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Amnesty Blasts Congo-Brazzaville Over Mass Expulsions

FILE - People that have been deported from Congo's capital Brazzaville, seen in background, arrive by river boat in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, April 29, 2014.

Amnesty International says abuses committed in the Republic of Congo during last year's deportation of tens of thousands to the Democratic Republic of Congo could amount to crimes against humanity.

In a report published Thursday, Amnesty describes a range of human rights violations allegedly committed by Congo Brazzaville’s security forces between April and September of last year during mass expulsions of DRC nationals.

The organization says at least 179,000 DRC citizens were expelled at that time from the neighboring country, and that the deportations have continued this year. Congo Brazzaville has said previously the DRC nationals are illegal foreign workers.

Amnesty’s report on this police operation is named Mbata ya Bakolo, which means "slap of the elders" in the Congolese language Lingala. It documents reports of arbitrary arrests, extortion and theft, rapes and fatalities. Some of these crimes were allegedly committed by Congo Brazzaville police.

Deportee speaks out

Amnesty International researcher Evie Francq told VOA about testimony she heard from a deportee.

She said a woman who was a street vendor told her that one day police came and stole $300 from her and her merchandise. When she and four of her colleagues fled, the police chased them, and they were raped one after the other. When the women tried to go to a hospital they were denied access, said Francq.

The report documents several similar cases.

The operation was initially launched in response to crimes committed by gang members from Kinshasa who had fled to Brazzaville to escape a police crackdown in the DRC. Amnesty says it was soon extended to any DRC citizens, and police used radio to broadcast appeals to the public to denounce so-called criminal households, while recording artists composed songs openly inciting discrimination against foreigners.

Landlords were fined $600 for so-called illegal households, according to the report.

Video footage of abuses in Brazzaville has been widely seen in the DRC. The footage includes scenes where women were surrounded by men, who kicked and punched them and then pulled off their clothes.

Arbitrary arrests

Evie Francq told VOA that Amnesty interviewed 110 people who were victims of the operation, and more than 50 percent said they were victims of arbitrary arrest.

She said the mass expulsions without due process and forcible returns of refugees and asylum seekers were in contravention of international law.

A number of people were reportedly killed during the expulsions, Francq said, although she could not give a death toll.

She spoke to one man who lost his wife as they were being pushed onto a ferry to take them across the Congo River to Kinshasa. Francq said he told her they were putting their belongings on the boat, his wife was pushed into the water by a policeman and she drowned in front of him. The man said he never was able to recover his wife’s body, she said.

Amnesty has called on the Republic of Congo to bring to justice those suspected of crimes, including possibly crimes against humanity, committed during the operation.