Civilians in eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo are being targeted by former Ugandan rebels, a new report reveals.
Communities interviewed by a British relief agency identified the Lord’s Resistance Army as the “main perpetrator of killings, torture, and abductions as well as of looting, destruction of crops and rape.”
“Some 30,000 civilians fled the LRA in the first three months of 2011, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area to 330,000,” the report notes.
A major Washington conference on the DRC earlier this week heard harrowing details of widespread atrocities against civilians and calls for the international community to remain engaged in supporting human rights and combating what one US lawmaker called “sexual terrorism.”
“We must make it clear that genocide and torture, two of the serious human rights violations that are a crime under US law, can include wartime sexual violence,” said Senator Dick Durbin
Congolese rights advocates secured a major advance recently with the passage of a law criminalizing torture as an independent offense. The law passed both Houses of Parliament and is due to be promulgated by President Joseph Kabila at the end of July.
“This is a victory for civil society,” said Me N’Sii Luanda Shandwe (left), a prominent lawyer and head of the Committee of Observers of Human Rights (CODHO). He singled out the National Endowment for Democracy for funding much of the advocacy and organizational efforts to secure the legislation, highlighting the work of NED’s Joshua Marks for his local engagement in supporting the project, and the contribution of Senator Polycarp Mungulu T’Apangane who endorsed the bill.
Civil society partnerships such as NED’s cooperation with CODHO, contribute to the consolidation of democracy in Central Africa, he said, anticipating that “other countries of the sub region will benefit from this positive experience.”
With the law on the statute books, say activists, the challenge now will be enforcement of a provision by a state which lacks authority across large swathes of its own territory. The recent prosecution of the killers of human rights advocate Floribert Chebeya was a welcome development, democracy advocates concede, but the DRC has a long way to go before rule of law can be said to protect civilians from the state and violent non-state actors like the LRA.