Human Rights Watch investigated reports of the massacre, which took place in the Democratic Republic of Congo's remote northeast area. With over 300 people dead, it is the largest unreported massacre committed by the Lord's Resistance Army.
Kampala - Human Rights Watch released a 67 page report titled Trail of Death Sunday. The report documents the massacre of hundreds of villagers in the DR Congo at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) late last year. During the four day raid, some 320 people from ten different villages were killed. Some were tied to trees before being killed, while others were attacked with machetes or axes. At least one child was burned to death. "... Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that for days and weeks after the attack, this vast area was filled with the "stench of death.""
Human Rights Watch said up to ten villages in the Makombo area in northeaster DRC were attacked by the LRA over a four day period between December 14th and 17th. During the well-planned raid, LRA forces of some 25 to 40 people split into smaller groups, methodically attacked villages one by one, killing at least 320 people and kidnapped 250 others, including 80 children. Human Rights Watch researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg said "The Makombo massacre is one of the worst ever committed by the LRA in its bloody 23-year history, yet it has gone unreported for months. The four-day rampage demonstrates that the LRA remains a serious threat to civilians and is not a spent force, as the Ugandan and Congolese governments claim."
Human Rights Watch found the Congolese army did investigate the massacre, concluding the attack was led by the LRA, but had done nothing further beyond stationing more soldiers at a base nearby. The report notes that the under-equipped army troop sent to stave off the attack had to travel two days on foot to reach the village under attack, arriving too late to help.
Reports of the massacre were made to the peacekeeping forces stationed in DR Congo, MONUC, but an investigation was not launched until March 2010, said Human Rights Watch.
The LRA has been operating in central Africa, attacking people in DR Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, and Southern Sudan on a supposed quest to establish a country based on the Ten Commandments. The LRA is currently operating out of southern Sudan. Led by Joseph Kony, the Christian rebel force arose in Uganda in 1987, waging a long battle with the government before being forced out of the country in 1995. Since then, the group has been undermining peace and security in central Africa. The main source of army members, according to Amnesty International, is kidnapped children and youths.
Human Rights Watch is calling for a joint regional "comprehensive strategy" between the four countries which are randomly attacked by the LRA. Part of the lengthy list of recommendations includes providing cell phone coverage for northeastern DR Congo, as there is very limited telecommunications in the region. The rights organization also wants to see the United Nations presence beefed up in order to provide more protection to civilians. The comprehensive list of recommendations also includes filling in funding gaps, and giving priority to the rehabilitation of child soldiers.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a great deal of violence during an ongoing civil war that has ripped the nation for the past eight years. A recent joint United Nations report says that DR Congo forces (FARDC) are just as guilty of war crimes as are the rebel factions the government has been fighting. The Congolese army has been fighting the LRA as well as a second rebel group, Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR). A recent United Nations situation report states"Armed groups such as the LRA and FDLR commit atrocities that amount to grave breaches of international humanitarian law and, in some instances, may also constitute crimes against humanity. In North Kivu, an assistance provider for victims of sexual violence recorded 3,106 cases between January and July 2009; half of these cases were perpetrated by FARDC members."
Human Rights Watch said the December massacre might not be the only under-reported large scale attack by the LRA. "... Human Rights Watch has also received reports of LRA attacks in remote regions of Central African Republic (CAR) that have received little attention or follow-up from the CAR government or the UN."Insecurity in DR Congo has hampered the efforts of agencies to get displaced civilians home. There are over 114,000 refuges in northern Congo, and the continuing instability means humanitarian aid has been stalled in parts of the country, creating desperate situations for civilians.
The United Nations Security Council had condemned the actions of the LRA in November 2009, concluding with a request for the LRA to surrender, stating "... The members of the Security Council reiterated their demand that the LRA immediately cease all attacks on civilians, and urged them to surrender, assemble and disarm, as required by the Final Peace Agreement."
The LRA had said in early 2010 that it was "tired of fighting," and wanted to negotiate peace. However, the LRA has not made any effort to pursue peace negotiations. The LRA has most recently been accused of attacking a village in Central African Republic (CAR), kiling up to ten people and kidnapping 50. Another 30 were wounded, but the extent of their injuries are not known. A government spokesman disputed the numbers, saying less had been killed and kidnapped. The CAR is pursuing the LRA in an attempt to liberate the kidnapped people.