Shaking Straw Skirts: children in war

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From 13 to 23 June 2017, the High Commissioner for Human Rights deployed a team of human rights officers to Angola to interview refugees who had fled violent attacks launched between 12 March and 19 June 2017, on different villages of Kamonia territory, Kasai province, in the context of the ongoing crisis in the Greater Kasai region, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 

Human rights violations and abuses were committed against civilians by DRC Government armed forces and pro-Government militia – the Bana Mura – and by an anti-Government militia – the Kamuina Nsapu – during attacks on villages, that were often launched along ethnic lines. The violence has caused thousands of victims since August 2016 and MONUSCO identified at least 80 mass graves as of July 2017. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), approximately 30,000 people fled the Kasai to Angola between April and 22 June 2017 while 1.3 million people were internally displaced.

In all incidents documented by the team, the Kamuina Nsapu were reported to have used boys and girls, many aged between seven and 13, as fighters. Witnesses also said groups of girls called “Lamama” accompanied the militia, shaking their straw skirts and drinking victims’ blood as part of a magic ritual that was supposed to render the group invincible. All the refugees interviewed by the team said they were convinced of the magical powers of the Kamuina Nsapu.

“This generalised belief, and resulting fear, by segments of the population in the Kasais may partly explain why a poorly armed militia, composed to a large extent of children, has been able to resist offensives by a national army for over a year,”

Excerpts from Report of a Mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – accounts of Congolese fleeing the crisis in the Kasai region, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aug. 2017

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