Photo Source: © Reuters
Photo Source: © Reuters

Atrocity Alert No. 174: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Venezuela

2 October 2019

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

UN says ethnic attacks have killed dozens in eastern Congo

A predominantly ethnic Lendu armed group – the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) – killed 26 civilians in Ituri Province on 17 and 18 September. All of the victims, including 15 children, were from the ethnic Hema community. CODECO also abducted and raped civilians during its attacks on Hema villages and targeted camps for internally displaced persons. The UN Deputy Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), David McLachlan-Karr, noted that the violence “reflects a deliberate and organized desire to attack displaced people and the most vulnerable.”

Violence between Lendu and Hema armed groups has escalated in Djugu and Mahagi territory since June. The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC documented 197 civilians killed in assaults carried out by Lendu fighters between 1 June and 31 August. Hema armed groups have also attacked Lendu communities, and some security forces deployed to protect civilians have been implicated in extrajudicial killings. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that at least 230,000 people are currently displaced across Ituri Province.

The Hema and Lendu have a long history of conflict, including several years of intense fighting in Ituri province that started in the late 1990s and resulted in thousands of deaths. The Hema are predominately pastoralists and the Lendu are mainly sedentary farmers, with longstanding disputes over access to land and other resources. External political forces have often exacerbated these divisions, providing support to one ethnic-based militia or another.

Although the two communities have coexisted relatively peacefully since 2007, a surge in inter-communal fighting between December 2017 and April 2018 resulted in more than 260 people being killed and 60,000 people fleeing to Uganda. Last Saturday, 28 September, a military tribunal in Bunia sentenced 55 people to life in prison for perpetrating crimes against humanity, including rape and murder, during the 2017-2018 violence.

During September violence also escalated between rival armed groups in the Minembwe region of South Kivu Province, resulting in multiple villages being burned, as well as the killing, kidnapping and rape of civilians. The UN Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has increased the deployment of armed peacekeepers throughout the two provinces. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement on 20 September, calling upon the DRC authorities to enhance the protection of civilians in the east and confront the causes of inter-communal conflict.

Ongoing armed conflict despite dialogue in Cameroon

On Monday, 30 September, the government of Cameroon launched a national dialogue aimed at ending ongoing armed conflict in the Anglophone north-west and south-west regions. Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute is leading the talks in the capital, Yaoundé. During the days leading up to the dialogue, some armed separatist groups rejected the process and intensified their attacks in the disputed Anglophone regions, killing a number of people and damaging electrical infrastructure.

President Paul Biya announced the national dialogue on 10 September amidst growing pressure from the international community. Following her visit to Cameroon in May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged “all sides, including the Government, to make a strenuous effort to end the fighting and begin peace talks.” In June the government of Switzerland also offered to mediate the conflict.

The government of Cameroon has consistently denied the gravity of the crisis and President Biya has dismissed the grievances of Anglophone protesters. Meanwhile, a number of separatist leaders have refused to attend the dialogue, emphasizing that they would only work with those willing to formally recognize the independence of the Anglophone regions.

The launch of the national dialogue coincides with the second anniversary of the separatists’ declaration of an independent state of “Ambazonia” on 1 October 2017. Since then there has been mounting evidence of the security forces perpetrating widespread extrajudicial killings, as well as of armed separatists committing numerous human rights abuses and violations. At least 650 civilians, 235 members of the security forces, and an estimated 1,000 alleged separatists have reportedly been killed as a result of ongoing conflict. More than 530,000 people have been displaced and more than 170 Anglophone villages have been burned or destroyed by government forces.

All parties in Cameroon should work towards a negotiated political solution to the armed conflict in the north-west and south-west regions. The government of Cameroon should release political prisoners, ensure all its military operations are undertaken in strict compliance with international law, and initiate credible and inclusive peace talks, without preconditions. Armed separatists should immediately call a ceasefire and negotiate with the government. The international community, including the African Union and Economic Community of Central African States, must help mediate an end to the conflict and ensure accountability for potential mass atrocity crimes.

Human Rights Council establishes Fact-Finding Mission for Venezuela 

On Friday, 27 September, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution establishing an independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) for Venezuela. The FFM is mandated to “investigate extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment since 2014, with a view to ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

The resolution, which was proposed by a group of Latin American countries and Canada, the so-called “Lima Group,” allows for further measures if the situation continues to deteriorate or if the Venezuelan authorities do not meaningfully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The resolution was adopted amidst growing evidence of potential crimes against humanity in Venezuela. Since President Nicolas Maduro took office during 2013, popular discontent with the government has led to widespread protests. The government has routinely responded with disproportionate and deadly force as well as the mobilization of auxiliary militias, including so-called armed “colectivos.”

During the HRC’s 41st session in July the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, noted that of the more than 6,850 people killed in “security operations” since January 2018, many may have been extrajudicially executed. The High Commissioner reported that the government has also arbitrarily detained and tortured alleged opponents as a “means to intimidate and repress” dissent. On 27 September the European Union added 7 members of the Venezuelan intelligence and security forces to its sanctions list, bringing the total number of sanctioned individuals to 25.

The Venezuelan authorities should cooperate fully with the FFM. They should also implement all the commitments previously made to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including allowing OHCHR staff access to detention centers and freedom of movement.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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