“The UN Human Rights Council must assume its responsibilities”
Geneva, Dec. 21, 2009 – Thirty humanitarian and human rights groups called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to reinstate the mandate for a human rights monitor in Congo, saying the position should never have been eliminated by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2008.
“The latest reports of atrocities in Congo tragically confirm our warning last year to the UNHRC,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights monitoring group that signed the appeal, together with more than 30 other non-governmental organizations from around the world.
The coalition includes nine humanitarian organizations from Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, Cameroon, and Senegal, as well as others based in Iran, India, the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Australia, including representatives from the Quaker UN Office and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.
“The Security Council is voting today to extend the Congo peacekeeping mission. The Human Rights Council must likewise assume its own responsibilities and reinstate a dedicated and independent human rights voice for Congo’s suffering victims,” said Neuer.
Widespread executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and rape in the eastern Congo remain a central concern, said the humanitarian groups, citing UN reports of unchecked impunity and a “complete lack of transparency” regarding government exploitation of natural resources. They cited alarming reports of 1,400 civilians killed since the inception of the government’s “Kimia II” military operation.
The UN Human Rights Council eliminated the mandate of the independent expert on Congo in March 2008, under pressure by several of the 47 member states, including Egypt, other Arab and African states, and Russia. The delegates alleged “positive developments in the human rights situation there,” and chastised the UN expert because such “improvements” were allegedly not “duly reflected in [his] report.” Other African states remarked that the Congolese government had established an “environment conducive to the promotion and protection of human rights”, with “serious measures aimed at protecting the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights.”
In November 2008, the UNHRC convened a special session on the human rights situation in Congo, but the outcome resolution was watered down under pressure from African governments and their allies. Calls by UN Watch, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights groups to reinstate the expert went unanswered.
The European Union and Canada formally tabled a measure to reinstate the mandate in the UNHRC’s March 2009 session, but it was defeated on March 27 by a vote of 21-18, with 8 abstentions.
The UN’s expert on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, reported last week that civilians in the Congo have been “gang-raped and hacked or shot to death by the Congolese army—the very force that is supposed to protect them.”
Neuer said that this report “only underscores the need for Mr. Ban and High Commissioner Pillay to immediately lead the effort to reinstate a full-time, dedicated human rights monitor on the Congo, who can act as an early warning mechanism and assure international action. It’s time for the UN Human Rights Council to live up to its mission.”
See full text of NGO appeal and list of signatories below.
Urgent NGO Appeal to Reinstate the UN Independent Expert on Congo
Dear UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,
Dear UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanenthem Pillay,
We, representatives of non-governmental organizations, reflecting the broad spectrum of international civil society, are appalled to learn of the serious violations committed by the Congolese government in recent weeks, and urge you to call for the immediate reinstatement by the Human Rights Council of an independent human rights expert to monitor, report on and help remedy the dire situation in the Congo.
Summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests and rape are widespread throughout the country. Recent investigations by the UN Group of Experts show that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is increasingly precarious. Its new report, to be discussed at the Security Council this week, describes unchecked impunity and a “complete lack of transparency” regarding government exploitation of natural resources. Other credible reports cite the alarming figure that 1,400 civilians have been killed since the inception of the Kimia II government military operation.
In March 2008, the UN Human Rights Council eliminated the position of the independent expert on Congo after several member states made false claims about the situation on the ground. Tunisia’s Ali Cherif spoke of “the positive developments in the human rights situation there” — indeed, of “remarkable progress” — and chastised the expert because such “improvements” were not “duly reflected in [his] report.” Algeria claimed “significant progress” in the DRC, where “the situation is being normalized.”
Egypt’s Omar Shalaby, on behalf of the African Group, said the DRC boasted an”environment conducive to the promotion and protection of human rights”, with “serious measures aimed at protecting the realization of economic, social, and cultural rights.” He said that “the mandate has not offered clear prospects for improving the human rights situation on the ground”; that it “has not been of benefit to the DRC”; and that “any renewal of the mandate would be counterproductive.” The mandate was one “to which no clear achievement can be attributed.” Russia, among others, supported this line. On these unsubstantiated grounds, the Council then voted to eliminate the UN’s only dedicated independent human rights voice for DRC victims.
Soon after, there were massacres of civilians and increasingly crowded refugee camps with continued fighting between Rwandan rebel forces and the Congolese army. In November 2008, the Human Rights Council convened a special session on the human rights situation in Congo, but to no avail. The European Union was forced to withdraw its draft resolution and compromised on a watered-down text “calling for the immediate end to all human rights violations and unconditional respect for the rights of civilians,” yet making no concrete proposals or recommendations to monitor the situation on the ground. Failing to reinstate an independent expert, the Council also struck the EU’ proposal that the Special Rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial executions report on the DRC.
Then, in March 2009, an attempt was made by the European Union and Canada “to appoint, for a period of one year, an independent expert.whose tasks will be to provide assistance to the Government.” Their draft text sought to express the gravity of the human rights situation in DRC and to highlight “the recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups and the ongoing and widespread acts of sexual violence against women and children.” Regrettably, this proposal was defeated.
Today, the situation continues to worsen. The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, has just reported that “civilians have also been gang-raped and hacked or shot to death by the Congolese army — the very force that is supposed to protect them.” Professor Alston’s report lays bare the need for a dedicated expert to monitor the DRC. An early warning system could close the protection gap currently shrouding abuses by the Congolese government.
We urge you to call for and take all necessary action to reinstate the mandate of the independent expert on Congo, eliminated without basis by the UNHRC in 2008, and against the wishes of the victims. The Security Council is now scheduled to vote on a resolution to extend the mandate of the Congo peacekeeping mission. The Human Rights Council should likewise assume its own responsibilities. Civilians remain at high risk in a conflict that has already claimed the lives of 5 million people.
We urge you to act now for the suffering people of the Congo, before it is too late.
Action des Jeunes pour le Developpement Communautaire et la Paix (ADECOP)
Democratic Republic of Congo
President, l’ONG Citoyennes et citoyens Debout
Democratic Republic of Congo
Judge Mukete Tahle Itoe
Global Secretary General
Global Network for Good Governance (GNGG)
Regional Director, Regional Watch for Human Rights
Civil Society Organizations Network for Developpement (RESOCIDE)
G. Jasper Cummeh, III
Senior Policy Director
Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGENDA)
Jamils Richard Achunji Anguaseh
Director of Programs
Global Welfare Association – GLOWA
Soraya Usmani Martinez
Regional Coordinator, Sub Saharan Africa
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
Institute of International Social Development
Dr. Ahmed Subhy Mansour
President, The International Quranic Center (IQC)
Quaker United Nations Office
Hillel C. Neuer
United Nations Watch
Ingenieurs du Monde
World Federation of the DeafBlind
Representative to the UN, Geneva
Association of World Citizens and
Association for World Education
Penelope Faulkner, Vice-President
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
Chief Executive Officer
Citizens for Global Solutions
Organization of Human Rights Activists in Iran
Vo Van Ai, President
Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam
Connie de la Vega
Board of Directors
Human Rights Advocates
Dickson M.D Ntwiga
Solidarity House International
Sajni M. Thadhani
MPTF Founder & President
Mulchand & Parpati Thadhani Foundation
Concerned Women for America
Dr. Janice Crouse
Beverly LaHaye Institute
Human Rights, Justice and Peace Foundation
Society for Threatened Peoples
Skill Enhancing & Research Home of the Children (SEARCH)
Chief Executive Officer
Refugee Council of Australia
Co-ordinator of research
Edmund Rice Centre for Social Justice and Community Education
Presentation Sisters Lismore
Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA)
National & Overseas Co-ordinator