By STEVE WEMBI
Recent acts of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the murder of two United Nations researchers and the discovery of 23 mass graves in the Kasaï region, may constitute war crimes, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Friday.
“I am deeply concerned by the numerous reports of serious violence in the D.R.C., particularly in the Kasaï provinces, for several months,” the I.C.C. prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement.
“There have been reports of violence between local militias and Congolese forces, the killing of many civilians and noncivilians, kidnappings and summary executions of persons, including U.N. experts on mission and their accompanying persons,” she said.
“Such acts could constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the I.C.C.,” Ms. Bensouda said, adding that the court would not hesitate to prosecute those believed to be responsible for the crimes.
The statement was released on the same day that the director of the United Nations human rights office in Congo, José Maria Aranaz, said mass graves had been discovered in Kasaï, where the Kamuina Nsapu militia has clashed with the Congolese Army and the police for several months.
“We documented 23 mass grave sites in different localities: Nkoto, Kabeya, Nguema and Tshimbulu,” he said. “And this information has been shared with the major judicial, civil and military authorities.”
“We must bring to justice those responsible for this killing that has happened and continues to happen. We are concerned about the level of figures,” Mr. Aranaz added.
On Tuesday night, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, confirmed that the bodies of the two United Nation researchers — Michael Sharp, an American; and Zaida Catalan, a Swede — had been discovered in a shallow grave.
They disappeared along with four Congolese in Kasaï-Central Province on Monday. Mr. Guterres urged the authorities to “conduct a full investigation into this incident.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a history of government-led atrocities, including gang rapes and the slaughtering of civilians. Last month, members of a militia ambushed and beheaded about 40 police officers in a central province.
Seven Army officers were recently charged with war crimes after a video surfaced on social media that appeared to show uniformed soldiers opening fire on a group of civilians, killing at least 13 people. Several analysts said that the video revealed a government-sponsored massacre of civilians.
Other videos and photos have also been circulating on social networks for weeks; in one, people claiming to be militiamen from Kamuina Nsapu desecrate bodies of those thought to be members of the national police.
The International Court, based in The Hague, handed down its first sentence in 2012, after convicting the former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.
Since then, it has convicted several Congolese officials accused of crimes against humanity, including former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba last year and the rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda.
Violence in Kasaï-Central Province has claimed more than 500 lives and internally displaced scores of residents, according to local nongovernmental organizations.
The joint conference of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, the Apostolic Nunciature and the archbishop of Kananga released a statementin French on Thursday expressing “compassion and condemnation” about the continuing violence in Kasaï.
The bishops called for an end to the summary executions of civilians, and for the military to show restraint in the effort to restore peace.
Published on the NY Times' website on April 1, 2017.