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Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado

Location: Geneva 

Date: 20 September 2019


We are alarmed by the increase in violence committed against civilians in Ituri and South Kivu, both located in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), due to the activity of armed groups and the inability of the security forces to put an end to the violence. In recent months, this has resulted in a growing number of serious human rights abuses, dozens of burned villages and thousands of people displaced.

The crises in the two provinces are unrelated, but have similar characteristics. Armed groups, largely based on ethnic lines and sometimes in alliance with other groups, attack communities mainly to gain control of land and resources.

As recently as this past Tuesday 17 of September, 14 civilians were brutally killed and four wounded in Bukatsele in Ituri province. The casualties included 11 children aged between seven months and 15 years old, all of whom were shot dead and then decapitated. This attack against victims belonging to the Hema community is believed to have been perpetrated by a Lendu armed group. The following day, another 12 civilians - three women and four children - were killed in three different locations, including a camp for internally displaced people. The victims were all Hema.

These killings are just one of the latest in a long list of massacres in the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, Ituri province. According to data collected by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in DRC*, since 1 June, at least 197 civilians have been killed in Ituri in assaults believed to have been carried out by Lendu fighters. All the victims belonged to the Hema or Alur communities. This number does not include the victims of attacks over the past week.

During the same period since 1 June, at least 51 victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence have been reported In Ituri. Most of the victims were  gang raped.

According to reports, while conducting military operations against Lendu fighters, security forces killed at least 17 Lendu civilians in what amounts to extrajudicial killings of civilians in reprisal for the actions of armed groups. This is a matter of great concern.

In South Kivu the situation is also alarming, with a number of armed groups associated to various communities fighting each other and carrying attacks against civilians. In the space of six days, from 8-14 September, at least eight civilians were killed in the province.

The successive waves of violence have resulted in mass displacement. According to OCHA, at least 230,000 people have been displaced in Ituri since June, and another 20,500 have been displaced in South Kivu. The great majority are living in a dire humanitarian situation.

In Ituri, there is an alarming new trend in recent weeks of an increasing number of assaults by Lendu fighters targeting displaced people.

Defence and Security Forces have so far been ineffective in preventing or putting an end to violence in both provinces. Progress in bringing to justice those responsible for the human rights abuses has been slow. In most cases – especially in South Kivu -- there is still a lack of accountability for the grave crimes committed against civilians.

We welcome President Félix Tshisekedi's commitment to improve the human rights situation in the east of the country and his offer for dialogue with rebels, and call on the DRC authorities, as a matter of urgency, to implement a serious security strategy to resolve the multiple crises and protect civilians in the east. Such a strategy must of course take full account of international human rights law, and ensure that whole communities are not collectively punished for the actions of certain individuals or groups. 

In addition, we call on the Government to spare no effort in addressing the prevailing root causes of the ongoing intercommunal tensions and violence.


* The UN Joint Human Rights Office, established in February 2008, is the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Rupert Colville - + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org or Ravina Shamdasani - 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org or Marta Hurtado - + 41 22 917 9466 / mhurtado@ohchr.org

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