DR Congo

Calls for Urgent attention to the need for human rights protection

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News Service 213/96
AI INDEX: AFR 02/19/96
ADDIS ABABA -- Speaking at an emergency meeting of the Conflict Resolution Mechanism of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa yesterday, Amnesty International's Secretary General Pierre Sane called on participating governments to put human rights at the top of the agenda in any resolution on the crisis in the Great Lakes region.

"The humanitarian emergency and the urgent need for a political settlement should not deflect attention from the human rights crisis in the region," said Mr Sane.

"The mortal risk at which millions of people in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi find themselves is the result not only of the fighting which broke out in eastern Zaire in September 1996, but also more fundamentally, of the legacy of widespread human rights violations and impunity in the region."

In a letter addressed to members of the OAU Central Organ for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Mr Sane urged Member States to address the human rights dimension which, in the view of the organization, lies at the heart of the current crisis in the Great Lakes region.

"Attempts to induce, persuade or pressure refugees to return to their home countries are likely to result in a further serious escalation of human rights abuses if measures are not first introduced to ensure effective protection of human rights," said Mr Sane.

These should include ending "disappearances", unlawful executions, and arbitrary arrests in both Burundi and Rwanda as well as deliberate and arbitrary killings by the armed opposition groups in these two countries. There must be independent judicial systems functioning in each country to ensure impartial and effective investigations into human rights abuses.

"Unless human rights protection in the country of origin is made fully effective refugees cannot be expected to return voluntarily," said Mr Sane.

In the United Nations (UN) resolution 1078 adopted by the UN Security Council on 9 November 1996, it was decided that a multi-national force, to be funded by participating states and voluntary contributions, will be deployed in the region as opposed to a UN peace-keeping force. This resolution does not specifically mention prevention of human rights violations as one of the forces's functions.

''Human rights protection is an international obligation for all members of the United Nations and cannot be left to voluntary initiatives. Otherwise we are again left to wonder whether the international community really cares about human rights in Africa or is only concerned to be seen to contain humanitarian crises,'' said Mr Sane.

Mr Sane, who is travelling to Kigali, Rwanda, attended the opening of the Ministerial session of the OAU Central Organ for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, and met with the OAU Secretary General, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, to present Amnesty International's recommendations regarding the resolution of the crisis in eastern Zaire.

ENDS\

The International Secretariat of Amnesty International,
1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ
(Tel +44-71-413-5500, Fax +44-71-956-1157)

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