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In need of urgent actions

The Human Rights Council meets in a special session on 28 November to discuss the critical and deteriorating human rights situation in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Olusegun Obasanjo (third from left), the UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Peace in the Great lakes Region, arrived in North Kivu, the DRC, urging rebels to maintain a corridor for humanitarian assistance. © UN Photo/MarieHigh Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the special session that “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.”

Since heavy fighting resumed in North Kivu in August, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 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,” the High Commissioner said.

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, she added.

The High Commissioner stressed that “as efforts to resume negotiation 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.”

A group of independent experts, including Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary Executions; Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of IDPs, and Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, also called on the parties to “provide humanitarian agencies free, unimpeded and secure access to populations in need in conformity with international law.”

“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,” the group of experts said in a statement issued on November 28.

“The international community has a responsibility to protect and should provide MONUC, the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in the DRC, with the capacity to protect civilians at risk, where and when State authorities fail to do so,” they said.

November 2008