Statement by Mr. Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
41st Human Rights Council session - Item 10
9 July 2019
It is an honour to again engage with you on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This March, I referred to the political transition following the December 2018 elections as an extraordinary opportunity for the country to move forward towards greater respect for human rights and accountability for past and ongoing violations. I also welcomed President Tshisekedi’s clear commitment to guarantee respect for the rights of all citizens and end discrimination.
Since then, we welcome signs of an opening up of the democratic space. We have seen the release of many political prisoners and prisoners of opinion, including emblematic cases, the return of political exiles and the holding of several peaceful demonstrations.
In another encouraging development since the beginning of the year, several armed groups and militias have expressed interest in voluntary disarmament. I call on the Congolese authorities to ensure that human rights norms and principles are fully integrated in any DDR process, which will be initiated in this regard.
In the first five months of this year, the UN Joint Human Rights Office documented 2,629 human rights violations throughout the country. This is a slight decrease compared to the previous period and due to a reduction on the part both of State agents, particularly from the national police, and armed groups. 60% of violations documented were attributable to state agents.
It is our strong hope that these positive developments will be sustained, as many challenges remain. Obstacles persist with regard to freedom of expression, with attacks and threats against human rights defenders and civil society actors and instances of repression of peaceful protests. Conflict-related human rights violations also increased during the reporting period, with an alarming escalation of inter-community violence, primarily in Ituri.
In North Kivu, the province most affected by conflict, the human rights situation remains extremely worrying. Between January and May, our Office documented over a thousand (1,025) human rights violations there. Armed group combatants were responsible for most of these violations, including summary killings of 87 civilians in Masisi territory.
Human rights concerns in North Kivu have been compounded by the outbreak of Ebola, particularly as attacks against treatment centres and response teams are in the rise. In some incidents, reported cases of disproportionate use of force by members of the defence and security forces against attackers as well as demonstrators protesting against the medical campaigns have resulted in casualties. Despite the undesirable security challenges in the Ebola-affected areas, the use of force by State agents need to comply with international law.
Our Office is also concerned about the deteriorating situation in Ituri, where we have seen many civilian deaths and large-scale displacement. Following reports of attacks on multiple villages in the territories of Djugu and Mahagi, the Joint Human Rights Office documented that at least 117 people were killed between 10 and 13 June. Decapitated corpses, including women and children in school uniforms, were witnessed in various locations of Tche. The victims belonged to the Hema and Alur communities, whereas the attackers are reported to be unidentified individuals from the Lendu community. At least 78,000 people have reportedly been newly displaced by the violence. There are allegations that the FARDC were not present in the locations despite recurrent attacks in the area.
This increase in violations by the FARDC and armed groups, and the frequent outbreaks of inter-community massacres, are occurring while MONUSCO is downsizing. The reduction of the budget of the Mission is significantly affecting the work of the already stretched Joint Human Rights Office, a pillar of MONUSCO’s mandate, notably for the protection of civilians and for its monitoring and reporting work.
In the three Kasai provinces, despite a decrease in armed clashes since the beginning of the year, the Kamwina Nsapu and Bana Mura militias remain active. Between January and May, State agents were responsible for 83% of all violations in these provinces. The UN Joint Human Rights Office continued to assist the judiciary in its investigations into serious human rights violations and at least six joint investigation missions were conducted in the region in May and June 2019. As a result, at least 405 victims and witnesses presented their statements to the Military Prosecutor. However, there has so far been little progress beyond the pre-trial phase. We urge the Government to pursue its efforts towards independent and impartial investigations into the crimes committed.
A technical assistance team deployed by OHCHR – and mandated by this Council – to provide advisory services to the judicial authorities to complete their investigations concerning allegations of violations committed in the Kasai provinces, has made significant inroads in its cooperation with the authorities. The team conducted training on investigations and prosecutions for the Military Prosecutor’s office and police in the Kasai region.
Until last month, in Tshisuku, five forensic experts of the team supported the Military Prosecutor with excavations of alleged mass graves to collect evidence. Their expertise has also allowed the training of local police and judiciary investigation partners in the management of forensic information, recovery and analysis of crime scenes. This support will assist in efforts to ensure accountability, and, importantly, enable victims to be identified and their remains returned to their loved ones.
I would like to express our gratitude to the authorities for their cooperation with the Team of International Experts for the Kasai. I look forward to hearing the presentation of their report today on the Government’s efforts to fight against impunity and promote reconciliation.
At this important juncture for the DRC, solid support from the international community is critical for the Congolese people and society to advance on human rights protection and benefit from greater development and prosperity. Our Office looks forward to continue working closely with the President and the Congolese institutions in this regard, and to ensure accountability for continuing human rights violations throughout the country.