UN top rights body unable to reach decision on DR Congo

The United Nations Human Rights Council was unable to complete a special session Friday on the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and deferred making conclusions until it would reconvene Monday afternoon, dpa reported.

The African Group, represented by Egypt, tried to have the session closed, a move opposed by Western nations led by France who wanted the council to reach a clear decision, the stand ultimately adopted.

African delegates said the session was convened "hastily" and they did not have time to prepare.

African countries had been trying to defer the entire session to an unknown date in the future, said Western diplomats on condition of anonymity, adding that in their view the urgent humanitarian situation in the DR Congo needed to be addressed as soon as possible.

Opening the session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, spoke of the "steady deterioration of human rights" in the eastern DR Congo, where the Tutsi rebels of General Laurant Nkunda have fought government forces.

She said there was a "culture of impunity" which at least in part was a result of past peace agreements that let human rights violators escape prosecution and even join government forces.

"This has empowered human rights violators and endangered the Congolese population," she charged.

A representative for the DR Congo, Sebastien Mutomb Mujing, said his government "deplored" the "serious human rights abuses" taking place in his country.

He said that Nkunda was receiving support from countries "close and far away" but did not mention any specific nation, though officials have in the past blamed Rwanda. He also said the rebel leader was backed by arms manufacturers.

The Rwandan delegate did not respond to questions posed by Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa about her country's alleged involvement.

Mujing said that over the past 12 years about 5 million people have been killed in fighting in the DR Congo, especially during what is known as Africa's World War in the late 1990s, when various country's got involved in the conflict.

The meeting took place without a special delegation from Kinshasa, as they were unable to obtain visas to Switzerland.

The Swiss representative at the council said his country "regrets" that the high-level delegation from DR Congo was unable to attend, but that visa applications had only been received at the last minute.

Speaking on the violence rampant in the country, Pillay focused on sexual violence, mentioning a recent case of a 13-year-old girl being violently raped and subsequently dying of her injuries. The violence, the commissioner said, also affected refugee camps.

The French representative, Jean Baptiste Mattie whose country had called for the meeting and spoke for the European Union and other backers of the special session, said there were "unbearable human rights violations" and added that "rape cannot be a weapon of war."

He also condemned the recent killing of a journalist in DR Congo.

"Those responsible (for abuses) must be held accountable," he said, mentioning the International Criminal Court, which has a mandate over the DR Congo.

Earlier this month, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo asserted that he had the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute war crimes in the African state. He said "crimes must stop" and called on all parties to end the abuses.

Mattie said a political solution was needed to end the violence and abuses in the DR Congo.

There are some 250,000 internally displaced people in DR Congo from the recent fighting, and others have fled to neighbouring countries. They come on top of over a million refugees from previous conflicts in the area.

The UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo, the international body's largest military force in the world, "needs political backing and unhindered access" in order to investigate the crimes committed, Pillay said.

She said both rebels and government forces committed rights abuses.

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