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UN Calls for International Help in Stopping Atrocities in DRC - 2003-07-07

Acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, is urging the international community to help stop atrociites in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Ramcharan describes systematic human rights violations in more than a dozen towns throughout the Congo. He points to the brutal massacres of hundreds of civilians, including women and children. In some cases, women were burned alive. In others, he says, civilians' were hacked with machetes, axes, spears and arrows.

"We are talking about no ordinary killings in the course of conflicts," he said. "We are talking about events that shock the human conscience."

Some of the localities are near Bunia in the eastern region where a French-led multi-national force recently arrived to halt the atrocities committed against civilians in inter-ethnic violence. Other towns are in the far northwestern part of the country.

A U.N. team investigated the violations by speaking to witnesses and visiting mass graves.

Mr. Ramcharan says one of the worst massacres occurred on April 3 in the town of Drodro.

"The most shocking violation of human rights reported by witnesses include some 408 cases of summary executions," he said. "More than 80 cases of persons seriously wounded or mutilated and numerous accounts of stores and shops looted."

The violence is part of a chain of inter-ethnic conflicts between armed militias and rivalries among dissident armed groups and rebel factions.

Mr. Ramcharan says that a lack of security and minimal cooperation has hindered the U.N. investigation. He called on the Security Council to devote greater attention to the human rights violations throughout the Congo and to end the culture of impunity.

"The threat of justice to those who commit serious human rights violations is one of the means that we have at our disposal and one of the means that we must be willing to use," he said."

In an open debate on the human rights report, several Security Council members discussed the importance of a political solution carried out by a transitional government in the Congo. Meanwhile, the Security Council is expected to consider bolstering the military strength of the existing U.N. peacekeeping force in the war-torn country.