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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk concludes his official visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

18 April 2024

IDPs in Bulengo camp near Goma, North Kivu province, DRC

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Good evening, thank you for coming.

This is my first visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, although I have been here several times before. I thank the President for the invitation, and I am grateful for the excellent cooperation with the Government and all our partners.

The vastness of this nation - that is the geographical size of Western Europe - is striking. The DRC is vastly rich in the resilience and strength of its people. It also has abundant natural resources.

This country could, quite simply, be one of the richest countries in the world.

Instead, it is today one of the poorest.

The country’s human rights challenges are numerous and complex. Let me focus on the situation in the eastern provinces, where there is an exhausted and profoundly traumatised population, devastated by decades of war and conflict.

In North Kivu, the M23 armed group continues to sow terror – killing and abducting local people, and also frequently targeting human rights defenders, journalists and community leaders. Children are being forcibly recruited into their ranks. Since October, 500,000 people have been displaced from areas controlled by M23, taking the total number of people displaced in North Kivu to nearly 2.7 million.

In Ituri, in addition to inter-community clashes between the CODECO and Zaire armed groups, the ADF (Allied Democratic Forces) armed group increased its attacks against the civilian population, leading to several gross human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law. To date, there are some 1.8 million displaced people in the province.

National security forces and militias, like the Wazalendo, are also committing human rights violations that must be prevented.

During my stay, I visited camps for internally displaced people in Bunia, Ituri Province, and in Goma, North Kivu Province. While the conflicts taking place in these two provinces differ, the result is, tragically, similar.  People at both sites described how they had fled the fighting and were now desperate for help and support. They also voiced their deep desire to return home. As one human rights defender told me: “War has stolen everything from us, including our future”.

There has been a marked increase in the number of victims of sexual violence, in areas where fighting is taking place, but also in the camps. At the Bulengo IDP camp in Goma, those I spoke with described how women were attacked as they fetched firewood to prepare meals, and how some women and girls were forced to sell themselves in order to survive.

It is imperative that the State is able to fully play its role in the east, to enforce security but also to provide essential services such as education and health. The state must also provide effective remedies, including access to justice through a fair and efficient judicial system.

Those countries that support or have influence over the armed groups must assume their responsibility to ensure the fighting stops. In North Kivu, any role played by Rwanda in supporting the M23 must end, and a solution must be found urgently. The same goes for any country that is supporting armed groups active in the DRC.  

All Congolese people have a right to peace. Without peace there will be no development and progress.

One of the root causes of many of these conflicts is the exploitation of the DRC’s natural resources that impoverishes rather than benefits the local population. The Government, as well as regional and international powers, have obligations here. The private actor also has important responsibilities, including businesses that extract resources, such as coltan, that are so valuable for the world.

All of us use mobile phones which are made possible, largely, thanks to the DRC’s resources. The world cannot continue to consume at the expense of the Congolese people. Everyone has to ask themselves where their responsibility lies.

The immediate concern for the people affected by conflict is their security. The Congolese authorities and the international community must continue to work in partnership to avoid a protection vacuum that further endangers civilians.

I have real concerns about what could happen to civilians should there be a rushed withdrawal of the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). National and other regional and international forces play a key role here. During my meetings, I urged the South African Development Community mission in the DRC (SAMIDRC), to establish and implement a robust human rights and international humanitarian law compliance framework to prevent civilian casualties and retain the essential support and trust of the population.

Impunity and lack of accountability are also root causes of the never-ending cycle of violence. I appreciate the steps recently taken by the authorities to hold some of those responsible for human rights violations and abuses to account, but more needs to be done.

Corruption within State institutions must be tackled effectively. The administration of justice needs strengthening. And the positive initial steps to pursue transitional justice to address the crimes of the past, provide justice to the victims, and foster sustainable peace and development for the country need to result in tangible, coherent and concrete action. This necessitates placing the victims and affected communities at the centre of the process.

I am concerned about the recent decision by the Government to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. The United Nations is clear on this matter. The death penalty should be abolished globally.

The vibrancy of Congolese civil society gives me hope. During my mission I met with human rights defenders in the east and here in Kinshasa. I was impressed by their sophistication, courage and commitment to human rights. Their security must at all times be protected and their work must be supported by us all. Maintaining and protecting an open, strong and free civic space are essential. Freedom of expression must be protected. The vital role of human rights defenders, journalists and political parties, must be respected.

I also urged the Government to redouble efforts to ensure there is zero tolerance for incitement to violence and hate speech.

Ultimately, there is a need to join efforts and strengthen social cohesion in the DRC. A strong social contract between the people and the Government is a fundamental element in moving this country forward, for the benefit of all.

My Office has been in the DRC since 1996, working with and for the Congolese people to achieve the protection and advancement of human rights. I can assure you that we are fully committed to continuing this work with the support of our international and national partners.

Thank you.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Liz Throssell (travelling with the High Commissioner): +41 22 917 9296 / [email protected]

In Kinshasa

Adèle Lukoki: +243 818907706 / [email protected]

In Geneva

Ravina Shamdasani: +41 22 917 9169 / [email protected] or
Marta Hurtado: +41 22 917 9466 / [email protected]

In Nairobi

Seif Magango: +254 788 343 897 / [email protected]


Anthony Headley – [email protected]

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