Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
42nd Human Rights Council session
24 September 2019
Ten months have passed since the Democratic Republic of the Congo presidential elections in 2018. With the formation of a new government on 26 August this year, the DRC now has the opportunity to establish the much-needed political stability and rule of law required to ensure respect for human rights across the country.
As our office underlined during July’s interactive dialogue, the months after the elections saw a welcome opening up of democratic space.
However, the number of human rights violations documented by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office is continued cause for serious concern.
The fact that State agents, mainly members of the Armed Forces and the National Police, were responsible for 60% of the violations documented indicates that the Congolese authorities still have a major task ahead of them to reign in those members of security forces who do not abide by the rule of law.
The majority of the violations we have documented continued to be those committed in the conflict- affected areas in eastern DRC. Meaning there has been little to no improvement for the civilians living there. People in the East exhausted by violence, continue to bear the brunt of conflict at the hands of armed groups and militia and from the operations of the Congolese armed forces against these groups.
A particular concern is the FARDC’s continued practice of using armed groups as proxies in their operations, including an armed group responsible for grave violations of human rights in North Kivu. Noting that the FARDC can be held accountable for grave violations committed by its proxies, this practice should end immediately.
The High Commissioner welcomes President Tshisekedi’s commitment to improving the country’s human rights situation and to ending impunity and she stands ready to support him in that quest. However, decisive action is needed urgently.
A troubling resurgence of intercommunity conflict and violence targeting certain ethnic groups is taking place, including in the provinces of Mayi-Ndombe, Ituri, South Kivu, Tanganyika and Haut-Katanga.
Between 10 and 13 June this year, at least 117 people were killed in Ituri as a consequence of attacks targeting certain ethnic groups. Targeted killings are continuing while the violence is displacing hundreds of thousands.
The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office is supporting judicial investigations into those incidents.
Investigations are also ongoing into the December 2018 massacre of at least 535 civilians during attacks against several villages in Yumbi, Mayi-Ndombe. However, in addition to pursuit of accountability for these, efforts must be made to address the political and economic root causes of this inter-community violence, to support reconciliation processes and thus prevention of further conflict.
Conflict-related sexual violence continues to be perpetrated on a large scale by State agents and combatants of armed groups. The provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu remain the most affected. Between June 2018 and May 2019, at least 726 women, 234 children and three men were victims of conflict-related sexual violence - a significant increase on the previous reporting period.
The recent convictions of senior military officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including for sexual violence, are important. Nevertheless, some officers accused of serious human rights violations have been promoted or retained in senior positions in the defense and security forces, without being investigated. And in some cases, convicted officers remain at large. Investigations should be carried out to remove from the defense and security forces, high-ranking officers who are suspected of having committed serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. To end the climate of impunity, measures need to be taken to enforce convictions as soon as they are pronounced.
While we are encouraged by the signs of an opening up of the democratic space under the new Government, restrictions to freedom of the press remain. There are still attacks and threats against human rights defenders and other civil society actors.
The suppression of public demonstrations continues, including with disproportionate and, in some cases, lethal force. On 14 and 17 June, in Lualaba province, in the course of the dispersion of two protests by miners in the context of tensions related to access to mining sites, six people were killed and three were wounded by the national police. On 19 August, three people were killed and several were arrested arbitrarily by the national police during protests against insecurity in North Kivu province.
During July’s interactive dialogue, the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai noted that investigations into the violence of 2016 and 2017 in Kasai had not yet resulted in any verdicts. This Council renewed the mandate of the team of experts and requested that OHCHR provide technical assistance, including forensic expertise, to the DRC Government to support judicial investigations.
We count on the continuing close and fruitful cooperation between the authorities and the team of International Experts for the Kasai and the team of technical cooperation and look forward to the first prosecutions of the perpetrators of violations.
To contribute to the prevention of further conflict in the Kasais and promote reconciliation between communities torn apart by the violence, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office launched a transitional justice initiative in Central Kasai in December 2018, in cooperation with national authorities, the United Nations Development Programme and the NGO Search for Common Ground. As the results of popular consultations suggested, the objective is to put in place transitional justice mechanisms, including a provincial commission on truth, justice and reconciliation, and to extend this initiative to other provinces affected by conflict.
Our Office will continue to work closely with the President and with Congolese institutions. Now that the new Government is in place, we also look forward to supporting all efforts to strengthen the rule of law, secure accountability and to end impunity. This is a new phase that the High Commission hopes will mark out opportunities to cooperate in delivery of programmes targeting the root causes of violence, setting down the circumstances in which reconciliation may be promoted and sustainable prospects for peace strengthened. In that work and to those ends, once again the High Commissioner reiterates that she and her Office stand ready to support the Government.
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