(New York) - Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting today in Geneva to increase the number of monitors reporting on the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo makes her report to the commission today.
“All the words in the world do little to help the victims suffering daily from this deadly war,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser on the Great Lakes in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “But more monitors in the field could deter some of the worst abuses against civilians. By documenting crimes, outside observers make justice possible and may even make killers and rapists think twice before targeting civilians.”
The Field Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has some 20 human rights officers in the Congo, but too few to monitor abuses throughout the vast territory. A U.N. peacekeeping force known as MONUC also has positions allocated for human rights observers, but some of them remain vacant. In addition, observers from the two systems fail to coordinate their actions effectively.
Human Rights Watch urged the Human Rights Commission to allocate more funds for monitors and to press the Security Council to recruit and deploy monitors assigned to MONUC as rapidly as possible, particularly in the troubled eastern Congo. The Security Council should also direct child protection and humanitarian advisers as well as human rights monitors attached to MONUC to accompany military observers into areas of conflict.
Although the ceasefire established by the Lusaka Agreement has ended fighting along the frontlines, soldiers of the Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan armies as well as a number of armed groups continue military operations in the eastern Congo far distant from the front lines. Civilians are regularly targeted in these clashes.
In recent months in the Ugandan-held areas of northeastern Congo, thousands of civilians have died and tens of thousands more been displaced in clashes between Hema and Lendu ethnic militia. Fighting between the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement (RCD-ML) and its rival, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC) has aggravated the situation, as has interference by Ugandan soldiers.
In the Rwandan-dominated region of South Kivu, Congolese Tutsi known as Banyamulenge are fighting against the Rwandan army and its local ally, the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Goma (RCD-Goma). Some people of the Bambembe and Bafulero groups reportedly have joined the Banyamulenge to challenge Rwandans, whom they regard as an occupying army and the RCD-Goma. On March 20 the insurgents ousted RCD-Goma troops from the area of Minembwe. Local sources report that Rwandan reinforcements have moved to the area, perhaps to assist the RCD-Goma in trying to retake the region.
“Denouncing these horrors is not enough,” said Des Forges. “The U.N. must find the resources and the political will to put monitors out there so that abusers will be known and can be held accountable for their crimes.”