Latest Update: 31 December 2013
Human rights issues in DRC continue to give cause for concern, with no real improvement seen during this period.
Fighting in eastern DRC between the DRC armed forces and armed group M23 caused the displacement of many people as civilians moved to avoid the violence and shelling. There are thought to be around 2.7 million internally displaced people in DRC, an increase of 500,000 since the end of 2012. DfID continues to provide programmes which respond quickly to displacement, epidemics and spikes in malnutrition, working locally with a range of NGOs.
Despite the defeat of M23 in early November, other armed groups continue to commit human rights abuses, with the provinces of North and South Kivu and Katanga being among those most seriously affected. Abuses include the murder and rape of civilians, and recruitment of children. We have expressed our concern to the DRC government of the risks to civilians if state authority is not extended effectively and quickly to this region, to prevent such armed groups proliferating to fill the security vacuum left by the departure of M23. We are also working with others in the international community to encourage DRC and its neighbours to find a political solution which will lead to long-term peace, stability and prosperity for its citizens.
State actors also continue to be responsible for human rights violations, with the DRC armed forces being accused of attacks on civilians, and international concern over the alleged extra-judicial killings of street gang members by police in December, during a crackdown on petty crime in Kinshasa.
We have been urging the DRC authorities to bring to justice those members of its armed forces responsible for the mass rapes of civilians in Minova in November 2012, undertaking bilateral lobbying as well as working with EU and other like-minded partners. The EU issued a local declaration on 25 November around the anniversary of the crimes, emphasising the importance of bringing perpetrators to justice. Trials are currently underway.
We also continue our work on preventing sexual violence in conflict, including by continuing to fund the deployment of a police expert in the east to build capacity in collection and storage of forensic evidence. This supports DFID’s wider programme on security sector accountability and police reform which includes a focus on sexual and gender based violence (SGBV). DFID are also providing humanitarian support to survivors of SGBV. In addition, we continue to fund human rights and countering sexual violence training for new recruits to the DRC armed forces.
Support for human rights defenders remains a priority and we continue to work with them. We also continue to engage closely with those working on human rights including NGOs and local civil society. In November our Embassy in Kinshasa hosted an event on women and political participation, with the NGO International Alert as well as political and civil society from North and South Kivu. Later that month the Embassy also hosted a networking reception to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which was attended by the DRC’s Minister for Gender.
We continue to encourage progress on elections, including the implementation of recommendations made following the EU’s mission to monitor the 2011 elections. Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds had talks in London with Abbe Malu Malu, Head of DRC’s Electoral Commission, on this topic in November.
Update: 30 September 2013
We remain very concerned about the human rights situation in DRC. Fighting in the vicinity of Goma in eastern DRC between the DRC armed forces (FARDC) and the armed rebel group M23 recurred in August. This had serious impacts on the local population, including displacement of thousands of people as civilians moved to avoid the violence and shelling, and deliberate attacks by M23 on civilian populations and on UN peacekeepers.
We note with concern the continuation of human rights violations and abuses, including crimes of sexual violence. These are reportedly committed both by armed groups, including M23, but also by the FARDC and the Congolese National Police. We are concerned about the lack of progress on the case of human rights abuses by members of FARDC in November 2012 at Minova; those who have committed these crimes need to be arrested and brought to justice. We have urged the DRC government to ensure that there is no impunity for those who abuse human rights.
We continue to follow the trial related to the death of Floribert Chebeya, to encourage progress on elections, to support press and other freedoms, and on extractives we continue to encourage the Congolese authorities to sign up to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights in order to reduce the risk of human rights abuses.
Through its Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, the UK has supported an expert deployed to a hospital in eastern DRC to build local capacity in conducting effective investigations of sexual violence crimes, including through preservation of forensic evidence. We are also providing funding to teach new Congolese army recruits about human rights, including the fight against sexual violence and impunity. DFID’s humanitarian programme also includes support to victims of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as efforts to make displacement sites safer for women and girls.
Update: 30 June 2013
We remain concerned by the human rights situation in DRC, in particular continued activity by armed groups, which has a grave impact upon the civilian population including through increasing displacement.
We condemn continued human rights violations and abuses, including crimes of sexual violence. We welcomed the report of the UN Joint Human Rights Office in May that shone a light on the egregious crimes committed in Minova and Goma by the FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo) and the M23 rebels last November/December. We encourage the implementation of its recommendations. The EU made a local statement to this effect on 20 May.
With EU colleagues, the UK continues to follow closely the trial related to the death of the human rights activist Floribert Chebeya. The EU issued a local statement on 16 April welcoming the resumption of the appeal trial, urging the timely identification and prosecution of those responsible for Mr Chebeya’s death, and noting our commitment to follow the trial until its conclusion.
More positively, members of the new Independent National Electoral Commission were appointed in June. We will encourage them to take forward the preparation of timely, free and fair local and provincial elections.
We note that there are ongoing restrictions on freedom of expression, including arrests of journalists. We continue to support press and other freedoms, for example by publicising World Press Freedom Day, awarding best practice in journalism and by continuing to highlight individual cases of concern.
The UK continues to encourage the Congolese authorities to sign up to the Voluntary Principles on Human Rights and Security in order to reduce the risk of human rights abuses in the extractives industry.
Update: 31 March 2013
There were some positive developments in the DRC in the first quarter of 2013. A Peace Security and Co-operation Framework was signed in Addis Ababa in February. This provides the basis for working between regional governments towards long term sustainable solutions to the conflict. The UK has accepted an invitation to be part of the oversight mechanism. We also welcomed the appointment in March of Mary Robinson as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes. And Bosco Ntaganda, one of the leaders of the M23 (the main rebel group in the east of the country), was transferred to International Criminal Court on 22 March after handing himself in at the US Embassy in Kigali. He will face trial for war crimes, including recruiting and enlisting children under 15 as soldiers and for crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and sexual slavery, pillage and persecution.
The conflict in eastern DRC continued, however. Internal division within the M23, to greater insecurity, increasing the numbers of internally displaced people in the region.
The Foreign Secretary visited the DRC from 25-27 March. He used the visit to focus attention on sexual violence in conflict zones. He highlighted the human cost of war zone rape and called for governments worldwide to address this neglected and growing problem. He announced £205,288 ($312,110) in new UK funding to support the work of Physicians for Human Rights working out of the Panzi Hospital in eastern DRC to help efforts to develop local and national capacity to document and collect evidence of sexual violence. He also announced that the UK would make available £850,000 ($1,292,458) to support the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice of over the next three years.
In March the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) for twelve months. The mandate includes provision for an Intervention Brigade to conduct peace enforcement. MONUSCO’s priority will remain the protection of civilians. The UK is funding an expert through MONUSCO’s Prosecution Support Cell project to provide advice, mentoring, on-the-job training and logistical support to Congolese military police investigators and magistrates. The expert, based in Bukavu, will specifically focus on the investigation into alleged rape cases in Minova in November 2012.
Over a year after the elections, some reform of the Election Commission has been agreed. The reforms have yet to be implemented but we will continue to encourage progress and monitor developments. A law establishing a National Commission on Human Rights is still awaiting promulgation by the President.
A court in Bokatola (Equateur province) sentenced two police officers to life imprisonment in January 2013 under the law criminalising torture which was enacted in July 2011.