(Geneva, December 3, 2008) – The UN Human Rights Council’s resolution condemning abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo failed to include concrete steps to protect civilians, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The situation in eastern Congo desperately deserves the attention of the UN’s leading human rights body,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “But the Human Rights Council spent its energy on internal political struggles, rather than focusing on how it could save lives.”

The council concluded its special session on the situation in the eastern Congo, where government forces and allied militia have been battling a rebel force and United Nations peacekeepers have not been able to protect the civilian population. The council adopted a resolution expressing serious concern at the deteriorating situation in North Kivu, and called for an immediate end to human rights violations. The council also condemned acts of violence, in particular sexual violence, and stressed the importance of bringing all perpetrators to justice.

Unfortunately, the council limited its action to recalling a previous resolution for a group of independent experts and for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to it on the situation in Congo in March 2009.

“The council should have assessed why the international response to the situation in the Congo has failed to protect civilians and to propose alternatives,” said de Rivero. “Condemnation without action will not help the Congolese people.”

During the special session, Human Rights Watch called on the council to appoint a human rights envoy to the international team engaged in the peace mediation efforts and to accelerate the deployment of human rights monitors in eastern Congo. It also called for the council to recognize that the protecting civilians should be the primary objective of MONUC, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.

The top UN human rights official and newly appointed high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, addressed the council about the unparalleled violence against women, including rape.

She said her office had documented a steady deterioration of the human rights situation, with killings, kidnappings, and widespread looting committed by warring factions on a daily basis. She cautioned the council that Congo “runs the risk of becoming a case study in how peace processes can go awry without the will to make justice and accountability an integral part of these processes.”

“Unfortunately, the UN Human Rights Council failed to recognize its own added value in this crisis,” said de Rivero. “It missed the opportunity to put the protection of civilians at the heart of international mediation and the UN peacekeeping effort.”