UN Accuses Congo of Possible War Crimes
By Lisa Schlein
12 September 2009
The United Nation's Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay, condemns human rights abuses in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and says government forces and rebel groups are possibly guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Two reports by the U.N. peacekeeping force in the DRC and the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights describe some particularly heinous crimes committed by rebel groups and Congolese armed forces.
These reports document violations by Congolese security forces and various armed groups that occurred during a spike in fighting in North Kivu in October and November, 2008. The most serious abuses include extra-judicial executions and wide scale rapes and sexually based gender violence.
Scott Campbell, the chief of the African Section of the U.N. Human Rights Office, says these atrocities are committed on a massive scale. And, rape and sexual violence are a daily occurrence.
"Impunity is the norm," said Campbell. "The few perpetrators that have been held accountable are the exception to the rule. Many of those that are prosecuted and sentenced and end up in a jail are subsequently freed or simply walk out the door as there are prisons in Congo that simply do not have doors. This has been the situation in the Congo for many years."
One of the reports focuses on the actions of government forces, some of whom engaged in large-scale pillaging, arbitrary killings and sexual violence. The report says these abuses were targeted against the very people they were supposed to be protecting in eastern Congo's provincial capital of Goma, and in surrounding towns and villages.
The U.N. High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, expresses particular concern about the actions of the National Congress for the Defense of the People militia. The group's former leader, Laurent Nkunda was arrested in January in Rwanda.
She says the actions of the CNDP could well amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Dozens of cases of killings and rapes are documented in the U.N. reports. But, Scott Campbell says the real total is probably much higher.
"The excess deaths reported in the Congo since 1998 make the conflict there the bloodiest conflict on the Planet since World War II," he said. "That is including Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. So, the scale of violations that have been committed there and the scale of active killing and death due to a lack of humanitarian service, access to health, etc., exceeds any other catastrophe on the Planet."
The U.N.'s Human Rights chief says the judicial response to the abuses have been wholly insufficient. She calls for concrete and immediate action to hold perpetrators accountable, particularly since sexual violence continues to take place on a daily basis.
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