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Respect for human rights key to stabilization succeeding in DRC, says top UN human rights official

KINSHASA/GENEVA (28 August 2013) - Fighting impunity and strengthening respect for human rights are essential for the stabilization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri has said at the end of a seven-day visit to the country.
“It was important that my first trip as Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights was to the DRC, not only because of the very difficult human rights situation in the country, but also in order to endorse the commitment of my organization to help the Congolese authorities and people tackle the many challenges they are facing in this regard,” she said.

“My visit comes at a crucial moment in the mobilization of efforts towards a return of sustainable peace in Eastern DRC,” Pansieri added. The Deputy High Commissioner, who was in Goma on 22 and 23 August when renewed fighting erupted around the city, deplored the loss of human life and highlighted that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians constituted a violation of international humanitarian law.

“I was particularly affected by the situation of people in North Kivu and Ituri,” said Pansieri. “People there told me about their vulnerability, their tenuous socio-economic situation and the security constraints due to the activities of armed groups. I also observed the devastating consequences of the very limited presence of state institutions and the weakening of traditional customs.”

Pansieri also said she was “alarmed by the scale of sexual violence committed mainly by armed groups, but also by defence and security forces, as well as by civilians”. Emphasizing that “such violence necessitates a relentless fight against impunity,” she recalled that many victims are still awaiting justice, especially for rapes committed in Walikale, Bushani, and Minova.

During her visit, Pansieri also went to Kitchanga, in Masisi territory, North Kivu province. “I was able to witness the disastrous impact that the activities of armed groups have on the lives of local communities, in particular regarding displacement, mass rapes, arbitrary executions and deprivation caused by the grabbing of land, minerals and other natural resources,” she said.

“The deplorable conditions in places of detention are another issue of major concern. During my visit to Bunia, I observed the precarious situation of a thousand detainees in a place supposed to hold some 220 inmates,” said the Deputy High Commissioner. She urged national and provincial authorities to redouble their efforts to reduce the number of people held on remand for prolonged periods. “I was encouraged by the first steps already taken by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to improve prison conditions and I express the full support of our office in developing wholesale reform of the penitentiary system,” she said.

Given the challenges the DRC faces, the Deputy High Commissioner was encouraged by the determination shown by those she spoke to from the government, parliament, judicial authorities, defence and security forces, to improve the country’s human rights situation.

Pansieri welcomed legislative initiatives regarding the protection of human rights defenders. “The recent promulgation of a law establishing a National Human Rights Commission proves the DRC’s commitment to strengthen the national system for the protection and promotion of human rights. I encourage the state authorities to ensure the Commission is soon operational.”

Emphasizing the importance of the assistance offered by the international community, the Deputy High Commissioner recognized the engagement of MONUSCO and the UN Country Team, and reiterated the continued support of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the sustainable stabilization of the DRC.

ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact:
in Kinshasa: Lukas Knott (+ 243 8 2318 4901 / knott@un.org)
in Geneva: Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 93 10 / cpouilly@ohchr.org) ou Liz Throssell (+ 41 22 917 9434 ou +41 79 201 01 15 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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