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France 24 / News - Politics

Raped and executed in public: a Congolese militia’s reign of terror

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A video has emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo that shows a woman being publicly raped as punishment for allegedly serving “forbidden food” to a little-known group of rebels. The video is rare evidence of the atrocities being committed in DRC’s Kasaï region.

WARNING: READERS MAY FIND THE FOLLOWING IMAGES SHOCKING

The video, which lasts 7’40, was filmed on April 8, 2017 in the town of Luebo, in the province of Kasaï-Occidental. The events took place in the main square, referred to by locals as the “parking lot”.

The footage shows a naked woman being pushed out in front of a crowd by members of an armed group claiming allegiance to the Kamuina Nsapu rebel movement. The group seized the town, population 40,000, on March 31 and maintained a reign of terror for several weeks before they were ousted by the Congolese army on April 19.

The rebel movement emerged after the death of a local tribal chief named Kamuina Nsapu, who was killed by the Congolese army in August 2016. Armed groups bearing his name have attacked government targets including police and soldiers across the Kasaï region, as well as symbols of the Catholic Church. In recent months, however, the group has lost power and territory.


A rebel leader described as the "grand chief" appears for more than a minute in the video. (Screengrab)

At the beginning of the video, Kalamba Kambangoma   a rebel leader described as a “grand chief” by the man who is filming   holds the victim by her hair and explains in the local Tshiluba language that “she must die” for committing what he calls high treason. He then hands the victim over to another woman, who is wearing a pink t-shirt and the red bandanna that marks members of the Kamuina Nsapu movement.

At right, a woman wearing a pink t-shirt and the red bandanna that marks her as a member of the Kamuina Nsapu rebel movement holds the victim by the arms to take her to what looks like an altar. (Screengrab from the video)

The woman in pink then brings the victim over to a platform, which was constructed by the rebels when they took over the town. There, the woman and the son of her “rival” [Editor’s note: Her husband’s second wife] are forced to have sex in front of the crowd. The woman in a pink t-shirt whips the pair with branches for several minutes as many people   including men, women and children   crowd up close to the platform. The onlookers film the scene, applauding and screaming. A group of Luebo residents also attend the public punishment, though they maintain a certain distance from the stage.

Several dozen residents gathered in the main square, a few metres from the stage, to attend the public punishment (Screengrab from the video).

Punished for having served the rebels fish, a forbidden food

The woman owned a small restaurant on the road that connects Luebo and Mweka. FRANCE 24 contacted seven current and recent residents of Luebo about the execution, five of whom witnessed it firsthand. All said that the offense the woman was accused of was serving “forbidden food” to the rebels.

The Kamuina Nsapu have a strong belief in the powers of protection rituals. During periods of fighting, members of the group ritually refrain from eating meat, fish, cassava leaves, vines, cooking oil and hibiscus. They also refrain from washing themselves or having sex, according to Congolese researcher and consultant Anaclet Tshimbalanga, a specialist in local customs in Kasaï, who spoke to FRANCE 24.

The woman sold food on the road between Luebo and Mweka. She was near the village of Kabao when she served the “forbidden food” to the rebels. (Screengrab from Google Maps.)

One resident of Luebo told FRANCE 24: "She was accused of serving fish to rebels who were fighting on the frontlines in Kabao. They said she gave them beans that contained pieces of a small, local fish. Convinced that she had broken their protection charms, the council of rebels led by a man named Kabata sentenced both the woman and the son of her husband’s second wife [the young man was also working there that day] to commit incest in public.”

The rebels then executed the woman and the young man by hacking them to death with machetes. Some of the rebels consumed their blood, according to several different witnesses interviewed by FRANCE 24.

A resident of Luebo sent the FRANCE 24 Observers team a photograph showing several rebels posing with the severed head of the young man, which was still recognisable. The young man was about 20 years old.

In early September, the video, which shows the forced public rape, started circulating massively on WhatsApp. All of the residents FRANCE 24 spoke to said they condemned the act and were traumatised by it.

"It was shameful, macabre, sickening, disgraceful… I couldn’t stand it and I left,” one said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

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