“If they want proof they should come and collect the dead bodies.”
The YouTube video posted on February 17, 2017, shows men in Congolese army uniforms fatally shooting a group of villagers. A close look at the grainy footage shows that the victims are carrying slingshots, machetes and spears as as they are mowed down by machine gun fire.
The United States reacted through Obama era holdover and State Department interim spokesperson Mark Toner, “The United States is deeply concerned about the images that appear to show elements of the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) carrying out executions of civilians summarily, including women and children.”
“Appear,” “alleged,” and outright denial is the de rigueur response when the innocent are targeted in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There is too much at stake in the mineral rich country and human life is too often not part of the economic equation.
Of course, Lambert Mende, Congo’s information minister, denied the authenticity of this video, saying it was filmed elsewhere. This, despite the camera point of view being directly behind the shooters. Allegedly, the group of villagers included members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia (more about this “militia” later), including two women and several children. I do not enjoy examining footage of atrocity, so here is what Human Rights Watch (HRW) has to say about the images. “Several of the seriously wounded are shot at point-blank range, as one of the soldiers calls them ‘animals.’ Some of the soldiers later mistreat and violate the dignity of the bodies.”
Personally, I feel the animals are in the eye of the beholder or the slant of the news.
In the same press release, and according to Ida Sawyer of HRW, “Another video shows an unarmed girl bleeding on the ground outside the governor’s office in Kananga, capital of Central Kasai province. Men are heard interrogating her and refusing to take her to the hospital. They kick her twice in the face. A witness later told France 24 that soldiers shot her on January 27, the day the video was filmed, and that she died later that day. He also saw at least three other dead bodies.”
This uptick in violence (it never really ends in eastern Congo) flows from increasing instability after President Joseph Kabila refusal to honor his constitutional mandate to step down in December 2016. He remains in power through a fragile peace deal, brokered by the Catholic Church.The accord bars Kabila from trying to change the constitution so he can run for a third term in an election scheduled for late 2017.
In fact, the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office has documented the killings of more than 280 people since July. At least 39 women were among the victims killed amid the violence between February 9 and 13, according to the U.N.'s human rights spokeswoman Liz Throssell.
“There are multiple, credible allegations of massive human rights violations in Kasai, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental and Lomami provinces, amid a sharp deterioration in security situation there, including people being targeted by soldiers for their alleged affiliation with a local militia,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
Monusco reported the August killings in Kasai of followers of Mwami (Chief ) Kamwena Nsapu by FARDC. Governor Alex Kande described the victims, including the dead Mwami Kamwena as “terrorists.” Now understand that anytime there is an uprising against the Kabila regime, the militias supporting local villagers are termed “terrorists.”
So who was Mwami Kamwena Nsapu, and why have over 100 of his followers been killed in central and eastern Congo in recent months? The Mwami was a Physician in South Africa before succeeding to his brother as a chief near Kananga, the capital of West Kasai Province. He fought against the centralization of power in Kinshasa and wanted to promote social justice for his people. Social justice is a non-starter in the regime of Joseph Kabila.
The Coordinator of the Congolese Human Rights Observatory (OCDH) in Central Kasai, Hubert Ngulandjoko, condemned the killing of Kamwina Nsapu, saying human rights were violated, especially with the desecration and public “trophy” viewing of the body. Violating the home of the Mwami is also a cultural taboo, and “it would have been desirable to arrest Kamwina Nsapu and put him at the disposal of the judiciary to respond to the accusations against him.”
Kasai-Oriental is one of the 26 provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a new Province, created in 2015 from the Tshilenge District and the city of Mbuji-Mayi, both part of the larger, pre-2015 Kasai-Oriental province. “The new province's territory corresponds to the historic Sud-Kasaï province that existed the early period of post-colonial Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1963 and 1966,” says Wikipedia.
According to Yahoo Finance, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley plans to take a close look at United Nations peacekeeping operations in Congo.
“In her first week as U.S. envoy after winning Senate confirmation, Haley zeroed in on the world body’s 16 peacekeeping missions that have been criticized for sexual abuse violations, corruptions and inefficiency, according to the diplomats, who asked not to be named discussing private meetings. The UN missions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which cost $2.2 billion per year, are likely to face scrutiny, according to one of the diplomats.”
The people of Congo have put much faith in the United States, but John Kerry sent an Ambassador, Russ Feingold, who took 18 months learning the intricacies of the country and then abandoned the people for his own political ambitions.
President Donald Trump has a unique opportunity to appoint a real statesman or woman who has the interests of the people of the country at heart. Let’s hope the President does not appoint an author, think tank resident, or blogger cast in the mold of Former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. Power wrote extensively about Rwanda post genocide, but was complicit in throwing the country under the bus when it came to serving the wishes of President Obama, who seemed tied to a false narrative created by the U.N. and Congolese authorities.
The President might want to consider how his administration will deal with consistent and continuing persecution of the Tutsi population in eastern Congo, right under the nose of U.N. troops; the lack of rigorous attempts by the Congolese government to rid the country of FDLR (perpetrators of genocide mentality) militia, and the peculiar “disappearance” of the real terrorists, ADF-Nalu, in the current narrative.
Note: The source of the quote that opens this piece must remain anonymous, or face retaliation from the Kabila regime.