United Nations investigators say intercommunal attacks that killed more than 500 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo were orchestrated. The investigators from the U.N. human rights office in Congo say the attacks may amount to crimes against humanity.

The clashes between the Banunu and Batende communities took place in Yumbi territory, in Mai-Ndombe province, between December 16 and 18.

U.N. investigators who went there found the violence was planned and carried out with the support of traditional chiefs.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says the investigators verified at least 535 people were killed and more than 100 others injured.

“These figures are most likely an underestimate,” she said. “The number of casualties is believed to be much higher as the bodies of some who died are believed to have been thrown into the Congo River. It is also not possible to confirm the number of people who are still missing as an estimated 19,000 people were displaced by the violence, 16,000 of whom crossed over into the Republic of Congo.”

Shamdasani says fights between the two communities over land and fishing resources have broken out in the past, but never on this scale.

She says the violence was triggered by a dispute over the burial of a Banunu chief. She says the similarity of the attacks carried out over a three-day period across four different villages indicates prior consultation and organization.

“Certain chiefs of the Batende-majority villages were cited by many sources as having taken part in the planning of the attacks. The investigation concluded that the crimes documented in Yumbi may amount to crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as persecution,” said Shamdasani.

The report warns violence is likely to flare up again if the tensions and resentment between the two communities are allowed to fester.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, is calling for the perpetrators of the crimes to be punished.

She is also urging the government to establish a truth and reconciliation process to address the problems between the Banunu and Batende communities and prevent further violence.

Sign up to receive our latest news!

By submitting this form, I agree to the terms.