Republic of Congo: Air strikes hit residential areas including schools

Air strikes on residential areas in the south eastern Pool region of Congo that have reportedly resulted in deaths, casualties and the destruction of properties, including churches, schools and medical facilities represent an unlawful use of lethal force by the security forces, Amnesty International said today.

They are a clear violation of the country’s international human rights obligations, including the right to life and should be subject to a thorough, independent and impartial investigation. Eyewitnesses told the organisation that on 5 April, helicopters dropped at least 30 bombs on residential areas including a school in the town of Vindza where the target was a house which used to be the residence of Pastor Frederic Ntumi, leader of the “Ninjas” armed group.

Government forces have deliberately and unlawfully attacked people. It is shocking that they bombed residential areas
Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Central Africa researcher

The government blamed the “Ninjas” for the 4 April violence in the capital Brazzaville. Subsequently the towns of Soumouna and Mayama have come under attack. An eyewitness told Amnesty International that she saw at least 30 dead bodies between Soumouna and Ngula a village located some 8 km.

“Government forces have deliberately and unlawfully attacked people. It is shocking that they bombed residential areas in response to the violence that occurred in Brazzaville on April 4. Instead they should have taken lawful steps to ensure that criminal suspects are brought to justice,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Central Africa researcher.

Witnesses told Amnesty International that localities affected by the air strikes are now deserted. The population in villages near Soumouna have either fled to the bush or to other towns including the capital Brazzaville.

A woman who fled the village of Ngula to Brazzaville with her family told Amnesty International: “Many people have been killed following the bombing. I saw at least 30 dead bodies between Soumouna and Ngula. The air strikes also led to lot of material damage.”

Other witnesses told Amnesty International that up to 30 bombs were dropped on the morning of 5 April from two helicopters in Vindza. Three out of the four buildings of Vindza’s primary school were also hit. No students were in school that day due to the insecurity.

Background

Amnesty International interviewed a dozen eye witnesses, local activists and journalists by phone and corroborated their statements by analysing information in the media.

Gunfire broke out in the streets of Brazzaville on Monday 4 April 2016. Young people raised barricades in the southern neighbourhood of Makelekele calling for President Denis Sassou Nguesso to step down.

One building belonging to a local mayor’s office and two police stations were set ablaze and armed men attacked an army barracks. The “Ninjas” – a group led by Pastor Frederic Ntumi – were blamed by government for the violence which came weeks after President Sassou Nguesso won the 20 March Presidential elections that opposition claims were marred by fraud and ballot irregularities. Media reported that 17 people were killed and several more injured between 5th and 10th April during violence in the capital Brazzaville.

Since the results of the elections were rejected by part of the opposition, the Congolese authorities have conducted a series of arrests against leading opposition figures, including senior campaign officials of candidates Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko and Okombi Salissa, accusing them of compromising national security.

Amnesty International and local human rights organisations have called on authorities to release political opponents detained for peaceful criticism of the recent elections, put an end to arbitrary arrests and detentions, and avoid any repression of peaceful protests.

In an attempt last February to muzzle independent human rights monitoring, Republic of Congo refused entry and sent back to Dakar an Amnesty International researcher despite having a valid visa, invitation letter and confirmations of meetings with authorities including the Minister of Defence and officials from the Ministry of Justice.