Mukwege Foundation Impacts UN Human Rights Review of Democratic Republic of the Congo
Peace, Democracy and Law, 21/05/2019
This month, the Democratic Republic of the Congo underwent a review of its Human Rights record by the UN. The Mukwege Foundation, in cooperation with the Right Livelihood Foundation, contributed to this review highlighting widespread violations of sexual and reproductive rights of women within the country. UN Member States picked up upon this review and recommended comprehensive changes to the DRC’s Human Rights policies.
About the Universal Periodic Review
Every four and a half years, every United Nations (UN) Member State voluntarily goes through a peer-review process that evaluates their progress in the field of human rights. This process is called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), and in May 2019 it was the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) turn to undergo scrutiny.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Universal Periodic Review is “a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States.” The UPR is driven collectively by the UN Member States under the scrutiny of the Human Rights Council. It provides States with an opportunity to present the steps that they have taken to promote and protect human rights in line with their international obligations.
The analysis of a country’s human rights record is based on information provided from three different reports: the national report, the compilation of UN information, and a compilation of submissions from civil society organisations. Thus, the UPR leverages on-the-ground knowledge of state-independent actors to clarify the reality of the human rights situation in a given country. In 2019, the UPR is currently on its third cycle, and States are required to report not only on the current human rights situation but also on the implementation of the recommendations received during the two previous cycles.
In preparation for the Universal Periodic Review of the DRC, the Mukwege Foundation, founded by Dr Denis Mukwege (Right Livelihood Award Laureate, 2013), in cooperation with the Movement of Survivors in DRC, the Panzi Foundation, and with the technical support from the Right Livelihood Foundation, submitted a report addressing the issue of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The report included specific recommendations to create a support program for survivors, to support the establishment of an effective and functional justice mechanism, to initiate the opening of fair and equitable trials, and to put in place prevention programs at all levels so that gender inequality, and thus sexual violence, is no longer tolerated.
The national report provided by the DRC pointed out that several of the measures to fight sexual violence have been adopted by the country in the last years, including the adoption of an action plan to combat sexual violence. The establishment of a joint task force composed of judges and legal experts in order to combat impunity contributed to creating a downward trend in the number of cases. Additionally, around 4000 armed forces’ officials and national police officers have now been convicted for sexual violence-related crimes.
However, according to the information provided by the UN and the report submitted by the Mukwege Foundation, in conflict areas, the widespread use of sexual violence as a weapon of war remains alarming, and for the majority of cases, impunity prevails. Although the law recognises the right to reparations, a nationally managed and funded state compensation fund has not yet been established.
33rd Session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group
During the 33rd session of the UPR Working Group, held on 7th May at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, several States picked up on the recommendations advocated for by the Movement of Survivors in DRC and the Denis Mukwege Foundation, bringing global attention to the issue of gender-based violence in the DRC. The States called on the DRC to shed light on human rights violations committed by armed groups and security forces officials and expressed concern at the widespread use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, notably in the context of the conflict affecting the Eastern part of the country.
States further highlighted the need to ensure access to transitional justice mechanisms and to provide reparations for the survivors of sexual violence related crimes, as well as to establish a national compensation fund. Additionally, some countries’ delegations called on the DRC to combat traditional discriminatory practices and to adopt effective mechanisms to prevent such crimes. Lastly, states urged the DRC to put an end to impunity and to ensure that all perpetrators are prosecuted and sentenced.
During the session in Geneva, Ms Mushobekwa Likulia, the minister of human rights for the DRC, recognised that the current legislation is not properly protecting women and in some cases makes them even more vulnerable. She stated that there aren’t any laws specifically addressing the issue of domestic violence, and abortion is also criminalised in cases of rape, and when the life of the mother is in danger. Furthermore, the minister stated that despite the efforts to achieve equal representation, the participation of women in public and political life is still insufficient, and the required percentage of women representation in national institutions is not observed.
The last time the DRC underwent a UPR in 2014, it accepted fully 190 recommendations from its fellow states. The government of the DRC has until September to position itself around the recommendations it has received during this new cycle. The DRC must take all the necessary measures to tackle sexual violence in the context of war, starting by accepting the recommendations recently received by the international community in its third Universal Periodic Review.