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Briefing to the 59th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights on Democratic Republic of Congo

Objective

Human Rights Watch calls on the Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, condemning war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international humanitarian law that have been committed by armed groups and foreign government armies in eastern DRC, specifically Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu provinces. The resolution should name the different armies and armed groups that have perpetrated such violence, as well as denounce the role of the DRC government in supporting armed groups in eastern DRC, such as the RCD-ML.

The resolution should specifically name as perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian law the Ugandan Defence People's Force (UPDF), the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), and several armed groups, including the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), the Congolese Rally for Democracy/ Liberation Movement (RCD-ML), the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the Congolese Rally for Democracy/Goma (RCD-Goma), as well as Mai Mai rebels and Rwandan and Burundian Hutu armed groups. The DRC government has backed and equipped the RCD-ML and possibly other armed groups in the east.

The resolution should also call upon the DRC government to comply fully with its obligations under international law; in particular, to bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, to allow human rights defenders and government critics to speak out freely, to disband the Military Order Court (COM) and to reinstate the moratorium on executions.

The Commission should renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DRC.

War abuses

During 2002, there was significant diplomatic progress towards a peaceful settlement of the DRC war. Following the signing of the peace accords between Rwanda and DRC (July 2002) and Uganda and DRC (September 2002), foreign troops from Rwanda and Uganda were largely withdrawn, though smaller numbers remained in DRC territory. In December 2002, Congolese warring parties and civilian actors signed an agreement on political transition in the DRC. Yet, armed groups and in some cases foreign armies continued to fight in the eastern parts of the country, and civilians remained the primary victims of the war in eastern DRC. During 2002, hundreds of civilians were killed by different armed groups. In May 2002, RCD-Goma forces killed at least 80 people in Kisangani in response to a short-lived mutiny. In the second half of 2002, armed groups fighting for control over Ituri province and adjacent parts of North Kivu killed hundreds of civilians. Combatants continued to submit women and girls to horrific acts of sexual violence, a pattern documented previously by Human Rights Watch. Government forces and armed groups in eastern DRC continue to recruit and use children as soldiers. In many cases, the fighting was motivated by a brutal quest for natural resources such as timber, diamonds, gold, coltan and other minerals.

Humanitarian crisis

The war in DRC has sparked a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions. Over two million people are currently displaced in eastern DRC, often without any access to humanitarian aid, and their numbers are rising.

Human rights defenders

Whether in government or rebel-held areas, human rights defenders were frequently targeted for their peaceful investigative and public activities. In Kinshasa, a leading human rights defender, Nsii Luanda, has been detained by the government since April 2002. In Bukavu, an independent radio station, run by civil society groups, Radio Maendeleo, has been shut down since December 2002 by the RCD-Goma, and its highest officials were detained for several days. In Ituri, a human rights defender named Honoré Musoko was held for several days in September 2002.

Justice and accountability

The justice system has collapsed in many parts of the country. In other areas, such as the government-held areas and the main cities in the east, institutions to deliver justice are formally in place, but are highly dependent on the political authorities. As a result, trials do not conform to minimum standards of fairness. In many other cases courts in the DRC have perpetuated impunity by allowing suspected criminals linked to political power to go free.

In January 2003, the trial of 135 men and women before the Military Order Court (COM) in Kinshasa, accused of involvement in the assassination of former President Laurent-Désiré Kabila, came to an end. 26 were sentenced to death and most others received prison sentences. The judges on the COM are members of the military or the security services and there is no right to appeal against COM sentences.

On January 7, fifteen people on death row were executed at a military camp near Kinshasa. This was the first time that executions took place since President Kabila imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in early 2001.

Dealing with past human rights abuses will be an important challenge for any post-conflict transition. There is broad agreement in DRC that war crimes and crimes against humanity cannot go unpunished, and various segments of civil society and some in the government have begun to call for the establishment of an international criminal tribunal of some type.

Recommendations

The Commission on Human Rights should:

  • Condemn war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed by foreign armies and armed groups in eastern DRC, specifically Ituri, North and South Kivu, and call on all warring parties to stop targeting civilians through killings, sexual violence, child recruitment, and other unlawful acts. The resolution should name the different armies and armed groups that have perpetrated such violence, as well as denounce the role of the DRC government in supporting armed groups such as the RCD-ML.
  • Urge the U.N. Security Council to ensure that the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), "protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence" as stated in its mandate, and that a substantial number of these forces be deployed to eastern and northeastern Congo.
  • Call upon the DRC government to comply fully with its human rights obligations; in particular, to bring perpetrators of abuses to justice, to allow human rights defenders and government critics to speak out freely, to disband the Military Order Court (COM) and to reinstate the moratorium on executions.
  • Renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the DRC and provide her with the necessary resources for meaningful interventions. Request her to undertake several visits to DRC in the coming months, including to crisis areas such as Kivu and Ituri.
  • Strengthen the Field Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC by increasing its international staff and its budget to allow them to carry out meaningful work.
  • Call upon the DRC government and all Congolese and foreign actors to ensure that perpetrators of abuses, including foreign nationals on all sides, are held accountable.
  • Urge the U.N. Security Council to establish a U.N. Commission of Experts to determine responsibility for grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the DRC since 1993, consult widely with government authorities and civil society in the DRC, and recommend an appropriate justice mechanism for the DRC.

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