IRIN interview with UN human rights rapporteur Antoanella-Iulia Motoc

The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Antoanella-Iulia Motoc, completed on Saturday a 10-day mission during which she visited the capital, Kinshasa, and the towns of Bunia and Bukavu in the northeast and east of the country.

Motoc, of Romania, was appointed special rapporteur in December 2001, replacing Roberto Garreton, who had announced his resignation on 17 October, stating that his new responsibilities as the human rights advisor for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean were incompatible with the status of serving as an independent expert.

Motoc is a lawyer and academic who has been a member or alternate member of the UN Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights since 1996, serving as its chair from 2000 to 2001.

IRIN had the opportunity to speak with Motoc at the end of her mission.

QUESTION: You have just completed a 10-day mission in the DRC. What can you tell us about this visit?

ANSWER: This was my third visit to the DRC in my capacity as UN special rapporteur for human rights. The severe and widespread violations of human rights in Ituri as well as in the east of the country were at the centre of this visit. We must put an end to this [by] bringing justice to the victims and reconciling local communities who had lived together peacefully for a very long time.

Q: What did you discuss with the Congolese authorities with whom you met?

A: We discussed the issue of human rights violations, particularly with regard to impunity. I told them that I was not happy to see that people who have been accused of certain crimes and human rights violations were appointed to the recently-inaugurated government institutions. I repeated what I said in a report that I submitted to the transitional parliament and to the human rights commission. The names Tango Fort [alias of Gabriel Amisi] and Laurent Nkunda are mentioned. (1)

There are now a number of institutions involved in supporting democracy, among them the Observatoire national des droits and the Commission verite et justice. (2)

I believe that these institutions must safeguard the laws [of the country] and that the people named to these bodies must be persons of good character. I hope that these institutions will be independent.

We also discussed the COM [Cour d'Ordre Militaire - Military Order Court] and the trial for the assassination of Laurent-Desire Kabila. I visited the detained on the last day of my visit. My conclusion is that the detainees for this trial should be entitled to the same conditions as all others. And I told the Congolese authorities that this trial must be reviewed. Fortunately they assured me that a commission had been created to study the matter.

Q: With regard to the gross violations of human rights in the east and northeast of the country, what concrete action do you think might be taken to bring an end to these crimes, which have continued despite the efforts of the international community?

A: First, we must bring an end to the conflicts among different groups. All militants must stop attacks on the civilian population and respect the human rights of these people. It is essential that reconciliation efforts begin, that justice be returned to the region. This justice must be independent and impartial. Guilty parties must be brought to justice and punished.

We must also bring an end to extrajudicial executions which are taking place in South Kivu [Province] and throughout the eastern regions of the country. Freedom of expression must be respected. Freedom of the press must be respected both in the east and in the west. (3)

The rights of political parties must be respected in the east as well as in the west, as should the right to legal defence. Human rights must be respected throughout the Congo.

The demobilisation of child soldiers must take place, because the Congo signed the international protocol on the rights of the child. Similarly, I asked that the punishment of so-called child sorcerers come to an end.

The rights of [internally] displaced persons must be respected, and their return and rehabilitation should be supported.

The rights of indigenous peoples, such as the pygmies, must also be respected.

I told the authorities that the trials held in Gbadolite and Kisangani must be retried by independent and impartial courts. [The Congo's two main former rebel movements, the Mouvement de liberation du Congo (MLC), headquartered in the northwestern town of Gbadolite, and RCD-Goma, which controlled the northeastern city of Kisangani, have been accused of major human rights violations.] Those guilty must be judged by a civil justice system.

The death penalty must be abolished. Authorities of the DRC must reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty, which has been suspended. I was assured that the human rights commission would address this matter.

Q: Among the institutions to support democracy, you mentioned the truth and justice commission. You have said that reconciliation must take place. Does this mean that crimes committed during more than four years of war should go unpunished?

A: The truth and justice commission must be able to respond to all circumstances. Amnesty must not be accorded those guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity. Those guilty of such crimes must be judged and punished.

Q: Do you think that an international tribunal should be established for crimes committed in the Congo, as was done for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia?

A: From July 2002, the International Criminal Court was empowered to handle the Congo dossier. The president of the court himself announced this. Already, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and MONUC [the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo] have been authorised to gather materials for this. There were massive violations of human rights, with more than three million deaths. There must therefore be judicial mechanisms in place to determine those who were responsible. Since 2002, the International Criminal Court has been empowered to prosecute those who are guilty. I think that an agreement must be reached between the UN and the Congolese government for this to take place. (4)

Q: For justice to be restored in the Congo, capacities in this domain must be strengthened. What is currently being done to address this?

A: There is a project supported by the European Union. I spoke with the representative. A number of actions have already been taken. For example, France's contributions to Bunia. As well as Belgium and other partners who are contributing in this domain. The Bunia prison has been rebuilt. Efforts are underway to convince judges to return to Bunia, because they fled. This is an important initiative by the member countries of the European Union.

NOTES:

(1) These two officers from the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) former rebel movement were recently named to the military command of the DRC's unified national army despite being implicated in human rights violations.

(2) Under the power-sharing agreement reached at the conclusion of the inter-Congolese dialogue, five institutions have been designated to support the newly-inaugurated two-year transitional government - namely, a national human rights observatory; a high authority for media; a truth and reconciliation commission; and national elections council; and a commission for ethics and the fight against corruption.

(3) Prior to the 30 June 2003 inauguration of the transitional government, a large part of the east of the country was under the control of RCD-Goma, while the west was under the control of the former Kinshasa government of President Joseph Kabila.

(4) See earlier IRIN story, "International Criminal Court targets Ituri"