The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called Tuesday for an independent international investigation into human rights violations and abuses committed in the Kasai region of Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein made his urgent plea to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Last month, the high commissioner gave Congolese authorities a June 8 deadline to join an investigation with the U.N. to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Kasai to justice. The Congolese authorities rebuffed his plea, so he is now making good on his threat to urge the Human Rights Council to deploy an independent investigation.
"I will also remain in touch with the International Criminal Court," Zeid said. "This international investigation can establish the facts and determine individual responsibilities. ... By bringing justice to the Kasais we may be able to prevent further crimes elsewhere in the DRC."
The U.N. reports a serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Kasai since August. That was when a tribal chief was killed by police and members of the army. That triggered revenge attacks and counterattacks between the chief's Kamuina Nsapu militia and government security forces.
Stories of atrocities
Zeid said refugees from Kasai had told U.N. investigators harrowing tales of abuse by a Congolese-backed militia, the Bana Mura, against civilians from the Luba and Lulua ethnic groups, including reports of hundreds of villagers being shot, hacked or burned to death.
"Serious human rights violations by members of the security forces themselves — including summary executions and rape — have been reported during several operations against villages allegedly controlled by the Kamuina Nsapu militia," he said.
The high commissioner also accused the Kamuina Nsapu militia of serious rights abuses. He said the militia allegedly had carried out targeted killings against members of the armed forces, police, public officials and civilians, using children as young as 7.
Zeid said Congolese authorities have a duty to protect the people and that those who violate human rights principles must be brought to justice.
The DRC minister of human rights, Marie Ange Mushobekwa, said her country would continue to cooperate with the Human Rights Office. She said undisciplined Congolese soldiers who opened fire on civilians had been identified and brought before the courts.