Geneva – The people behind a massacre that left at least 535 villagers dead in Congo in December must be brought to justice, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday.
Bachelet’s UN Human Rights Office issued a report on the attacks, which described how victims were shot, butchered and burnt to death as violence erupted between local communities in the west of the country.
The report warned that the level of tensions and resentment between the Banunu and the Batende communities remains high and could lead to new violence "at any time."
UN High Commissioner Bachelet urged Congo’s government to start a truth and reconciliation process to prevent further violence.
She also offered her office’s services in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
The report’s death toll was lower than the 890 victims that the UN office initially estimated in January, but UN rights investigators said in their new report that there are likely additional people whose dead bodies were dumped in the Congo River.
Existing tensions between the Banunu and Batende communities exploded amid a dispute over the burial site of a Banunu traditional chief. The Batende community opposed a burial in Yumbi city, regarding it as a claim on their land.
During the attacks, Batende villagers used hunting rifles, machetes, bows and arrows, and gasoline to target fleeing Banunu people, the team of UN investigators reported after having visited the area.
They heard reports of a 2-year-old child who was thrown into a septic tank, and a woman who was raped after her 3-year-old child was decapitated and her husband was killed.
Other people were burnt alive in their homes.
"In some cases, the attackers mutilated the bodies of their victims, cutting off heads, limbs and genitals," the UN Human Rights Office said.
Many sources told the UN investigators that Batende chiefs were involved in planning the attacks.
Despite clear signs of the tensions, Congo’s authorities "appear to have failed in their responsibility to protect the population" from these crimes against humanity, the report concluded.