U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the human-rights situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is alarming. She is calling for all participants in the various conflicts in the region to respect human rights and international humanitarian law and says those who commit crimes against civilians must be brought to justice.
Pillay says she is deeply concerned about a continuous stream of gross human-rights abuses committed by the Ugandan-rebel Lord's Resistance Army in the Oriental Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The group has been attacking villages and terrorizing civilians since it moved its base from southern Sudan to this remote part of the Congo. At the end of last year, the Congolese, Ugandan and Sudanese armies launched joint operations against the rebels.
U.N. Human Rights Spokesman Rupert Colville says the High Commissioner is not opposed to this military operation because she believes the LRA needs to be reigned in.
"But, on past record, military operations by government forces have themselves caused massive problems for civilians and have resulted in lawless actions. If past practices are repeated, civilians could be caught in the crossfire and receive as much harm from the government forces as from the rebel forces," Colville said.
Colville says the joint military action did not succeed in driving out the rebel group. And, he notes, it is the civilians who are paying the price for that failure.
"Initial U.N. investigations in DRC suggest that the LRA retaliated by killing hundreds of civilians, whom they believed were aiding the government forces or sympathizing with government forces," he said. "The LRA is also accused of conducting large-scale kidnappings and rapes, as well as forced recruitment of children. As a result, a major humanitarian crisis has developed in the region."
The United Nations estimates the LRA killed at least 500 civilians. It says more than 100,000 people have been forcibly displaced.
High Commissioner Pillay also expresses concern over the situation in North Kivu province. In recent days, thousands of Rwandan troops have been deployed there in preparation for a joint offensive with the Congolese army to disarm the Rwandan Hutu rebels.
Colville says Pillay does not object to putting the Hutu rebels out of action. She says they are responsible for massive human-rights abuses against civilians over the past 14 years and need to be stopped. But, he says, Pillay fears this military action could cause widespread harm for civilians.