Human rights situation remains bleak, UN reports

Women and children continue to bear the brunt of human rights violations in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where, despite some progress towards peace, rape is still being used as a weapon of war, and children are still being recruited to fight these wars, according to two new UN reports.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burundi, Marie-Therese Keita-Bocoum, said she had found no improvement in the situation of economic, social and cultural rights during the months of March through August, UN News reported.

She urged the international community to encourage humanitarian organisations to support the protection and promotion of human rights, especially those of women and the Batwa people, often referred to as pygmies, who are widely discriminated against in the region.

Keita-Bocoum called on the international community to support the UN-sponsored conference on peace, security and stability in Africa's Great Lakes region, saying its success would "undeniably have a positive impact on the human rights situation in Burundi and central Africa".

However, she warned that continuing clashes in the region were serious obstacles. "A ceasefire and cessation of hostilities must be quickly established, first of all because the complete implementation of the peace agreements depend on them, and also so that war can no longer be used to justify gross human rights violations," she said.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring DRC, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes serve to "create a frightening picture of one of the most serious human rights situations in the world", according to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the DRC, Iulia Motoc.

She highlighted the country's northeastern Ituri District as a source of particular concern, where she warned that "without effective intervention by the international community, Ituri will be turned into a bloodbath", UN News reported.

She said the efforts of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, to protect civilians in Ituri had been mostly insufficient, and that the civilian population remained in danger, UN News quoted her as saying.

Motoc also raised the issue of "child sorcerers" - children accused of having mystical powers who suffer ill-treatment and even murder.