Joint NGO Open Letter of Concern to Governments on Mass Atrocities Committed Against the Banyamulenge in the Democratic Republic of Congo
First published by Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention
December 22, 2021
We, the undersigned representative organization of the Banyamulenge diaspora community alongside international humanitarian partner institutions, firmly condemn the atrocious killing of Major Kaminzobe Joseph in the territory of Fizi, South Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On December 9, 2021, Major Kaminzobe, a member of the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the Banyamulenge ethnic minority, was traveling from his duty station in Fizi to Uvira together with his direct superior and other soldiers in a vehicle belonging to the local health sector. When they reached Lweba, a village located between Baraka and Uvira, villagers pulled him from the vehicle, lynched him, and burned his body. On December 12, 2021, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) issued the following denunciation, “The UNJHRO condemns the murder of an officer of FARDC on 12.09.2021 in Lweba, near Baraka, South Kivu. The UNJHRO learned that this officer in civilian clothes was taken from an ambulance by a crowd and lynched because of his ethnicity (italics added).”
This most recent act of violence follows a pattern of calculated and systematic attacks against the Banyamulenge in the Hauts Plateaux region of South Kivu. Since 2017, the remaining Banyamulenge population has been the target of attacks by militias, such as Mai-Mai and RED-Tabara, with the intent to forcibly remove them from their villages. Academics and local sources have estimated that Mai-Mai, often in coordination with elements of the FARDC, have burned hundreds of villages, looted thousands of cattle – which are essential to the Banyamulenge’s livelihoods – killed hundreds of people, and besieged thousands of displaced Banyamulenge in, among others, the Minembwe area of South Kivu Province.
While we acknowledge and condemn any ethnically-charged attacks on civilians that may have been perpetrated by armed groups claiming to represent the Banyamulenge, it is important to note that Banyamulenge civilians are essentially unarmed civilians who have been disproportionately targeted with violence and hate speech. This pattern follows decades of persecution and rejection of their collective identity and has only increased in recent years with rhetoric becoming more extreme and violence more devastating.
A report published in March 2021 by the UNJHRO found that 80% of all hate speech in the DRC was ethnically motivated, with 31% targeting the Banyamulenge. The pervasive belief that the Banyamulenge are “Rwandan invaders” coupled with calls for their extermination or expulsion from Congolese soil by members of Congolese armed groups, local and national public figures, and members of the Congolese diaspora places the Banyamulenge in a precarious situation. This rhetoric has been accompanied by highly dehumanizing language, including descriptions of the Minembwe area as a “cancer” aimed at enabling the “balkanization” (“fracturing”) of the country that must be excised. In particular, Major Kaminzobe’s death follows decades of Banyamulenge members of the FARDC being targeted with hate speech depicting them as agents of the “balkanization” agenda. To date, the international community has done little to leverage its influence to halt the spread of hate speech and violence in the DRC.
In light of the continued atrocities committed against the Banyamulenge, the following actions are required to ensure the safety and security of the population:
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) must forge a stronger partnership with the Congolese government and the FARDC to protect vulnerable populations, such as the Banyamulenge, and commit to expanding operations within the Hauts Plateaux.
The Congolese government and FARDC leadership must provide security and assistance to all affected civilian populations as well as facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance and unfettered access to the Hauts Plateaux by relief organizations.
The European Union, individual Member States, and the United States should expand their existing sanctions to cover individual and collective actors involved in current atrocities in the DRC, including those specifically targeting the Banyamulenge.
All named actors above, both domestic and international, should act collaboratively to ensure that actors involved in the atrocities and in the dissemination of hate speech are brought to justice before competent and effective judicial authorities. They must ensure that social media service providers are able to take appropriate measures to curb hate speech on their platforms.
The time for words has passed and concrete action must be taken to preserve the security and dignity of the Banyamulenge community. All peoples living within the Democratic Republic of Congo, regardless of ethnicity, have the right to a peaceful existence.
Adele Kibasumba, President, Mahoro Peace Association Amber Maze, Executive Director, Crane Center for Mass Atrocity Prevention Dr. Gregory Stanton, President, Genocide Watch Neema Namadamu, Executive Director, Hero Women Rising Courtney Hamilton, Director of Advocacy and Strategic Growth, Jewish World Watch
You can view the original version of this statement here.