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U.S. Denounces "Climate of Impunity" in Congo

U.S. Denounces "Climate of Impunity" in Democratic Republic of Congo

(Ambassador Williamson's UNSC remarks)

Both the international community and the leaders of the factions fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been faulted by the United States for failing to take steps to stop the brutality reported to be occurring during the conflict in that country.

U.S. Alternate Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Williamson said in a U.N. Security Council meeting July 7 that "The international community has been too slow and too timid to respond to grievous crimes, and the leaders of the various fighting factions have failed in their responsibilities to end the excessive brutality of their forces" in the DRC.

Williamson criticized what he called "a climate of impunity" in the DRC during a public Security Council meeting. The council heard reports on the political and human rights situation in the DRC from Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno and Acting U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan in which they stressed that real progress and lasting peace would take hold in the country only when the perpetrators of the ongoing violence and human rights abuses are brought to justice.

Citing a series of reports, Security Council meetings and council denunciations of the DRC atrocities over the past five months -- including current reports of atrocities -- Williamson said, "Again our conscience is aroused. Again we say there can be no culture of impunity, yet these crimes against humanity continue and our words ring hollow."

"The United States Government believes the transitional national government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) must take responsibility for ending the pervasive culture of impunity in that bloody, brutalized land," the ambassador said. "The tragedies of the past years must be addressed and as appropriate, we should assist the DRC transitional national government to achieve these goals by helping them to strengthen the nascent, inclusive, national government."

Williamson urged the U.N. mission in the DRC to help gather evidence of crimes in order to assist in bringing the perpetrators to justice. But he emphasized that "international action can go only so far in addressing the human rights problems in Congo."

"The Congolese parties themselves must be sincere and active in addressing them. We call on the Congolese to take meaningful steps, beginning with expediting secure and unrestricted access by investigators and MONUC (the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) staff to areas and witnesses of suspected human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law," he said.

Following is the transcript of the ambassador's remarks:

(begin text)

Statement by Ambassador Richard S. Williamson, United States Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs for the United States Mission to the United Nations, on the Human Rights Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Security Council, July 7, 2003.

Thank you, Mr. President. I wish to thank Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights Ramcharan and Under Secretary General Jean Marie Guehenno for their briefings to the Security Council this morning on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The bloody, violent conflict in the Congo is tragic. For over three and a half years, there have been brutal killings, rape, pillage and looting. Innocent people have died at the hands of combatants and from disease, from malnutrition and from other consequences of war. Some estimate the deaths due to this war at over three million people. Some of the worst acts imaginable, including cannibalism, have been committed.

Women and children, in particular, have been victimized by this conflict. And for too many, there's been a climate of impunity, in which these vicious acts have been perpetrated.

Frankly, the international community has been too slow and too timid to respond to these grievous crimes, and the leaders of the various fighting factions have failed in their responsibilities to end the excessive brutality of their forces. Approximately one year ago, the U.N. Security Council was briefed by then U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson about the atrocities that took place in Kisangani in May of 2002.

The report was thorough, detailed, and very useful. The members of the Security Council quite properly were shocked and distressed by what we were told. The abuse of life and of human rights was appalling; the stories of beheading repulsive.

At that time, the Security Council thanked the High Commissioner on Human Rights for her good work and strongly condemned the perpetrators of the awful acts in Kisangani. At that time the Security Council reiterated the critical principle that there could be no climate of impunity, that these crimes must stop and those responsible must be held accountable.

Given those events and the Security Council's actions, it is disheartening and distressing that we have had to meet again and again on atrocities and terrible human rights abuses in the eastern Congo. In February the Security Council met in a formal session to listen to the High Commissioner on Human Rights Sergio de Mello report on the catastrophic human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In his report, the High Commissioner included some of the preliminary findings regarding the atrocity committed in the Ituri district last fall by the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC) troops and their ally the Congolese Rally for Democracy National (RDC-N) rebel movement. At that time, the United States delegation listened with revulsion and profound sadness to the High Commissioner's descriptions of wanton acts of torture, rape, killing and cannibalism.

The U.N. investigation confirmed that these atrocities were part of a systematic and horrifying campaign of atrocities against civilians in the forests of northeast Congo, with children among the victims. Apparently rebels called their terror campaign, "Operation Clean the Slate" and the operation was presented to the people almost like a vaccination campaign.

At that time we expressed our condemnation of these horrendous acts and I said in that February meeting of the Security Council "what we have heard today about the catastrophic human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the atrocities committed by various armed factions, tragically reaffirms that we must keep human rights at the center of our efforts to foster lasting peace and a new transitional government in the DRC." To the more recent victims of brutality in the Congo, our rhetoric rings hollow and our actions insufficient.

For now, five months later, we hear details of further atrocities committed elsewhere in the Congo. Last winter, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement promised to address the atrocities of Mambasa. He announced that his rebel group had arrested five of its own members, including its chief of operations in Ituri Province, Lieutenant Colonel Freddie Ngalimo. He said the five would face trial by rebel court. The United States Government is very disappointed at the inadequate manner with which the MLC handled the trials of those suspected of committing atrocities in Mambasa.

We fully share the assessment that the trials were gravely flawed. We are concerned about the inadequate legal rights afforded to the defendants of those trials and the callous disregard for the serious nature of the crimes as reflected in the light sentences handed down and the failure to charge anyone with crimes against humanity or war crimes.

The failures of these proceedings will not end the culture of impunity; sadly, these failures perpetuate the culture of impunity. Just last week the U.N. Security Council issued a press statement congratulating the Congolese parties on forming a transitional government. The difficult issue of who will serve as Minister of Land Resources and Chief of Staff of the Government appear to have been resolved. On June 30 in Mbandaka, President Kabila read out the complete list of ministers.

By the end of July it is expected that the Vice President, the Cabinet, the Ministers and the National Assembly all will be sworn in. The United States Government welcomed the announcement of the transitional government and we welcome the movement to put the transitional government in place. We welcome the compromise on military integration.

Further, my delegation welcomes the report of Under Secretary General Guehenno this morning, the verifications efforts are taking place in the Ituri District, that Brunei was declared a weapons free zone on June 27, that six thousand internally displaced persons have returned to Bunia, that the Ituri interim administration is being more active and that the Ituri district seems stable.

This is good news. My delegation also welcomes Mr. Guehenno's report that the second task force will begin to deploy on August 15 and that the multinational force in Brunei has begun to shift the balance between the rebels and the legitimate authority. This is very encouraging indeed. But Deputy High Commissioner on Human Rights Ramcharan has given us yet another report of brutal crimes committed in the eastern Congo.

This morning he has told us that in Drodro in early April people were burned alive, there were machete attacks in hospitals, and there are 20 mass gravesites. Again we are repulsed by these acts of horrendous inhumanity. Again our conscience is aroused. Again we say there can be no culture of impunity, yet these crimes against humanity continue and our words ring hollow.

The United States Government believes the transitional national government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo must take responsibility for ending the pervasive culture of impunity in that bloody, brutalized land. The tragedies of the past years must be addressed and as appropriate, we should assist the DRC transitional national government to achieve these goals by helping them to strengthen the nascent, inclusive, national government.

A lesson in recent years is that transitional justice is very important for a post-conflict society hoping to move to a secure, stable and sustainable peace. It is critical that there is no impunity; accountability is essential, gross human rights abuses cannot be brushed under the carpet.

A full recording of these crimes is required and the perpetrators must be identified and held to account. My delegation urges MONUC to assist non-governmental organizations and the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights in gathering documentary evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in order to present these cases to the Congolese Ministry of Justice for prosecution.

A truth and reconciliation commission is described in paragraph 28 of the report on Drodro requires an effective and functioning government, with the formation at the end of June of the cabinet of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's transitional national government, that framework is in place.

The Congolese parties have agreed to work together, must now show their hearts and minds are committed to national reconciliation and come to agreement on extending government control throughout the country. As I already have mentioned, on July 16, 2002, the U.N. Security Council received a report on the events of Kisangani of May 14-15, 2002. The recommendation then that the authorities in Kisangani should take immediate steps to arrest those who ordered or were involved in extra-judicial killings has not been heeded and violence continues. This is unacceptable.

The people of Kisangani who were victimized deserve better. The people of the Congo deserve better. The years of brutal and bloody conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have exacted a terrible toll on millions of people. The goal of a Congo free from violence that is just and secure and sustainable can only be reached through meaningful transitional justice that leads to national reconciliation. This requires an end to the culture of impunity.

This requires accountability and justice. International action can go only so far in addressing the human rights problems in Congo. The Congolese parties themselves must be sincere and active in addressing them. We call on the Congolese to take meaningful steps, beginning with expediting secure and unrestricted access by investigators and MONUC staff to areas and witnesses of suspected human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. Thank you, Mr. President.


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