Tragedy unfolds in eastern Congo as 48 lives lost in anti-UN rally crackdown
At least 48 lives were tragically cut short during a forceful crackdown on an anti-UN protest in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). This grim toll, surpassing earlier reports, was disclosed through sources and official documents scrutinized by AFP on Thursday.
The distressing incident unfolded on Wednesday when Congolese soldiers intervened to halt a religious sect’s planned demonstration against United Nations peacekeepers within the city of Goma. Initially, reports suggested that 10 individuals had lost their lives as troops entered a radio station and a place of worship, as per local sources. Tragically, a policeman was also lynched amidst the violence.
However, an internal army document, substantiated by security officials, has now revealed a devastating count of 48 fatalities, in addition to the slain policeman, with 75 individuals wounded. This document further detailed the seizure of bladed weapons and the arrest of 168 people, including the leader of the Christian-animist sect, identified as the “Natural Judaic and Messianic Faith towards the Nations.”
Adding to this somber narrative, the Congolese pro-democracy activist group LUCHA concurred on Thursday, stating that the number of lives lost was “close to 50.” The government, in a statement released late on Thursday, acknowledged a toll of “43 dead, with 56 injured and 158 people apprehended, including the sect leader.” The statement emphasized the government’s support for the military auditor’s investigation to bring those responsible to justice.
The gravity of the situation was underscored by unverified video clips circulating on social media, depicting Congolese soldiers callously placing lifeless bodies, some drenched in blood, into a military vehicle. Human Rights Watch strongly condemned the actions of Congolese security forces, asserting that they “shot and killed dozens of protesters and wounded scores more.” Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch, decried the use of lethal force to quell a demonstration as “extremely callous as well as unlawful.”
The organization called for the suspension, investigation, and public accountability of senior military officials who ordered such deadly measures.
This tragic incident sheds light on the persistent anti-UN sentiment in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s east, an area plagued by militia violence for three decades, a legacy of regional conflicts that flared in the 1990s and 2000s. The UN’s peacekeeping mission in the region, with an annual budget of approximately $1 billion, has faced mounting criticism for perceived inaction in preventing conflicts.
Notably, last year, dozens were killed during anti-UN protests across eastern Congo, including four peacekeepers. These incidents have fueled an ongoing debate over the departure of the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC, known as MONUSCO.
While Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi advocated for MONUSCO’s departure by the December 2023 presidential election, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in August that the peacekeeping mission was in its final phase, though the exact departure date remained uncertain.
Guterres acknowledged the widespread discontent and frustration over perceived inaction but also highlighted that MONUSCO has been the target of disinformation campaigns. Currently, the force consists of around 16,000 uniformed personnel, primarily deployed in Congo’s mineral-rich east, yet militias continue to exert influence over much of the region.
Of particular concern is the M23 group, which has gained control over significant territories in North Kivu province since 2021. Despite allegations from several Western nations and independent UN experts that Rwanda supports the Tutsi-led M23, Rwanda has consistently denied these claims, further complicating the situation.