International Court Asked to Examine Abuses by DRC Military

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On July 6, Minority Rights Group International asked the International Criminal Court to investigate human rights abuses aimed at the Bambuti Pygmies of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Known by the code name effacer le tableau, or "erase the board," the military has conducted what Minority Rights Group (MRG) terms a campaign of extermination against the Bambuti who live in Ituri and North and South Kiva provinces in eastern DRC. MRG claims that the current vice president of the DRC was specifically involved in this campaign.

The case file includes a report, based on interviews with more than 80 victims and a number of witnesses, describing rape, murder, and mass dislocation of the Bambuti by both official and rebel military forces. The report urges the International Criminal Court to focus specifically on the plight of the Bambuti, as their marginalized status within DRC culture leaves them particularly vulnerable.

Many soldiers believe that the Bambuti have healing powers and that having intercourse with a Bambuti woman cures back ailments and other illnesses. The MRG report says that Ndabumwa M. was gathering firewood when overtaken by a soldier. "He took me by force and raped me. After he had finished, he hit me until the blood started to run from my ears. He said that pygmy women heal illnesses," the woman told MRG. The report also includes accounts of children, elderly, and pregnant Bambuti women being raped in front of their families.

Several Bambuti also told MRG that they had witnessed acts of cannibalism, because the soldiers believe that the flesh of the Bambuti conveys magical powers. In the report, Amuzati M. describes a massacre in his village, which he alleges claimed the lives of his brothers. "There was a lot of chaos. They were killing them. I saw them cutting up human flesh, then they were putting it on a fire to grill it," he told MRG. The report cites many instances in which the victims were either too afraid to make a complaint or were warned not to by local leaders who have no power over the military and cannot offer protection. Because there are no official channels to stop the violence, many Bambuti have been forced to abandon their villages. Still others go each night into the forest to sleep, hoping to survive any night raids on their villages. This habit leaves them exposed to the elements and has lead to a rise in disease and mortality rates.

The MRG report urges the International Criminal Court to investigate these abuses and punish those responsible. It also calls on the United States and other international donors to be certain that funds supplied to the DRC are not routed to the military. Additionally, the report urges neighboring Rwanda and Uganda to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the DRC, since many of the atrocities have allegedly been committed by rebel forces from those countries.

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