DRC torture widespread in security forces and armed groups – UN

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By far the majority of torture cases in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) occur in conflict affected areas where impunity is widespread, according to a just released UN report.

The report, issued by the UN Joint Human Rights Office in DRC (UNJHRO) and the UN Stabilisation Mission in DRC (MONUSCO), covers 1 April 2019 and 30 April 2022 and presents findings that 93% of the 3 618 registered cases of torture, cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment affecting 4 946 victims were documented in areas affected by armed conflict. Of this 492 were cases of sexual violence, affecting 761 victims.

According to the report, defence and security forces personnel were responsible for 1 293 cases. A further 1 833 cases were attributed to armed groups, who sometimes acted on their own but in certain contexts subjected victims to torture  in collusion with security forces.

The report shows people were subjected to torture and ill-treatment while exercising fundamental rights, such freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, or during detention.

According to the report, “violence inflicted in the administration of justice, in the restriction of democratic space or in places of detention illustrates the widespread nature of torture, which thrives in a context of relative impunity as few complaints against alleged perpetrators of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment are filed or successful. This contributes to under-estimation of the problem and its magnitude”.

Despite the magnitude of the violations and abuses committed during the reporting period only two army officers, 12 national police officers and 75 from armed groups were convicted of torture.

The report flags impunity as creating an enabling environment for torture to continue and explains the distrust of the population toward law enforcement officers and the justice system.

“MONUSCO continues to support government in efforts to prevent and combat torture,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MONUSCO Bintou Keita said.

She added that “follow-up committees on human rights violations attributable to the national army and the police, created by national authorities and supported by MONUSCO, are useful in supporting training in this area and ensuring follow-up on cases of torture”.

“Torture can never be justified, no matter the circumstances or the context. DRC authorities must act with urgency and determination to end this scourge,” Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said.

Recognising efforts undertaken by the DRC government, including the ratification of the additional protocol to the Convention against Torture and the creation of the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CNPT), “much more needs to be done to effectively prevent, eradicate and prosecute torture in the country,” the Acting UN Human Rights Chief noted.

“These entities have outlined specific recommendations to end torture once and for all, but few have been actually implemented. Doing so is key to preventing yet more people becoming victims,” she said.