The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has failed to deliver justice for the killing of at least 30 civilians in Mutarule, South Kivu province, in June 2014. For five years, victims and their families have sought justice and compensation without success.
Human Rights Watch research at the time
found that Congolese soldiers and United Nations peacekeepers stationed
in the area were aware of the attack but failed to intervene. The
massacre occurred amid rising tensions between ethnic Bafuliro, Barundi,
and Banyamulenge groups.
“Five years since the massacre in Mutarule, the Congolese legal system has not brought justice to victims and their families,” said Timo Mueller, Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should reopen investigations into the killings, fairly prosecute those responsible, and provide redress for the victims.”
Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that on June 6, 2014,
armed assailants attacked the Bafuliro neighborhood of Mutarule. Some of
the attackers wore military uniforms and spoke Kirundi and
Kinyamulenge, the languages of the Barundi and Banyamulenge ethnic
groups. The gunmen opened fire on nearly 200 people who were gathered
outside a church, striking many. The attackers then entered the church
and started shooting men, women, and children. They also targeted a
health center and several houses, shooting people at point-blank range
and burning many to death. Numerous others were injured. Most of those
killed were from the Bafuliro ethnic group.
Congolese military authorities opened an investigation four days
after the attack. Two army officers, Maj. Venance Kayumba and Capt.
Déjeune Enabombi, as well as a civilian, Raymond Sheria, were arrested
in connection with the killings. In September 2016, a first-instance
military court sentenced Kayumba to 10 years in prison for a violation
of orders and Sheria to 15 years for illegal possession of weapons.
Enabombi was acquitted of all charges.
The court characterized the massacre as a crime against humanity but
found that there was not enough evidence to convict Kayumba and Sheria
on those charges. In an appeal judgment in July 2018, the Congolese
Military High Court overturned the trial verdict, acquitting Kayumba and
Sheria of all charges for insufficient evidence.
A 69-year-old victim, who testified in court, told Human Rights Watch
in May 2019: “People were angry and disappointed [after the trial].”
Another victim said he hoped for further judicial proceedings to
“convict those who cowardly killed our brothers.”
Two other defendants – Philippe Obed, known as “Bede,” and Espoir
Gombarufu, known as “Karakara” – were fugitives and died during and
after the trial respectively. Congolese army officer Col. Elias Rubibi,
another defendant, was killed
in suspicious circumstances in Bukavu in August 2016, shortly before he
was due to appear before the judge. Claude Mirundi, the last defendant,
remains at large.
Court-ordered compensation payments between US$2,000 and US$60,000
against Kayumba and the Congolese state were cancelled after Kayumba’s
acquittal. Dozens of victims of the Mutarule massacre need assistance
because of their injuries or the loss of parents or children, Human
Rights Watch said.
“The Mutarule massacre was a grievous crime with many victims, yet
five years on no one has been held responsible,” Mueller said. “This
sends a terrible message throughout Congo that massacres can be
committed without any real consequence for those responsible.”