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27 January 2009

GENEVA -- Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, called on Tuesday for all actors involved in the present military operations in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo to scrupulously respect international humanitarian and human rights law.

The operations conducted by the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, together with associated non-state armed groups, are directed against the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR), a non-state armed group operating in North and South Kivu provinces.

“I fear that unless a clear distinction is made between fighters and the civilian population, and precautionary measures to protect civilians are taken, these operations will trigger further massive displacement of civilians and deepen the humanitarian crisis in the Kivu region.” Mr. Kälin said. “When launching military operations, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has a responsibility to protect the civilian population and organize the necessary humanitarian assistance," he added. "This also means that information relevant to the humanitarian response and the protection of civilians should be shared in a transparent and timely manner with humanitarian actors and the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC). All parties to the conflict must facilitate access for humanitarian agencies and supplies.”

Mr. Kälin also recalled that war crimes and crimes against humanity including forced displacement must be investigated, prosecuted and punished. “They can also be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court," he said.

“We have recently seen violent reprisals against civilians by armed groups in Province Orientale, in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Mr. Kälin added.

In mid-December 2008, the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda launched a joint military operation against the Lord’s Resistance Army, an armed group whose leader Joseph Kony has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes. “Lord’s Resistance Army fighters fleeing the offensive have killed at least 500 civilians, raped women and abducted children. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people have been forcibly displaced,” Mr. Kälin said.

The statement by Walter Kälin, issued in his capacity as Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, was made following his visit from 17-23 January 2009 to Kinshasa and Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu.

Kälin conducted the visit at the invitation of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He is one of the seven independent experts mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council, following a special session of the Council on 1 December 2008, to urgently examine the current situation in the east of the DRC and report to the Council in March 2009 on how best to assist technically the DRC in addressing the situation of human rights, with a view to obtaining tangible improvements on the ground. They will also take into account the needs formulated by the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (see Human Rights Council Resolution S-8/1, which builds on resolution 7/20).

Walter Kälin, an independent expert and professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), was appointed Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons in 2004.

For use of the information media; not an official record