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UN Accuses DRC of Excessive Force in Quashing Protests


A report Friday by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights accuses the Democratic Republic of Congo of using excessive force in putting down protests in the Bas-Congo province early this year. More than 100 people were reportedly killed during the clashes. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The report says the Congolese military and police used excessive and indiscriminate lethal force in putting down demonstrations in the Bas-Congo that erupted January 31 and February 1. An opposition-religious group, called the Bundu Dia Kongo, were protesting against senatorial and gubernatorial elections it claimed were fraudulent when the clashes occurred.

U.N. Human Rights spokesman Jose Dias says U.N. rights monitors and a U.N. mission in the country investigated the events and found that at least 105 people, including six police officers and four soldiers, were killed. He says another 100 people were injured. "The high death toll, as I said, points to excessive use of lethal force by the national security force. The report goes on to say that while both sides share responsibility for the violence, the security forces have enjoyed impunity so far. The high commissioner deplores also that the trials are being conducted before military tribunals while many of the accused are civilians," he said.

Dias says this is a clear violation of international human rights standards. He says the U.N. High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, is calling on the authorities to bring to justice all those who had committed crimes during those events and to ensure that the trial on appeal is heard by civilian courts.

The U.N. inquiry acknowledges that, in some cases, the security forces probably fired in legitimate defense. But, in general, it says it appears fairly clear that the National Congolese Police and Armed Forces used excessive force in firing real bullets on the protesters who were only armed with sticks and stones.

Spokesman Dias says the U.N. Human Rights Monitors maintained contact with the Congolese government throughout the investigation. "I think the response that we got was less than satisfactory from the authorities. It was not optimal cooperation in the investigation," he said.

A report by a Congolese parliamentary commission in May concluded that security forces had acted against, what it calls, an illegal group. It says the group attacked the forces and committed murder, arson, looting and rape. Opposition lawmakers and human rights campaigners call the report a whitewash.

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