Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “Enhanced interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo” (03.07.2018)
3 July 2018
Members of the International Team of experts,
This interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is both timely and important. The human rights situation remains of great concern across the country. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office has documented an increased number of violations: 2,858 from January to May this year, as compared to 2,332 during the same period in 2017 – and the real scale of violations is certainly even greater.
The security situation continues to deteriorate in several regions across the country, with dramatic impact on civilians.
I remain particularly concerned about the violence in South and North Kivu, and in the Kasai regions, with increasing activity by Nyatura and other Mayi-Mayi armed groups in North Kivu, as well as a Mayi-Mayi coalition led by William Yakutumba that is particularly active in South Kivu and, more recently, in the province of Maniema.
Interethnic and intercommunity violence has also continued in Ituri province between members of the Hema and Lendu communities, resulting in deaths, the burning of villages, and mass displacement. Recently deployed army troops are also alleged to have committed human rights violations, particularly targeting the Lendu community.
The situation in the Kasai regions is also deeply preoccupying, with severe abuses against civilians by armed groups, and multiple human rights violations committed by Congolese defence and security forces in their response to the activities of these militias. You will be appraised of the findings of the team of international experts dispatched by my Office in line with the Council’s Resolution 35/33. In this context, I would like to note that further to Resolution 35/33, my Office has also assisted the military authorities’ investigation in the Kasai regions, with two missions by forensic, judicial and witness protection experts.
These and other conflicts continue to drive very large numbers of people away from their homes and livelihoods – further deepening their vulnerability to violations, particularly in the case of women and children. According to OCHA, there are now 4.4 million internally displaced people in the DRC.
I strongly urge the authorities to abide by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law in all the conflict zones, namely Bas-Uélé, Haut-Uélé, South and North Kivu, Maniema, Tanganyika and the Kasai regions. I further urge much stronger efforts to hold the perpetrators of violations responsible. The perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence must also be held to account – even, and perhaps especially, when they are agents of the State.
Members of the Congolese armed forces, or FARDC, appear to have been responsible for fully one third of the violations and abuses, including sexual violence, which the UN Joint Human Rights Office has documented across all the conflict zones since the beginning of the year. These crimes do not only harm their victims: they damage the credibility of the authorities responsible for protection, inciting people to create or join irregular self-defence groups. I urge the Government to undertake the necessary measures to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators of these human rights violations. Effective justice will be a deterrent to prevent future violations by members of the military.
I note that in recent months there has been some limited progress in establishing accountability for past violations. In April, a Lieutenant Colonel was sentenced by the South Kivu military tribunal to a 20-year prison term for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including sexual slavery, as well as pillage and attacks on civilians, committed between 2005 and 2007.
I am also deeply troubled by numerous violations of human rights norms and principles in relation to people’s rights to participate in the democratic space. This persistent trend raises serious doubts about the credibility of the DRC’s long-delayed elections, which are now due to take place on 23 December 2018.
Regrettably, there has been no progress in implementing the confidence-building measures laid out in the 31 December 2016 political agreement, including respect for the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly, the release of all political prisoners, and accountability for human rights violations. The alleged perpetrators of violations, including those who have used disproportionate force to suppress demonstrations, continue to benefit from widespread impunity, undermining public trust in commitments made by the Government.
As requested, my Office has provided technical advice to the national commission of inquiry set up by the Government in response to the brutal attacks which took place during protests in December 2017 and January 2018. The report of the commission, which was released in March, concluded that members of the police and army committed human rights violations, including excessive use of force. It formulated a number of very pertinent recommendations, notably lifting the ban on public demonstrations, and restrictions on use of the military during demonstrations. I regret that to date most of these recommendations have not been implemented and that the consolidated report was transferred to the Ministry of Justice only last week.
Despite verbal commitments by the Minister of Human Rights to lift the ban on public demonstrations, the authorities continued to prohibit or repress activities organized by civil society and opposition parties. In March, April and May, my Office documented 61 violations of the right to freedom of assembly. For example, on 19 May, in Kindu, Maniema province, the launch of the opposition platform Ensemble pour le changement was banned by local authorities, although the President’s political party organised two public demonstrations in Kindu that same month without impediment.
Intimidation of human rights activists and journalists has intensified, with many suffering regular threats to their lives and families. Multiple cases of arbitrary arrests and detention by the security forces continue to be documented by UNJHRO. Lengthy incommunicado detentions by intelligence services, without judicial review, are another matter of great concern and should be prohibited.
Moreover, legislation currently in preparation appears to be intended to further restrict public freedoms and the role of civil society in the DRC. These bills include a draft law on terrorism; a draft law on the protection and responsibilities of human rights defenders, which is currently before Parliament; and a draft law regulating the work of non-profit organizations. I strongly encourage Members of Parliament to refrain from adopting laws which fail to comply with the people’s human rights.
Landmark elections are approaching in a context characterised by continued restrictions of rights and freedoms, and a shrinking democratic space. The Government should be encouraged to prevent further erosion of the rights of the Congolese people at this crucial time, and to fully implement its commitments under the 31 December 2016 agreement, including the release of all political prisoners.
Measures to uphold human rights will also address many root causes of the conflicts now raging in the DRC, which have led to one of the continent’s largest caseloads of displaced people. Both national security and international security can only be obtained when individual security and rights are respected.
The work of the Office, through technical cooperation and monitoring, brings vital assistance to the authorities, including in the electoral process. We stand ready to provide further necessary support to the government to uphold the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people.
Thank you Mr President.