Hate speech and incitement of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kampala, Uganda
23rd June 2022

Atrocities Watch Africa (AWA) is deeply concerned about recent hate speech in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Discourse instigating hatred, violence and discrimination of Kinyarwanda speakers both Rwandan and Congolese, calling on them to return to Rwanda, has become more common in the wake of the most recent March 23 Movement (M23) offensive in North Kivu province.[1] This may have been exacerbated by the Congolese president, Félix Tshisekedi publicly announcing there was “no doubt” that Rwanda supported the rebel group.[2]

On 20 June UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide reported that the UN had documented eight cases of hate speech and incitement to discrimination or violence, spread by political figures, community leaders, civil society actors and members of the diaspora. Such discourse increases the risk for atrocity crimes targeting specific groups of people and corrodes social cohesion between communities. [3]

Rallies against the M23 and Rwandan intervention, which have taken place across the country, have created a focal point for this dangerous rhetoric. In Kinshasa, protesters chanted anti-Rwanda slogans, demanding the expulsion of the Rwandan ambassador.[4] Rwandan-owned shops were looted and cars suspecting of transporting Rwandans were searched in Goma.[5]

Tensions between communities with roots in Rwanda and those who style themselves as indigenous have troubled eastern Congo for years, with Rwandan influence being blamed for violence and communities with roots in Rwanda, even if several generations removed being viewed as not legitimate citizens.[6] The Early Warning Project rated the DRC as the 5th most likely site of mass killing in 2021-2022[7] and the US Holocaust Museum published a blog highlighting the risks of violence against Banyamulenge, a group of Rwandan descent in South Kivu in late 2021.[8]

We call on the Congolese authorities, community leaders as well as civil society groups to refrain from discourse that could incite violence as well take strong measures to discourage further hate speech from its citizens. The Congolese government must do more to protect civilians in eastern DRC and throughout the country.

Dismas Nkunda

[1] MONUSCO, “MONUSCO launches appeal against hate speeches in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” 13 June 2022, https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/monusco-launches-appeal-against-hate-speeches-democratic-republic-of-congo

[2] The Africa Report, “DRC: Tshisekedi has ‘no doubt’ about Rwanda’s support for M23 rebels,” 7 June 2023, https://www.theafricareport.com/211568/drc-tshisekedi-has-no-doubt-about-rwandas-support-for-m23-rebels/

[3] OHCHR, UN Human Rights Chief and Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide disturbed by increase in violence and hate speech in eastern DRC, 20 June 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/06/un-human-rights-chief-and-special-adviser-prevention-genocide-disturbed

[4] RFI, “Anti-Rwanda protesters in DRC denounce alleged support for M23 rebels,” 3 June 2022, https://www.rfi.fr/en/africa/20220603-anti-rwanda-protests-in-drc-over-kigali-s-alleged-support-of-m23-rebels

[5] France 24, “Anti-Rwanda tensions boil over in eastern DR Congo city of Goma,” 16 June 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20220615-anti-rwanda-tensions-boil-over-in-eastern-dr-congo-city-of-goma

[6] International Refugee Rights Initiative and the Social Science Research Council, Who Belongs Where? Conflict, Displacement Land and Identity in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010, http://webarchive.ssrc.org/pdfs/Who%20Belongs%20Where.EN.March2010.pdf

[7] Early Warning Project, “Democratic Republic of Congo: 2021-22 Statistical Risk Assessment for Mass Killing,” 2021, https://earlywarningproject.ushmm.org/countries/democratic-republic-of-congo

[8] Delphin Rukumbuzi Ntanyoma, “Democratic Republic of Congo: Rising Concern about the Banyamulenge’s situation,” 22 July 2021, https://www.ushmm.org/genocide-prevention/blog/democratic-republic-of-congo-rising-concern-banyamulenge