More than 1,000 have been killed by Islamist militants in eastern DRC since October 2014.
More than 1,000 have been killed by Islamist militants in eastern DRC since October 2014. (World Watch Monitor)

Local civil society organisations have written to Congolese President Joseph Kabila to denounce the ongoing killings of people in eastern DR Congo, particularly in Beni and Lubero (North Kivu Province).

They say the violence has so far claimed 1,116 lives between October 2014 and May 2016. That’s an average of 60 killed per month, or two a day, points out their letter (which World Watch Monitor has seen). It says some 1,470 other people were abducted, while 34,297 families have been forcibly displaced or are dispersed. There are also numerous cases of sexual violence against women and children.

World Watch Monitor reported that around 50 people were killed in various attacks within a week in May, causing thousands to flee the area.

In particular, locals say Islamist militants (ADF-NALU, also known as Muslim Defence International) were responsible. The material damage is 1,750 and 13 health centres burned down; 27 schools destroyed or forcibly abandoned, occupied by displaced people or by military or armed groups; several villages occupied by armed militiamen.

In Lubero, another armed group, the Rwandan FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda), are reported to “have claimed the power to levy taxes”.

Moreover, the violence, says the group, is accompanied “by collective and suspicious movements of populations of the same ethnicity and language, of indeterminate origin, with the intention of land occupation and dismemberment of the country”, and “the systematic looting of assets and natural resources”.

World Watch Monitor / Datawrapper

The latter are themes that have persisted through what the BBC described in 2013 as the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II, across Congo: “A conflagration that has sucked in soldiers and civilians from nine nations and countless armed rebel groups, known as the Great War of Africa, has been fought almost entirely inside DR Congo.”

This forms the wider national backdrop to this latest crisis in the east – Islamist militias have filled the vacuum left by that war, which has seen more than five million dead, and several million refugees. Women and girls, particularly, have paid a heavy price, as rape and sexual violence were widely used by both armed groups and government forces.

So the civil society representatives now ask the Congolese State to:

• ensure the safety of all its inhabitants,
• prevent regular soldiers from participating in the trade and exploitation of local natural resources,
• replace military units born from the incorporation of former M23 rebels (who have brought havoc to eastern DRC since April 2012, but who ended their insurgency in 2013, after the government said they had been defeated) and other groups,
• speed up the repatriation of FDLR rebels.

The group also denounced the passivity of the UN’s peacekeepers (Monusco) and its special unit, which aims to carry out offensive actions to protect civilians. They also called on the international community to declare as “genocide” the current massacres in the territories of Beni and Lubero, and to set up an independent investigation in order to identify the authors of the massacres and bring them to justice.

Meanwhile, other locals report the impact of the recent attacks on church life in the area, as well as the final number and names of those who died between 30 April and 3 May:

• 30 April: 12 massacred
• 1 May : 2 hacked to death with machetes and axes
• 2 May : 6 hacked to death with machetes and axes; whereabouts of 11 others still unknown
• 3 May: 17 hacked to death with machetes and axes.

Another attack late on 6 May in the province of Ituri, slightly further north, saw between nine and 15 killed. All the victims are members of local churches (CECA20, Anglican and Catholic).

The ongoing violence has dramatically affected the local churches, as thousands have fled the area. Consequently, several churches have been closed because of lack of attendance. The violence has also had financial implications, as members are experiencing hardship and economic difficulties. Some church leaders have also fled with their families, while others are struggling to survive and to provide counselling and trauma support to their affected members.

The figures below show the impact of the violence on church attendance:

• CECA20 Church, from 500, down to 10 attendees
• Kisiki Church, from 250 to 8 attendees
• Mupaka Church, from 300 to 0 (closed)
• Mwamba Imara Church, from 250 to 40 attendees
• Eglise Internationale/Ndalya, from 200 to 0 (burned down)
• Catholic Church/Lese, from 250 to 0 (closed)
• Anglican Church, from 370 to 0 (closed)
• Church of Christ, from 250 to 50 attendees.

The leaders of the affected churches call for a prompt return of peace and stability in the region. They also launched an appeal to the international community to provide relief and humanitarian aid to the displaced and other victims of the crisis.