Geneva, 17 June 2020
Thank you for this opportunity to update the Council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which I visited in January.
Since my last update in September 2019, there has been progress in opening up political space at the national level, and this should continue. I encourage all authorities to publicly acknowledge that everyone has the right to express views, assemble peacefully, and participate in decisions. These are strong drivers of sustainable development.
In that context, I also note that measures are being taken to end corruption and the embezzlement of public resources, which are major obstacles to development.
I am further encouraged by action to provide free education to primary school pupils, expand access to health care and create a new ministerial post to take action for people living with disabilities. My Office will continue to assist efforts to ensure inclusive protection and assistance, which are especially important in the context of COVID-19.
I am deeply concerned by the impact of armed conflicts in the DRC, with several situations worsening significantly since my update to the Council in September 2019. Around 1,300 civilians have been killed in conflicts involving armed groups and government forces over the past eight months, with these numbers rising sharply in recent weeks. Some of these incidents may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.
In Ituri, where I travelled in January, dozens of people, including children, are being killed every week by armed groups. The security forces have also reportedly committed human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings. Close to 1.55 million people have been displaced.
Over the past two years, the UN Joint Human Rights Office has reported serious human rights violations in Ituri, chiefly perpetrated by mainly Lendu armed groups – initially targeting Hema people but now also directed against other communities. Between October 2019 and May 2020, nearly 500 civilians were killed, more than half of them since March. I urge the government to intensify its efforts to end these increasingly brutal attacks and promote peaceful coexistence. The military tribunal in Bunia has made notable efforts to advance accountability, despite limited resources.
In North Kivu, particularly around Beni, operations by the Army against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group have been followed by reprisal attacks on civilians by the ADF. Between November 2019 and May 2020, at least 502 civilians were killed, including 14 children. Other armed groups continue to operate, particularly in areas where State security forces are not present. I welcome the arrest warrant issued for the leader of the Nduma Defence of Congo-Renové, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and continued efforts for accountability. They should be accompanied by demobilization, disarmament and socioeconomic measures to provide alternatives to violence for young people.
In Tanganyika province, violence broke out between the Bantu and Twa communities in January. Tensions have reportedly been exacerbated by hate speech by officials against the Twa community and humanitarian actors. The escape from house arrest of the leader of the Mayi-Mayi Bakata Katanga, which has committed serious human rights abuses, could further destabilize Tanganyika, as well as Haut-Katanga, which has been relatively calm for several years.
In the Kasai regions, the majority of documented human rights violations are committed by defence and security forces. The Kamwina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias have become significantly less active in the context of the demobilisation of the Kamwina Nsapu, and implementation of transitional justice.
It is clearly essential to extend State institutions and services throughout the country, in order to stop attacks by armed groups and ensure respect for rights – including the right to life. It is equally vital to ensure that police and military forces uphold the human rights of the people whom they serve, including by implementing the Congolese National Police Action Plan against Sexual Violence. Since my last update, at least a hundred people have been killed by police, and in 2019, more than one-third of documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence were perpetrated by members of the police or Army.
I have discussed with President Tshisekedi and others the importance of transitional justice processes in a country which has suffered from so much conflict-related violence. One such process is underway in the Kasai region, and public consultations on a similar mechanism are taking place in Central Kasai. My Office will also support implementation of initiatives in other provinces – such as Mai-Ndombe and Tanganyika – and a team of forensic officers based in the Kasais, and mandated by this Council to support investigations, will conduct a mission to Mai-Ndombe once COVID-19 prevention measures are lifted.
I look forward to our discussion.