Africa: Loud Silence - Africa's Failure to Address Atrocities in DR Congo

The Shabindu site has been hosting displaced people since March 23. MSF has built dozens of latrines, distributed drinking water and carried out 4 distributions of essential goods. Primary health care, psychological care and care for victims of sexual violence are also provided

The ongoing linguistic violence and atrocities committed in DR Congo have not only claimed countless lives but have also exposed a troubling reality--the lack of regional and continental outrage and action in the face of such horrors.

Reports of the Tutsi being killed and subjected to unspeakable acts of violence, including barbaric acts of cannibalism, have emerged, painting an uninviting image of the atrocities being committed. The sheer brutality and inhumanity of these acts should be enough to spark outrage and condemnation across the region and continent, yet the response has been shockingly muted.

Enter the collective

Finally, legal activism is filling the void left by lack of political will to help victims. On May 18, seven lawyers under "The collective of lawyers for victims Hema, Banyamulenge and Tutsi of Congolese nationality" announced they had filed two important complaints.

The first one was sent to Military Prosecutors and Public Prosecutors in Goma and Bukavu, the capitals of North Kivu Province and South Kivu Province, respectively, relating to hate speech and xenophobia held by many people, including government officials which may engage the criminal responsibility of the Congolese government. The second complaint was filed with the Military Prosecutor's Office in Bunia, the capital of Ituri Province, concerning crimes that could be qualified as crimes of genocide committed against the Hema community.

According to their press release, these complaints were also forwarded to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The collective voices "the complicit silence of the representatives of the international community in Kinshasa and the media campaign carried out to hide these crimes," making it clear "these complaints consists of putting the same international community to assume its responsibilities in the face of the unspeakable and lack of reaction of the army, the police, and the justice system in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The collective hopes to see the "Congolese justice system taking decisive steps to discourage hate speech, arbitrary arrest, related crimes such as cannibalism by bringing to justice the authors and their mastermind who hold public office or are elected officials." And are determined to "fight to ensure that these imprescriptible crimes against humanity do not go unpunished." The culprits of these criminalities are not anonymous. They are known and use public platforms to sow their hate. Below are a few examples:

Unhidden lawbreaking

On April 18, 2023, during a programme on the popular channel Congo Buzz, Joseph Mbenza, a member of President Felix Tshisekedi's-- Union for Democracy and Social Progress party (known by its French initials UDPS) based in Kinshasa, defined the Tutsi as 'bloodthirsty', urging "Congolese people to arm themselves to rid themselves" of this behavior in DR Congo "so that the country can move forward."

Another one is Benedy Mugisho Zirirane, an official of the Political Party AADS, allied to Tshisekedi's UDPS. On June 15, 2023, in response to a post denouncing the hate speeches of Lawyer Thomas Gamakolo, a member of the collective, Mugisho reacted by saying: "When I am in power, all Tutsis without exception should be expelled to where they came from and Congo will be at peace. You will die in Congo like wandering flies..."

On July 6, 2023 a virulent Tutsi hater, DR Congo's former minister and current member of Parliament, Justin Bitakwira, was a guest on TV Channel "bosolo na politique" hosted by one Israël Mutombe. The politician made hateful remarks towards members of the Congolese Tutsi community," declaring "a Tutsi is a born criminal," .... I always wonder if their creator is not the one who created the devil. I have never seen such a wicked race." Bitakwira is a close friend of President Tshisekedi.

On November 10, 2023, Rocky Mbaya Mbaya, a student (University of Lubumbashi) and member of UDPS affirmed the Banyamulenge were causing a lot of problems to the country. Blatantly, the student said: "They must return to Rwanda. You are not Congolese," concluding that, "in Congo there has never been a tribe called Banyamulenge..."

Mbaya was responding to a post on X, former Twitter, denouncing the lynching of a Congolese Tutsi, 2nd Lieutenant Gisore Rukatura Kabonge Patrick in the national army, FARDC. Try to imagine, if a government commissioned military officer can be lynched in public by civilians, and with impunity, what about others?

On January 18, this year, the military drones of the FARDC bombed the villages of Rugi, Rumeneti, and others, where there are farms owned by Congolese Tutsi civilians. Several houses were destroyed, killing and injuring many cows. The reaction of a Congolese national member of Parliament Justin Ndayishimiye Harerimana from Masisi was sickening. In a WhatsApp group named "ABIWACU HEZA MASISI," Ndayishimiye reacted in Kinyarwanda, his native language-- saying: "It is the part where a patient suffers that must be treated. When a snake takes refuge in a gourd, it must be broken." This message demonstrably meant the cows and their Tutsi herders in the farms are 'snakes' that need to be destroyed, hence becoming legitimate military targets.

For years, the Tutsi people in this region have been subjected to dehumanizing labels and derogatory terms as a deliberate strategy employed to strip them of their humanity and justify violence against them. Perpetrators seek to instil fear and hatred towards the community, creating narratives that justify their marginalization and mistreatment. It serves as a justification for the unspeakable atrocities committed against the targeted groups, including lynching and even acts of genocide.

Even more horrifying is the practice of cannibalism, where individuals are not only killed but also eaten by their attackers. Cannibalism is a deeply dehumanizing and barbaric act that reflects the extreme devaluation of human life and dignity. The use of cannibalism as a tool of violence against the Tutsi community is a blunt cue of the depths of cruelty that can be reached when prejudice and hatred are left unchecked. Cannibalism also reinforces negative perceptions of all Africans.

Shocking regional silence

In the face of such atrocities and dehumanization, one cannot help but question the role of regional and continental bodies such as the African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC), and Southern African Development Community (SADC). These organizations are meant to promote peace, security, and development in Africa, yet their silence on the matter speaks volumes. The lack of action and condemnation from these institutions not only emboldens perpetrators but also sends a dangerous message that such violence and discrimination are acceptable on our continent.

The silence of these organizations, and even military and diplomatic support to the Congolese government by some like SADC, not only fails the people of the DR Congo but also undermines the credibility and effectiveness of regional and continental efforts to address conflict and human rights abuses. It is a silence that reinforces terrible stereotypes against all Africans, painting a picture of a continent that is indifferent to the suffering of its own people.

It is demeaning, because it suggests that we as Africans do not value the lives and dignity of our fellow brothers and sisters, and those who do speak out are labelled as troublemakers or agitators--a distressing message to the world - that the lives and dignity of African people are expendable and that impunity can reign unchecked.

So, where is the African Union when the Tutsi are being killed and dehumanized in the DR Congo? Where is the East African Community and SADC when such atrocities are taking place in their own backyard?

The deafening silence of these regional organisations and institutions speaks volumes and raises serious questions about their commitment to the values they claim to uphold. It is high time regional and continental bodies break their silence and take a stand against the atrocities and dehumanization in DR Congo. The lack of regional and continental outrage in the face of the atrocities in DR Congo is a stain on the collective conscience of Africa.

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