This is a guest post by Niamh Reilly, Senior Lecturer and Co-director of the Global Women’s Studies Programme at the University of Galway

In April, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was reviewed during the 19th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on its implementation of human rights treaties. Keep reading to learn what happened!

Progress from 2009

During the second cycle of its UPR, the efforts made by the DRC to promote human rights and peace since the first review in 2009, were widely recognised as exceptional. Positive achievements noted included: efforts to combat torture and sexual violence and to end recruitment of and demobilise child soldiers within the national army; the creation of the National Human Rights Commission; adoption of the Addis Ababa Accord and a formal agreement to end hostilities with the armed group M23; the de facto moratorium on the death penalty, and constructive engagement with the UPR process.

Many shortcomings were also raised during the interactive dialogue with the DRC government on April 29, 2014. This included repeated calls: to increase prosecutions of sexual violence and, more generally, to fully implement the National Strategy on Sexual and Gender-based Violence; to ensure application of Rome Statute provisions in domestic law; to tackle problems of prison conditions and arbitrary detention; and to uphold the freedoms of human rights defenders.

Reluctance to address 1325

Maintaining international pressure on the DRC through the UPR to redouble its protection efforts, and to seek legal justice and reparations for women (as well as men and children) who have been subjected to sexual and gender based violence, continues to a be an important dimension of what it means to implement UN Security Council resolution 1325 and subsequent Women, Peace and Security (WPS) resolutions. However, the recent UPR review could have been used much more effectively than it was to press for progress, and to highlight deficiencies, regarding the other equally vital dimensions of the WPS agenda, especially, participation and prevention measures.  For example, while the DRC government underlined laudable measures it is taking to introduce gender quotas in electoral politics, no direct questions were posed about what the DRC is doing to ensure that women are full and equal participants in decision-making and the formulation of implementation strategies vis-a-vis the Addis Ababa Accord (the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework).

The missing link between wartime sexual violence and pre-existing gender inequality

Some of the 94 states who contributed to the dialogue expressly called on the DRC government to intensify its efforts to strengthen women’s rights and gender equality provisions (e.g., Chile, Ireland, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Sweden) or to combat gender stereotypes (Macedonia) and social stigma affecting victims of sexual violence (Brazil). However, the opportunity to examine more deeply the connections between women’s experiences of conflict-related violence and ‘peacetime’ inequalities was not taken.  Only the Swedish delegation noted that ‘sexual violence is not purely about conflict but is a consequence of social inequality’ as a counter point to the DRC government’s statement that such forms of violence are ‘alien to our cultures.’ Unfortunately rape as a form of patriarchal violence is not alien to any culture in the world.

Likewise, while many contributions called for stronger efforts on the part of the DRC and the international community to foster conditions for the realisation of social and economic rights in the DRC (e.g., Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Republic of Congo), none underlined the central importance of ensuring social and economic rights to preventing conflict and to building sustainable peace.

What about accountability?

Finally, in the context of the UPR, the need for the DRC to establish state authority, normal levels of security and the rule and of law across the whole country is unquestioned. However, from a WPS perspective, more scrutiny is called for the ongoing strategy of direct engagement by MONUSCO in military operations alongside the national army of the DRC, aimed at defeating targeted armed groups. During the interactive dialogue, a number of calls were made on the  DRC goverment to ensure that members of the national army (FARDC) who perpetrate sexual violence should be brought to justice, and to end recruitment of children within the FARDC. However, further questions might have been asked about what steps are being taken to ensure the ‘effective protection of civilians… in the context of violence emerging from any of the parties engaged in the conflict, and [to] mitigate the risk to civilians before, during and after any military operation’ in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2098.

What to do next?

As civil society, we have to make sure that these issues do not remain neglected, especially when the third review will come in four years. WILPF DRC has collaborated with the Human Rights programme to come up with key suggested recommendations for Member states to recommend to DRC. Even though our suggestions did not receive enough attention by states, we still need to monitor the progress of DRC’s human rights commitments and continue our advocacy efforts to make sure the WPS agenda is not neglected again. Particularly, we need to make sure we assess the implementation of UPR recommendations, so we can draft the best targeted suggested recommendations in four years time.

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