DRC militia leaders responsible for upsurge in violence must be held accountable - Pillay
GENEVA, 31 May 2012 – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday expressed alarm at the significant increase in large-scale atrocities by armed groups in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – including killings, rape, and the looting and burning of entire villages – and called for urgent action by the Government to stop further violence and ensure justice for the victims.
UN human rights officers in the DRC* have been investigating numerous reports since the end of April of the killing of civilians by armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale provinces, as well as allegations of rape in Masisi territory in North Kivu and Mambasa territory in Ituri district, Orientale province. Many victims were killed by machetes, hammers, axes, spears or guns. There have also been allegations of cannibalism and mutilation of dead bodies by the armed groups.
The violence is being perpetrated primarily by armed groups, including various mayi mayi militia, the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda), and army deserters of the FARDC (Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo). Each group claims the violence is in retaliation for crimes committed by the other. Eyewitnesses have also told human rights investigators that victims are targeted because of their presumed loyalties based on their ethnic background.
"The appalling violence being committed against civilians this month in the Kivus and Orientale provinces needs to be urgently addressed," Pillay said. "So far, there has been little effective State response, which could exacerbate the risk of attacks multiplying and spreading along ethnic lines in a cycle of senseless reprisals against civilians."
The High Commissioner called for prompt investigations into the atrocities with a view to establishing individual criminal responsibility for perpetrators, justice for the victims and to deter future abuses. Pillay highlighted that, as shown by recent conviction of the former rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, found guilty of war crimes by the International Criminal Court on 14 March 2012, militia leaders can and must be held accountable for the atrocities committed by elements under their command and strongly encouraged the International Criminal Court as well as the Congolese judicial authorities to continue to to investigate and prosecute those responsible.
The upsurge in violence by armed groups may be linked with a security vacuum left in the region by the redeployment of the Congolese Army, to other areas of the country to combat a new armed group known as Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) created by army deserters.
"We have called upon the Government of the DRC to prioritise security sector reform within the Congolese army and police force, to effectively establish State authority and increase State capacity to protect civilians," the High Commissioner said. "These latest incidents highlight the urgency for such reform as well as the deployment of professional and accountable security forces where civilians most need their protection."
Pillay also stressed the importance for the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) to be empowered with a strong mandate and requisite resources to enable it to maintain a strong presence throughout the country, and particularly in the eastern provinces, where the protection of the civilian population is a priority.
*The UN Joint Human Rights Office, which was established in February 2008, comprises the Human Rights Division of the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the DRC.
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