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Statement by Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, at the Human Rights Council's Interactive Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Geneva, 22 March 2017

Mr. President, Excellencies, The human rights situation in the DRC deteriorated in 2016 and recent months. Our Office released in January an overview of human rights trends in 2016, which highlights an increase of about 30% of the human rights violations committed in the country compared to 2015. This increase can be explained by two factors: 1) violations related to restricting democratic space, including repression of fundamental freedoms by state actors in the context of postponing national elections; and 2) by the resurgence of activities of several armed groups.

Regarding the events surrounding the date of 19 December 2016, marking the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second and last constitutional mandate, our Office documented the killing from of at least 40 people, including five women and two children, and the wounding of 147 individuals, including 14 women and 18 children. This was the result of the disproportionate use of force and the use of live ammunition by defence and security forces aimed at preventing civilians from protesting. UN staff have personally witnessed incidents in which security officers opened fire at point blank range on civilians and our office has documented such shootings including minors and women. The actual number of victims may be much higher, as the UNJHRO’s work was impeded by security officers who denied access to important detention facilities, hospitals and morgues, rendering impossible the access to some victims and at times even threatening and intimidating UN human rights teams. These restrictions are contrary to the Memorandum of Understanding between our Office and the Government. In December, as it did last September, the Government exclusively blamed the demonstrators for the casualties registered, while stating that judicial institutions would conduct investigations. However, to our knowledge, no member of the security and defence forces has been held accountable for documented cases of serious human rights violations, including killings.

OHCHR does not take sides with one party against the other. We also condemn the use of violence by demonstrators during public gatherings or marches in the DRC. Members and sympathisers of political parties and CSOs should know that they have the responsibility to exercise their right to “freedom of peaceful assembly”, in a peaceful manner, and not organize violent demonstrations. I therefore strongly condemn the killing of two police officers during the December events and the destruction of public and private property. All those involved in such acts should be accountable for their deeds.

I take note of the figures provided by the Minister of Human Rights a few days ago during the high level segment (she mentioned that 19 persons were killed, not 40 as OHCHR stated). The point here is not for us to take a confrontational position, nor to enter in a war of statistics, but rather to engage in a constructive dialogue which serves to improve the protection of human rights in the country. To that end, and as a matter of routine, our Office in the DRC meets regularly with relevant judicial authorities at all levels to share information on cases of human rights violations for appropriate action to be taken. We are ready to support an independent, transparent and credible investigation into the December events that results in justice for the victims.

During my visit to the DRC last November, I made a similar offer with regard to the September killings of demonstrators. I welcomed that this offer was accepted in principle. But there has been no follow-up by the DRC authorities, in spite of reminders.

As part of prevention measures to reduce violations in the context of demonstrations, security forces must use force only as a last resort and in compliance with the principles of necessity, proportionality and legality, when facing an immediate threat. The use of force should always be followed by a credible investigation, in line with international standards, and must be the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, DRC officials should refrain from using military forces such as the Republican Guard and military police to conduct crowd control, as they are not trained or equipped for such law enforcement tasks. We also call on the DRC authorities to urgently adopt the law on freedom of peaceful protests and the law on human rights defenders. OHCHR and MONUSCO made relevant recommendations in the joint report on the December events, released on 1 March 2017, and I urge DRC authorities to implement them. This is extremely important for the coming months as the DRC should move towards implementing the 31 December political agreement and preparing for the next presidential elections, which might witness further violence if democratic space is not guaranteed as per the Congolese Constitution.

We are also deeply concerned about violence in what the Government has termed “non-conflict zones”. The killings, injuries, destruction of property and other violations documented in the Kasais and Lomani provinces, in the context of the Kamuina Nsapu crisis represent a serious threat to peace in the country.

We deployed fact-finding missions to Kasai Central to verify allegations of serious violations of human rights committed since August 2016 and that continue to result in killings, especially of civilians. Since October, our Office and MONUSCO have regularly shared reports on those allegations with the authorities. The results of these investigations also indicate that between January 1 and February 23, 2017, in three territories in Kasai Central, 99 people (including at least 18 children) were killed, 42 people (including 20 children) were shot and wounded, 46 children were arbitrarily arrested and illegally detained, and at least seven children were subjected to enforced disappearance by FARDC soldiers for their alleged affiliation with the militia of Kamuina Nsapu.

In Tshimbulu on 10 February 2017, at least 40 alleged Kamuina Nsapu militiamen, including several minors, were allegedly shot dead by the FARDC in clashes with the militia, mostly unarmed or armed with bladed weapons. Some of the victims were reportedly shot by elements of the FARDC, either while injured and lying on the ground, or while seeking shelter in houses.

Our Human Rights investigators visited at least two mass graves where they could see limbs of dead bodies sticking out of the soil. These bodies are reported to be those of the people killed by the FARDC on 10 February 2017 in Tshimbulu. The dead bodies had allegedly been moved in military trucks and then buried by the FARDC. There was credible information about a third mass grave in the same location that the human rights investigation team could not visit. The geographical coordinates of the three mass graves have been shared with the Government, in addition to the seven others shared with DRC officials in December 2016. This brings to 10 the total number of mass graves confirmed in the context of this crisis, and there are allegations of at least a further seven mass graves that our teams are seeking to verify. Urgent deployment of forensic and ballistic expertise would establish who is responsible for these mass graves. The verification is not always simple as sometimes our teams are threatened by security officers for doing their critical work as happened last week in Nkonko when army officers tried to prevent our team from accessing a mass grave site.

We condemn any excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings by defense and security forces, and call on those forces to strictly abide by international human rights standards during its operations, particularly to exercise restraint and to use force only when necessary and proportionate to the threat, to minimize damage and injury, and to respect and preserve human lives. Military commanders should reinforce this message to their troops.

With regards Kamuina Nsapu militiamen, we condemn that militia’s practice of killing state actors and recruiting children into its ranks, and also its targeting of state symbols and institutions, such as government buildings, police stations and churches. Our office confirmed at least two victims of summary execution by “armes blanches” (non-firearms), one child injured, and one victim of abduction. In addition, at least seven private houses, two police stations, and two schools were set ablaze by the militia.

As the clashes are ongoing, many allegations of violations and abuses by both parties continued to be reported during this month. For example, on 9 March 2017, Kamuina Nsapu reportedly made an incursion in Lomami province where they decapitated two policemen and took away their heads. Furthermore, on 11 March 2017, in Mwene Ditu, alleged members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia attacked the city, resulting in the killings of about 30 civilians, including at least nine minors and a woman in clashes with the police. It was also reported that between 14 and 15 March 2017, FARDC and PNC agents killed between 35 and 100 people in Nganza commune in Kasai Central province for their alleged affiliation with Kamuina Nsapu including three minors shot in the head by the PNC agents after having been forced to lie unarmed on the floor. The bodies were taken away in a police truck. Our office is in the process of the verification of these and many other allegations that reflect a decidedly bleak picture of the conflict in the Kasais.

In addition, the conflict between Twa and Luba communities in Tanganyika province has witnessed a new wave of violence leaving at least 127 people killed since September 2016. We are appalled by the number of incidents of rape and sexual violence documented in this conflict: over 120 victims of sexual violence, including some gang-raped, since July 2016.

These accounts show the seriousness of the crisis in the Kasais which, has been spreading since last August. While welcoming the deployment of a Commission of senior military magistrates to Kasai Oriental and Kasai Central, upon President Kabila’s instruction to launch an investigation into the allegations and incidents reported, we reiterate our call to this Council to urgently establish an international Commission of Inquiry into these events.

Given the ongoing violence, we also urge the DRC authorities to increase efforts to find durable and peaceful solutions to conflicts, in particular with customary chiefs in Kasai Central Province. Everything possible has to be done to stop this crisis now. The HC and his Office will keep this Council updated on relevant developments in the DRC, both regarding repression by the State of fundamental freedoms, and also the conflict between the Government and armed groups.

Thank you.​​​​​​​​