Violent attacks on civilians in Democratic Republic of Congo: record numbers

IDPs in Lala camp seek refuge in surrounding villages IDPs in Lala camp seek refuge in surrounding villages guenterguni via iStock

CODECO militiamen conducted a deadly raid in Lala camp, province of Ituri

Ituri, the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has become the scene of violence and reprisals involving tens of thousands of civilians since December 2017. One of the consequences is a seriously deteriorating humanitarian situation: according to United Nations data, there are now more than 1.6 million internally displaced persons in the province alone. Recently, the area was again the scene of a violent assault. CODECO (Cooperative for the Development of Congo) militia fighters, predominantly ethnic Lendu, attacked a displaced persons camp in the province, Lala camp. During the attack they killed at least 46 civilians, including 23 children, 13 women and 10 men, and wounded eight others. The fighters then burned dozens of huts, including some in which civilians were left. 

According to data collected by the Kivu Security Tracker, a project jointly run by Congo Research Group, Human Rights Watch and the Bridgeway Foundation, CODECO militia have repeatedly attacked refugee camps in Ituri over the past two years, and at least 945 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year. "Attacking civilians in camps where they seek refuge from violence has become CODECO's striking trademark," said Thomas Fessy , senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Congolese soldiers and U.N. peacekeepers in the area did not intervene, despite reports of the attack. Congolese soldiers only entered the camp after dawn, once the militia had left, to help collect the dead and wounded. U.N. peacekeepers admitted that their response to the attack was compromised by the breakdown of one of their armored vehicles. Human Rights Watch urged an urgent investigation into the killings and called for support from the African Union and the United Nations to ensure that those responsible are prosecuted.

CODECO's assault on the Lala camp violated the ban on attacks on civilians and civilian facilities under international humanitarian law, and the deliberate killing of civilians and looting of property amounted to war crimes. The commanders responsible for ordering the attack should be properly prosecuted, and the Congolese government should take steps to ensure that armed groups act in accordance with the 2012 Kampala Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internationally Displaced Persons in Africa. In addition, the importance of protecting civilians in the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) is emphasized.

Ending the killings and violence requires sustained efforts by government institutions with international support to investigate abuses and prosecute those responsible.


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by Chiara Cacciatore

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