"During previous outbreaks of fighting in this region, we have seen horrendous large-scale summary and arbitrary executions, rapes, disappearances, torture, harassment, unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention, not to mention wave after wave of mass displacement," Pillay said. "Over the past days, a number of fresh violations have been recorded by UN human rights staff in the region."
In the provincial capital Goma, the main perpetrators of looting, killings and rapes, appear to have been renegade soldiers belonging to the national army known as the FARDC, many of whom have fled the fighting. Other serious abuses, including targeted killings, have been reported from areas held by forces of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), commanded by Laurent Nkunda.
UN human rights officers on Thursday gathered information about a number of incidents that had occurred overnight. They visited one house in Goma where five people had been murdered, four others wounded and one three-year-old child was missing. Neighbours believed that the killings took place during an episode of looting. In another part of town, a FARDC soldier killed a man and his eight-year-old son, and wounded two other children belonging to the same family. The soldier, who left his uniform at the scene of the crime, is reported to have been later arrested by army authorities. Another FARDC soldier was reported to have been shot dead while looting, which was widespread in certain areas of the town. In one incident, a barman is said to have been shot dead by FARDC elements because he had failed to serve them quickly enough.
In rebel-held areas north of Goma, CNDP fighters are reported to have fired indiscriminately at a clinic into which government soldiers had fled, leading to civilian casualties, and later in the week a similar incident took place at a clinic in Rutshuru.
Human rights activists in both Goma and rebel-held areas have told UN staff that they have been threatened or narrowly escaped being killed. There is fear of both the FARDC and CNDP. According to an unconfirmed report, in the rebel-held town of Rugari, the President of the Civil Society has been shot dead by CNDP fighters.
"The total number of civilians killed so far is not known, but this is clearly an extremely dangerous situation," said Pillay. She called on the government to put in place radical institutional reforms so that its security forces can play an appropriate role under the constitution and fully respect the human rights of its citizens.
"What happened in Goma should not have happened, as most violations were committed by looting soldiers belonging to the government forces," she said. "I urge the government to take swift and significant action to control their soldiers and protect the civilian population."
Pillay called on the international community to help the government put the reforms in place. "Without far-reaching reforms, human rights violations will continue and sustainable peace will not be achieved," she said, adding that an end to impunity was essential. "Thousands of vicious killers and rapists have escaped punishment over the years in eastern DRC," she said. "This feeds a cycle of violence and lawlessness that will end only when those responsible are brought to justice."