Geneva, 28 November 2008
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome the opportunity to address you at your 8th special session. I fully support this initiative, which provides us with an important platform to discuss the critical and deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In and of itself, this special session conveys to the Congolese people that the international community is aware of their terrible plight. It also signals a commitment on the part of the Human Rights Council to be engaged in the international community’s efforts to put an end to many years of conflict and suffering in the DRC. But this is clearly not enough.
A failure to adequately address the root causes of the conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo would risk leading to further outbreaks of large-scale violence in the DRC and in the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Since heavy fighting resumed in North Kivu in August, my Office has documented a steady deterioration of the human rights situation with summary executions, kidnappings, and widespread looting being committed by belligerent forces on a daily basis. The prevailing culture of impunity contributes to this wide range of serious human rights violations. Of particular concern is the unparalleled violence against women, including rape.
Armed clashes have caused massive flight with an estimated 250,000 newly internally displaced persons (IDPs), the majority of whom are women and children. These IDPs are exposed to continuous abuses by all parties.
The most recent reports suggest an escalating number of sexual violence in its most brutal forms committed by soldiers of the Congolese Armed Forces, including in the Kibati IDP camp, where last week a 13 year old girl was viciously raped and reportedly died as a result of the attack.
In Kiwanja, controlled by the rebel forces of Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP (Congrès National pour la défense du people), reports of disappearances and summary executions of suspected government supporters were reaching my Office as recently as last week.
This unfolding human rights crisis is not confined to the Kivus. It has been compounded by other brutal forces in the region, including the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army, whose actions have led to massive displacements, rapes, killings and the forced recruitment of child soldiers in Oriental Province.
As efforts to resume negotiations between the belligerents in DRC intensify, it is crucial that all parties be reminded of and compelled to comply with their obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law.
Parties to the conflict must be held accountable for the atrocities committed by their forces. The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) must be provided with political backing and unhindered access to conduct investigations into allegations of serious abuses. The findings of such investigations must be fully taken into account by parties involved in diplomatic and political efforts to respond to the crisis.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The periodic cycles of bloodshed and destruction that have for so long affected the DRC will keep recurring unless the perpetrators of human rights violations are brought to justice, and unless the illegal exploitation of natural resources is adequately and comprehensively addressed.
The DRC runs the risk of becoming a case study in how peace processes can go awry without the will to make justice and accountability an integral part of these processes.
Over the past few years, progress in fighting impunity has been hindered by a dysfunctional justice system, lack of resources and political and military interference. The OHCHR-led DRC Mapping Exercise, which is now underway, will be of critical importance to create an inventory of the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed between 1993 and 2003. It will also assess existing capacities within the national justice system to address such violations. The Mapping Exercise’s recommendations on transitional justice will need full political backing.
I note that the International Criminal Court, at the invitation of the Government of the DRC, has been involved in investigations there. I hope that every effort will be made to further support the work of the ICC.
The international community as a whole must employ all its leverage to ensure that justice and accountability underpin the quest for durable peaceful coexistence in the DRC. Unless the underlying issues are addressed, we will be called upon to have other special sessions on the DRC in the years to come.
To this effect, it is of central importance that women fully participate in shaping the future of their country. Forceful measures must be taken to give full effect to relevant Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 1325, which details the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and special measures to protect them from gender-based violence, as well as the recently adopted Resolution 1820, which recognizes and condemns sexual violence as a tactic of war. It also demands its immediate and complete cessation.
Past peace agreements have enabled well-known perpetrators of atrocities to be integrated into the army and police. This has exacerbated the current climate of impunity in the DRC, empowered human rights violators and further endangered the Congolese population.
We cannot continue to ignore the disturbing truth that the FARDC (Forces Armées de la république démocratique du Congo) and the Congolese Police are among the perpetrators. Three weeks ago in Goma, the FARDC was reportedly responsible for the pillage, rapes and killings that took place there.
Similar reports concerned the area of Kanyabayonga. Without profound and radical reform of these and other state security forces, the DRC population will remain vulnerable to such atrocities. Thorough vetting processes must be put in place to ensure that officers responsible for gross human rights violations are not absorbed into State security forces.
The people of DRC are destitute, but the country’s mineral wealth is vast. Unfortunately, most natural resource extraction is carried out illegally. This clearly violates the economic rights of the people of the DRC, who continue to suffer while mining profits fuel the conflict. Only through a concerted effort—involving both State and non-State actors, as well as the international community—will the fighting stop and the resources of the country be employed to generate the welfare and prosperity that the Congolese people are entitled to.
Distinguished Members of the Council,
The convening of this special session shows your commitment to stop the unfolding human rights tragedy in the DRC and prevent further cycles of violence. The Congolese people deserve a durable peace. It is our collective responsibility to help them achieve it.