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Grave human rights abuses by all sides mar DR Congo's transition from war, UN reports

UN News Service | Published on March 12, 2007

 Summary executions, enforced disappearances, mass arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and torture of civilians for their political affiliations as well as rape continued at an alarming rate in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in a climate of total impunity in the second half of 2006, according to the latest United Nations report on the issue.

All sides, from the armed forces (FARDC), National Intelligence Agency (ANR), Republican Guard (RG) and Congolese National Police (PNC) to the protection division of defeated presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba and Rwandan Hutus, came in for censure even as the vast country marked a major landmark in its emergence from years of civil war and factional fighting with nationwide elections.

“Radical measures to address the DRC's ingrained culture of impunity are urgently needed,” the Human Rights Division of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) warns in the report, calling on the new Government and Parliament to curb the abuses and address their root causes as the DRC “enters an unprecedented and crucial historical period.”

Needed steps include the establishment of a credible human rights commission and an independent and impartial investigation of high-ranking FARDC officers suspected of committing serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The vetting is essential to make the reform of the FARDC sustainable, the report notes, calling for “a zero tolerance policy.”

Although cases involving the FARDC decreased from 53 per cent of all abuses reported to the mission in the first half of 2006 to 40 per cent “the FARDC continued to be responsible for an alarming number of human rights violations, including mass killings of civilians, especially in [the eastern] Ituri District,” it says.

“The use of physical violence against civilians, including summary executions, beatings and rape, committed by soldiers of integrated and non-integrated brigades of the FARDC, continued to be widespread,” says the report, referring to units that have taken in former rebels.

Meanwhile, the number of abuses committed by the PNC increased in the second half of 2006 by 15 per cent. “Throughout the country, policemen continued to carry out arrests of civilians in flagrant abuse of their power and subject detainees to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” it says, adding that police officers were responsible for three cases of mass rape in Equateur Province.

In the patchwork of factions, large portions of South Kivu province continued to be controlled by Hutu groups who fled neighbouring Rwanda after the Hutu genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus there in 1994 and repeatedly committed serious abuses in the DRC such as abductions, killings and rape. The presence of armed groups in areas of Katanga, North Kivu and Ituri also caused insecurity and led to abuses.

Sexual violence remained widespread throughout the country with some of the worst reports coming from Equateur and North Kivu, according to the report. Perpetrators were brought to justice in only a limited number of cases. The ratio of sexual violence cases committed by the PNC rose from 7 per cent of all cases in the first half of the year to 23 per cent.

The mission voices concern at the continued practice of appointing and promoting suspected human rights violators in the FARDC. “Not only does this completely undermine the fight against impunity, but it also perpetuates the cycle of violence by preserving or enhancing the power of human rights abusers and creates a feeling of frustration among the population,” it says.

Despite a handful of trials in the last six months of 2006, the vast majority of serious human rights violations were not prosecuted or even investigated.

In provinces with natural resources, such as diamond-mining areas of the Kasais, the casserite-rich territories of North Kivu or the gold mines of Katanga, the mission routinely received allegations of serious abuses implicating mostly the military and police, such as forced labour, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and arbitrary arrests.

MONUC has overseen the DRC's transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II, to gradual stabilization, culminating in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year, the largest and most complex polls the UN has ever helped to organize.

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