GENEVA: Rebels and government troops in Congo have committed atrocities including mass rape, cannibalism and the dismemberment of civilians, according to testimony published on Tuesday by a team of U.N. human rights experts who said the world must pay heed.
The team investigating a conflict in the Kasai region of Democratic Republic of Congo told the U.N. Human Rights Council last week that they suspected all sides were guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Their detailed 126-page report catalogued gruesome attacks committed in the conflict, which erupted in late 2016, involving the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias and Congo's armed forces, the FARDC.
The testimony included boys being forced to rape their mothers, little girls being told witchcraft would allow them to catch bullets, and women forced to choose gang-rape or death.
“What happened in the Kasai simply beggars description,” Congo's Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa told the Council.
"One victim told us that in May 2017 she saw a group of Kamuina Nsapu militia, some of whom sported female genitals (clitorises and vaginas) as medals," the report said.
"Some witnesses recalled seeing people cutting up, cooking and eating human flesh, including penises cut from men who were still alive and from corpses, especially FARDC, and drinking human blood."
Lead investigator Bacre Waly Ndiaye told the Council that in one incident, at least 186 men and boys from a single village were beheaded by Kamuina Nsapu, many of whose members were children forced to fight, unarmed or wielding sticks, and were convinced that magic had made them invulnerable.
Many such child soldiers were killed when FARDC soldiers machine-gunned them indiscriminately, he said.
"The bodies were often buried in mass graves... or were sometimes piled in trucks by soldiers to be buried elsewhere."
There were initially thought to be about 86 mass graves, but after investigating on the ground the team suspected there may be hundreds, he said.
A Congolese government spokesman told Reuters that such information should be passed to magistrates in Congo.
"We were not aware of this and it is very curious. But it is clearly a politically motivated press campaign that has nothing to do with justice," he said.
Mushobekwa said the government had given the expert team its whole-hearted cooperation and wanted the truth to come out, but she said some of the findings were "rather doubtful" because the investigation had been done quickly.
“One thing is absolutely certain. Each element of law enforcement and security forces that is responsible for these crimes will answer for their actions and will be severely punished,” she said.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Additional reporting by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Peter Graff)