45th session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 2 October 2020
I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in provinces affected by armed conflicts.
You have before you the report of my Office, A/HRC/45/49. I encourage the Government of the DRC to implement its recommendations, notably with respect to the need to fight impunity, establish transitional justice processes, and conduct broad reforms to continue opening up the democratic space.
As the report documents, the impact of armed conflicts on the people of the DRC is deep, and increasing. Several reports point to incidents that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri are particularly affected by conflicts, but violence has also continued in Maniema, Kasaï, Kasaï Central and Tanganyika.
Armed groups are largely responsible for the considerable increase in violations and abuses recorded by my Office. In the year preceding 30 May 2019, we recorded an average 548 violations per month; during the corresponding period in 2019-2020, this rose to an average 613 incidents per month, and has further increased in June and July 2020, with a monthly average of 704 violations.
As a direct result of this climate of violence, destruction and fear, some 5.5 million Congolese have been internally displaced, and at least 922,000 people have fled to other African countries.
To deter future violations, bring justice to victims and establish public confidence in the authorities, it is essential to step up efforts to bring the perpetrators of these severe human rights violations to justice. In conflict-affected areas, credible transitional justice processes can be particularly helpful, as the work of both the Joint Human Rights Office, and Council's team of Kasai experts, has made clear. I also encourage the Government to work with all stakeholders, particularly in the eastern provinces, to address calls to hatred and violence
I gladly report the continued opening up of the democratic space in the DRC, with an overall decrease in recorded violations of civil and political rights.
Nonetheless, mainly at the provincial level, we continue to observe threats against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists; arbitrary detention; and acts of harassment. Overall, our report documents 857 human rights violations and abuses linked to restrictions on the democratic space in the year preceding 31 May 2020.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has also led to incidents of excessively heavy-handed enforcement of restrictions on movement, with unwarranted and excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions. It is important to recognise that these and other violations of human rights can hamper the establishment of public trust in, and compliance with, public health efforts.
I welcome the Government's announced release of 5,250 detainees, to reduce prison overcrowding and curb the spread of COVID-19. These efforts should be consistently maintained across the country. Given the conditions prevalent in many detention centres, the practise of detaining people for minor infractions, which could lead to further contagion, should be discouraged.
Further to the subject of the health challenges facing the people of the DRC, I also note the continued threat of Ebola. Although the outbreak in North Kivu was declared over in June, medical staff – already overstretched by the COVID-19 pandemic – are now struggling to contain a new outbreak of Ebola in Equateur province. Continued international solidarity will be vital.
I remain alarmed by the attacks that continue to target human rights defenders in the DRC. Following a series of threats, MONUSCO is once again protecting Dr. Denis Mukwege – who has presumably been targeted because of his calls to end the country's longstanding impunity for grave human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and girls in the context of conflict. Our report notes the continuing massive scale of sexual violence linked to conflict across the DRC, with 1376 victims recorded during the reporting period; virtually all the perpetrators of these crimes remain at large. There should be a thorough investigation into the threats made against Dr. Mukwege, and effective protection for all who serve this cause, including medical workers.