Police in the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed at least 55 people in April as part of a coordinated crackdown against a separatist religious group, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released Tuesday.
Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) leader Zacharie Badiengila, also known as Ne Muandu Nsemi, had previously called for his followers to expel members of other ethnic groups, prompting the government to counter his rhetoric with violent raids. The raids primarily occurred in the capital, Kinshasa, and other rebel strongholds in the country's west.
"Congolese authorities had a responsibility to respond to the BDK movement's messages that incite ethnic hatred," said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at HRW. "However, the government response violated international standards on the use of force, causing a bloodbath."
The interior minister initially reported that 22 members of BDK had been killed in just two raids. According to Reuters, one of the raids led to Badiengila's arrest.
However, HRW disputes the government's report.
Citing extensive phone interviews with U.N. officials, victims, witnesses and journalists, HRW claims that over 50 people were killed during the violence in April and that "excessive lethal force" was used.
The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states that use of violence is only permissible as a method of self-defense, adding, "intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."