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Failure to renew DRC expert’s mandate draws criticism

Failure to renew DRC expert’s mandate draws criticism

The decision of the United Nations Human Rights Council not to renew the mandate of its independent expert on human rights for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has met with fierce criticism from a leading human rights organisation.

The move last week by the Geneva-based council concerning Titinga Frédéric Pacéré represented ”a betrayal of its responsibilities toward the Congolese people”, said Human Rights Watch in a statement. The advocacy group is headquartered in New York.

The verdict came after a council meeting during which Egypt, speaking on behalf of the 53-member African Group of the UN and acting in accord with what it said was the Congolese government’s wishes, urged that the mandate not be renewed, citing post-conflict political progress and stabilisation in the country. Pacéré’s failure to mobilise international support for ongoing human rights reforms was also put forward as a reason for terminating his activities.

The DRC’s representative to the council stated that the Congolese government was working to improve the human rights situation in the country, a view that a spokesperson for DRC President Joseph Kabila echoed in the capital, Kinshasa.

”I think the situation here is improving more and more,” said Kudura Kasongo. ”And human rights also include access to such things as food and healthcare. It depends on the capacity of the local government to manage these things. It’s not excellent, but it’s improving.”

The DRC, a nation of nearly 66-million that covers an area as large as Western Europe, is trying to pick up the pieces after a decade of war and attendant upheaval that has claimed the lives of more than five million people.

Kabila — who first assumed office after the assassination of his father, president Laurent-Désiré Kabila, in 2001 — was returned to power in a 2006 ballot that saw at least 20 people killed in clashes between loyalists of rival candidate Jean-Pierre Bemba and Congolese government forces.

Subsequent fighting between the two sides in March last year claimed about 300 lives, the UN said in a recent preliminary report.

”Although these elections were a big success for the country, we still have very serious concerns, particularly with the new violence in western Congo and the fragility of the peace agreements in the east,” said Juliette de Rivero, advocacy director in Geneva for Human Rights Watch. ”We don’t feel the situation has changed sufficiently to end this mandate; we thought it should have been reinforced with additional resources.”

In the DRC’s mineral- and timber-rich eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, rebel elements claiming loyalty to dissident Congolese General Laurent Nkunda recently signed a peace deal with the Kabila government.

However, fighting between Nkunda’s forces, paramilitary allies of the Kabila government and armed groups of Rwandan Hutus sheltering in the area’s vast forests still occurs with some regularity.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that since 2003, about 800 000 people have been displaced by fighting in North Kivu alone out of a population of 4,2-million.

A report released in January by the International Rescue Committee relief organisation asserted that 45 000 people were dying monthly in the DRC, largely as a result of health-related concerns caused by the social and economic disruption of the ongoing conflict.

In addition, recent clashes between government forces and the Bundu dia Kongo sect in Bas-Congo province just west of Kinshasa have resulted in the deaths of at least 68 people, concluded an internal UN report on the violence seen by Inter Press Service.

In his fifth working visiting to the DRC in March, Pacéré used a press conference to lament the country’s human rights situation, citing as an example the fact that while 14 200 rape cases were registered in South Kivu alone between 2005 and 2007, only 287 of those had been taken to court.

The UN mission in the DRC (Monuc) has also come under criticism since being established in 1999.

UN peacekeepers were linked to a gold-for-guns smuggling enterprise with local militias in the eastern DRC in 2005, and a 2004 internal UN report concluded that sexual abuse and exploitation of women and girls by both military and civil elements of the force appeared to be ”significant, wide-spread and ongoing”.

Monuc is the world’s largest peacekeeping mission, numbering about 17 000.

Local officials with the mission appeared to take a cautious view of Pacéré’s departure.

”The human rights division is in consultations with Geneva at the moment to arrive at a common position, and we hope to have a statement by next week,” said Michel Bonnardeaux, a Monuc spokesperson in Kinshasa. — IPS

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