Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - The Democratic Republic of Congo

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Author United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 26 March 2009
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - The Democratic Republic of Congo, 26 March 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49ce361832.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Introduction

The Nairobi Communiqué of 7 November 2007 and Goma Accords of January 2008 brought real hope for a peace settlement in eastern DRC's entrenched conflict. The former involved an agreement between the governments of DRC and Rwanda to tackle the presence in DRC of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels, consisting of Rwandan Hutus, many of whom were responsible for the 1994 Genocide. The latter sought to address the political concerns of Congolese armed groups, including Nkunda's National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) movement. Some progress was made on both political processes but in late August, fighting broke out between the CNDP and the Congolese army in North Kivu. As a result, a further 250,000 people were displaced from their homes by the end of November, bringing the total of displaced people to some 900,000 in North Kivu alone. There have been serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, including widespread cases of sexual violence, summary executions and plundering of villages. Armed groups have continued to recruit child soldiers.


Current concerns

Restriction of political space

Two years on from the 2006 democratic elections the human rights situation shows no real sign of improvement. Opposition parties are able to play an active role through parliament but Congolese institutions often lack the capacity and will to uphold basic human rights. There are arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals perceived as political opponents, and there have been reports of torture being practised by the security and intelligence services.

The right to a fair trial is far from being applied, with magistrates and lawyers being regularly intimidated and corrupted. In the Serge Maheshe trial, a journalist of UNsponsored Radio Okapi who was assassinated in June 2007, individuals were convicted who had not been considered as suspects.

The Bas-Congo repression of March 2008 shows that the DRC government is prepared to react strongly to any dissent. Beyond instances of targeted political repression, there is an endemic problem of corruption, abuse of power and impunity. Prison conditions remain dire, with many deaths from malnutrition.

Freedom of expression

Human rights defenders and journalists continue to face obstructions to their work from local and national authorities. Several radio stations have reportedly been pillaged in North Kivu. The murder of Didace Namujimbo on 21 November was the sixth killing of a journalist to occur in DRC in the last three years. The EU expressed our concerns about the security of journalists and made representations to the DRC Communications Minister to that effect. We have called on the Congolese authorities to bring perpetrators of those crimes to justice and ensure that the freedom of expression is protected.

Sexual violence

The DRC is one of the most gender inequitable countries in the world and has some of the highest rates of sexual and gender based violence. Sir John Holmes, the UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, characterised the intensity of the problem in the region as "almost unimaginable" and qualified rape as "a weapon of terror". From July to September 2008, some 1,175 cases of sexual violence were recorded in North Kivu by a UN agency. Our action on this issue is outlined below.

Child soldiers

The use of children as fighters by many of the armed groups in the DRC is one of the disturbing aspects of the conflict. We were pleased that this has been reflected in the charges faced by all the Congolese defendants indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and in the terms of the warrant for the arrest of the warlord Bosco Ntaganda. The ICC's investigations into events in DRC are continuing. We are encouraging the government to cooperate with the court.

The UK has provided £17 million to the Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme. A significant proportion was spent on special projects for children associated with armed groups. We also gave £4.65 million to the 2008 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appeal for the DRC, which includes programmes for protection and reintegration of children.


UK action

Sexual violence and other human rights abuses

We have adopted a multi-dimensional approach to tackle the problem of sexual violence and we are focusing our action on four levels: prevention, judicial redress, medical and psychosocial care, and advocacy.

Prevention

As part of our Security Sector Accountability Programme (£80 million over five years), we are providing accommodation, water and sanitation for integrated brigades to reduce the likelihood of human rights abuses. Through EUSEC, the EU security sector reform mission to DRC, we are working to reform the Congolese army chain of payments by providing new IT systems and training. Salaries for soldiers have increased, which should help discourage them from stealing from the local population. We are also contributing to the development of a Congolese army gender strategy

The programme includes a strong police reform component focusing on improving command and control procedures and detention facilities. In targeted provinces, we are working with the police to develop their capacity to investigate crimes of sexual violence. We are providing specialist training and advice on integrating sexual violence issues into operational procedures and guidelines.

Judicial redress

With European partners we are providing support to Restoration of the Judicial System in Congo (REJUSCO), a justice rehabilitation project in eastern DRC. We are financing infrastructural capacity (courts and vehicles), training for criminal justice officials and women's access to justice, via legal support and sensitisation to raise awareness of the 2006 law on sexual violence. We are planning additional support (up to £1.25 million) to facilitate the handling of sexual violence cases and the creation of a special cell within the REJUSCO Programme.

Medical and psychosocial care

We are seeking to meet critical humanitarian needs, provide medical and psychosocial care, and improve the coordination and coherence in humanitarian response in DRC by contributing £37 million to the UN Humanitarian Pooled Fund. The Pooled Fund helped treat some 23,000 victims of sexual violence over the last year. We also supported a limited number of other humanitarian interventions, such as the ICRC and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). We have also funded the Panzi Hospital in South Kivu to provide specialist treatment for victims of sexual violence (£1 million).

Our action to tackle sexual violence and human rights abuses also forms part of our broader work on gender, an aspect we are committed to considering through all our major programmes. We are working to increase access by women and girls to health and education and women's participation in decision-making. With political parties, we are working on electoral law to increase the number of women who run as candidates for election in the local and national arena.

Advocacy

The UK has played an instrumental role in leading advocacy initiatives. During his visit to DRC in November, Lord Malloch-Brown met the Vice-Minister of Justice, the Gender Minister and the Minister for Human Rights, as well as UN and civil society representatives. He urged the government to continue to act on combating sexual violence. Congolese militia leaders, suspected of child recruitment and rape, are in the custody of the ICC. The UK is closely following the progress of proceedings against them.

Our Ambassador in DRC has been vocal in calling for greater action on sexual violence, through a televised speech which underlined the UK's firm stance. He has raised the issue with several ministers and called for tougher sanctions for sexual crimes for holders of command responsibility within the army. The Embassy also hosted an International Women's Day conference in March.

In December, we organised the premiere of the film The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo at the Congolese parliament, supported by prominent Congolese politicians. The FCO funded the subtitling of this film in local languages.

With UK support, the UN mission in DRC (MONUC) mandate was amended in December 2007 to include a requirement to protect civilians against sexual violence. The UN appointed a Senior Adviser on Sexual Violence, who is working with international partners and the DRC government to develop a strategy and action plan to coordinate initiatives to tackle the problem. We have contributed to the development of this strategy. We are also represented on a Gender Ministry-led coordination forum for action on sexual violence and we have taken the lead on engaging with parliament on the issue.

The UK took the lead in drafting UNSC Resolution 1820 on Women in Conflict, which recognises sexual violence as a peace and security issue. Ahead of the Resolution, in May we sponsored a conference at Wilton Park to discuss the challenges faced by peacekeepers in preventing such human rights abuses.

Trial monitoring

The UK works with European partners to monitor the treatment of leading detainees and the conduct of proceedings against them, to share information on cases and to make representations where appropriate. The EU has issued statements and made representations to the DRC government in a number of cases. For example, the EU made representations to the Minister for Justice and Human Rights on 12 May following the conviction of four defendants for the killing of Serge Maheshe. On 15 May, the EU issued a statement underlining concern at irregularities in the trial. The convictions of two of the men were eventually quashed. UN officials are continuing to work in support of an appeal process for the other two.

Mapping exercise

The UK has given £130,000 in support of the Human Rights Mapping Project, which aims to produce a single and credible overview of human rights abuses committed in the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003. Perpetrators have never been held to account for this turbulent part of DRC's history. The project mandate is to gather, analyse and publish evidence of the worst violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the period, to assess the capacity of the DRC justice system to address them and to propose transitional justice mechanisms to deal with their legacy.

This will not be a prosecution exercise but the ultimate objective will be to help DRC develop mechanisms for dealing with gross violations. The report will be addressed to the UN Secretary-General, who will submit it to the Security Council.

Ethical dilemmas: transitional justice

There have been a vast number of crimes and human rights abuses committed in the DRC over the past 15 years. This has done huge damage to individuals, families and communities and has left behind a culture of complete impunity that in turn contributes to continued conflict and further crimes. The ongoing epidemic of rape and sexual violence in the DRC is a particularly serious symptom of this.

But meaningful rehabilitation of a Congolese judicial system completely destroyed by years of systematic under investment and corruption is inevitably going to take a considerable period of time. Apart from developing the formal justice system to enable it to deliver, there is likely to be a need for reconciliation, which may involve setting up transitional justice mechanisms such as truth-telling, establishing a commonly accepted historical narrative, or reparations.


Forward look

The UK's human rights' strategy in DRC will be focusing mainly on three elements. First, we will be working with partners to gather information on specific cases and situations of concern. Second, we will be developing common advocacy messages and strategies and making representations to the Congolese authorities on specific cases or broader issues. Third, we will continue to fund selected projects with a strong human rights focus, such as socio-economic reinsertion programmes or legal assistance for victims of sexual violence. On the political front, we are strongly engaged in efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern DRC. We will continue to support the initiative led by UN Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo and to encourage all parties to address the underlying issues of the conflict and implement existing peace agreements.

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