DR Congo

DR Congo: Louise Arbour - I'm encouraged by the mobilization of civil society in the fight against impunity

Eoin Young / MONUC

United Nations High Commissioner for human rights Louise Arbour spoke on May 15 2007 on the UN radio in the DRC- Radio Okapi - on issues relating to the fight against impunity and the reform of the justice system in the DRC, as well as sexual violence against women.

In relation to her interviews with the DRC political authorities, including talks with President Joseph Kabila, the UN High Commissioner said that the majority are 'conscious of the reality of the situation on the ground, which must be treated in a very serious fashion. In DRC, this is encouraging, this will to face up to a reality which is very dark.'

Dr. Arbour said that the High Commissioner can only work within the framework of her mandate of observation, the documentation of transparent public reports, as well as supporting the national authorities. She added that the Commission and the international community cannot be a substitute for national authorities, who must undertake their responsibilities.

In relation to the application of the respect of human rights, she insisted on the importance of civil society and NGO's to be allowed to demand that rights are respected.

"We need to question the governmental authorities so that they will respect their responsibilities, so that they are not content to always use a lack of means as an excuse for the permanent paralysis and lack of action on the part of governmental authorities," Dr. Arbour explained.

She went on to say that if the political authorities concerned 'do not have the political will to advance the country, they need to change their ways or be denounced. On the other hand, if they are of good faith, we should support them.'

In this regard, the High Commissioner focused on the necessity to create a space for civil society 'to rid the repressive reflexes of politicians, who are not accustomed to the workings of a healthy democracy.'

On the justice system, the High Commissioner said she was 'convinced' that institutional reform must be accompanied by values of integrity and professionalism on the part of the judiciary.

"It should not be thought that reform of judicial structures on their own will bear fruit. Moreover, it is very dangerous to only focus on institutional processes. I think that the judiciary needs to gain their independence. In their daily activities, they need to prove their integrity, professionalism and courage, and they need to speak up and takes acts of justice, even with their limited means," she underlined.

In relation to the victims of sexual violence and the 'profound contempt' against women, Dr. Arbour said that these acts 'inspired a profound solidarity towards the victims, with an accompanying demand for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.'

She made the point that supporting the victims of sexual violence in a gesture of solidarity was necessary to 'give them back their human dignity, psychosocial work which forms a very important part in reconstituting society so that they can reclaim their place.'

In relation to the place of women in Congolese society, Dr. Arbour expressed her misgivings on their present position in the country, where the initiative must come from the Congolese population so that Congolese women can occupy a place in society which respects their rights.

"On this point, I can only state publicly that it is disappointing to see so few women in positions of power, even though equality is guaranteed in the constitution. It is equally disappointing to see the slowness of legislative reforms that would give women a place in the economic life of the country, and guarantee them some form of independence," she said.

Dr. Arbour concluded her interview on Radio Okapi by encouraging the Congolese to continue the fight against impunity.

"I'm very encouraged throughout my visit by this mobilization on the level of the authorities, but especially on the part of civil society in the fight against impunity, and I encourage the Congolese to continue the fight."