Human Rights Watch welcomed the visit of Mary Robinson,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic
of Congo (D.R.C).
We see it as a positive step forward that Mrs. Robinson will go and see herself the situation in eastern D.R.C., an area where suffering and death have taken a toll of undescribable proportions, and where war crimes are being committed right now, " said Peter Takirambudde, Director of HRW's Africa division.
Human Rights Watch suggested that Mary Robinson insist on U.N. investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the eastern part of D.R.C. The organization urged investigations into recent killings of civilians, in particular investigations into reports that:
- in Lusungu, Shabunda territory, South Kivu, dozens of civilians were killed on 25 August 2000 by Mai Mai rebels when the civilians tried to leave an area controlled by them;
- in Lusende, Fizi territory, South Kivu, rebel RCD soldiers killed 35 civilians on the night of 29 June 2000;
- in Katogota territory, South Kivu, RCD soldiers killed at least 30, possibly many more, civilians on 15 May 2000;
- in Sake, Masisi territory, North Kivu armed men attacked a displaced camp and killed around 34 civilians on 9 July 2000;
- in Kibirizi, Rutshuru territory, North Kivu, armed men killed 34 civilians on 31 May 2000.
- In Ituri province, northeastern Congo, soldiers of the Ugandan army and their local allies of the RCD-ML rebel faction took sides in a local interethnic conflict responsible for thousands of deaths and the uprooting of tens of thousands of rural villagers.
"The UN should conduct a full and independent investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the D.R.C. since 1996, as mandated by the Commission on Human Rights and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice," added Takirambudde. Atrocities against civilians have been committed by Hutu armed groups, Mai Mai rebels, the ruling Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD) and its ally, the Rwandan Patriotic Army, as well as other armed groups operating in the region.
UN investigations into war crimes must include solid research on a pattern of sexual violence committed against women, Human Rights Watch said. Armed groups as well as RCD soldiers have repeatedly gang-raped and sexually tortured women civilians, sometimes during attacks on villages. Sexual violence is used to terrorize the population, and today many women are traumatized by the sexual violence they have experienced, if they have survived it at all.
Human Rights Watch also called on Mary Robinson to strengthen the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner's Field Office in the D.R.C., in particular the office in eastern D.R.C. which has only two staff.