Panafrican News Agency

Rights group criticises DR Congo for failure to 'fully investigate' killing of 66 Iyeke people

Kinshasa, DRC (PANA) - A human rights advocate has accused the DR Congo authorities of failing to fully investigate the killing of at least 66 Indigenous Iyeke people in the Bianga district of Monkoto territory in February 2021.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesdah that DRC's National Assembly voted during 2021 for a law that would for the first time protect and promote Indigenous peoples’ rights, but the bill remains stalled in the Senate.

It said from 1-3 February, 2021, hundreds of ethnic Nkundo assailants killed several dozen Iyeke villagers, including at least 40 children, 22 men, and 4 women, and wounded many more in eight villages.

The assailants also burned down more than 1,000 houses as well as schools, churches, and health centers, according to survivors, witnesses, civil society groups, and provincial officials, HRW said. It added that the authorities initially opened an inquiry but did no field investigation.

HRW noted that a year on and no one has been charged for the killings, which have gone largely unreported in the media. Two people were tried and acquitted on lesser charges and the case closed.

“The silence surrounding the horrific killings of Iyeke villagers and lack of accountability highlight the longtime discrimination against Indigenous people in Congo,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at HRW.

“The DR Congolese authorities should acknowledge the failure to prosecute anyone for murder, and fully investigate and fairly prosecute all those responsible for these massacres.”

The HRW findings are based on an October 2021 research trip to the western Monkoto territory.

It said it interviewed interviewed 44 people, including Iyeke survivors and witnesses to the attacks, Nkundo villagers, judicial officers, civil society activists, members of parliament, provincial officials, and military personnel.

Indigenous Iyeke people – part of the larger Batwa Indigenous group – and ethnic Nkundo live in separate but neighbouring villages dotted along a 100-kilometre stretch forming the remote Bianga district on the edge of the Salonga National Park, Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, in Tshuapa province. Longstanding tensions between the two groups revolve around access to land and bonded labor.

HRW said the DR Congo authorities have "an obligation to fully and fairly investigate the Bianga killings and bring those responsible to justice".

It said to ensure that the investigators have adequate resources, the government should request technical support, including logistical and forensic assistance, from the United Nations Joint Office for Human Rights.

The government should reinforce security in the area with well-trained police. It should provide, with international assistance, necessary health care and mental health support to survivors. The government should also work with humanitarian agencies to repair and rebuild homes, schools, and health centers.

DR Congo lawmakers should adopt measures to recognize and protect Indigenous peoples’ rights in line with international standards, HRW said.

“One year since the massacres, Iyeke families live in fear of the assailants who roam free,” Fessy said. “The government needs to prosecute those responsible for these horrific crimes, but also pass legislation to ensure that Indigenous people are no longer effectively second-class citizens.”

-0- PANA MA 9Feb2022