Democratic Republic of Congo Needs More Expert Help, Not Less
March 27, 2008
The Human Rights Council should be expanding its work on Congo, not abandoning it. Congo urgently needs independent human rights expertise, which could help to save lives.
Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director

The UN Human Rights Council’s failure to renew the mandate of the expert for the Democratic Republic of Congo is a betrayal of its responsibilities toward the Congolese people, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The Human Rights Council put politics before people by deciding not to renew the expert mandate on the Congo,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Downgrading the council’s work in Congo despite the recent rapes and killings is inexplicable and could have tragic consequences.”

The move to discontinue the mandate for an expert on the Democratic Republic of Congo was led by Egypt as coordinator of the African group. The African group has taken the position that human rights experts should only be appointed by the Human Rights Council when the government of the country at issue agrees the situation warrants such attention. This approach rewards non-cooperation with the council, Human Rights Watch said, and gives states responsible for serious human rights violations a veto over the council’s ability to fulfill its mandate.

In the past months, Congo’s President Joseph Kabila had privately indicated his support to diplomats for the renewal of the expert mandate. That pledge was not translated into action, however, and Congolese officials in Geneva lobbied for the mandate to end. Despite initial support for the mandate, European Union member states agreed to abandon it for a weak compromise that provides for a discussion on the human rights situation in Congo at the council only in March 2009.

“It’s shocking that states which supported continued work on Congo wouldn’t stand up and be counted,” de Rivero said. “Congo’s people can’t wait another year for the council and its members to show some backbone.”

The council’s decision flies in the face of the serious human rights violations that continue in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Despite historic elections in 2006, Congo’s human rights situation remains deeply troubling. In the past year alone, hundreds of civilians have been killed and thousands of women and girls raped by militia groups and soldiers of the Congolese army. An estimated 30,000 children continue to serve as child soldiers in various armed groups.

In eastern Congo, the signing of a ceasefire agreement in Goma on January 23, 2008 raised hopes that the armed conflict would be contained, but tensions have again mounted as details emerged of renewed killing of civilians in the region. These add to the estimated 5 million civilian deaths throughout the country since 1998, a toll that makes Congo’s conflict more deadly to civilians than any other since World War II.

In western Congo, security forces used excessive force to put down at times violent protests by the political-religious group Bundu Dia Kongo, resulting in the deaths of at least 68 people, according to United Nations estimates. Thousands of people have been displaced.

Given the gravity of the human rights abuses in Congo, the continuation of the expert mandate should have been a foregone conclusion. In response to the egregious abuses in the eastern parts of Congo, Human Rights Watch has called for an additional special adviser to be appointed to monitor the human rights obligations of the Goma ceasefire agreement and assist the parties in bringing an end to such abuses.

“The Human Rights Council should be expanding its work on Congo, not abandoning it,” de Rivero said. “Congo urgently needs independent human rights expertise, which could help to save lives.”