"If there is no end to the present culture of impunity in the DRC, the progress we seek on the political front may be hard to achieve," Guehenno told the Council at UN headquarters in New York on Thursday, adding that thousands of people were being displaced and suffering human rights abuses.
Guehenno was updating the Council on the continuing instability in the northeast of the country, and steps taken by the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict. He said MONUC had been working hard in the past weeks to defuse tensions among various factions and recommend peace-building mechanisms. He noted that MONUC was deeply concerned by claims made by Thomas Lubanga, the leader of the Union des patriotes congolais, that he had the sole legitimate right to control the entire Ituri region.
[For background on the Ituri conflict, go to: http://www.irinnews.org/webspecials/Ituri/default.asp]
Guehenno's views were supported by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, who told the Council that the human rights situation in the DRC had "deteriorated significantly". He said information gathered "reveals that prosecution on ethnic and tribal grounds, extortion of property, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, extrajudicial executions, and the forced recruitment of children are being committed".
In view of these "gross violations of human rights", Vieira de Mello said there was an "imperative need" to continue to monitor closely and report on the human rights situation in the DRC. He said consideration should be given to the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to look into such violations.
"The Council may wish to demand again that the belligerents and their foreign supporters put an immediate end to human rights violations and to the culture of impunity, and that those responsible for such crimes be immediately arrested - including those who continue to exercise military command functions - and eventually brought to justice," the High Commissioner said.
Member states expressed their support for increased vigilance and action, with France stating that it would be preparing a presidential statement on the issues and condemning the atrocities taking place in eastern DRC. It said any future constitution should uphold human rights principles, and inquired about the future role of UN special rapporteurs visiting the region.
Russia insisted that all hostile parties should ensure access of humanitarian agencies to affected populations.
The US stated that human rights must be kept at the centre of the agenda in DRC, and requested guidance from the High Commissioner as to how the Council could help the DRC build human rights institutions, create measurable benchmarks, and strengthen MONUC to enable it to ensure that parties observed human rights principles. The US noted that it would be carefully following the trials of soldiers of the Mouvement de liberation du Congo accused of committing human rights atrocities in the Ituri region, scheduled to begin on 18 February, to ensure that justice was done.
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