The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rebuked a report by a UN human rights team that accused the army, FARDC, of committing mass killings, torture and rape in the country's war-torn Kasai region.
"There are a few undisciplined elements in FARDC," Congolese Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa told DW. "But that doesn't mean that every member of the police or the army is a delinquent."
UN experts presented a report to the body's Human Rights Council last week that accused FARDC of "systematic" human rights violations against civilians in Kasai suspected of supporting rebel militias. Some violations, they said, amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Locals told the team that FARDC soldiers had tortured civilians, indiscriminately murdered some by burning them alive, and raped women and girls, in some cases gang raping victims in front of their family members. Some women and girls were allegedly given a "choice" between being killed or raped. The experts said many of the perpetrators had not been punished.
But Mushobekwa said that military police were investigating soldiers suspected of committing crimes against civilians. "They won't go unpunished," she said.
Gang rapes, beheadings and cannibalism
FARDC has been fighting Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias in Kasai since fighting between rival ethnic and political groups surged there following the death of a local opposition leader in late 2016.
In their 126-page report, UN experts also detailed gruesome atrocities committed by members of the two militia groups.
Bana Mura troops reportedly dismembered victims and engaged in mass rape of women and children, in some cases with the use of sticks or firearms. One man was reportedly executed after he refused an order to rape his own daughter.
Other locals reported that Kamuina Nsapu troops beheaded civilians with machetes, forced family members to rape their relatives and ordered captive children to cook victims' limbs. "One victim told us that in May 2017 she saw a group of Kamuina Nsapu militia, some of whom sported female genitals as medals," the report stated.
According to Omar Kavota from local NGO Center for Peace, Democracy and Human Rights Studies (CEPADHO), Kamuina Nsapu have committed the majority of the atrocities in the conflict. "They behead people, cut off their private parts and display them in public, believing this gives them extraordinary power," he said.
'A climate of terror in Kasai'
General David Musandi, Kasai's police commissioner, denied that there was widespread violence against civilians in the region. "Everything is peaceful," he told DW. "Everything is under control."
But Justice Tshiamalala Biaya of Kasai's Center for Human Rights corroborated the UN's findings and told DW that people investigating atrocities were regularly intimidated. "There is still a climate of terror in Kasai," she said.
A UN peacekeeping force known as MONUSCO has been monitoring the violence in Kasai since December 2016. The head of the mission, Leila Zerrougui, told DW that solving the conflict would require the disarmament of rebel militias and a reconciliation process between warring parties.
"It's not acceptable that the civilian population pays such a heavy price for this situation," she said.