06/11/2002
Press Release
GA/SHC/3717



Fifty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

38th Meeting (PM)


SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS REPORT TO THIRD COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS


IN BURUNDI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO


The status of human rights in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo was reviewed this afternoon, as the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) continued its dialogue with Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights.


Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, Marie-Therese Aissata Keita-Bocoum, said there had been some important political developments in Burundi, notably the implementation of several provisions of the Arusha Protocol.  However, the lack of a ceasefire and the continuation of the fighting seriously hindered the political momentum.  This situation, including attacks against civilians, had created a climate of insecurity, stretching throughout the entire country.


Continued fighting had resulted in the increase, by 60,000 to 70,000, of the number of internally displaced persons.  The lack of security made it difficult to reach these displaced people despite the efforts of international agencies.  She stressed the need for the parties to the conflict to respect human rights, including the right to life and security, and urged them not to attack the economic and social infrastructure of Burundi.  She further urged armed groups that had not done so to join the negotiations.


The human rights situation in Burundi was atrocious -- there was no denying it, said the representative of Burundi in response to the Special Rapporteur.  Every year, human rights experts described the gloomy situation.  War in Burundi, as elsewhere, had created a hideous landscape of destroyed social and economic infrastructure.  He stressed that the Government had taken the initiative to end the conflict by embarking on dialogue with political and armed opposition groups.  However, the peace process could make no significant strides unless all concerned agreed.


The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iulia Motoc, said despite some improvements in the overall situation, human rights violations in the country continued, largely due to the protracted conflict.  The recent signing of the Pretoria Agreement was a step in the right direction, as was the country's signing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.


Still, she could not ignore reports of serious human rights violations in rebel-controlled areas, particularly in the east.  Sexual violence against women and children had been used as a weapon of war by most of the armed groups involved in the conflict.  Looting of natural resources also remained a deep-rooted cause of the war, which had displaced over 2 million people.  Since the redeployment of troops to the ore-rich areas in the east, the security situation had only worsened, and the lack of security in numerous areas hindered humanitarian access to displaced populations.


Responding to Ms. Motoc, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said the report did not reflect the reality of the situation on the ground.  The humanitarian situation in the country was the result of a war of aggression and assaults carried out by three neighbouring States.  A protracted war had produced a heavy reckoning characterized by forced displacement, killings, and looting of natural resources.  The democratic process and reconstruction efforts had been hampered by the outbreak of war and its lingering aftermath.


An interactive dialogue segment followed each presentation by the Special Rapporteurs.  Also participating in this segment this afternoon were the representatives of Denmark (on behalf of the European Union), United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, and Germany.


The Committee will reconvene tomorrow at 10 a.m. to hear from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers.


Background


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this afternoon to continue its dialogue with Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights.  It was expected to hear presentations from and hold dialogues with Marie-Therese Aissata Keita-Bocoum, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in Burundi -- who will present an oral report -- and Iulia Motoc, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 


The Committee will consider a note by the Secretary-General on the mission report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and a member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (document A/57/349).  The note states that the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ms. Motoc, went to Kinshasa from 14 to 19 February 2002, for her first visit since her appointment in November 2001.


On that occasion, she had preliminary consultations with the Government to determine the extent to which the latter would support the work of the mission.  She also intended to make contact with the rebel groups to obtain their support for the mission and ensure conditions of security on the ground.  She also initiated a process of consultations with the other members of the joint mission to ascertain their availability.  All relevant information will be found in the next report of the Special Rapporteur to the Commission on Human Rights at its fifty-ninth session. 


Delegations will also have before them Professor Motoc's Interim Report on the Human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document

A/57/437), which covers information she has received up to 20 September 2002.  She notes that in Government-controlled territory there had been progress in the protection of human rights.  Serious human rights violations have however occurred in rebel-controlled areas, particularly in the East.  Sexual violence against women and children has been used as a weapon of war by most of the armed groups involved in the conflict.


The report states that the Rapporteur transmitted 10 requests for urgent action to the Government (on behalf of a total of 11 people) and four to the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD) (for a total of 25 persons) but that there had been no response to any of those communications.  The report also assesses the recent work of the joint mission to investigate allegations of massacres, before turning to the overall effects of protracted armed conflict in the region.  It states that the tensions between the Congolese armed forces (FAC) and RCD remained high.  The Rapporteur also notes that ethnic conflict between the Bahema and the Balendu continued unabated.  The Ituri region had fallen victim to a number of murderous and bloody clashes.


The report goes on to say that a mosaic of armed groups was operating in the region, particularly in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Those groups, whether or not they were "signatories" of the Lusaka Accords, ruled over the civilian populations by terror.  The war therefore continued to make the social and humanitarian situation in the country a cause for grave concern.  Access to health care had all but disappeared -- hospitals and health centres across the country were dilapidated, and in the East, much of the health care infrastructure had been destroyed in the fighting.  Further, the war had displaced over 2 million people.  Since the redeployment of troops to the ore-rich areas in the east, the security situation has only worsened.


The Special Rapporteur concludes that the massive violations of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were continuing, mainly due to the protracted conflict.  As in the case of other prolonged conflicts, the underlying cause was certainly economic.  She hailed the agreement signed at Sun City, which should lead to the restoration of peace in the country, as well as the agreement signed with Rwanda.  She stresses, however, that after years of war, the implementation of those agreements seemed to be a very difficult issue for all parties concerned.  It was pointless to think about democratization until the war stopped.


      Statement by Special Rapporteur on Burundi


MARIE-THERESE AISSATA KEITA-BOCOUM, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burundi, said her mission to Burundi was too close to her presentation for her to have produced a report.  She would therefore limit herself to her impressions during her mission from 16 to 25 October, when she had visited the province of Gitega, notably the communities of Itaba and Kanyosha where massacres of civilians had taken place.


Concerning the political situation, she had noted the implementation of several provisions of the Arusha Protocol.  However, the lack of a ceasefire and the continuation of the fighting had seriously hindered the political momentum.  The political situation was affected by the climate of insecurity which had seriously deteriorated since her last visit.  The attacks against civilians constituted the most violent aspects of this climate of insecurity. 


However, the situation was further exacerbated by extreme poverty, the increase in the price of oil, worsening living conditions and the destruction of infrastructure due to the war.  What happened to human rights in such situation? she asked.  Could human rights be upheld in a situation where the economic and social fabric had been almost totally destroyed?


She added that since July 2002, the reaction of the army to attacks of the armed groups had been violent, often disproportionate.  Paradoxically, that reaction had affected the civilian population.  Out of the several hundred civilians that had died, the identification of victims had showed that the dead included women, children, older persons and pregnant women.  The Government had taken responsibility for this act, had arrested the commending officers and had undertaken investigations into the incident, she said. 


The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern regarding the violation of the new criminal code, prison conditions, arbitrary illegal detention centres, armed groups engaging in torture, threats to freedom of opinion and internally displaced persons.  The number of internally displaced persons remained a concern since it had increased by 60,000 to 75,000 each month.  The lack of security made it difficult to reach these internally displaced people despite the efforts of international agencies.  The Special Rapporteur also raised concern about the human right of women and issues related to health and education.  Conditions in prisons were precarious even though the number of detainees had decreased.


She recommended that the parties to the conflict respect human rights, including the right to life and security, and asked them not to attack the economic and social infrastructure of the country.  She further urged armed group that had not done so to join the negotiations.


Concerning attacks on civilians by Government forces, she recommended an in-depth investigation in order to find out what really happened, stressing the need for United Nations involvement in these investigations.  Furthermore, the Government of Burundi must take provisions to prevent human rights violations and restore the trust between the population and the army.  Also, the international community must continue to encourage the still reluctant armed groups to come to the negotiation table.


Dialogue with Special Rapporteur


The representative of Burundi responding to the statement made by the Special Rapporteur, said he had taken due note of the relevant recommendations at the end of her statement.  Every year, Special Rapporteurs on human rights had described the gloomy situation of human rights in his country.  War in Burundi, as elsewhere, had created a hideous landscape of destroyed social and economic infrastructure.  The war had displaced thousands of people, both inside and outside Burundi’s borders. 


There was no point in discussing which armed factions were guilty or innocent in war that had no clear frontlines, he said.  In view of the current situation, only the Government of Burundi seemed to be held responsible.  The situation was a deplorable one because it seemed that a sort of waver had been given to armed groups to violate international humanitarian law without fearing punishment, since it was the Government of Burundi that would be blamed. 


Concerning civilian casualties, he stressed that when national forces of law and order had attempted to protect civilians from armed groups, several civilians had lost their lives.  The loss of civilian life in war was an unfortunate reality, he said.  Why were the realities not recognized?  And why were the efforts of the Government not recognized?  Some actors on the international scene and human rights organizations obstinately refused to recognize the efforts of the Government. 


He stressed the need to put an end to the war to help the people of Burundi.  It was the armed groups who were perpetuating the suffering of the people through violence or refusals to negotiate.  How long could one go on waiting for the rebels to accept to negotiate?  Should rebels really be allowed to take the peace process hostage?


Regarding justice, tremendous efforts had been made even though much remained to be done, he said.  He recognized that on matters concerning detention, progress was slow, even though there had been a decrease in the number of children in prison.  The Government had banned the use of children in the army; however, child soldiers were numerous in the armed groups. 


Concerning the massacres mentioned by the Special Rapporteur, he stressed that the Government and the Office of the High Commissioner had carried out an inquiry mission.  The inquiry concluded that rebels had ordered the population to disobey national forces to the point that it had become a bastion and was destroyed.  Because of this error in judgement, the commanding officers had been arrested and inquiries were ongoing to learn more of what had happened.  He was pleased to note that the Special Rapporteur had taken due note on the progress in this case and added that any excessive behaviours in the army would be punished. 


The human rights situation in Burundi was atrocious; there was no denying it, he said.  The Government had taken the initiative to encourage the settlement of the war in embarking on dialogue with political opposition and armed opposition.  The Government was impatient to see an end to the war since the war was the major obstacle to human rights and development.  However, the peace process could make no significant strides unless it was signed by all concerned.


He asked the international community to become more involved to help give economic assistance to the State and the most vulnerable within it.  The Government, the people of Burundi, the United Nations and the international community shared the responsibility for making Burundi a place where human rights were upheld.


The representative of Denmark, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said positive developments had been underlined by the Special Rapporteur.  However, was a sustainable peace realistic in the near future?  She welcomed the Government of Burundi’s decision to ban child soldiers.  Had steps been taken to implement this ban?  She also asked for elaboration on the situation of internally displaced persons and the situation of returning refugees.


The representative of the United Republic of Tanzania expressed her concern at the lack of a written report in English.  The report before her made reference to Tanzania and the porous border between Tanzania and Burundi.  The porous borders were not the cause of the situation in Burundi.  The Special Rapporteur must focus on Burundi and not a country that had been at the forefront of the peace process.


The Special Rapporteur said it was necessary to believe in the peace process -- there had been developments since the Arusha protocol.  Institutions that had been set up operated very well.  What concerned her was that the war was continuing.  Even factions negotiating had been involved in violent incidents last Sunday.


Concerning child soldiers, she said that the Government had taken measures to limit the age of involvement of children in war.  It was sometimes the parents themselves who put pressure on children to join since the army was considered prestigious.  She had not received concrete figures on demobilized soldiers.


Tanzania had not been blamed for the situation in Burundi, she said.  Porous borders in many African countries created security problems.


The representative of Burundi said, regarding the return of refugees, the rebels were against repatriation and the return of refugees, and pursued and harassed them.  There was a certain movement of people from Burundi going back to the United Republic of Tanzania, but people were moving in the opposite direction too.  On whether the army was still considered a protective force, he said that no army could protect everyone at every time.  However the army did protect the population.  In most of the country, the population followed the advice of the army and the Government.

The Special Rapporteur concluded by saying that it had been difficult for her to gain access to the local populations when asking about violent incidents, and violations of human rights, since she had been surrounded by the army at all times.


Statement by Special Rapporteur on Democratic Republic of the Congo


IULIA MOTOC, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, addressing the Committee for the first time, said she had placed particular attention on gender issues and the situation of women in armed conflict.  Despite some improvements in the overall situation, human rights violations in the country continued, largely due to the protracted conflict.  She hailed the recent signing of the Pretoria Agreement as a step in the right direction, and also the country's recent signing of the Rome Statute of the International Court.


Still, she could not ignore reports of serious human rights violations in rebel-controlled areas, particularly in the East.  Sexual violence against women and children has been used as a weapon of war by most of the armed groups involved in the conflict.  Looting of natural resources also remained a deep-rooted cause of the war.  Further, the war had displaced over two million people.  Since the redeployment of troops to the ore-rich areas in the East, the security situation had only worsened and the lack of security in numerous areas hindered humanitarian access to displaced populations.


She was especially concerned that rape and other sexual violence against women and girls had become a powerful tool in the war.  Indeed, Human Rights Watch had characterized the tragic convergence of rape and violence against women in the region as "a war within a war".  It was time for the international community to ensure that truth and justice mechanisms were set up to address those crimes as well as other massive violations of human rights in the region.  Further in that regard, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda must be maintained, and vigorous steps must be taken to ensure the independence and impartiality of the courts, which were essential fundamentals for ensuring real respect for human rights.


It was also her hope that women would take a more active role in the peace process underway for the entire region, particularly the Inter-Congolese dialogue.  She said that provisions in the Civil Code and other laws which created and perpetuated a lower status for women must be amended, and women's all around participation in public life must be enhanced.  The numerous agreements signed by the countries in the region, which aimed to lead to peace and reconciliation, would be worthless unless the war, violence, kidnappings and human rights violations came to an end.


Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur


The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said her delegation had been quite surprised at the length of the report and the breadth of information it covered since it had obviously been put together hastily.  The document had been issued very late nonetheless and was perhaps under consideration today solely because the Committee was considering the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and some sort of document had to be released.


The report did not reflect the reality of the situation on the ground, she said.  The previous Rapporteur had rightly characterized the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the result of a war of aggression and the assaults carried out by three of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's neighbours.  The present report took a great leap backwards by not highlighting that link.  Indeed the unfortunate and protracted war had produced a heavy reckoning characterized by forced displacement, killings and the looting of natural resources.  It was widely known that human rights violations were ongoing in the sections of the country that were outside of government control.


The democratic process and reconstruction efforts had been hampered by the outbreak of war and its lingering aftermath, she continued.  Further, there was no process of democratization in the eastern part of the country, which was under rebel control.  The Government would push forward with efforts to improve the situation for all the citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including providing rehabilitation programmes for child soldiers.  No country could claim to be totally free of human rights infractions -- even countries in the North who consistently pointed to others' human rights violations.  Rather than condemning the actions of others, it was necessary for all members of the international community to assist countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo so they could finally gain their place among the fully democratized nations of the world.


The representative of Uganda said Ms. MOTOC's interim report was one-sided and the information therein had been largely made up of hearsay as well as some falsehoods.  The Rapporteur had not consulted Ugandan authorities on any of the issues raised.  If such consultations had taken place, she would have come away with a more balanced picture of the situation.  He said that since May 2001, Uganda had withdrawn from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, except for one battalion stationed in Bunia at the Secretary-General's request and in accordance with the provisions of the Lusaka Accords.  Uganda was not only committed the objectives of the Lusaka ceasefire, it was equally committed to complete withdrawal from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


He said the Hema were in conflict with the Lendu, and that historical conflict had been triggered by the struggle over land.  The Ugandan People's Defense Forces were not responsible for the killings mentioned in the report.  It did not create the conflict and should be excluded from discussions of the matter.  Uganda would request the Special Rapporteur to recognize the real problem at the heart of the conflict.  The traditional enmity between the Hema and Lendu required a higher level of proof and corroboration as well as a thorough understanding of the history of the Great Lakes Region.


It was unprofessional and dishonest to extrapolate data from surveys taken in one region of the vast Democratic Republic of the Congo and attempt to meaningfully interpret the humanitarian situation in another.  To that end, the report clearly showed that Ms. MOTOC did not visit the east of the country.  He also said the report ignored Uganda's security concerns, particularly the threats posed by Ex-FAR and Interahamwe operatives.  Uganda would call for the strengthening of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure speedy implementation of agreed initiatives aimed at disarmament, demobilization, repatriation and resettlement.


Responding to those statements, Ms. MOTOC said the report had not been prepared in haste.  It did mention that the cause of the dire humanitarian conditions was the protracted conflict in the region.  It was now time to focus on peace in the Great Lakes Region, and it was pointless to think about democratization until the war stopped.  It was also time for the entire

international community to work together to ensure the full implementation of the numerous agreements signed.


The representative of Germany expressed particular concern about reports that the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo were coming under increasing pressure.  What had been the effect of the looting of those resources on the civilian population?  What were the effects on women?


Ms. MOTOC said the looting of natural resources definitely affected the humanitarian situation.  A major part of the democratization process must be to ensure sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo over its natural resources.  On gender-specific effects of the war and depletion of natural resources, she reiterated that women, who most often worked in the informal sector were most vulnerable to upheaval and conflict.  The war affected women's health, and inequality between the sexes resulted in less access to education for women and girls.


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