The world must act

Democratic Republic of Congo

A girl resting with other internally displaced persons (IDP) in Kikwit, Democratic Republic of Congo, after falling ill in a camp for IDPs fleeing from the conflict in the Kasai region. Photograph: John Wessels/AFP/Getty Images

Even by the standards of the past two decades in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a civil war claimed more than three million lives, emerging reports of the scale and brutality of ongoing violence in the central Kasai region make for horrifying reading. In a report drawing on months of research in Kasai, a remote region where aid agencies have relatively little presence, the Catholic Church last week estimated that Congolese security forces and a militia fighting them have killed at least 3,383 people there since last October. The UN had previously put the death toll at about 400.

The conflict began last August, when the army killed Kamuina Nsapu, the leader of a militia he named after himself. He had wanted the military to withdraw from the region. Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN's human rights chief, says Congolese authorities created and armed another militia to fight Kamuina Nsapu. Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council the government-linked militia "shot dead, hacked or burned to death, and mutilated hundreds of villagers, as well as destroying entire villages." They had cut off toddlers' limbs and stabbed pregnant women, he said.

The UN has responded in recent days by opening an investigation into the killings in Kasai. But that inquiry is a diluted version of a tougher EU proposal for an international commission of investigation, which was dropped due to a lack of African support and a Congolese threat not to allow its members into the country. Doubts remain about the willingness of the government in Kinshasa to co-operate. President Joseph Kabila refused to step down after his constitutional mandate ended last December, causing a political crisis, and his government has already sought to minimise the international dimension to the inquiry by saying the UN will provide merely "technical and logistical support". That's not good enough. The Congolese authorities must allow the investigators unhindered access to Kasai and provide full co-operation, as laid down in the unanimous council resolution. If it does not, the international community must be prepared to act.