With two new United Nations reports detailing human rights abuses – including possible war crimes – carried out by both Government forces and rebels in the volatile far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the world body’s top rights official today stressed the urgent need for reforming the country’s security and judicial systems.
Fundamental improvements in these sectors “are of paramount importance if both the authorities and the international community are serious about bringing lasting peace to eastern DRC,” High Commissioner Navi Pillay said.
The new publications are a joint effort of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and cover the period in late 2008 when heavy fighting engulfed North and South Kivu provinces.
One report focuses on the actions of Government troops, known by the acronym FARDC, some of whom took part in 12 arbitrary killings, as well as looting and sexual violence, of the very people they were supposed to protect in the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, and surrounding areas as they fled advancing forces from the mainly Tutsi rebel group known as the National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP).
“As human rights violations by the FARDC are so significant, failure at the political and operational levels to act to remedy the situation in and of itself constitutes a serious human rights violation,” the publication said.
The Government must take immediate and strong action on the violations committed by the Congolese armed forces, it emphasized. “Without profound change in the FARDC, the international community may be perceived as contributing to human rights violations as opposed to effectively supporting the desired change and this perception might affect its support to FARDC.”
Despite some positive changes in FARDC’s command structures in the wake of the Goma rampage, soldiers who committed these crimes remain in the area, according to local people.
The High Commissioner characterized the judicial response to the violations by the FARDC as “wholly insufficient.”
She added that “that has, unfortunately, generally been the case since the [civil] war officially ended in 2002, and is one of the reasons why progress on the human rights front since then has been so deeply unsatisfactory.”
The other report highlights the rights violations committed by the CNDP, including at least 67 cases of arbitrary executions, during the 5 November 2008 killings in Kiwanja, North Kivu.
Following intense fighting between the CNDP and the Mayi Mayi militia, the CNDP carried out reprisal killings of villagers, mostly young men suspected of being members or collaborators of the Mayi Mayi.
“The fact that killings took place simultaneously in several different areas of Kiwanja and that they were preceded, days before the events, by public warnings by CNDP authorities that in case of a Mayi Mayi attack, the population would be held responsible may suggest that, at least to a certain extent, the ‘opération ratissage’ was retaliatory in nature and ordered and condoned by the command of the CNDP,” the report found.
It also noted that in the aftermath of the attacks, MONUC was strongly criticized for not having protected civilians.
Not only is additional training of military personnel in peacekeeping operations necessary, the report said, but also, “the formulation of clearer criteria for exactly when peacekeepers are to intervene in order to protect civilians must take into account both the need for peacekeepers to possess knowledge of the dangers faced by civilians in a given situation, and the capacity of peacekeepers to make a positive difference in that situation.”
Ms. Pillay pointed out that the CNDP’s actions could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and “are part of a self-perpetuating pattern of brutality in eastern DRC which continues to go largely unpunished.
“I am deeply concerned that members of the CNDP who may be implicated in these crimes – especially Bosco Ntaganda, against whom there was already an International Criminal Court arrest warrant – are either still at large, or have even been absorbed into the FARDC.”
Laurent Nkunda, who led the CNDP at the time of the Kiwanja attacks, was taken into custody this January.
The High Commissioner voiced hope that the announcement of a zero-tolerance policy on sexual violence by the Government will be followed by “concrete and immediate action to hold perpetrators accountable, particularly since sexual violence continues to take place on a daily basis.”