The trial of six Congolese soldiers arrested after the repression of a demonstration that left around fifty people dead on August 30 began on Tuesday, September 5 at the Katindo military camp in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, in the east of the Republic. Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The defendants are two officers of the Republican Guard, Colonel Mike Mikombe and Lieutenant-Colonel Donatien Bawili, whose arrest had been announced the day before by the government, as well as four 2nd class soldiers.
An internal army document quickly reported 48 dead and 75 injured, before the government communicated a toll of 43 dead and 56 injured, plus a police officer killed. All the victims were members of the Judaic and Messianic Natural Faith sect towards the nations, the movement which had called for demonstrations against the presence in the region of the forces of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) , accused of ineffectiveness in the fight against armed groups.
The violence of the crackdown was widely reported in two videos posted on social media, showing soldiers in the uniforms of an elite unit throwing a dozen lifeless bodies into the back of a military vehicle. Judged in "flagrance" (immediate appearance), they are prosecuted in particular for "crime against humanity, violation of instructions", declared at the start of the hearing Colonel Michel Kachil, representative of the public prosecutor's office, referring to a more heavier than previously announced, with 56 people killed.
Measures taken hailed by Human Rights Watch
A ministerial delegation was sent from the capital, Kinshasa, to Goma on Saturday August 2 to "shed light" on the events, "to release responsibilities", in the words of the government. "We interviewed all the military security officials in the city (…), everyone," explained the night of Sunday to Monday the Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the interior and security, Peter Kazadi, in the presence of Jean-Pierre Bemba, Minister of Defence. General Constant Ndima, governor of North Kivu, was recalled to Kinshasa for "consultations".
In the aftermath of the crackdown, 143 civilians were brought before the military court in Goma on Friday, September 1, accused in a hearing in the act of being the instigators of the violence that mourned the city. On Monday evening, Peter Kazadi finally announced "the release of all apprehended citizens' movement activists" and the government's payment of the funerals for all those who died on August 30, thus showing signs of inflection.
The measures taken by the government delegation were welcomed by the NGO Human Rights Watch. Judging that it will still be necessary "that a complete impartial investigation can be carried out, but also that senior officials be investigated so that real justice can be established", estimated Thomas Fessy, head of organization's research on the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"The horror of this carnage"
For his part, Moïse Katumbi, the president of Ensemble pour la République and declared candidate for the presidential election scheduled for the end of 2023, condemned what he describes on the X network (ex-Twitter) as a "crime against humanity". He further said that "the government's inability to put an end to insecurity is its greatest failure".
For Martin Fayulu, another great opposition figure, "the horror of this carnage, alone, must immediately trigger the lifting of the unnecessary state of siege in North Kivu and Ituri". This exceptional system placing the military in charge of the provinces had been introduced in the east of the country on May 6, 2021 by President Félix Tshisekedi, to stem the rise of armed groups and restore security.
"The Democratic Republic of Congo's police and army sector must be reformed to meet international standards," said Juvénal Munubo, a member of the Union for the Congolese Nation and a native of the Goma region. According to him, "the repression [of August 30] was violent, as if the army was facing an armed group" and gray areas remain to be clarified, in particular the reasons which motivated the "severe repression at the regard to unarmed demonstrators".
The United Nations called for an independent investigation after this demonstration against Monusco, which was bloodily repressed. For Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "those responsible for the violations will have to answer for their actions".