Statement from the Aegis Trust on hate speech and incitement to genocide in D.R. Congo
Without urgent action there is a very high risk of widespread violence in D.R. Congo against Kinyarwanda speakers. Violence is not new in DRC, where over 100 militia groups exist, and where the Congolese army, FARDC, has also been accused of atrocities. Sexual violence and frequent massacres of civilians have occurred on a vast scale.
Against this backdrop Kinyarwanda speakers have been characterized negatively in D.R. Congo for decades, especially in the North and South Kivu Provinces. Researchers have documented growing hate media on Youtube and other channels, particularly targeting Congolese Tutsi and other Kinyarwanda speakers (see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14623528.2022.2078578). In recent weeks the escalation of incitement to violence against Tutsi has taken on an ominous tone, echoing the hate media of early 1990s Rwanda which contributed to the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
This Anti Tutsi hate is not spontaneous. It has been lingering in eastern DRC since 1994 when large numbers of refugees crossed the border of Rwanda into Congo, including people who committed the Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda. Recent years have seen a spike in hate speech targeting the Kinyarwanda speaking population of the DRC (Banyarwanda and Banyamulenge). The phenomenon has intensified within the context of the recent fighting between the predominantly Tutsi M23 Congolese rebel group which resumed operations against the Congolese Army in November 2021, leading to displacement of tens of thousands of civilians. The Government of D.R. Congo accused Rwanda of supporting M23, which the Government of Rwanda denies. The virulence and intensity of hate messages amplified by social media platforms raises strong concerns over safety of the targeted populations and further undermines peaceful cohabitation between different communities in the country.
In this clip – https://youtu.be/e0W8rDQPXHU – Congolese are called upon to take action against Congolese Tutsi with round-ups, expulsions and killings. These planned and premeditated actions are scheduled for 25th June. Volunteers are urged to bring their machetes to the houses of Tutsis.
Early warnings about identity based discrimination are rapidly becoming late warnings in D.R. Congo and intervention is therefore required.
What can be done?
The prime responsibility to protect their population rests with the Government of DRC. Those inciting violence or committing violence must be brought to account. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Nderitu have encouraged the DRC Parliament to expedite the adoption of a bill on “racism, xenophobia and tribalism” in order to strengthen the legal framework to address and counter hate speech. This process and discussion will take time and so existing mechanisms must be used to prevent DRC tipping into ethnic cleansing of its Kinyarwanda speaking citizens. Failing to apprehend and bring those inciting violence to account encourages a climate of impunity, and then further perpetration.
Reflecting the urgency of the situation, as Commonwealth Heads of Government were landing in Kigali, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame flew to Nairobi on 20th June for a meeting of East African Community (EAC) leaders convened by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, including President of D.R. Congo Felix Tshisekedi. One outcome was an agreement to deploy an EAC regional force. This must work quickly with the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC) to stabilize the situation. Noting the false promise of protection of past peacekeeping operations, assurance must be given that civilian populations will be protected when rebel groups are disarmed. The disarmament process should target all armed groups, including the FDLR group, members of which were involved in committing Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda 28 years ago.
The Tutsi need protection: the Congolese Army and MONUSCO know where to find them – in Uvira and the villages stated in the audio linked above.
It is also vital for effective peacekeeping operations to be accompanied by political processes aimed at building a more inclusive society, addressing the longterm drivers of mistrust, hatred and violence.