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Press briefing notes on Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hissène Habré and Laos

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Date: 21 December 2012

1) DRC
The situation in eastern DRC continues to be of serious concern. According to recent UN human rights investigations, at least 126 women, including 24 minors, were reportedly victims of sexual violence, including rape, between 20 and 30 November, in the town of Minova and surrounding villages, in Kalehe territory, South Kivu province.

So far, two UN Joint Human Rights Office teams have visited the area this month and have interviewed more than 200 people.

The perpetrators allegedly were soldiers of the Congolese Army (FARDC), and the crimes seem to have been committed for the most part as they were retreating from the fighting in Goma and Sake. The teams also documented two cases of arbitrary execution, and other cases of mistreatment and widespread looting. Investigations by judicial authorities into these violations are ongoing, and so far nine FARDC soldiers have been arrested on charges of looting or rape.

Following the fall of Goma to the M23 rebel group on 20 November and Sake on 22 November, UN human rights teams have also documented cases of arbitrary execution, enforced disappearances, degrading treatment and rape against civilians by M23 fighters in Goma and surrounding areas. The looting of dozens of public and private buildings in Goma and of scores of vehicles by M23 was also reported.

UN human rights teams have also received allegations of serious human rights violations, including forced recruitment, mistreatment and arbitrary executions of civilians in areas of Rutshuru territory, stronghold of the M23.

We are highly concerned by these events, which once again are devastating the lives of civilians in Eastern DRC; and we are appalled that yet again women and girls are being targeted by a variety of groups, including the national army that is supposed to protect them. We urge parties to the conflict to ensure strict respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Further measures should be taken as a matter of priority to identify alleged perpetrators of such violations and to hold them to account.

2) Hissène Habré

We welcome the fact that the Senegalese National Assembly adopted on December 19, 2012, laws establishing special chambers within the existing Senegalese court structure to enable criminal proceedings against the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré.

OHCHR has long supported the effort of the African Union to ensure accountability for the gross human rights violations that were allegedly committed during Mr. Habré's rule and is encouraged by the efforts of the current Government of Senegal to achieve progress in the matter.

3) Laos

We are concerned by what appears to be the enforced disappearance of Mr. Sombath Somphone, a prominent human rights defender in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. We are highly concerned for his safety and believe that his abduction may be related to his human rights work.

Mr Somphone was last seen at about 6pm on 15 December 2012 on his way home. Security camera footage reportedly shows that he was stopped at the police post on Thadeua Road in Vientiane, the capital, and was then driven away in a car by men in civilian clothes. His family has been unable to locate him since then, despite repeated calls to the authorities and searches in the local area.

Mr. Somphone is the former director of the Participatory Development Training Centre, an NGO he founded in 1996 to promote education, training and sustainable development. In 2005, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, which is one of Asia’s top civil awards, for his work in poverty reduction and sustainable development.

We welcome the Government’s recent statement that a serious investigation is underway, and urge the authorities to do everything possible to ensure that Mr. Somphone is found safe and unharmed.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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