Ida Sawyer's statement on behalf of Human Rights Watch at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 20, 2017.

Thank you Mr. President,

I wish to tell you a story about a 5-year-old girl who we’ll call “Marie” who lives in Kasai Central province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. On March 29, Marie was playing outside with her sister when they heard gunshots. Marie’s mother quickly told them to go inside and hide under the bed. After the gunshots stopped, they came out from under the bed.

Still from a video posted on the internet on February 17, 2017 showing men in Congolese army uniforms fatally shooting at least 13 alleged militia members.

Marie described what happened next: “Mama was sitting on her chair, feeding the baby, when we heard people knock down the door. [Soldiers] entered the house and [...] shot Mama. She cried out, and one of the soldiers insulted her, saying she was ‘trash.’ The bullet hit Mama in the chest, and the same bullet hit the baby she was holding in her arms. I started to shout and cry. My older sister tried to hide under the table, but they shot her too. Then I ran out of the house. But while I was fleeing, they shot me in the stomach.” Marie survived, but her mother and two siblings all died that day.

This is one of the many tragic stories our colleagues and Congolese partners have documented in the Kasais. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been killed since last August. Human rights teams have uncovered at least 42 mass graves, most of which are believed to be the work of the Congolese military. Some 1.3 million people have been displaced - more than anywhere else in the world during the same period. More than 600 schools have been attacked or destroyed, and more than 1.5 million children affected.

Members of the Congolese security forces have been directly responsible for numerous rights abuses. The Congolese government has a long record of meddling in politically sensitive court cases, and the justice system has so far failed to conduct credible investigations into alleged crimes.

How much longer will the Human Rights Council remain indifferent to this worsening situation?

The Congolese government has failed to meet its obligations to investigate the alleged abuses in the Kasais. The Council should urgently create and deploy an independent international investigation – a commission of inquiry or similar mechanism – to help ensure justice. If the Congolese government has nothing to hide, it shouldn’t object to such an investigation.

Marie and the other victims of violence in the Kasais depend on it.

Thank you.