Statement by Mr. Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights37th Human Rights Council session - Item 10
20 March 2018
I am here today to brief you during this session which, for the first time, includes the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a member of the Council. We hope that the election of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Council will be an opportunity for the Government to renew and reinforce its human rights commitments.
Since we last briefed this Council, in September 2017, the human rights situation in the DRC has continued to deteriorate.
OHCHR documented an increase of 25% in human rights violations in 2017 compared to 2016. This trend was mainly due to widespread violations of political rights and fundamental freedoms in relation to the electoral process, combined with intensified inter-ethnic and inter-community violence, as well as a proliferation of self-defence armed groups in several provinces. State agents were responsible for 61% of the 6,497 human rights violations documented by MONUSCO’s Human Rights Division in 2017, and these are being committed in the context of almost total impunity.
2017 was also marred by an increase in extrajudicial killings perpetrated by State agents, especially by soldiers of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in the Kasai provinces, which led this Council to request three experts to investigate the allegations of human rights violations and the violence committed in that area. I look forward to hearing about their preliminary findings.
A general ban on the activities of the political opposition and civil society, the repression of demonstrations, and the constant targeting by the authorities of human rights defenders and journalists have become a constant feature in the country.
From January 2017 to January 2018, OHCHR documented the reported killing of 47 people, including four women and three children, in the context of demonstrations throughout the country. Already observed in previous years, the manifestly excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrations is of major concern.
Most recently, on 30 December 2017, 21 January and 25 February 2018, the Police nationale Congolaise (PNC) and FARDC resorted to violent means to disperse peaceful demonstrators, which resulted in the killing of at least 17 persons while 281 people were wounded. However, the actual figures could be much higher and our verification process continues. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the perpetrators of these violations continue to benefit from impunity. Moreover, we documented the arbitrary arrest of 406 people during the recent demonstrations. While the majority have since been released, their arrest has instilled a climate of fear – inevitably, and as was presumably the intention.
During these events, our staff were prevented by defence and security forces from accomplishing their mandate. They were denied access to some morgues, hospitals and detention centres. Some colleagues were threatened and two of them were physically assaulted while performing their monitoring work. OHCHR has voiced its concerns over these incidents, which are an impediment to the implementation of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office’s mandate and a breach of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s obligations to protect United Nations staff members.
OHCHR has consistently raised concerns with the authorities over these incidents of brutal repression. Yesterday, together with MONUSCO, we published a report on the disproportionate use of force by security services and defence forces. The report describes serious human rights violations perpetrated by elements of the security services and defence forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the suppression of peaceful demonstrations, between January 2017 and January 2018.
We urge the authorities to uphold the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as well as freedom of expression and association. These are all essential prerequisites without which the forthcoming elections, cannot be inclusive, peaceful and credible. They are also part of the critical confidence-building measures foreseen in the 31 December 2016 Agreement. OHCHR urges the authorities to speed up the comprehensive implementation of the Agreement and related confidence-building measures, as this is likely to ease the political climate and create an environment conducive to peaceful and credible elections.
With respect to accountability, we acknowledge and welcome efforts by the Government to bring to justice some perpetrators of human rights violations. The national commission of inquiry on the incidents of December 2017 and January/February 2018, which was established on 1 February by the Minister of Human Rights, is an important step in the right direction. OHCHR was not part of the commission, but provided technical support, at the request of the Minister for Human Rights. We urge the authorities to promptly implement its pertinent recommendations, including the lifting of the ban on demonstrations, the prosecution of perpetrators of violations, and reparations for victims.
OHCHR continues to be deeply concerned about the situation in Tanganyika, Maniema, North and South Kivu, Ituri, and in the Kasais, where inter-communal and ethnic violence has further intensified, with the involvement of ethnic militias and armed groups. A large majority (74%, up from 65% in 2016) of human rights violations and abuses documented in 2017 occurred in the east and the Kasai. OHCHR documented a 27 % increase of reported human rights abuses committed by armed groups and militias in January 2018 compared to December 2017, confirming the spread and intensification of their activities in the context of inter-ethnic and inter-communal violence, notably in Ituri (opposing Hema and Lendu), North-Kivu (opposing Hutu and Nande), Kasaï (opposing Lulua and Tshokwe) and Tanganyika (opposing Twa and Luba). We urge the Government to step up its efforts to protect civilians and to provide appropriate care and assistance to victims.
Moreover, violence and instability have led to further displacement, with the number of internally displaced persons in the country reaching 4.49 million in December 2017 – an increase of over 100% in just 12 months.
Sexual violence remains a major concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2017, MONUSCO documented the cases of at least 507 women, 265 girls, 30 men and two boys who were victims of sexual violence in conflict-affected areas. This represents a worrisome increase from 2016 and a return to pre-2014 levels of violence. While noting the work of the Special Adviser of the President on sexual violence and children in armed conflict, we encourage relevant officials to intensify their efforts to prevent sexual violence and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
OHCHR is currently deploying the technical team mandated by Human Rights Council resolution 35/33 to provide advisory services to the Auditorat Militaire in Kananga and Mbuji Mayi to complete its investigatory work concerning allegations of violations and abuses committed in the Kasai provinces. We appreciate the authorities' continued cooperation with our Office on this and for facilitating the work of the International Team of Experts for the Kasais during their visits in November 2017 and last month.
To conclude, I stress the need for this Council to retain a sharp focus on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in the country, especially in the context of the electoral process.
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