Kidnappings have “sky-rocketed” in mostly lawless eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with at least 175 people taken hostage so far this year, leading campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
Armed groups tortured and whipped hostages, and demanded ransoms of between $200 and $30,000, although most were freed after relatives and employers made lower payments, HRW added in a statement.
Twenty of the hostages were local and international aid workers, it said.
At least three people were killed by their captors, while another was fatally shot in a kidnapping attempt. One remained missing, HRW said.
“The alarming increase in kidnappings is a grave threat to the people of eastern Congo. Congolese authorities should urgently establish a special police unit to help rescue hostages and investigate and prosecute those responsible,” it added.
In one case on 2 September, armed men kidnapped a 27-year-old female student in Goma, the main city in eastern DR Congo, and took her to a remote forest where she was held with other hostages, HRW said.
The kidnappers beat and abused the hostages, including burning them with bayonets heated in a fire, it added.
“When we asked for food, they chose a man among us and cut his throat, killing him,” HRW quoted the student as saying.
She was held for nine days, and released after her family paid a ransom, HRW said.