Geneva, November 26, 2008 — UN Watch welcomed the announcement of a UN Human Rights Council emergency session on the worsening situation in eastern Congo, to be held Friday, and urged the 47-nation body to reinstate the independent monitor that it scrapped in March, and to dispatch an immediate fact-finding mission to investigate gross human rights violations, including the murder, rape, torture and looting of innocent civilians.
The Geneva-based human rights monitoring group will make the appeal formally when it addresses the council on Friday on behalf of a broad coalition of non-governmental human rights organizations.
“Morally, those countries that were behind the elimination of the monitoring mandate in March ought now to apologize to the victims of Congo,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “We will never know how many lives could have been saved if the council, deferring to Congo’s government, had not caused this unconscionable protection gap, which slashed an early warning mechanism just when the victims needed it most.”
In March, Egypt on behalf of the African Group supported elimination of the Congo mandate, supported by Russia, Tunisia, Algeria and others.
UN Watch, Freedom House and other human rights groups campaigned for the upcoming session in letters to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and rights commissioner Navi Pillay. See joint letter below.
A new UN report said members of the Congolese army and national police “were responsible for a large number of serious human rights violations … namely arbitrary executions, rape, torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
November 18, 2009
United Nations High Commissoner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Dear Secretary-General Ban and High Commissioner Pillay,
As you gather today with world leaders to celebrate the new chamber of the UN Human Rights Council, we urge you to take advantage of this moment to turn the international spotlight toward the human rights catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mass displacement, killings and sexual violence—involving hundreds of thousands of victims, if not more—require an urgent response by the UN Human Rights Council.
We urge you to use your moral voice today by calling on the Council to immediately convene a special session for the desperate victims in the Congo. The procedure requires support from a mere one third of the Council’s 47 members. We are certain that 16 state members can be found to endorse such an initiative. If you lead, they will surely follow. If not, inaction and indifference are likely to prevail.
Precedent shows that you can have a powerful impact. Appeals issued by both your predecessors, Kofi Annan and Louise Arbour, helped pressure Council members in 2006 to convene a special session for the victims of Darfur. We urge you to do no less today for the victims in the Congo.
Such a session should immediately reinstate the human rights monitor for the DRC, whose recent elimination by the Council, which deferred to the DRC government’s opposition to any independent monitoring, was unconscionable. Further, in voting to scrap the mandate, Council members at the March 2008 session made baseless attacks on the mandate-holder, Titinga Frédéric Pacéré, and false claims about the human rights situation in the DRC.
Tunisia’s Ali Cherif spoke of “the positive developments in the human rights situation there”—indeed, “remarkable progress”—and chastised the expert because such “improvements” were “not duly reflected in [his] report.” Algeria, too, 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 promoting 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, and the Council duly eliminated this independent voice for DRC victims.
We note with deep concern that since the June 2007 reform package, the Council has gradually eliminated human rights monitoring mandates for victims in Belarus, Cuba, Liberia, DRC, and Darfur. The general mandate on Sudan is slated for elimination this March. Few remain. If the Council is to have any credibility, we must turn this dynamic around.
Consequently, we urge you today to call on Council members to meet urgently in special session to address the plight of hundreds of thousands of victims in the DRC. Your moral voice can help to stop the atrocities in DRC—but you must act now.
United Nations Watch