An anti-UN protest in Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, turned deadly on Wednesday when Congolese troops violently suppressed the demonstration. The government confirmed that at least 40 people were killed and 56 others were wounded in the brutal crackdown. However, the UN’s human rights office suggested that the actual death toll might be even higher. Additionally, 158 individuals were arrested in connection with the protest.
The incident sparked outrage and prompted the government to launch a military investigation. The decision to intervene came after a video surfaced on social media, showing individuals in civilian clothing viciously attacking a tied-up policeman with sticks and stones. It is important to note that the origin of the video could not be verified, and the organizers of the protest had called for peaceful participation.
The violent crackdown resulted in numerous casualties, with many injured protesters seeking medical attention at the International Red Cross clinic. Anne-Sylvie Linder, the branch director, revealed that some of the injured individuals were already dead upon their arrival. Disturbing footage circulating on social media showed soldiers collecting bodies from the streets in a truck convoy in Goma.
In response to the tragic event, MONUSCO, the United Nations peacekeeping mission, released a statement calling for a prompt and independent investigation and urging the Congolese government to treat detainees humanely and respect their rights. The mission expressed its condolences to the victims of the violence and reiterated its concerns about the ongoing threats of violence.
This is not the first time that protests against MONUSCO have turned violent. Last year, a similar demonstration resulted in the deaths of at least 15 people, including three UN peacekeepers. The conflict escalated as UN troops faced off against hundreds of civilians armed with rocks and petrol bombs, leading to the vandalization and torching of the mission’s buildings. In that protest, the UN troops were criticized for using lethal force against protesters, despite being advised to restrain their crowd control measures to tear gas and warning shots. As a result of the 2022 protest, some UN workers had to be relocated to military-protected camps due to threats from demonstrators.
The ruling party’s youth mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has demanded that the UN leave the country, citing perceived ineffectiveness in protecting civilians against militia violence. Even though MONUSCO has downsized its presence in the country since November 2021, tensions remain high as militia groups, some affiliated with terrorist organizations such as Islamic State, continue to terrorize civilians despite the international presence meant to repel them.
The violent suppression of the anti-UN protest highlights the continued instability and challenges faced by the Democratic Republic of Congo. As investigations into the incident ensue, the government, UN organizations, and international partners must work together to address the root causes of the violence and ensure the protection of civilians. A comprehensive and sustainable solution is essential to a safer and more peaceful future for all Congolese people.