A recent upsurge in violence throughout Kasai, a southwestern province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, may lead to genocide, warn U.N. torture investigators.

Warring Congolese insurgents and government troops have been engaging in acts of mutilation, rape, and mass killings at an unprecedented scale. International observers have drawn parallels with the most gruesome of ethnic clashes around the world.

My greatest concern is that what we are witnessing today may be only the prelude of what is still to come. In my view, Kasai already today bears the signature of Rwanda and Bosnia in the early 1990s,” observed Nils Melzer, an international lawyer serving at the independent U.N. post.

The recent alarm comes on the heels of a newly published U.N. human rights report cataloging horrid crimes by both sides– the Kamuina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias and state troops –since the conflict’s inception in 2016.  

While Congo has witnessed a rise in ethnic tensions ever since gaining its independence in 1960, the current face-off erupted over President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to abdicate power upon the expiration of his mandate two years ago.

The seeds of conflict were sown as early as 2011, when Jean-Pierre Mpandi, leader-designee of Bajila Kasanja clan, returned to Congo after serving a jail sentence in South Africa over diamond smuggling charges. However, the Congolese government refused to recognize Mpandi’s ascent to power due to his region’s pro-opposition sentiments. Instead, the government doled out tribal leadership positions to fierce loyalists.

Power-hungry Mpani used xenophobic language as his rallying cry, encouraging local tribesmen to seek justice by forming militias and attacking government forces. Following Mpani’s death in a confrontation with police in 2016, his supporters splintered into multiple factions. Aghast at Mpani’s murder, many more Congolese citizens felt the need to take up arms.

As of 2018, at least 5000 people have been killed over the past two years and an additional 1.4 million are displaced. Notwithstanding the sheer number of victims, only a handful of perpetrators have been prosecuted and the international community continues to ignore pleas for help – making the conflict’s comparison to Rwanda and Bosnia particularly compelling.

In 1993, the Hutu-led governments in Rwanda and Burundi killed tens of thousands of Tutsis and peaceful Hutu citizens. As with the current situation in Congo, the United Nations and major world powers failed to provide the much-needed political, military, and humanitarian intervention.

Although one would think the Rwandan genocide belongs on the ash heap of history, the world fell prey to the same mistake a mere two years later. In 1995, over 8000 Muslim men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serb troops at Srebrenica, a UN-designated “safe haven.”

In addition to the self-perpetuating cycle of violence, Kasai is facing a cholera outbreak. On June, 13 new deaths were reported in Mbujimayi, the largest town in Kasai Oriental. Cholera leads to dehydration and can be fatal if not treated immediately.

The rise of cholera and other waterborne diseases is putting an additional strain on the area’s hospitals, which now have to split their extremely limited resources between victims of man-made and natural disasters.

Featured Image via Flickr/Alf Gillman