In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, six soldiers were accused on Tuesday of being involved in the killing of 56 people when there was a clampdown on anti-UN demonstrations last week.
The accused soldiers consist of a colonel and a lieutenant-colonel from the republican guard. They are being charged for “crimes against humanity by murder, malicious destruction and inciting soldiers to commit acts contrary to duty or discipline”, as per the military court in Goma.
The trial started on Tuesday and the charges were announced in the starting. However, the accused had not been asked to make their plea as of yet.
According to a source close to the presidency, the two commanders were in charge of the soldiers that opened fire on protestors.
Military prosecutor Michel Kashil told the court, “This was not a state action; they acted in isolation and not within the framework of their sovereign missions.” He added, “We will demonstrate that this is a systematic attack against well-targeted populations, the members of a certain church.”
The Wazalendo sect of mysticism in Christianity was in charge of organising the demonstrations.
43 fatalities were reported by the Congolese authorities during the disturbance in Goma on last Wednesday. At the trial, defence attorney Kashil stated that 56 individuals had died and another 75 had been injured.
MONUSCO, the UN peacekeeping force in eastern Congo, has been the target of demonstrations since last year, which were partially sparked by criticisms that it had not adequately shielded people from decades of militia violence. Over 15 people died as a result of an anti-MONUSCO demonstration in July 2022, including three peacekeepers in Goma and Butembo.
“The government’s response is a step in the right direction, but a full and impartial investigation will have to look higher up the chain of command to ensure real justice,” said Thomas Fessy, senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch. He urged the government to free civilians who had been unlawfully detained and to look into high officials who may have been behind the operation.