Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
46th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 22 March 2021
Madame Bintou Keita, whom I warmly welcome as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of MONUSCO,
In October, I advised this Council of the major concerns raised by my Office in its report A/HRC/45/49, which documented the devastating impact of armed conflict on the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I noted that some incidents highlighted in the report could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Since that presentation, the situation in the east of the country – notably North and South Kivu, and Ituri provinces –has continued to worsen. Our staff have continued to conduct investigations in areas suffering the ravages of armed groups.
The scale of the violence in the east of the DRC is alarming. In 2020, the Office verified the killing of at least 2,945 civilians, including 553 women and 286 children. During 2020, 21% more human rights violations were documented than in 2019. Violations were committed by a range of armed groups operating in vast areas where there is little or no presence of Congolese authorities, as well as by the Congolese military and police force.
The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office has issued five public reports on this deteriorating situation over the last 12 months. This year, an update on the situation in Ituri published in January reported the killing of 647 civilians between May and December 2020 in the context of the inter-community violence. An update on the area targeted by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in North Kivu that was published in February, reported a further 468 civilians killed between July and December 2020. The ADF were also responsible for at least 457 enforced disappearances last year.
Given this context of escalating bloodshed, and the country's history of intercommunal violence, I am deeply concerned that the current widespread increase in hate speech could further inflame conflict. From May to December 2020, our Office documented hate speech and messages inciting hatred in 15 provinces, as we reported two weeks ago in a public report. I reminded all stakeholders that rhetoric by politicians, community leaders, civil society actors and members of the Congolese diaspora, which incites violence and hatred not only contravene national law but also international human rights law.
Hate speech finds fertile ground in a context of political, social and economic, fragility. The weakness of the formal institutional framework for the peaceful management of land and inter-community violence; widespread impunity for violations and abuses of human rights; mistrust between communities, and discrimination against certain groups contribute to this terrain. They undermine hopes for national cohesion, lasting peace and the protection of civilians.
I call on the authorities to strengthen efforts to combat discrimination and hostility directed against people because of their ethnic, religious and gender identity. There must be an end to impunity for violations and abuses of human rights by members of all communities, in order to further peaceful coexistence.
Some efforts have been made by the national authorities to ensure accountability for human rights violations. During 2020, I understand that 118 FARDC soldiers, 60 PNC agents, 102 armed group combatants and 10 eco-guards were convicted on various counts. Our Office has continued to support accountability, including through Joint Investigation Teams and mobile court hearings organized by military and civil justice authorities.
I also note and commend recent and very encouraging initiatives to extend transitional justice to communities affected by violence, human rights violations and abuses. Community reintegration for former combatants, and work to ensure truth and accountability for serious violations and international crimes, can be crucial to lasting reconciliation. My Office, this Council's body of International Experts on the situation in the Kasai, and the Technical Assistance Team, including the forensic experts, will continue to provide support to all such efforts.
Our multiple reports and extensive and longstanding discussions of the human rights situation in the DRC should not numb us to the need to continue working for prevention. Behind these numbers stand thousands of individuals, including an enormous number of children, whose lives have been devastated by conflict – killed, tortured, suffered sexual violence, abducted, looted or forced to flee their homes, land and livelihoods. They have exactly the same fundamental human rights as every other human being – and today, they look to this Council to support those rights.
Thank you Madam President.