The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today voiced concern at the recent decision by a military court in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to acquit all defendants of killings, torture and other abuses that occurred during an operation by the country's armed forces.
"I am concerned at the court's conclusions that the events in Kilwa were the accidental results of fighting, despite the presence at the trial of substantial eye-witness testimony and material evidence pointing to the commission of serious and deliberate human rights violations," said Louise Arbour of the verdict reached in late June in the DRC's Katanga Province.
"I am pleased that an appellate instance will have the opportunity to revisit these findings," she said, urging the appeals court to "fully and fairly weigh all the evidence before it reaches the appropriate conclusions that justice and the rights of the victims demand."
The High Commissioner also encouraged all competent authorities in the DRC to use all available legal means to bring justice to the victims of Kilwa.
In 2004, members of the country's armed forces (FARDC) regained control of Kilwa from a rebel group which had briefly occupied it.
In investigating the events, human rights officers of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) documented incidents of summary executions, torture, illegal detention and looting by the FARDC forces and concluded that little and sporadic fighting took place. Human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have also investigated the events and reached similar conclusions.
In a statement released in Geneva, the High Commissioner criticized the military court's assumption of jurisdiction over civilians in this case. "It is inappropriate and contrary to the DRC's international obligations for military courts to try civilians. While military personnel can in principle be charged by court martial, civilians may not - they should be tried before fair and independent civilian courts."
The High Commissioner called on the Congolese Parliament to adopt as a matter of priority the bill implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would provide the civilian courts with clear jurisdiction for international crimes.
She recalled that during her visit to the country in May, the authorities had provided assurances of their commitment to the fight against impunity. "The victims of serious human rights violations demand concrete signs of such commitment, in the form of truth and justice," she declared. "That is only their right."