#AceNewsDesk – Saudi authorities must immediately release four Uyghurs – including a 13-year-old girl and her mother – who are at grave risk of being taken to repressive internment camps if sent back to China, Amnesty International said today amid fears that deportation plans for the group may already be under way
Buheliqiemu Abula and her teenage daughter were detained near Mecca on Thursday and told by police they faced deportation to China along with two Uyghur men already held, according to a message received by Abula’s friends.
Abula is the former wife of Nuermeiti Ruze, who with Aimidoula Waili has been detained without charge in Saudi Arabia since November 2020.
“Deporting these four people – including a child – to China, where Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are facing a horrific campaign of mass internment, persecution and torture, would be an outrageous violation of international law,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“With time seemingly running out to save the four Uyghurs from this catastrophic extradition, it is crucial that other governments with diplomatic ties to Saudi Arabia step in now to urge the Riyadh authorities to uphold their obligations and stop the deportations.”
Religious scholar Aimidoula Waili and his friend Nuermaimaiti Ruze have been detained in Saudi Arabia since November 2020 without explanation. Family members of the two Uyghur men told Amnesty International last month that Waili and Ruze were transferred from Jeddah to Riyadh and back again on March 16 – a move they believed signalled their imminent extradition to China.
Strategic allies of Saudi Arabia, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, must not stand by while it wilfully ignores human rights law.
Buheliqiemu Abula had been able to maintain regular contact with her ex-husband Nuermaimaiti Ruze until two weeks ago. The last time Abula received a phone call from Ruze was on 20 March, when Ruze recounted that he had told the Saudi authorities he and Waili “would rather die here than be sent back to China”.
It appears that Abula and her daughter have now also been detained and face the same deportation threat.
Under the customary international law principle of nonrefoulement and as a State Party to the UN Convention against Torture, Saudi Arabia is obliged not to return anyone to a country where they would face a real risk of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, persecution and other serious human rights violations.
“The Saudi government must abandon any attempt to extradite the four Uyghurs to China and release them from detention immediately, unless they are charged with an internationally recognizable crime,” Lynn Maalouf said.
“Strategic allies of Saudi Arabia, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, must not stand by while it wilfully ignores human rights law. The international community must do everything it can to prevent the illegal extradition of Uyghurs to China.”
In June 2021, Amnesty International published a report revealing how hundreds of thousands of Muslim men and women in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are being subjected to arbitrary mass detention, indoctrination and torture.
Earlier the same year, another piece of Amnesty research described how the children of internment camp detainees are often sent to state-run “orphan camps” where they face indoctrination and are cut off from their parents.
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#AceNewsReport – Feb.17: The Myanmar military has murdered civilians, and used them as human shields, in a series of atrocities in eastern Karenni State that may amount to war crimes, prominent human rights group Fortify Rights said in a new report published on Tuesday.
#AceNewsDesk says that Myanmar military committed war crimes in Karenni state HRW Report:
According to Al Jazeera Fortify Rights says evidence shows military massacred civilians and used them as cover, as it urges ASEAN to support arms embargo.
The group says it documented attacks on churches, residential homes, camps for displaced people and other non-military targets that took place in the state, also known as Kayah State, between May 2021 and January 2022.
At least 61 civilians were killed during that time, it said.
The report comes as foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) prepare to meet in Cambodia with no progress in a five-point consensus agreed with the military last April that was supposed to end the violence.
Fortify Rights said it was time ASEAN gave its support to a global arms embargo.
“The Myanmar junta is murdering people with weapons procured on the global market, and that must stop,” Ismail Wolff, Regional Director at Fortify Rights said in a statement. “Clear and definitive action is needed to compel the Myanmar junta to rethink its attacks on civilians. The UN Security Council must urgently impose a global arms embargo on the Myanmar military, and it would be strategic and sensible for ASEAN to support it.”
The Fortify Rights report is based on testimony from 31 eye-witnesses and survivors, as well as verified photo and video evidence.
It includes new details on the Christmas Eve killings in Hpruso Township, in which at least 40 civilians, including a child and two Save the Children staff, were killed.
A doctor who worked on the autopsies of those killed told the group that some of the bodies were so badly burned they were impossible to autopsy, but that his team was able to confirm that five of the bodies were women and one a girl under the age of 15.
“Some had their mouths stuffed with cloth, so we were pretty sure these people were gagged,” the doctor told Fortify Rights. “Almost every skull was fractured and badly cracked . . . [In some bodies], we could gather enough evidence to say they were burned to death alive.”
In another case, Fortify Rights said the Myanmar army used an 18-year-old man, his uncle, and two other men as human shields during clashes with fighters from the Karenni People’s Defence Force (PDF) in Moe Bye Township on the border with Shan state.
“The soldiers put their guns on our shoulders and shot PDFs, staying behind us,” the man told Fortify Rights. “We were kept tied up and blindfolded. We were tortured a lot, in so many ways. They kicked our bodies, hit our heads with gun handles, and more.” Fortify Rights said three of the men eventually escaped, but it was unable to confirm what had happened to the fourth.
The generals have resorted to force in an attempt to put down public opposition to its rule, cracking down on protests and stepping up attacks on anti-coup civilian militias and in ethnic minority areas where it has been embroiled in decades-long conflict with numerous armed groups.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been monitoring the situation, says at least 1,549 people had been killed across the country as of February 14, and more than 12,000 arrested.
“Coup-leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and his forces claim to be fighting ‘terrorists’,” Fortify Rights said in its report. “Instead, his forces are carrying out these and other mass-atrocity crimes against the civilian population with complete impunity.”
Fortify Rights said a United Nations-led global arms embargo to prohibit the sale of weapons and dual-use technology to the security forces was essential and that the UN should impose additional sanctions to deny the military access to its most significant source of funds, income from the sale of natural gas.
The situation in Myanmar should also be referred to the International Criminal Court, it added.
An estimated 170,000 civilians in Karenni State, or more than half of the state’s estimated population of 300,000, have been forced from their homes as a result of the military’s continuing attacks, according to the Karenni Civil Society Network.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the Myanmar crisis have made little progress. The UN Security Council has issued five press statements expressing concern at the situation in Myanmar and a single presidential statement – on March 10, 2021.
ASEAN, which Myanmar joined under a previous military regime in 1997, has sought to take the initiative but with little success.
The military’s foreign minister has not been invited to this week’s meeting, with an invitation sent to a “non-political representative” instead.
Fortify Rights said it was time for ASEAN to take a firmer stance against the coup leaders, urging the organisation to engage with the National Unity Government established by elected politicians who were removed from office by the military as well as representatives from ethnic groups.
“The junta is not a government; it’s a criminal enterprise and doesn’t belong at the ASEAN table,” Wolff said. “It would be dangerous for ASEAN to give Min Aung Hlaing and his junta any political legitimacy.”
#AceNewsReport – Feb.17: Close associates outside of Tibet say Go Sherab Gyatso’s health has recently worsened. He suffers from a chronic lung condition, and may not be receiving adequate medical treatment in prison.
#AceNewsDesk says the Chinese government should immediately and unconditionally release the imprisoned Tibetan monk and religious philosopher Go Sherab Gyatso, Human Rights Watch said: Free Wrongfully Held Scholar Go Sherab Gyatso
“Once again the Chinese government’s wrongful imprisonment of a Tibetan risks becoming a death sentence,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Go Sherab Gyatso should be immediately released and given comprehensive medical care.”
Ministry of State Security agents detained Go Sherab Gyatso, 45, on October 26, 2020, in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, the Chinese authorities said in an August 2021 statement, in response to an inquiry from three United Nations human rights experts. The authorities transferred him to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), where, on February 3, 2021, he was formally charged with “inciting secession.” The government statement said he was later tried but did not give the date or outcome of the trial. Tibetan sources outside the country report he was given a 10-year sentence and is in Chushul Prison, 20 kilometers southwest of Lhasa.
Exile sources report that no visitors have been allowed to see Go Sherab Gyatso and that he is in poor health. The Chinese authorities had previously detained him on at least three other occasions. He contracted a chronic lung condition while serving a three-year sentence for undisclosed reasons from November 1998 to November 2001. He was on a routine visit to Chengdu for treatment of his medical condition in October 2020 when State Security agents seized him.
The recent reports about Go Sherab Gyatso’s health cannot be independently verified, Human Rights Watch said. However, there have been a number of cases in which Chinese authorities have allowed people in Tibet and across China who were arbitrarily detained on politically motivated charges to die in custody for lack of appropriate medical care.
The eminent Chinese writer and dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was serving an 11-year term for “subversion,” died in July 2017 from liver cancer for which he received inadequate treatment and was denied foreign medical care. The prominent Tibetan lama and philanthropist Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in a prison in Chengdu in July 2015, after serving 13 years of a life sentence for “terrorism and inciting separatism,” during which he was reportedly denied medical care for a heart condition and family members were allowed to visit him only once.
Human Rights Watch has reported on the deaths of three Tibetans due to severe ill treatment in custody since October 2020, Lhamo, Tenzin Nyima, and Kunchok Jinpa. Exile media sources have reported additional such deaths, including of a man named Norsang in 2019, and the deaths of four former political detainees between 2018 and 2020 – Shonnu Palden, Pema Wangchen, Gendun Sherab, and Choeki – following mistreatment in custody.
The same sources have also reported three cases of prisoners released between December 2019 and February 2021 – Tsegon Gyal, Dolkar, and Gangbu Rikgye Nyima – who were in a critical condition due to their treatment in custody, and of another seriously ill Tibetan prisoner, Dhongye, who remains in custody.
Chinese authorities have not publicly produced evidence to substantiate the secession charge against Go Sherab Gyatso. The charge typically refers to support for Tibetan independence. Human Rights Watch has found no indication of such support in his writings and speeches, or in statements from those familiar with his life and work. Human Rights Watch takes no position regarding the political status of Tibet but supports everyone’s right to express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other forms of reprisal.
Human Rights Watch is further concerned that Go Sherab Gyatso was tried in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) even though he lived in a Tibetan area of Sichuan and was detained in that province. He studied at Sera monastery in Lhasa from 2002 to 2008, but has no other known connection to the TAR.
There is no indication that he committed any crime in the TAR or elsewhere, suggesting that the authorities detained and prosecuted him to intimidate other Tibetan monks and writers. The TAR authorities pursue more aggressive policies than those in other Tibetan areas of China, but it is rare for the TAR authorities to detain a person from outside the TAR and charge them for an alleged crime with no obvious connection to the region.
“The Chinese authorities’ determination to systematically silence Tibetan scholars is clear evidence that their aim is to devastate Tibetan culture, language, and religion,” Richardson said. “Go Sherab Gyatso’s immensely important work should not put him in prison at risk for his life.”
For additional information about Go Sherab Gyatso and other detained Tibetans, please see below.
Go Sherab Gyatso’s Life and Work
Go Sherab Gyatso is known as a leading advocate of a modernized, liberal approach to religious education and belief in Tibet. He is the author of at least nine books, the most recent of which consists of transcripts of his lectures at religious studies events on theological and monastic issues.
His books and lectures, some of which are available online, include occasional references to social issues, such as criticism of censorship within Tibetan monasteries and in society generally. In a 2013 essayopposing the leadership of Kirti monastery, he noted in passing that “any power that people cannot criticize is dictatorial” and that “any nation or organization that fears criticism and uses arrests or violence to silence opposition has become a thorn in people’s eyes.” The only criticism of the Chinese government was an incidental comment that “the red wind from outside is so strong and its orders so strict that we have barely space to breathe in and breathe out.”
In 2016-2017, he spent three semesters as an affiliate student at Zhongshan University in Guangdong, China, where he attended lectures on Western philosophy. He is described in a 2019 academic study published in China as “one of the most outstanding figures [among Tibetan Buddhist monks in having] a solid foundation of Buddhist culture accumulated under the traditional monastery education system while at the same time absorbing and mastering the essence of Chinese and Western culture and modern scientific knowledge.”
Go Sherab Gyatso’s political views appeared in a book published in 2011, Basic Knowledge and the Path (rgyun shes dang lam), which included Tibetan translations of three essays by Liu Junning, a prominent political scientist in Beijing. The essays supported applying principles of democracy and human rights in the Chinese context. Liu has never been charged with any crime and continues to hold a position at an official institute, making it unlikely that these translations led to Go Sherab Gyatso’s 2020 arrest.
Go Sherab Gyatso’s publication of these essays and other peaceful expressions of opinion are a protected right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by China in 1998. In addition, China’s Constitutionguarantees freedom of speech for all Chinese citizens.
Go Sherab Gyatso was born in Ngawa (Ch.: Aba), a Tibetan area of Sichuan province, in 1976. He is the son of Go-ngün Tsöndru, a leading figure in the pre-Chinese government in Ngawa and later an opponent of Chinese rule there until he fled to Nepal in 1990. Go Sherab Gyatso became a monk at Kirti monastery, then the largest monastery in Tibet, when he was 10 years old and quickly gained attention as a leading student. In 1992, he briefly visited India and Nepal on pilgrimage, and visited Nepal again in 1998 following the death of his father.
In 1998, Go Sherab Gyatso was detained at Kirti monastery and sentenced to three years in prison. The reason for this is unclear; reportedly the police questioned him after he objected to official demands to remove a portrait of the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, from a temple in Kirti monastery during a ceremony in late 1997. During 1998, the Chinese authorities imposed a punitive campaign of political education at the monastery, provoking resistance from the monks, but he seems not to have been actively involved.
While in prison, Go Sherab Gyatso learned Chinese from another prisoner and studied Western philosophy. He was released on November 11, 2001, and resumed his studies as a monk and writer, moving the following year to study at Sera monastery in Lhasa. In 2007, he published his first book, Time for Us to Wake Up (nga tsho sad ran). The book, issued by the prestigious government-run Gansu Nationalities Publishing House, expresses his views on the importance of sustaining and furthering Tibet’s religious and cultural traditions. The book led to his emergence as a leading public intellectual among Tibetans.
In April 2008, following a wave of anti-Chinese protests across Tibet, Go Sherab Gyatso was among 1,000 monk-students whom the authorities deported from Sera and other monasteries in Lhasa on the pretext that they were not residents of the TAR. The monk-students were arbitrarily detained for “legal education” for four months in Golmud, Qinghai. He was allowed to resume his studies at Kirti monastery in August 2008. He was detained again in April 2011, possibly because of suspicions that some of his writings contained criticisms of China or its policies toward Tibetans, but was released without charge after a few months.
In 2013, he left Kirti monastery after he publicly condemned the monastery’s support for censorship of monks’ writings. Since then, he has continued his studies and writing, including drafts of two books on Western philosophy and the history of science.
Other Imprisoned Tibetan Writers
The Chinese government has imprisoned a number of Tibetan philosophers, intellectuals, and writers since 2019. Other recently detained or arrested writers include:
Gangkye Drubpa Kyab, 42, and Senam (age unknown) of Serta county, Kandze prefecture, Sichuan, were detained on March 23 and April 2, 2021, respectively, according to reports. Both had been detained previously. Drubpa Kyab suffers ill health as a result of his 2012-2016 imprisonment. Their current whereabouts and status are unknown.
Gendun Lhundrup, 47, of Rebkong county, Malho prefecture, Qinghai, was detained on December 2, 2020, and his whereabouts are unknown. He has reportedly been detained and interrogated on several occasions in the past.
Rinchen Tsultrim, 29, of Ngawa county, Ngawa prefecture, Sichuan, was detained on August 2, 2019, and sentenced to four and a half years in prison in November 2020, on the charge of “publicly disseminating text, voice and visual information …with the aim of inciting secession and undermining national unity.”
Dhi Lhaden (Lobsang Lhundrup), 50, of Pema county, Golok prefecture, Qinghai, was detained in June 2019, and sentenced to four years in prison in 2021.
Ra Tsering Dondrub of Khyungchu county, Ngawa prefecture, Sichuan, died in September 2021 at age 34 due to injuries suffered during his 2010-2013 imprisonment.
The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy announced three other previously unpublicized cases of Tibetan writers detained for the peaceful expression of views – Goyon, 33, Sabuchey, 34, and Rongwo Gangkar, 46 – in December 2021.
A Tibetan exile scholar was quoted anonymously in the Tibetan Centre’s recent report:
A common characteristic among those detained individuals is their extensive scholarship on Tibetan language, culture, [and] literature that have captured the imagination of many young Tibetans. This appears to be the sole reason behind their detention because there is no instance of any of them violating any domestic laws.
Human Rights Watch has information on at least two other senior Tibetan lamas or intellectuals recently detained and still believed to be in custody, but is not identifying them out of concern about retaliation by the authorities.
#AceNewsReport – Feb.09: (Kinshasa) – Democratic Republic of Congo authorities have failed to fully investigate the killing of at least 66 Indigenous Iyeke people in the Bianga district of Monkoto territory in February 2021, Human Rights Watch said today.
#AceNewsDesk says Congo’s National Assembly voted during 2021 for a law that would for the first time protect and promote Indigenous peoples’ rights, but the bill remains stalled in the Senate but failed to fully investigate killing of 66-Iyeke people when villages were burned according to Human Rights Watch
Published: February 4, 2022
From February 1 to 3, 2021, hundreds of ethnic Nkundo assailants killed several dozen Iyeke villagers, including at least 40 children, 22 men, and 4 women, and wounded many more in eight villages. The assailants also burned down more than 1,000 houses as well as schools, churches, and health centers, according to survivors, witnesses, civil society groups, and provincial officials. The authorities initially opened an inquiry but did no field investigation. A year on and no one has been charged for the killings, which have gone largely unreported in the media. Two people were tried and acquitted on lesser charges and the case closed.
” The silence surrounding the horrific killings of Iyeke villagers and lack of accountability highlight the longtime discrimination against Indigenous people in Congo,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Congolese authorities should acknowledge the failure to prosecute anyone for murder, and fully investigate and fairly prosecute all those responsible for these massacres.”
The Human Rights Watch findings are based on an October 2021 research trip to the western Monkoto territory. Human Rights Watch interviewed 44 people, including Iyeke survivors and witnesses to the attacks, Nkundo villagers, judicial officers, civil society activists, members of parliament, provincial officials, and military personnel.
Indigenous Iyeke people – part of the larger Batwa Indigenous group – and ethnic Nkundo live in separate but neighboring villages dotted along a 100-kilometer stretch forming the remote Bianga district on the edge of the Salonga National Park, Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve, in Tshuapa province. Longstanding tensions between the two groups revolve around access to land and bonded labor.
On January 31, 2021, a scuffle broke out in the Indigenous village of Manga between an Nkundo coffee trader and an Iyeke villager over a debt, and the trader reportedly vowed revenge. The next day, scores of Nkundo villagers stormed Manga, looting and burning down dozens of houses, resulting in the deaths of two toddlers.
Several witnesses said many attackers’ faces were painted in charcoal, and that they wore red headbands and black-string bracelets around their wrists as protective amulets. Some were armed with hunting rifles locally known as “Calibre 12” or “Baikal,” while others carried machetes, knives, and spears.
A 66-year-old man described the loss of his 3-month-old granddaughter. “My daughter had twin babies,” he said. “She suddenly realized [that one] was missing while we were running away but we couldn’t go back because they were shooting.” He said that three days later, when they briefly came out of the forest to check on the situation, they found the baby girl’s charred body.
On February 2 and 3, armed Nkundo men simultaneously attacked seven other Iyeke villages, looting and burning houses, churches, health centers, and schools. Witnesses and official sources said at least one automatic weapon was used during the attacks. Some of the wounded later died in the forest.
A 55-year-old woman from Sambwakoy village said she and her husband were returning from the fields when he was killed. “He fell to the ground right outside our house,” she said. “He was struck by bullets in the face and in the chest.”
When the attacks began, many young children including toddlers found themselves on their own, as their parents were working in the fields. The assailants did not spare them. Out of the 40 children killed, 33 were under age 10, according to lists compiled by Monkoto territory officials.
The attacks caused more than 8,000 Iyeke to flee into the forest, where most remained for at least six months. Provincial authorities and members of the national parliament distributed cash assistance following the attacks, including some payments for loss of life. The assistance provided was inadequate to redress the losses suffered, Human Rights Watch said.
The massacres occurred during escalating tensions between the Nkundo and Iyeke communities following the unresolved killing of an Iyeke laborer on December 29, 2020, near the village of Bondjindo. His body was found mutilated in an Nkundo-owned agricultural field. Iyeke villagers reportedly suspected the landowner’s family and looted and burned their home in retaliation.
Human Rights Watch reviewed a March 2021 parliamentary report that noted that local authorities “didn’t show any concerns for the deteriorating security situation in Bianga district … as if nothing was happening.”
The government response to the Bianga massacres has been wholly inadequate, Human Rights Watch said. On February 16, the Congolese military deployed seven national army soldiers to secure this vast district with no transport or means of communication.
On April 23, the authorities arrested seven men in connection with the killings, five of whom were eventually released. Three judicial officers said that the police commander of Bianga district was suspected of involvement in the attacks but his whereabouts remain unknown. In late December, a court in Boende acquitted both Nkundo defendants in a hasty trial in which no Indigenous survivors of the massacre were present.
Several officials have alleged that provincial politicians attempted to stall or close the inquiry, preventing the criminal investigation from moving forward to protect those responsible.
A 52-year-old Iyeke father of six hosting four people displaced by the massacre said that “peace will not return until those who attacked us are disarmed and arrested. We fear that they will exterminate us – next time it will be worse.”
Congolese authorities have an obligation to fully and fairly investigate the Bianga killings and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said. To ensure that the investigators have adequate resources, the government should request technical support, including logistical and forensic assistance, from the United Nations Joint Office for Human Rights. The government should reinforce security in the area with well-trained police. It should provide, with international assistance, necessary health care and mental health support to survivors. The government should also work with humanitarian agencies to repair and rebuild homes, schools, and health centers.
Congolese lawmakers should adopt measures to recognize and protect Indigenous peoples’ rights in line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said.
“One year since the massacres, Iyeke families live in fear of the assailants who roam free,” Fessy said. “The government needs to prosecute those responsible for these horrific crimes, but also pass legislation to ensure that Indigenous people are no longer effectively second-class citizens.”
For additional details and accounts, please see below.
Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples in Congo
Congo has an estimated 700,000 to two million Indigenous people, according to government figures and civil society groups. Their communities live a semi-nomadic life based on a deep connection to the forest within the Congo Basin. They are hunter-gatherers who have depended on the forest ecosystem for millennia, with their lives and culture closely linked to the rainforest and its resources.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights refers to Indigenous peoples as “those particular groups who have been left on the margins of development, who are perceived negatively by the dominant mainstream development paradigms and whose cultures and lives are subject to discrimination and contempt.” They often live in inaccessible regions and suffer from various forms of marginalization, both politically and socially, and domination and exploitation.
Indigenous peoples in Congo have long suffered stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, including social exclusion, segregation, disenfranchisement, and violations of their human rights. They experience poor access to services such as health and education.
The rights of Indigenous people in Congo are protected by international and regional standards, but the Congolese government has long ignored their customary rights. They have been forcibly evicted and displacedfrom forests as result of historical expropriation of Indigenous lands for conservation and logging without compensation, disrupting their livelihoods and violating their rights to land, culture, and self-determination.
“Before [the Bianga killings], we cohabitated but [the Nkundo] would consider us like animals,” said an Iyeke man from Manga village. “We can’t eat together, and they wouldn’t touch our food, but we plow their fields, and we do construction work for them.”
Several Iyeke villagers said the Nkundo do not allow mixed marriages. “They still come and flirt with our daughters, but if we flirt with theirs, they would kill us,” said a villager in Sambwakoy.
Indigenous peoples have remained under threat throughout the country and there have been recurring lethal attacks against them. “Three of our teachers are Bantu from Lingombe who attacked us,” an Iyeke man from Manga said. “Our children fear their teachers now. We need our own school.”
Indigenous peoples in Congo have historically been referred to as “pygmy people,” a pejorative term that etymologically points to their short stature. Even though the term is still often used in a condescending way, Indigenous peoples’ groups have in recent years approved the concept to unify around their common challenges that characterize their plight and their treatment by non-Indigenous communities, commonly referred to as Bantu.
A Nkundo man from Wafanya described the relationship with the Iyeke: “According to our traditions, we are their masters, and our customs impose segregation. We can pray together and attend the same schools, but we can’t marry them or eat together. They are our servants but not by force.”
He said Indigenous people were “seeking social equality, which is causing conflict.”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides that Indigenous peoples have both individual and collective rights. Indigenous peoples “have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” They are “free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin or identity.”
States have a responsibility to provide mechanisms to prevent and provide redress for actions that dispossess Indigenous peoples of their lands, territories, or resources, as well any form of propaganda designed to promote or incite racial or ethnic discrimination directed against them.
Since President Felix Tshisekedi took office in 2019, the Congolese government has committed to advance the rights of Indigenous peoples, including by adopting a specific law. Parliament adopted a Bill on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Indigenous Pygmy Peoples in April 2021, but it has since stalled in the senate.
The bill acknowledges that Indigenous peoples’ “living conditions are characterized by discrimination, stigmatization and many other forms of abuse which are the basis of political, administrative, economic, social and cultural marginalization.”
The legislation if adopted would “in particular, guarantee” Indigenous peoples “recognition of [their] traditions, customs and legal pharmacopoeia,” “easier access to justice and basic social services,” and “the right to lands and natural resources they own, occupy or use, in accordance with the law in force.”
Congolese senators should urgently enact the proposed legislation and the government should take the necessary steps to put the law into effect, Human Rights Watch said.
The Bianga Killings
On February 1, 2021, scores of ethnic Nkundo from Lingombe village attacked the neighboring village of Manga. An Iyeke resident described the attack: “It was like a whole village attacked us with rifles. We were so overwhelmed that we fled. They looted and burned everything, including our solar panels and batteries, even our electoral cards. We ran into the forest.”
Traces of the attack were evident when Human Rights Watch visited Manga in October. Dozens of houses were totally or partially destroyed while walls still standing were charred.
A survivor said that his 8-month-old daughter died during the attack. “My wife was carrying our baby girl while we were running to flee,” he said. “But she fell and broke her neck.”
The assailants burned at least 244 houses and a church in Manga, according to official provincial records. At least 17 people were injured. Provincial records showed no death toll in Manga, but Human Rights Watch confirmed the deaths of at least two toddlers, including the 8-month-old girl.
Manga residents said the attackers looted the primary school but did not burn it because three of the teachers were Nkundo.
On February 2 and 3, Nkundo attacked the Iyeke in the villages of Sambwakoy, Bondongo, Ilemba, Bakako, Bombelenge B, Ikolongo, Inkandja, and Bokombo Ifale. The assailants systematically looted property and burned about 1,000 houses, 7 schools, 3 health centers, and 5 churches, according to official records and civil society reports.
The Nkundo attacked the villages with traditional hunting rifles, machetes and spears, and at least one automatic weapon. Most of the victims were children and the elderly, who could not flee the assaults.
Some Iyeke reportedly tried to defend their villages with bows and poisoned arrows but with little effect.
The largest numbers of killings were in Sambwakoy, Bondongo, and Bombelenge B, where death tolls respectively reached at least 20, 22, and 18 people, according to official records and civil society reports.
Official provincial records say three Nkundo were also killed during the violence. However, several Nkundo, judicial sources, and activists said that no Nkundo died in those three days. The March parliamentary report also stated that “no dead” had been registered among the Nkundo.
On February 2, Nkundo assailants attacked Sambwakoy village, home to about 3,800 Iyeke. Witnesses said some of the attackers had painted their face with charcoal and were wearing red headbands as well as black string around their wrists as a protective amulet.
The attackers killed at least 20 villagers, including 14 children under age 10, according to witnesses and official records. The attackers burned at least 246 houses, a church, and 2 schools, and pillaged the health center.
A survivor said he was shot and wounded but managed to escape to the forest:
I had just arrived back home when I heard screams outside, some people were shouting “The Nkundo are attacking us! They are killing us!” I came out of the house to see what was going on, and I was shot from a caliber-12 hunting rifle. I screamed. Bullets had hit my face, my right knee and thigh, and my abdomen.
He said he did not know where his wife and children were. “I could see a group of Nkundo firing, but I didn’t see who shot at me,” he said. “If I stayed lying on the ground, they would have killed me, so I fled to the forest and lied down somewhere else. Other Indigenous people found me by following my bloody trail.” Those who rescued him reunited him with his wife and children, who had fled to the forest, three days later.
One man said that the Nkundo beat him and forced him to walk alongside the attackers. “They put my arms up and tied them with a rope,” he said. “They beat me and hit me with a machete and a spear.” Scars of his wounds were visible on his back and his leg. “They forced me to follow them while they were burning houses and shooting at people,” he said:
They burned the [main] church, and then we went to the health center. The guard was hiding behind [the building] but they shot him dead. Then, they entered a house and found [a man] inside, they forced him out the back. A young man hit him in the head with a machete and others shot him in the chest. He dropped dead. When we got to another church, they shot and killed someone else and left them there.”
The attackers deliberately burned alive an older woman in her house. The man forced to walk with the attackers said, “Toward the other end of the village, they stopped in front of the nurse’s house and saw that his mother was still inside. She couldn’t move on her own. They shut the doors, poured gasoline over the house and lit it on fire.”
He said he thought the attackers would eventually kill him: “Before leaving the village, their leader told me: ‘We wanted to kill you and throw you in the river, but you are lucky.’ They untied me and let me go.”
The attackers did not spare children.
“Later in the day, when it was quieter, some of us came back to the village for a moment,” a witness said. Pointing to the doorstep of a house, he recalled finding the small bodies of two siblings: “The two sisters were lying right here. The baby girl, who was only a few months old, was hit by several bullets on her right flank. Her sister, age 2, had a bullet stuck in the throat. We buried them both behind the house.”
Survivors said that some of the wounded died in the forest, where they were buried.
Perspective of Nkundo Villagers
On October 16, Human Rights Watch met with a group of about two dozen Nkundo villagers in Lingombe to discuss their involvement in the February attacks. They turned down a request for individual interviews.
The villagers did not deny the attacks but blamed the Iyeke for a series of “provocations,” including the incident that led to the scuffle in Manga on January 31. Some also accused the Iyeke of killing cattle belonging to the Nkundo. “We had no option but to fight,” one said.
“We saw that they had poisoned arrows and we thought we may die so we burned their houses,” another man said. He said that they could not have used rifles because they “didn’t have any,” causing an uproar from others in the group who realized his statement was not credible.
“We do have a few hunting rifles, but we didn’t use them,” one man said. “We used machetes because [the Iyeke] were using machetes too. Indigenous people like to tell stories, but it is not true.”
National army soldiers deployed to secure the area said that they “had not been instructed to disarm the assailants” even though they acknowledged that hunting rifles and an automatic weapon had been used during the attacks. “When our mission is over, there will be more incidents,” the patrol commander said. “The government must approach [both communities] so they stop the conflict.”
Inquiry and Political Interference
The March parliamentary report noted that “manipulation” of both communities by politicians in the last decade had led to “a climate of defiance [and] intolerance between the Bantu [Nkundo] and Indigenous Pygmy people in the district of Bianga.”
The report said, “This supports the thesis of the existence of a political hand at the origin of the current conflicts.” It concluded that there were “actors pulling the strings who [were] manipulating both communities with the aim of benefiting from their support in the upcoming 2023 elections.”
Justice authorities in Boende, the Tshuapa provincial capital, said that an inquiry into the killings began shortly after the attacks. Two Nkundo suspects were tried for arson, conspiracy, and pillaging in late December, according to one of their lawyers. Indigenous survivors of the attacks were not present at the trial. Both were acquitted.
The authorities have carried out no investigations on the ground. They said they lacked the means to reach the area, more than 200 kilometers south of Boende. Cut off by the Luilaka River in the equatorial forest, the Bianga district is only accessible on motorbikes and by dugout canoe and has no phone network coverage.
Military justice authorities in Boende said that the police commander of Bianga district was suspected of involvement in the attacks and that they had tried to locate him, but that his whereabouts remain unknown.
Two judicial officers along with civil society activists said that beyond the logistical obstacles to field investigations, provincial and local politicians have directly interfered with the case.
“There’s an attempt to cover this up, it’s very serious,” a judicial officer said. “Some provincial actors, including members of the [provincial] parliament, want to control the justice system … they’ve politicized justice.”
“Up to 80 people should have already been questioned but it hasn’t happened yet because of political interference,” said another judicial officer. “This case is being slowed down by politicians.”
An activist said that “some provincial MPs [members of parliament] [were] doing everything to bury this case,” because as Bantu, like the Nkundo, they were willing to protect them.
Several Iyeke witnesses said some Nkundo chanted during the attacks: “The Honorable [member of parliament] told us to kill the Iyeke – they will explain themselves” (in Lingala: “Honorable, apesa biso mitindo toboma Iyeke, ye moko okosamba”).
A credible investigation into the Bianga killings should determine whether local or provincial leaders played a role in the attacks, Human Rights Watch said. Those found to have been involved should be fully prosecuted.
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