Dozens massacred, bodies mutilated in DR Congo ethnic clashes
Issued on: Modified:
The Pygmies in the Democratic Republic of Congo are semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers, who traditionally make their homes in the country's dense forests. The ethnic Luba people live in neighbouring towns and villages, where they make a living from trade and commerce. Until just a few years ago, the two communities co-existed harmoniously. However, for the past four years, conflict between these groups has led to an increasing number of ethnic massacres.
WARNING: readers may find some of the images in this article disturbing.
One of the most recent massacres took place on December 20, 2016 in Manono, a small town in the southeastern part of DR Congo. Locals sent the Observers team a series of horrific images of the incident. Because of the photos' graphic nature, we have decided not to publish many of them. Those that we have published have been blurred.
The photos that our team saw showed bodies wounded by arrows, burned and mutilated. We also saw images of people brandishing severed hands or other human body parts, such as male genitals. Sometimes these body parts were impaled on spears.
In the weeks following December 20, several other massacres also took place around Moba, located 360 kilometres to the east of Manono.
"Lubas mutilated the genitals of the Pygmies and the Pygmies mutilated the bodies of Luba women”Our Observer Jacot D. (not his real name) has been living in Manono for the past four years and has never seen such a horrific massacre. About thirty Pygmy warriors attacked the village early in the morning, around 8am. When Jacot heard the cries of other villagers, who screamed “They’re coming!”, he gathered his children and hid in terror inside their home.
When the Pygmy warriors came into Manono, they didn’t come across any Luba fighters, so they went after civilians with arrows, hatchets and pikes. Some of them even had 12-calibre hunting rifles.
However, it didn’t take long for the Éléments — a Luba militia —to organise themselves. About 100 ethnic Luba fighters retaliated against the Pygmies, slaughtering many of their number.
The Éléments cut off the genitals of several Pygmy warriors [Editor’s note: the fighters later brandished the severed genitals by impaling them on their spears and showing them to the crowd, as documented in photos received by the Observers team]. Then they burned the Pygmy’s bodies. In the earlier attack, the Pygmies had mutilated the bodies of several Luba women. In one case, they sliced open the belly of a pregnant woman and killed the foetus.
Once the remaining Pygmy fighters had fled the Luba militia and the attack was over, our Observer counted 22 bodies of people who had been killed by spears or knives. He then witnessed the militiamen mutilate the bodies before burning them. Our Observer said that it was impossible to identify many of the bodies, but he counted at least five dead Pygmies and at least seven Luba victims.
While the dead Pygmies were all warriors who had been members of the attack party, the Luba dead included both militiamen and civilians. The Pygmy attackers had targeted both women and children.
More than 150 wounded people, including both civilians and militia members, were taken to the Manono General Hospital, according to Cyril Kimpu Awel Mukalay, the provincial health minister who spoke with the FRANCE 24 Observers team. Mukalay was not able to confirm the number of deaths.
A deep-rooted conflict
The conflict between Pygmies and ethnic Bantus, which include the Luba ethnic group, has been worsening for the past four years in the region of Tanganyika, formerly known as Katanga.
The Pygmies are an indigenous group in the DR Congo and have lived on the land longer than the Luba. Indigenous groups like the Pygmies only make up 1% of the population of DR Congo. The Bantus, which include the Luba, are the majority ethnic group in the country, making up 80% of the population. The Pygmies have long been discriminated against by the Bantu majority.
The Pygmies also blame the Bantus for chasing them from their ancestral land, which is rapidly being destroyed by deforestation. Many foreign companies operate in this region to exploit the country’s natural resources. Logging operations, the establishment of mining concessions and the carving out of farm plots have all contributed to deforestation.
The Pygmies want a share of the revenue made from exploiting their habitat and want to be represented by quotas in government. They say they are victims of racial discrimination and point to how, historically, they were categorised as “sub-human” by the Belgians who colonised the area.
Despite these ongoing disagreements and the Pygmies’ frustration, the two ethnic groups have managed to coexist peacefully for a long time.
Until very recently, in our area, the Pygmies and the Lubas co-existed in peace. But, on December 10, all of the Lubas moved to the centre of Manono after a sharp increase in tensions with the Pygmies. They were afraid of an imminent outbreak of violence. The Pygmies don’t have a chief, they aren’t really organised so dialogue with them is very difficult. There are also Pygmies from other regions who are inciting violence here.
Some Luba, who are the ethnic majority in Manono and represents 18% of the population in DRC, accuse Pygmies of raping their women and carrying out violent attacks on their villages.
According to a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch, there are frequent attacks carried out by both groups. Many people have been displaced by this fighting. Lubas often seek shelter by moving to the nearest large town, farther away from the forested areas.
Uncertain peace prospects
The France 24 Observers team spoke to roughly a dozen residents of Manono, who confirmed that tensions are high between the two communities. They don’t see many prospects for a resolution to the conflict, especially as the violence is only worsening.
Some people are speaking out about the ongoing violence in the region, including a group of young people who organise a peace march every week in Kalémie, the provincial capital. The participants hail from different ethnic backgrounds and are trying to re-establish dialogue between the communities in conflict.
Human Rights Watch maintains that there will be no end to the violence until the underlying issues causing it are addressed. Namely, they advocate for the long-oppressed Pygmies to be awarded their fundamental rights.