British aid funded African police force that ‘executed’ children
The Department for International Development continued to fund the Democratic Republic of Congo’s police for 12 months after first reports of executions and disappearances
Military police in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo Photo: ALAIN WANDIMOYI/AFP
By David Blair, Chief Foreign Correspondent
8:00PM GMT 27 Nov 2014
Britain continued to fund the police force of the Democratic Republic of Congo for almost 12 months after officers “summarily executed” at least nine people, including a child.
Another 32 men and boys disappeared during a police offensive in the capital, Kinshasa, codenamed “Operation Punch”. Of these, 29 are still missing including two 16-year-olds.
The first public reports of police brutality emerged within two weeks of the launch of Operation Likofi – meaning “Punch” – on Nov 15 last year.
On Nov 27, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo issued a joint press release voicing alarm over “reports of disappearance and assassination of young men and children in some communes of Kinshasa”.
At the time, the UN agencies said that about 20 people, including 12 children, had been killed. They urged “immediate steps” to “put an end to such acts”.
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Despite this public statement, however, the Department for International Development (Dfid) continued to fund Congo’s police for almost another year.
Dfid suspended its “Security Sector Accountability and Police Reform Programme” this month, following a UN report in October which confirmed nine deaths and numerous other violations during Operation Punch.
Under the now frozen programme, Dfid had promised to spend £67 million to “improve the capacity and accountability of the Congolese National Police” between 2008 and 2015. By the time the scheme was suspended, Dfid had already disbursed almost £55 million.
Asked why Dfid continued to fund Congo’s police for almost a year after the first public reports of atrocities, a spokesperson for the department replied: “We were aware of reports of human rights violations and raised them regularly at the highest level of the Congolese Government while the UN conducted their investigations. We wanted to make sure that any action followed the outcome of the UN investigation.”
Dfid added that a “swift decision” was taken to “suspend” aid to Congo’s police after the UN published its final report.
Congo’s government is one of the most corrupt and ineffective in Africa – and the country’s police force is notoriously brutal.
The UN’s final report into Operation Punch found that at least nine people were “summarily executed” and another 32 “forcibly disappeared” during this supposed operation against organised crime.
The report adds: “Having received many more allegations of human rights violations which it has been unable to confirm, the [UN] believes that the total number of victims could be much higher.”
The UN found a “recurrent modus operandi” whereby masked or hooded policemen would travel through Kinshasa in unmarked vehicles after dark, stopping outside the homes of their intended victims.
One 30-year-old shopkeeper was shot in the back when “hooded individuals” in police uniforms came to his home in the early hours of the morning of 19 Nov last year.
Five days later, an 18-year-old was picked up by hooded and armed police while he was trying to earn money by cleaning cars at 9pm on Nov 23. “The police put him into one of the two pick-ups they were travelling in and spent two hours circling the district before killing him with three shots in the back,” found the UN report.
The youngest victim of summary execution was a 17-year-old boy, who was shot in the back outside his home by hooded men in police uniforms. The squad arrived at about 3am on Nov 27.
As for the 32 people who disappeared, three were able to buy their release from police custody by paying bribes. The rest are still missing, including a 16-year-old schoolboy who was taken from his home at 3am on Feb 25 this year.
He was tied up by “armed and hooded” men who drove him to a nearby police station. “The child has never been found, although his family have made searches at several detention facilities in Kinshasa,” reads the report.
Dfid’s budget rose by 32 per cent between 2012 and 2013 – the biggest percentage increase in one year ever enjoyed by a Whitehall department in peacetime history. Critics say the pressure to spend its budget makes it harder for Dfid to suspend questionable aid programmes.