The human rights challenges faced by the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are well known to this Council.
In a country with abundant resources, and which is so extraordinarily fertile and spacious that observers suggest it could feed half of Africa, 26.4 million people (or one in four Congolese) are acutely food insecure. Weak governance, and poor access to essential infrastructure and public services in many areas has profound impact on economic and social rights, including to education and health. And due to the violence of numerous armed groups 6 million people are internally displaced, the highest number on the African continent.
Several aspects of the human rights situation have further deteriorated since our last update to the Council, in October 2022.
Armed violence has intensified in eastern provinces, notably in Ituri and North Kivu, where the M23, ADF, CODECO, Zaïre and Nyatura armed groups continue to perpetrate despicable attacks against the civilian population, with complete impunity. Since October 2022, at least 1,338 people including 107 children have been killed in these eastern provinces.
Areas that have in the past been generally spared have also seen outbreaks of violence, notably the provinces of Maï-Ndombe and Kwilu.
The targeting of civilians in conflict-affected areas has included vicious sexual violence, which has a history of being used in the DRC as a deliberate weapon of war and strategy of terror. In 2022, the UN Joint Human Rights Office documented and verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence against 701 victims, including 503 women, 11 men and 187 girls.
The violence that is endured by so many civilians in the DRC is fuelled by impunity and corruption, undermining State efforts to deliver basic services, establish order and prevent exploitative and violent business practices. As a result, the people are not only deprived of security; they are robbed of a rightful share in the wealth of the country.
Significant steps have been taken by the authorities in the fight against impunity. In 2022, at least 91 members of the defence and security forces, and at least 143 members of armed groups, were convicted for offences related to human rights violations and abuses. These are important achievements – both for the victims and in terms of their deterrent effect. However, the scale of violations and abuses that have been suffered demands much more action to stem widespread perceptions of impunity.
My Office is supporting judicial processes with respect to reported mass killings in Nyamamba and Mbogi, in Ituri province, in January 2023, as well as the mass killings in Kishishe, in North Kivu province, in November 2022. We are also supporting training and accountability efforts for armed forces personnel.
I take note of President Tshisekedi’s speech to this Council, and I welcome his commitment to addressing issues of accountability by exploring options that were presented in the 2010 Mapping Report by my Office. I strongly encourage the Government to make the fight against impunity the backbone of its strategy for the return of peace in conflict-affected areas My Office will continue to offer our support to such efforts.
The authorities have also made some significant efforts to create conditions for a return to peace in provinces affected by conflict. They include dialogue with armed groups, the development of disarmament, stabilisation and transitional justice programmes, as well as the implementation of free primary education and the “145 Territories” programme which aims to build heath and education infrastructure.
I strongly encourage accelerated implementation of the National Programme for Demobilisation, Disarmament, Community Reintegration and Stabilisation. It is important that this ambitious programme fully complies with human rights standards and is aligned with transitional justice initiatives – integrating the rights of victims and affected communities to justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition.
I welcome work by the East African Community and the African Union to promote peace and security in the east of the DRC, notably through political dialogue and the deployment of a regional force. It is essential that that all operations by the East African Community Regional Force are conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law. The rights of victims, and the need for accountability for the serious human rights violations and abuses that have been so widespread, also need to be at the heart of any political process.
The Government has made principled commitments to widen civic and political space. However, there needs to be far more concrete implementation of these promises. With presidential, legislative and local elections scheduled in December this year, I am deeply concerned by persistent restrictions on the Congolese people’s fundamental freedoms and the civic space. These include obstruction of the right to peaceful assembly and threats against opposition leaders, journalists and human rights defenders. There appear to be systematic efforts to prevent journalists and civil society actors from investigating allegations involving the security forces, particularly in conflict areas.
I am particularly concerned by the reported harrassment and arbitrary arrest of journalists and human rights defenders by the Agence Nationale de Renseignements, including cases of alleged ill-treatment and torture. Colleagues from the UN Joint Human Rights Office maintain constant dialogue with this agency regarding the 27 people who are known to be in prolonged arbitrary detention, without respect for due process. Systematic denial of access to this agency’s detention facilities is of great concern. I urge swift action to engage the long-awaited reform of the intelligence services.
Heightened tensions between ethnic groups, as well as between the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, have generated disinformation and hate speech against certain ethnic groups, as well as specific individuals. Hate speech and incitement to hostility – which are particularly severe in the east of the country – notably target people who are presumed to be of Rwandan origin. I welcome steps that have been taken to counter hate speech on social networks and in the press, and calls by the President and Cabinet Ministers to end incitement to hatred and discrimination.
The drafting of a national transitional justice policy and the adoption of a law on reparations are important achievements. It is vital that these processes remain inclusive and transparent, taking into consideration the rights and views of victims and integrating the results of national consultations.
I commend recent legislative reforms, in particular the adoption of the Law on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in November 2022, and the Law on reparations for victims of sexual violence and other serious crimes in December 2022. I encourage their implemention, along with prompt adoption of pending bills on the protection of human rights defenders; access to information, freedom of association and peaceful assembly; against tribalism, racism and xenophobia; and on the abolition of the death penalty.
Above all, I urge continued governance reforms, including efforts to stem corruption and establish principled business practices. Considerable structural changes are needed to ensure that officials at all levels are responsible to the people that they serve; and to enable everyone living in the DRC – including women and girls — to actively and freely contribute to society. I also urge the authorities to advance the right to development and all economic and social rights, including through concrete actions for the universal provision of essential services such as education, healthcare and clean water – which the President identified as national priorities in January 2019.
The UN Joint Human Rights Office will continue to support efforts by the authorities to advance human rights, including in the context of the foreseen withdrawal of MONUSCO. Human rights must be at the centre of an orderly and gradual transition process. It is vital that sufficient resources be allocated to secure a robust United Nations human rights presence in the country, in order to ensure that we are able to continue our monitoring, reporting, capacity development, advocacy and early-warning activities, while also stepping up technical assistance programmes within the UN country team.
The people of the DRC have a right to live in peace, free from deprivation and fear. They deserve so much more than these continuing cycles of brutality and misery. I thank the Government for the good work that we are doing together, and trust that we will continue to deepen our cooperation. I also take this opportunity to thank Bacre Ndiaye and Marie-Thérèse Keïta-Bocoum for their important contributions. After his five years of remarkable service at the head of the International Team of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mr Ndiaye will be leaving, and I have decided to appoint Ms Keïta-Bocoum as Chair in his place. Arnaud Akodjenou will be joining the expert team.