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Torture Thrives in Climate of Impunity in DR Congo

A U.N. watchdog group is demanding an end to the widespread practice of torture and other cruel punishments in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC is one of six countries examined by the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which monitors the implementation by States of the Convention Against Torture. At the conclusion of its four-week session, the Committee criticized the DRC for failing to meet this test.

Democratic Republic of Congo's Minister for Human Rights Marie-Ange Mushobekwa offered a vigorous defense of her country's efforts to comply with the provisions of the Convention Against Torture. She argued that following the ratification of the treaty in 2010, her country had adopted a law against torture which strengthened and completed the Penal Code. She said measures were being enacted to strengthen the criminalization of torture.

But her defense failed to persuade the 18 independent members of the U.N. Committee Against Torture. Human Rights expert, Sebastien Touze said evidence presented to the Committee indicates the prohibitions enshrined in the Convention are being completely ignored by the DRC, legally and in practice.

Furthermore, he noted 63 percent of human rights violations were committed by State agents.

He said there is a general climate of impunity in DRC. He said no one suspected of human rights violations is prosecuted, allowing torture and other cruel acts to flourish. Victims of abuse are abandoned and have no recourse to justice, he said.

In its report, the Committee notes that arbitrary detention is widespread. It finds secret detention centers continue to exist in which the majority of detainees there are victims of torture, and cruel and degrading treatment. Those most at risk of abuse, it says include human rights defenders, journalists and political dissidents.

The U.N. Committee reports violence against women is widespread. And while rape and sexual violence, including mass rape are endemic in situations of conflict, it says the 2011 law in DRC does not recognize these atrocities as acts of torture.

The experts express great concern about the numerous human rights violations received by the Committee. They have asked the DRC delegation to report back within a year on steps being taken to bring the country into compliance with the Torture Convention.

Minister Mushobekwa said her country was not in denial about its checkered human rights record. She said the government is doing all it can to fight impunity against torture, but things take time.