28 August 2013 Strengthening respect for human rights and fighting impunity are essential for the stabilization of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a United Nations official said today, stressing the need to protect the rights of those most vulnerable in the country.
The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Flavia Pansieri, just finished a 7-day visit to the country, where fighting has recently escalated in the eastern provinces, killing civilians and prompting thousands to flee.
“I was particularly affected by the situation of people in North Kivu and Ituri,” said Ms. Pansieri. “People there told me about their vulnerability, their tenuous socio-economic situation and the security constraints due to the activities of armed groups. I also observed the devastating consequences of the very limited presence of State institutions and the weakening of traditional customs.”
Ms. Pansieri, who was in Goma on 22 and 23 August when renewed fighting erupted around the city, deplored the loss of human life and highlighted that the indiscriminate bombing of civilians constituted a violation of international humanitarian law.
She expressed alarm at the scale of sexual violence committed mainly by armed groups, but also by defence and security forces as well as civilians, and emphasized that “such violence necessitates a relentless fight against impunity.”
During her trip, Ms. Pansieri also visited Kitchanga, in Masisi territory, in North Kivu, where she witnessed the disastrous impact of armed groups on the lives of local communities. Among the group’s activities are mass rapes, arbitrary executions and deprivation caused by the grabbing of land, minerals and other natural resources.
“The deplorable conditions in places of detention are another issue of major concern. During my visit to Bunia, I observed the precarious situation of a thousand detainees in a place supposed to hold some 220 inmates,” Ms. Pansieri said, and urged authorities to redouble their efforts to reduce the number of people held on remand for prolonged periods.
“I was encouraged by the first steps already taken by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to improve prison conditions and I express the full support of our office in developing wholesale reform of the penitentiary system,” she added.
Ms. Pansieri also welcomed legislative initiatives regarding the protection of human rights defenders including a law establishing a National Human Rights Commission.
Emphasizing the importance of the assistance offered by the international community, Ms. Pansieri recognized the engagement of UN Stabilization Mission in the country (MONUSCO) and the UN Country Team, and reiterated the continued support of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the sustainable stabilization of the DRC.
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