Human rights situation
OHCHR established its presence in the DRC in 1996 with the creation of a stand-alone office. Its focus was on technical assistance and its overriding objective the fight against impunity, especially with regards to sexual violence. In 2000, a Human Rights Division within the United Nations Organization Mission in CONGO (MONUC) was established with the mandate to monitor and report. On 1 February 2008, the Office and the Division were integrated creating the UN Joint Human Rights Office (JHRO) and tasked with improving the respect for human rights in the DRC by assisting the government and MONUC in implementing the mandate.
With UN Security Resolution 1925 (2010) of 1 July 2010 (MONUC) became the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in Congo (MONUSCO).
The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continued to be of grave concern throughout 2011. Despite the renewed commitment of the government to improve the human rights situation throughout the country, its efforts remained limited and little progress was observed in the area of the structural reforms which are essential for achieving positive change. In 2011, the national army (FARDC) and the police (PNC) and other security forces were responsible for numerous human rights violations, including summary executions, mass-rapes, arbitrary and illegal arrests and detentions, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments, extortion, forced labour and looting. National armed groups and members of foreign armed groups, namely the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR), the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Mai-Mai Cheka, also perpetrated serious human rights abuses against civilians: arbitrary executions, abductions of civilians, widespread looting, gang-rape, and other forms of sexual violence with full impunity.
The provinces of major concern continued to be North and South Kivu as well as Orientale, where armed and security forces committed egregious violations in the fight against illegal armed groups. Moreover, groups of national soldiers tended to desert the FARDC in order to make strategic alliances with the rebels for the control of natural resources. Human rights violations were reported also in the western provinces, including violations by security forces in the Equateur Province. In general, high levels of impunity continued to be registered, and little progress has been made with regard to the implementation of the President’s zero-tolerance policy for violence committed by Congolese armed forces.
Notwithstanding declarations made by the authorities to combat impunity for sexual violence and other serious human rights violations, very little progress has been recorded on the ground.
The last months of 2011 were characterised by a high number of human rights violations committed against opponents and their supporters, journalists and human rights defenders in the lead-up and aftermath of the presidential and legislative polls. Violations of the right to liberty and security of the person, of the right to freedom of opinion and expression including the freedoms of the press and the media and of the right to physical integrity were observed.
The management of prisons and detention centers raised major concerns, since the lack of food and health care has led to an alarming number of malnutrition cases and deaths in detention. The judiciary shows similar problems of underfunding and absence of a functional administration.
The human rights situation in DRC was reviewed by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on 3 December 2009 and the list of recommendations adopted on 18 March 2010. 132 recommendations were accepted by the government and 11 were rejected.
In March 2011, the high-level panel sent in October 2010 by the High Commissioner to the DRC to examine the remedies and reparations provided to victims of sexual violence, presented an elaborate report providing recommendations to the Government. Following-up on this report, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office is putting in place a project in close cooperation with UNWOMAN and with funding from the Government of Brazil to devise mechanisms that will enable the State to implement these recommendations. Within the project, particular attention is paid to mechanisms allowing the State to fulfil its legal obligation to financially compensate victims of sexual violence committed by State agents and to pilot projects on reparation to be implemented in local communities.
In October 2010, the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued the report of a mapping exercise documenting serious human rights violations committed in DRC between 1993 and 2003. After the release of the report, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights indicated in a press release that the Government of the DRC is in favour of the establishment of specialized chambers within Congolese jurisdictions to judge international crimes. In November 2010, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights organized, in Kinshasa, a workshop on specialized chambers and non-judicial mechanisms of transitional justice. In March 2011, OHCHR sent a mission to the DRC to step up discussions with the Government and other partners. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights agreed to cooperate with OHCHR for the organization of national consultation on transitional Justice Mechanisms for the country.
The JHRO continued to contribute to the promotion and protection of women’s rights through its Nation Wide Access to Justice for Victims of Sexual Violence Programme geared towards fighting impunity, but also through awareness raising activities. Through its support to Legal Aid clinics, the JHRO has been playing a relevant role in improving access to justice for the victims. It also gave extensive technical and logistic support to the trial of cases of massive rape, and is leading advocacy for the payment of reparations to the victims of sexual violence when the state has been found guilty.
The use of the legal system by victims of human rights violations has been encouraged through the implementation of projects, by providing guidance to victims on their basic rights, facilitating relocation of victims, witnesses and alleged perpetrators; supporting investigations (through Joint Investigation Teams composed of Human Rights Officers of the JHRO and judicial authorities); establishing a protection scheme for victims, witnesses and those assisting victims.
The JHRO strengthened the capacity of judicial actors with regards to the international trial standards, through strong advocacy, training and regular technical support on the different phases of the process. Magistrates were also trained and sensitized on issues related to the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judicial system. In this regard, the JHRO provided support to elaborate a draft code on professional ethics for magistrates.
In the context of the fragile political situation related to the elections, the JHRO and its partners were able to offer various forms of protection to journalists, human rights defenders, witnesses and victims of human rights violations. To strengthen the legal framework on protection of human rights defenders, the JHRO provided technical assistance in the drafting of amendments to the related draft law and is actively following up the parliamentary procedure in collaboration with the network on human rights.
Support has been provided to the government for the follow up of the implementation of the 132 UPR recommendations. In November 2010, the JHRO facilitated a working session on the categorization and prioritization of the said recommendations.
- National Human rights protection system
The JHRO will strengthen the DRC’s national human rights protection system by ensuring an appropriate legal framework is enacted to anchor the institutions of a national protection system in legislation, to coordinate and mobilize support from the UN system and development partners for these institutions, and to provide technical and advisory services which enable these nascent institutions to function effectively based on good practices, and in accordance with relevant international standards, such as the Paris Principles for National Human Rights Institutions.
Combating Impunity and Securing Transitional Justice
Combating impunity and securing progress on transitional justice in the DRC will be threefold; First, continuing to support efforts to hold accountable persons suspected of committing serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law; Second, providing leadership and coordination for a support strategy by UN and international actors towards the development of a holistic framework for transitional justice in the DRC; Third, by continuing increasing entries in the database with profiles of perpetrators of the most serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed in the DRC.
Access to Justice, including access to Reparations for Sexual Violence
The JHRO will pursue the fight against impunity for sexual violence, in line with the joint UN-Government of DRC Strategy and Plan of Action Against Sexual Violence, and develop new, appropriate mechanisms for reparations to victims with increased victim and Government participation.
Human Rights in the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
The proposed JHRO strategy in the area of protection of civilians (PoC) in armed conflict is based on the UN-wide Strategy on the Protection of Civilians in the DRC, adopted by the UN system in DRC. Among strategies, a human rights based approach to protection will be pursued.
Strengthening international human rights response to national challenges
The strategy of the JHRO in the area will consist in using information and advocacy to engage UN mechanisms at international level to secure improvements in the country.