28 November 2008
“The humanitarian and security situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has once again worsened as fighting in North Kivu has resumed. Civilians are at risk as we continue to receive reports of serious violations of human rights and grave breaches of international humanitarian law from the region”, a group of independent experts mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council said today, as the Council was preparing to hold a special session on the human rights situation in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, added: “I have received numerous reports of extrajudicial executions, and killings of civilians, including massacres. These reports need to be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.” He also expressed the need for commanders on the ground to take immediate action to put an end to these killings.
Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, is alarmed about an apparent surge in rapes committed by armed men in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Echoing concerns expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on the occasion of the International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women.
The Special Rapporteur said: “Rape continues to be used as an instrument of war, and women and girls are left without protection. The scourge of violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo will only end if rape is punished. Perpetrators thrive on a climate of impunity, which must be challenged and stopped. I am further concerned that activists defending women’s rights are themselves under serious threat.”
Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, highlighted that at least 250,000 people have been newly displaced in the east of the country since the crisis began.
“Civilians must flee fighting for a safety that remains elusive. In some cases, they are attacked by rebel forces. In other cases, the soldiers who were meant to protect them have instead pillaged their towns and villages. The result is massive displacement,” said Mr. Kälin while expressing concern about repeated reports of internally displaced persons being attacked in their camps.
Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, also expressed concerns: “According to reports I received, human rights defenders, including journalists and civil society activists, have been subjected to threats, attacks as well as arbitrary arrest and detention since the resumption of hostilities.”
The independent experts highlighted that pillaging of a town or place, rape and murder committed during armed conflict amount to war crimes: “Military and armed group commanders who are aware that their subordinates are committing such crimes but do nothing to stop them incur personal criminal responsibility and have to be brought to justice.”
“We call – said the group of UN experts - on the parties to the armed conflict to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, uphold ceasefire commitments and provide humanitarian agencies free, unimpeded and secure access to populations in need in conformity with international law.”
“The international community has a responsibility to protect and should provide MONUC, the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the capacity to protect civilians at risk, where and when State authorities fail to do so,” the independent experts concluded.
The statement was signed by the following mandate holders of the Human Rights Council:
· Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary Executions
· Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
· Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
· Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons
For more information on the mandate holders of the Human Rights Council visit the website http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm
For use of the information media; not an official record