UN investigators say 890 'horrific' ethnic killings could be war crimes
Batende community accused of killing hundreds and displacing thousands
The brutal killing of as many as 890 women and children in the inter-communal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo might amount to crimes against humanity and should be prosecuted, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
But Luis Moreno Ocampo, the founder International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor from 2003 to 2012, told The National there is a long road ahead before the perpetrators face justice.
A report detailing the violence in Mai-Ndombe province last December, in the west of the country between the Batende and Banunu communities, paints a picture of rapidly escalating disputes leading to the killing and sexual abuse of men, women and children, exacerbated by the absence of reliable state institutions.
The UN investigation verified the killing of 535 people, which they said was triggered by a dispute over the burial of a Banunu chief.
Provincial authorities appear to have failed in their responsibility to protect the population
UN investigation on war crimes in the DRC
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for the government to pursue reconciliation and justice.
“It is crucial to ensure that the perpetrators of these terrible crimes are punished," she said.
The report found that the speed and violence of the attacks left little opportunity for people to escape. Some people were asked if there were of the Banunu tribe, before killing them with hunting rifles, machetes, bows and arrows and gasoline.
Women were raped after their children were killed and bodies were mutilated.
Some 19,000 people were displaced by the violence and around 1,000 buildings were destroyed. In some cases, people were burnt alive inside their homes.
Mr Moreno Ocampo, who is now a senior fellow at Harvard University, said "protecting witnesses and investigators is the first challenge, then collect the right evidence, obtain the approval from the Judges to issue an arrest warrant and then the biggest challenge: arrest the leaders of the militias."
Prosecuting within the DRC is easier, as they have ratified the Rome Statute, Mr Moreno-Ocampo said, but warned that "political will is needed to make the judicial effort relevant."
If the DRC does not take note of the ICC's work, then its impact is limited.
The report also criticised the absence of state control over the villages, which they said facilitated the violence.
“Provincial authorities appear to have failed in their responsibility to protect the population,” the report said, adding that there is a risk of renewed violence if law and order is not returned to the area.
The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in the DRC, Leila Zerrougui, called for the return of displaced people and resumption of state authority.
“The neutral presence of State institutions, including the police, is important to maintain law and order and to prevent the risk of further violence,” she said.
Updated: March 15, 2019 03:08 PM