36th session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore,
United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 26 September 2017
Salle XX, Palais des Nations
Mr. President, Excellencies, colleagues and friends,
Distinguished President, Excellencies, Colleagues and Friends,
One year ago, I addressed this Council immediately following the brutal and systematic action by the Congolese army and police that the week before had left dozens of civilians in Kinshasa and other cities dead. On that occasion, the Council’s interactive dialogue considered our fervent call for a priority focus on justice so that there might be an end to impunity for those who design, command and execute such deadly action, given that these are steps necessary for non-recurrence.
Twelve months later, most regrettably our update paints a necessarily grim picture in which justice systems have not showed independence, impunity has not been tackled and further violence has been perpetrated by security forces against the people of DRC.
A bare three months after last year’s interactive dialogue, December 2016 saw large-scale killings of civilians by security forces in the context of demonstrations; killings for which no one has been held accountable.
Following these public protests in September and December last year, against which brutal suppression was directed, the extraordinary mediation efforts of the Congolese National Episcopal Conference led to a remarkable consensual agreement between the Government and the opposition groups deigned to pave the way for presidential elections in 2017 and a peaceful transfer of power. This 31 December Agreement – with its concrete and actionable provisions - provided the Congolese with real hope that the electoral process could move forward and bring with it the desired political stability, greater respect for human rights and basic freedoms, and thus more sustained prosperity. This was a critical milestone, truly significant opportunity and a moment when leadership in the interest of the people of Congo could be feasibly and fully exercised.
What followed however was the antithesis of that Agreement’s terms. A general ban on the activities of the opposition and civil society was introduced. The authorities continued to target political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists relentlessly. Confidence-building measures stipulated in the 31 December Agreement, including the release of political prisoners, have not been implemented. Instead, over the last 12 months alone, the number of political prisoners and prisoners of opinion has tripled – from 50 to 150. The delay in the announcement of a date for the elections is causing further instability and unrest. These facts evidence the lack of political will to implement the Agreement and reveal an absence of genuine intent to enable peaceful democratic processes to be followed.
The urgency of this need for a coherent strategy that ensures due electoral process, peaceful transfer of power and sets the basis for more robust justice is further evidenced by the marked increase in insecurity across a number of parts of the country. Violence has erupted in North and South Kivu and Tanganyika to the east, Kinshasa to the west and, on a scale not seen for many years, also in the southern provinces of the Kasai region. As a consequence of the country’s conflicts, there are scattered across the DRC a staggering 3.8 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) - the highest number in all of Africa.
More violence means more loss of life. This harsh reality was brutally illustrated less than a fortnight ago when, on 15 September, 36 Burundian asylum seekers and refugees were mowed down as the security forces fired indiscriminately into a crowd in Kamanyola, in South Kivu. A FARDC officer was also killed during the incident.
Also of urgent concern are the lives lost in the ongoing escalation of intercommunal conflict. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office has been investigating and documenting the killing and rape of dozens of people as a result of clashes between the Pygmy and Luba communities in Tanganyika province, which continues unabated.
In eastern DRC, armed groups such as the FRPI, and various Mayi Mayi groups such as the Nyatura and the Kata Katanga, are engaged in the illegal exploitation of natural resources (in many cases with the complicity of senior army officer and politicians). This has aggravated tensions and driven serious human rights violations. Many of these militia are formed along ethnic lines, and attack villages and kill their inhabitants because of their ethnic background. This once again is becoming a regular occurrence.
In the Kasai region, violence has continued for over a year, in a conflict characterized by the targeting of State officials and recruitment of children by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, and the disproportionate use of force by the Congolese army and police in its operations against that group – further exacerbated by a newly-formed ethnic militia, called the Bana Mura, allegedly supported by local officials. To date, hundreds have been killed. The JHRO has documented more than 600 killings of civilians by the Congolese army and police. Other credible sources have indicated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the Kasais over the past year. The activities of the militias and Congolese security forces in the Kasai region have also resulted in a grave humanitarian crisis in a region which was already afflicted by poverty. Over 100 villages have been destroyed in the Kasai region, and 1.6 million people have been forced to flee the crisis, including 35,000 who escaped across the border to Angola.
This situation in the Kasais represents one of the worst human rights crises that the world faces today.
Despite some ongoing investigations and a number of convictions of alleged Kamuina Nsapu militiamen, little has been done to enable credible, impartial and independent investigation of serious human rights violations committed by the Congolese defence and security forces. It is also deeply regrettable that since last December, although MONUSCO has been sharing with the authorities details on the geolocation of 87 mass graves, no one so far has been held accountable. Yet, it is evident that the violence in the Kasais is not the act of random, rogue or undisciplined elements – but more plausibly likely to be the result of orders - deliberately planned and deliberately executed orders. The perpetrators including those who provided arms to militias or who gave orders to kill must be brought to justice.
During your 35th session, this Council, recognizing that an independent investigation in the Kasai region was warranted, mandated the establishment of an international team of experts to determine the facts and circumstances of the allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law. On 26 July, the High Commissioner announced the appointment of Bacre Ndiaye from Senegal, Luc Côté from Canada and Fatimata M’Baye from Mauritania for this purpose. The experts as well as the secretariat will be deployed to the DRC as soon as the necessary visas are issued.
However, for the sake of the people of the DRC, there is no time to waste: the authorities must act immediately to prevent further crimes and protect civilians – a primary responsibility of the Government. Last September, and again in March and June of this year, at this Council, all parties were urged to refrain from incitement to violence while the country’s leadership was urged to change course, to demonstrate a material commitment to human rights as enshrined by the Congolese constitution, to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. We reiterate this plea. We urge the Government to take decisive action to reverse this tragic descent into violence – to implement the terms of the 31 December Agreement.
We call on the Government to take the lead in ending the cycle of impunity that for decades has fed the violence that so gravely undermines the country’s peace and prosperity.
at the heart of these calls for an end to violence is the unconscionable experience to which victims of this cruel and yet preventable violence have been subjected. We pay tribute to all the victims of violence in the DRC, their familes and loved ones. We pay specific tribute to our colleagues, Michael Sharp, Zaida Catalán and their interpreter, Betu Tshintela, who alongside three other Congolese, were brutally murdered in March this year while conducting investigations in the Kasai.
The lives that have been lost to the conflict in DRC must not go unanswered. The United Nations and our partners are doing our utmost to support the emergence of a just, inclusive and sustainable DRC in which respect for the human rights of the Congolese people is the Government’s core purpose.