18-month long attacks in DRC may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity according to UN report

Felicity Salina, International Law Officer

Protracted armed attacks perpetrated by the insurgent group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) of the DRC since the beginning of 2019 has killed almost 800 civilians and injured many others. Following a series of investigations and fact-finding missions, the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC issued a report detailing systematic human rights abuses and widespread destruction carried out by ADF in the territories of Beni, North Kivu province as well as Irumu and Mambasa in Ituri province.

The report notes that aside from the devastating loss of civilian lives, the attacks from 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2020 have also left 176 wounded. Heavy weaponry, rush as AK47 rifles and mortars, machetes, and knives have been used in the attacks against villages. Meanwhile, a total of 717 individuals are said to have been abducted and 59 children recruited by ADF combatants. The 26-page document concludes that these actions could, by their nature and scope, constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The report goes on to cite evidence that attributes several of the attacks to security and defense forces operating against the armed group. “It is the responsibility of the military justice to investigate these acts insofar as it has jurisdiction over all crimes committed by members of the security and defense forces, and by armed groups”, the report said.

Over the past half-decade, the DRC has seen a rise in the number of serious violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. The UN has not only condemned armed attacks targeted against civilians, but also against UN peacekeeping soldiers.

The situation has triggered massive displacement, with one million people from the most affected areas uprooted in the last six months alone. In a recent interview, the UNHJRO Director, Abdoul Aziz Thioye, has made clear that reinforcement of local judicial structures and restoration of State authority are crucial to guarantee security for the displaced populations who are in need of assistance to return home.
Since 2018, 400 ADF combatants have been arrested and are now awaiting trial.

As of the writing of this article, the number of recorded casualties stands at 793.

The English version of UNJHRO report can be accessed here: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/CD/ADF_EN.pdf.