Justice essential to breaking cycle of conflict in DR Congo, UN rights chief says

28 November 2008

Outbreaks of bloodshed will continue to occur in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where in the past few months escalating conflict has uprooted a quarter of a million people, unless impunity is ended for those guilty of the worst violations, the top United Nations human rights official said today in Geneva.

“The DRC runs the risk of becoming a case study in how peace processes can go awry without the will to make justice and accountability an integral part of these processes,” Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a special session on the human rights situation in the east of the vast African nation.

The DRC has been trying to consolidate stability following a brutal six-year civil war – widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II – that ended earlier this decade and cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease. Serious unrest has continued sporadically in recent years, despite the official end of the war.

Fighting has stepped up in recent weeks between Government forces (FARDC) and a rebel militia known as the Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP), led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda. Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.

Ms. Pillay told the 47-member Council today that her office has documented a worsening human rights situation in North Kivu, with executions, kidnappings and looting occurring daily.

“The prevailing culture of impunity contributes to this wide range of serious human rights violations,” she said, adding that “unparalleled violence” against women continues, with rape being a particular concern.

The High Commissioner said Government forces had been involved in pillaging, rapes and killings in Goma, North Kivu’s capital. But such acts are not confined to North and South Kivu provinces, she underscored, pointing to the violations committed by other “brutal forces” in the region, including Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

“Past peace agreements have enabled well-known perpetrators of atrocities to be integrated into the army and police,” Ms. Pillay said. “This has exacerbated the current climate of impunity in the DRC, empowered human rights violators and further endangered the Congolese population.”

Four UN human rights experts today voiced their serious concern over violations in the country’s east, calling on warring parties to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as abide by ceasefire commitments and allow aid workers access to the vulnerable.

“The international community has a responsibility to protect and should provide MONUC, the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in the DRC, with the capacity to protect civilians at risk, where and when State authorities fail to do so,” according to a statement by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Yakin Ertürk, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative on the human rights of IDPs.

In a related development, former Nigerian president and the Secretary-General’s envoy Olusegun Obasanjo will be returning to the region today to resume diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in the DRC’s east.

It was announced today that he is slated to visit Kinshasa tomorrow and Goma on Sunday, with other regional stops planned along the way.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today reported that it has begun the voluntary transfer of displaced Congolese from camps in Kibati, on Goma’s northern outskirts.

The agency’s vehicles will take the first group of people with special needs such as disabilities and chronic illnesses will be transported to Muganga I camp, one of four sites in the area.

This is the first of several movements which will continue through the weekend, UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva, and about 1,000 are expected to be moved to the camp by next week.

Shelter and basic services will be provided at the camp, and the new arrivals will join 25,000 other IDPs who have been sheltering there since 2006.

Ground has been broken on construction at Mugunga III, a new site proposed for voluntary relocation of the displaced who will travel from Kibati on foot.

Mr. Spindler also said that thousands of Congolese refugees have fled across the border to Uganda in the past two days to escape a new round of fighting and attacks by armed assailants in Rutshuru in North Kivu.

UNHCR staff have reported that 13,000 IDPs had entered the south-west Uganda border town of Ishasha, while 10,000 people crossed into the country today. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern that the new arrivals may be carrying diseases, such as cholera, with them, and has been distributing clean water there.

After the latest influx, there are now 150,000 refugees in Uganda, one-third of them from the DRC, Mr. Spindler said.

For its part, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that relief has been reaching South Lubero, nearly 200 kilometres north of Goma, but cautioned that inaccessibility in certain areas could lead to an increase in malnutrition cases.


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