Freedom from Torture - Our open letter to newly-elected DRC's President Tshisekedi

Our open letter to newly-elected DRC's President Tshisekedi

 

Dear Mr. President,

As you take up your new position and consider your priorities for the Democratic Republic of Congo, we write today to urge you to put justice, accountability, and putting an end to torture at the very top of your agenda.

Freedom from Torture is the only United Kingdom-based human rights organisation dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of torture survivors, and is one of the largest centres in the world for the forensic documentation of torture. Our doctors document physical and psychological evidence of torture in medico-legal reports, in accordance with the international standard of the UN Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the “Istanbul Protocol”). 

Freedom from Torture recently published a report A Tool to Silence: Torture to crush dissent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which contains medical evidence of the torture of Congolese nationals by State officials for exercising their democratic and constitutional right to engage in political and human rights activism. The evidence indicates that sexual torture, including rape, is endemic in the detention system.

Allow me to highlight the following key concerns: 

  • Women and men who exercise their democratic and constitutional right to engage in political and human rights activism are routinely detained and tortured by state authorities in the DRC, in a context of political repression that is unrelated to armed conflict.
  • Detainees are held without charge or any other of their due process rights in official and unofficial detention sites that operate under systems of complete lawlessness.
  • Torture, including rape, is endemic in the detention system, irrespective of the detaining authority or type of detention facility. Most of those who are detained, men and women alike, are raped, on multiple occasions and by multiple perpetrators. The rapes take place in a context of absolute impunity.

 

We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that almost half of all the individuals whose experiences formed the basis of our report were members or supporters of your party, the Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS).

We recognise that domestic legislation exists to uphold the absolute ban on torture and to criminalise torture in the DRC. We also note that the DRC has signed and ratified a number of international and regional treaties, including the United Nations Convention against Torture.

We are conscious that this is a crucial but delicate time of transition in DRC and believe that tackling human rights abuses is critical both to national stability and improving DRC’s international reputation. The outcome of the elections brings new opportunities to create a rights-respecting government and we look forward to your leadership in tackling torture. We welcome your comments made last week that a priority for your presidency is to close informal detention sites -“des cachots de fortune” - and look forward to the implementation of this commitment.

We recognise that you have many competing priorities as you start your Presidency but we respectfully urge that you, as President, publicly acknowledge the magnitude of the problem of torture and other ill-treatment in the DRC, in particular the use of sexual torture. We believe it is important that you send a clear message that these acts will no longer be tolerated against anybody regardless of their political affiliation, religion, or ethnicity.

 

Furthermore, with regard to its obligations under international and regional human rights standards and domestic legislation, we respectfully urge the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to:  

  • Immediately end the practice of torture and ill-treatment and undertake prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into all allegations of such treatment, as well as ensuring that alleged perpetrators of and accomplices to torture are brought to justice.
  • Commit to eradicating the prevalence of sexual torture in all contexts by ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice, irrespective of rank or position, and that safeguards exist in detention settings.
  • Ensure that detention conditions comply with the revised 2015 UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Mandela Rules) and immediately close all unofficial detention sites.
  • Ensure that the legal system enables survivors of torture to obtain redress, including compensation and rehabilitation.

 

Thank you for your consideration. We hope that your government will engage constructively with the evidence and recommendations we have presented.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Sonya Sceats

Freedom from Torture Chief Executive

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