KINSHASA, Congo – Human Rights Watch says in a new report that police in Congo's capital conducted dozens of extrajudicial killings in a three-month crackdown against organized crime gangs.
The rights group says "Operation Likofi" launched last November aimed to quash an upsurge in armed robbery and other crimes by small gangs known as kuluna.
In the report released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch says police behind the sweep killed at least 51 young men and teenage boys — at times when they were unarmed, outside their homes, or in open markets, for intimidation. Five were aged from 14 to 17 years old, and nearly three dozen more people disappeared, it said.
Human Rights Watch urged international donors and the United Nations to "publicly and privately" pressure Congo into arresting and prosecuting those responsible.
It said Gen. Celestin Kanyama, said to be the commander of the operation, should be suspended pending a judicial probe of crimes associated with the operation.
Congo, a former Belgian colony the size of Western Europe, suffered through back-to-back wars between 1998 and 2002. Its restive east remains home to a myriad of armed groups vying for control of the region's vast mineral resources. While the capital of Kinshasa is far from there, the city has long faced criminal — and at times, politically affiliated — gang violence.
During the sweep against the kuluna, Kinshasa police conducted numerous raids, and innocent victims were at times mistakenly targeted, Human Rights Watch said. Authorities led a broad cover-up such as by issuing gag orders to doctors, threatening journalists, and denying relatives access to bodies of their loved ones, the report said.
The report was based on interviews with relatives, police and government officials and others, Human Rights Watch said. While Congolese authorities told the rights group that some officers had been convicted, its report said six magistrates had indicated that only convictions for lesser crimes such as extortion were meted out — none for killings or abductions.