KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Recent acts of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the murder of two United Nations researchers and the discovery of 23 mass graves in the Kasai region, might constitute war crimes, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Friday.
“I am deeply concerned by the numerous reports of serious violence in the D.R.C., particularly in the Kasai provinces, for several months,” the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement.
“There have been reports of violence between local militias and Congolese forces, the killing of many civilians and noncivilians, kidnappings and summary executions of persons, including U.N. experts on mission and their accompanying persons,” she said.
“Such acts could constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC,” Bensouda said, adding that the court would not hesitate to prosecute those believed to be responsible for the crimes.
The statement was released on the same day the director of the UN human rights office in Congo, José Maria Aranaz, said mass graves had been discovered in Kasai, where the Kamuina Nsapu militia has clashed with the Congolese Army and the police for several months.
“We documented 23 mass grave sites in different localities: Nkoto, Kabeya, Nguema, and Tshimbulu,” he said. “And this information has been shared with the major judicial, civil, and military authorities.”
“We must bring to justice those responsible for this killing that has happened and continues to happen. We are concerned about the level of figures,” Aranaz added.
On Tuesday night, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, confirmed the bodies of the two UN researchers — Michael Sharp, an American; and Zaida Catalan, a Swede — had been discovered in a shallow grave.
They disappeared along with four Congolese in Kasai-Central province Monday. Guterres urged the authorities to “conduct a full investigation into this incident.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo has a history of government-led atrocities, including gang rapes and the slaughtering of civilians. Last month, members of a militia ambushed and beheaded about 40 police officers in a central province.
Seven army officers were recently charged with war crimes after a video surfaced on social media that appeared to show uniformed soldiers opening fire on a group of civilians, killing at least 13 people. Several analysts said the video revealed a government-sponsored massacre of civilians.
Other videos and photos have also been circulating on social networks for weeks; in one, people claiming to be militiamen from Kamuina Nsapu desecrate bodies of those thought to be members of the national police.
The International Court, based in The Hague, handed down its first sentence in 2012, after convicting the former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.
Since then, it has convicted several Congolese officials accused of crimes against humanity, including former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba last year and the rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda.
Violence in Kasai-Central province has claimed more than 500 lives and internally displaced scores of residents, according to local nongovernmental organizations.
The joint conference of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, the Apostolic Nunciature, and the archbishop of Kananga released a statement in French on Thursday expressing “compassion and condemnation” about the continuing violence in Kasai.
The bishops called for an end to the summary executions of civilians, and for the military to show restraint in the effort to restore peace.