Statement by Nada Al- Nashif
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
5 October 2021
Geneva, Palais des Nation, Room XX
You have before you the report of the High Commissioner, A/HRC/48/47, which documents the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although some progress has been reported, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues to face important challenges, in particular the eastern provinces and requires an ever-closer cooperation between the Government, the United Nations and civil society in order to ensure that human rights are effectively protected and respected.
Despite an overall decrease in the number of violations and abuses reported during the period between 1 June 2020 and 31 May 2021, the number of victims of summary and extrajudicial executions by armed groups has risen during this period and the continuing violence poses serious challenges to the protection of civilians. The great majority of human rights abuses and violations continue to take place in areas of armed conflict. Some 93% of violations and abuses were documented in provinces where armed groups are active, particularly in North Kivu and Ituri, and to a lesser degree in South Kivu and Tanganyika provinces.
At least 5.3 million people are internally displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mainly because of ongoing conflicts. Globally, this is the second largest number of internally displaced persons in one single country.
During this period, though considerable efforts have been made by the Government to improve the behavior of the State security forces involved in military operations against armed groups, human rights violations continue to pose serious concerns, especially in Ituri province where the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office has documented a staggering increase of violations by the armed forces in Djugu territory from May to July 2021. These violations undermine efforts deployed to secure the east of the country. I urge the Government to take the necessary measures to ensure that military operations of the armed forces against armed groups are conducted in strict compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law and that violations by any members of the security forces are investigated and prosecuted promptly in accordance with the right to fair trial standards. Security forces should also take steps to minimize the negative effects of military operations on the protection of civilians.
I note that the Government declared a state of siege on 6 May in North Kivu and Ituri, placing these provinces under military jurisdiction. These measures have been successively renewed and are still in force. The state of siege has increased the caseload of the military justice with negative effects on the administration of justice, which has become overloaded. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office has supported assessment missions by the Minister of Human Rights to provinces under a state of siege from 26 August to 6 September 2021. This enabled the Minister to meet with important stakeholders from civil society, communities and state authorities to gather critical information and recommendations for actions to minimize the negative impact of the state of siege on human rights. I call on the Government to continue closely monitoring the situation and most importantly follow-up on recommendations gathered from the field. It is essential that as soon as conditions allow, power is returned to the civilian administration in the provinces where a state of siege persists.
During the reporting period, at least 107 members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 55 Congolese National Police officers, and 134 members of armed groups have been convicted of committing acts constituting human rights violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. This is encouraging and it is critical to ensure that investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators of violations and abuses continue to be undertaken in accordance with fair trial standards, including in the Kasai province, and in relation to those alleged to be responsible for sexual violence.
As the High Commissioner has stated during previous sessions of the Human Rights Council, transitional justice is a key to unblocking the vicious circle of violence that persists in the DRC. The establishment of transitional justice mechanisms needs to effectively address impunity, guarantee access to justice and redress for victims, and ensure the implementation of guarantees of non-repetition. Such measures should go hand in hand with demobilization, disarmament and reintegration programmes for former combatants.
I am encouraged by the Government's current commitment to transitional justice and the steps that have been taken to establish a national holistic transitional justice framework. I am also encouraged by regional developments in transitional justice, including the establishment of a provincial truth, justice, and reconciliation in the Kasai. It is essential that this political will is maintained. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office stands ready to continue supporting the implementation of this process by providing support to the Congolese authorities.
The Kasai technical assistance team, whose mandate was renewed by the Human Rights Council in October 2020, has contributed significantly to the transitional justice process in Kasai Central Province and throughout the DRC. Approximately 150 unmarked burial sites were identified, mapped, and arrangements are being made with the communities concerned and the authorities to bury the victims' remains in accordance with local customs. On 22 June 2021, ten human remains were buried in Tshisuku, Kasaï-Central province in respect of local customs in the presence of national and provincial authorities and customary chiefs. We intend to continue supporting this important work undertaken by forensic experts in other provinces affected by conflict.
There have been important positive developments concerning legislation during this period, which are worth highlighting. The National Assembly passed bills on the protection and promotion of rights of persons living with disabilities and on the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. I strongly encourage that progress also be made on bills on the protection and responsibilities of human rights defenders.
The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office documented a reduction in violations of civil and political rights. However, the office continued to receive alerts of attacks and threats against journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, and of the violent repression of several peaceful demonstrations, including during the state of siege. As the country heads towards national elections scheduled for December 2023, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage the authorities to consolidate the opening of democratic space observed since early 2019, including respect for the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in an inclusive democratic process, and ensure that reform of the electoral law and the selection process of members of the electoral commission is transparent and inclusive.
The level of hate speech and incitement to hatred and hostility throughout the country continues to be alarming. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office issued a report raising concerns on this phenomenon that continues to fuel conflicts and raises the risk of escalation of the political debate. While regional and national efforts are being deployed to prevent, address and repress hate speech and incitement to violence and hostility, I encourage political and community leaders to engage their militants and supporters to refrain from hate speech and use peaceful means of communication and debate. This is the only way to ensure that the electoral process is fair and peaceful.
To conclude, I would like to underline that as MONUSCO continues its gradual and responsible withdrawal from several provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in line with the joint transition plan submitted to the Security Council, the Joint Human Rights Office will continue to monitor and report on the human rights situation, provide technical assistance throughout the country, and ensure that efforts are sustained through building local capacities for defending and promoting human rights. The support of Member States will be key to continuing with the assistance.
Thank you, Madam President!