Intensified attacks by an armed group in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) over the past 18 months have killed at least 800 civilians, according to the United Nations, which said the assaults may amount to crimes against humanity.
In a report released on Monday, the UN’s Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO) in the DRC documented a series of “widespread, systematic and extremely brutal” rights abuses by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
ADF, which was formed in 1986 by groups based in neighbouring western Uganda, has long been active along the border and in recent years has been blamed for a wave of killings in the region.
The UNJHRO report said that between January 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, 793 people were killed by ADF fighters in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and Ituri.
According to the report, assailants used heavy weaponry during attacks against villages, including AK47 rifles and mortars, and also machetes and knives.
They often burned down entire villages, destroyed health centres and schools, and abducted and recruited men, women and children.
“In the majority of cases, the means and the modus operandi of the attacks indicate a clear intention to leave no survivors. Entire families have been hacked to death,” the report said.
“Under international law, the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by ADF combatants could constitute, by their nature and scope, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” it said.
Between 1 January 2019 and 31 January 2020, human rights abuses attributed to the ADF, including abductions, forced labour and attacks against hospitals and schools, rose to 397 – a 67 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to UNJHRO.
The ADF is one of multiple armed groups operating in eastern DRC, a legacy of the two Congo wars in the 1990s and 2000s that pulled in neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.
The group originated in neighbouring Uganda but moved to DR Congo in 1995.
In the 2000s, it focused on establishing a “business network” with people in the security apparatus of the DRC, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania who provide them with ammunition and protection in exchange for economic and financial benefits from the trafficking of gold, timber and agricultural products, the report said.
Last year, the DRC’s army launched a campaign against the group that led to an “intensification of deadly attacks” by the ADF, it added.
The report also said DRC forces had also committed human rights violations, including the extrajudicial killing of eight civilians.