and exacerbates their lack of food.”
As violence has escalated, in the past two years around 57,000 people have taken refuge in neighboring Uganda, and more than 556,000 have fled Ituri’s Djugu and Mahagi territories, according to the UN refugee agency. , UNHCR.
Several camps and villages where the Hema took refuge were “stormed, burned and destroyed” by Lendu armed groups, the report details.
Investigators have also documented retaliatory acts by some members of the Hema community, including burning of villages and “isolated attacks” targeting Lendu.
Army and police units deployed since February 2018 have failed to stop the violence, the report says, adding that the security forces themselves have also committed abuses such as extrajudicial killings, violent sex, arbitrary arrests and detentions.
So far, two policemen and two soldiers have been convicted by Congolese courts.
The joint rights office, UNJHRO, now recommends that the DRC authorities properly address the root causes of the conflict, including access to resources – including the contentious land issue – and maintain “strong efforts ongoing reconciliation between the two communities and their peaceful cohabitation”. ”
The report urges that an independent and impartial investigation be carried out by the government into the years of violence, as well as to “guarantee the victims’ right to reparation and their access to medical and psychosocial care”.