Three videos containing footage of brutal scenes of violence in the DR Congo have been widely circulating online in the past few days. The France 24 Observers team has verified one of these videos, which shows a teenage girl with terrible injuries writhing on the ground. The footage was filmed in Kananga, the capital of the Kasaï-Central province on January 27, 2017. Though she was unarmed, the girl had just been shot by soldiers who suspected her of being a member of the Kamuina Nsapu rebel group.


WARNING, SOME OF THE FOLLOWING IMAGES COULD BE SHOCKING FOR READERS

France 24 decided to show only screengrabs of the video, which lasts 1 minute 56 seconds. The footage shows a teenage girl lying on the ground next to a pool of blood. She’s writhing in pain. She is wearing a crown of leaves on her head, and also sports a red band around her head and her left arm, which is a symbol of the Kamuina Nsapu militia.

Kamuina Nsapu is a militia group that was founded less than a year ago, in July 2016, in the Kasaï-Central province. It bears the name of a local chief who is hostile to the State. Even though the leader himself was killed only a month after the group was founded, the movement has continued to develop across the region. It is known to include a large number of minors in its ranks — the DR Congo has one of the highest rates of child soldiers in the world.

Since last summer, hundreds of people, including civilians, have been killed in clashes between these rebels and government security forces.

In the video, you can hear several men’s voices speaking in Lingala (one of the main languages in the DRC) as well as in Tshiluba (a local language spoken primarily in the provinces of Kasaï and Kasaï-Central).

They ask the girl a series of questions. She tells them that she is from Nganza (a town in Kananga that is home to many members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia). She explains that she was conscripted by force in the group and forced to drink a potion that was supposed to make her stronger [Editor’s note: Many militia groups across Central Africa force or encourage members to take part in rituals involving charms or potions, which are sometimes laced with strong drugs]. The girl cries that she no longer has the force to hit anyone and begs to be taken to the hospital. The men tell her that she is going to die.

During this exchange, the girl is kicked in the face, twice. One of the men uses his smartphone to film the scene.

The screen grab shows someone kicking the girl in the face. (France 24 blurred these images).

"The soldiers didn’t want to bring the girl to the hospital”

Désiré (not his real name) lives in Kananga. He witnessed the scene.

This incident took place on January 27, right by the administrative buildings of the provincial government. On that day, the prime minister, Samy Badibanga, was scheduled to visit but the militants from Kamuina Nsapu were opposed to his coming, which was cancelled in the end. They don’t want him to come until the conditions contained in the agreement signed on December 31 are met [Editor’s note: This accord, which was signed by the government and the opposition, includes provisions for the naming of a new prime minister from the opposition to lead the transition government, which is supposed to be established ahead of the elections set for the end of the year.]

A group of young people from Nganza assembled ahead of the prime minister’s visit and headed towards the podium that had been set up for him. All of the young people were wearing red headbands. They were carrying sticks and brooms, but I didn’t see any firearms.

However, soldiers quickly opened fire on them. I saw three boys fall to the ground on the main road, near the New Apostolic Church. Then, I saw this girl, who was still alive, being dragged along the ground. Clearly, she had been shot. Shortly thereafter, she died, because the soldiers refused to bring her to the hospital.

I also saw the bodies of two other boys quite near to her. A bit further along, there were three more bodies on the ground.

Several photos showing the bodies of three boys on the main road were posted on the 7sur7.cd website on January 27, the day of the incident. The France 24 Observers team spoke with two local residents who confirmed that they saw three bodies as well as the body of the teenage girl. However, they said those were the only bodies that they had seen in the area.

According to these two locals, the teenage girl was not armed. One of them explained, "She went towards the soldiers, whilst the other young people stayed back. The soldiers told her to leave, but she refused to do so. So they opened fire."

The two residents also told France 24 that members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia carry talismans that they think render them unbeatable and safe — even from bullets. Moreover, they are sometimes drugged before combat so that they don’t have full awareness of the danger they are up against.

These two sources also agreed that they didn’t see any of the young people shoot at the soldiers. One, however, said that she had seen the young people carrying “rifles”. However, there are no firearms visible in the photos published on the 7sur7.cd website.

These militia members have also used firearms in the past during a series of deadly attacks on government buildings, including the airport, police stations and administrative government buildings. A number of soldiers and police officers have been killed in these attacks. Many of these clashes have taken part in Kananga, a town that has a long history of rebel presence.

The France 24 Observers team contacted government spokesperson Lambert Mendé. He did not want to make a statement about the recent incidents in Kananga and instead claimed that the recent videos were staged or compilations of old footage.

The governor of Kasaï-Central, Alex Kande, didn’t respond to France 24’s requests for an interview. Colonel Célestin Ngeleka, one of the spokesmen for the Congolese army, simply indicated that the “high-level military magistrates” arrived in Kananga on Wednesday, February 22, in order to “investigate the security and humanitarian situation in the zone, where unrest occurs frequently”. He did not, however, give any additional information about the incident on January 27.

Two other videos of massacres

Two other videos showing shocking violence also recently surfaced.

In one, men wearing Congolese army uniforms shoot at civilians who are singing. The civilians appear to be unarmed. The footage shows about fifteen victims, some of whom are wearing the red bands that symbolize militia membership. This incident is thought to have occurred not far from Muanza-Lomba, a town in the Kasaï-Oriental province.

Screengrab from one of the videos that lasts 7 minutes 17 seconds.

This second video shows men who appear to be policemen and soldiers gathering around the bodies of several boys, sprawled on the ground.

Screengrab from second video.

Under international pressure after the release of the video (including from the United States), the Congolese government has decided to open an investigation into this incident. They have also called for witnesses to step forward.

The most damning statement, however, came from UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, who said: “There are multiple, credible allegations of massive human rights violations in Kasai, Kasai Central, Kasai Oriental and Lomami provinces, amid a sharp deterioration in security situation there.”

“It is time to stop a blunt military response that does nothing to tackle the root causes of the conflict between the Government and local militias but instead targets civilians on the basis of their presumed links to the militias,” he said.

He also told security forces that firearms should only be used as a last resort when their lives were being threatened, as dictated by international human rights obligations.