59th session of the
United Nations Commission on Human Rights
17 March - 25 April 2003
Written declaration by FIACAT
Item 11(b) of the provisional agenda : Civil and political rights
Disappearances and summary executions in Africa
In view of the persistence, on a large scale, of summary or arbitrary out-of-court executions all over the world, FIACAT is deeply alarmed by the prevailing situation in many African countries and by the many allegations of enforced disappearances it receives.
ACAT Cameroon has for several years denounced the out-of-court executions perpetrated by security forces where no serious inquiry has been carried out and no judicial sentence has been passed.
In 2000-2001 the incidence of out-of-court executions and enforced disappearances increased considerably - chiefly in Douala - with the creation of the Operational Command, a special unit consisting of army and police forces whose task is to put an end to the recrudescence of criminality. Denunciation reports, official complaints, media publicity, diplomatic and international pressure and the like have helped to reduce the number of cases. Despite these appeals from the international community, however, the atrocities are continuing and the climate of impunity is firmly established.
Evidence is hidden or destroyed, and the families of those who have disappeared are dissuaded from complaining to the competent authorities. People are taken away and either shot or asphyxiated (the individual is brutally bound and then his or her face is covered with adhesive tape so that (s)he dies of suffocation). The corpses are sometimes buried immediately in a mass grave by the uniformed men who carried out the execution.
In Côte d’Ivoire, after four months of conflict in which both international human rights law and international humanitarian law have been flouted, the death toll is heavy and terrifying. Many civilians have been massacred : on 5 December 2002, for example, the French army discovered a mass grave near the village of Monoko Zohi. Summary or out-of-court executions have been reported in various locations ; disappearances, random arrests and acts of torture have been inflicted on victims on both sides.
FIACAT renews the appeal it launched on 27 January 2003 for the rapid establishment of an independent international commission to carry out an exhaustive inquiry into the atrocities committed by all warring forces. This commission should have a United Nations mandate and should cover all crimes committed in the past ten years, above all the Yopougon massacres of October 2000, unpunished to this day.
The situation which has prevailed in the Central African Republic since the failed coup d’état of 28 May 2001 against President Ange Félix Patassé is increasingly a cause for concern. The language of arms generates a cycle of violence, and the fate of the population, already condemned to poverty, misery and incarceration, is aggravated still further.
In Kaga-Bandoro, rebels have executed prominent citizens. In the afflicted town of Bossangoa, missionaries have been bound, beaten and tortured. Several summary executions have been perpetrated by Chadian Muslim rebels. Abbé Jean-Claude Kilamong, a priest of Central African nationality, has been assassinated.
FIACAT also wishes to express grave concern about the current political scene in the Republic of the Congo, and above all the appalling situation in which the populations of the Pool region, south of Brazzaville, have found themselves over the past seven months.
Reliable and consistent reports we have received show that military operations carried out in this region by government forces in an attempt to quell Pastor N’Toumi’s "ninja" rebel forces are accompanied by atrocities perpetrated against civilians.
Violence, intimidation, lootings and burnings of private homes, arrests at gunpoint, disappearances, sexual crimes against children and women of all ages, abductions and summary executions of any young man suspected of belonging to armed ninja groups are everyday occurrences in the Pool region.
On 18 November 2002 President Sassou N’Guesso asked the ninja rebels to surrender their arms and to give themselves up by using a humanitarian corridor, giving his personal undertaking to guarantee their safety. A week later, army helicopters were continuing to bombard displaced persons near Kinkala, causing many deaths and severe injuries amongst the civilian population.
After their recent Ituri investigation, the United Nations observers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monuc) confirmed the acts of cannibalism perpetrated by members of Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Congolese Liberation Movement last November and December as they progressed towards Beni, the fief of Mbusa Nyamwisi’s RDC/ML. In one notorious incident, a woman was forced to cook her husband’s remains and to eat her own arm. She finally begged to be put out of her misery and was immediately executed.
For years FIACAT has been denouncing the failures of the Togolese authorities to comply with their international obligations concerning the rights of the individual. A joint United Nations/OAU International Commission of Inquiry had concluded that "a situation involving systematic violations of human rights existed in Togo" and recommended to the Togolese authorities that they did everything in their power to find and prosecute the culprits. To this day the victims and their families are still waiting to see their tormentors brought to justice.
At its 76th session in 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed its concern that these events had "not been investigated in a credible manner" and that the national commission of inquiry had "clearly not sought to identify precisely those responsible for the violations drawn to the Government’s attention".
The Togolese security forces are continuing their repression with impunity and are known for their excessive use of force against the civilian population, particularly at peaceful demonstrations. On 9 November 2002, for example, a demonstration organised by the opposition as a protest against the premature holding of general elections was broken up with unacceptable violence : one person was killed and several were injured.
People detained or in custody are often beaten, ill-treated and tortured. Deaths have been reported, particularly in the prisons in Kara, Lomé and Dapaong, as a result of ill-treatment, malnutrition or epidemics.
Most of the perpetrators of these crimes are known. Nevertheless, despite repeated condemnations by the international community and sanctions imposed on Togo by its leading partners, including the European Union, the Togolese authorities have never shown the slightest inclination to change their behaviour and comply with their obligations.
In the light of these facts, FIACAT wishes to repeat that any act leading to an enforced disappearance entitles the victim of the act to the protection of the law and causes severe suffering to the victim and his or her family.
Such an act violates the rules of international law, above all those which guarantee each person the right to have his or her legal personality recognised, the right to personal freedom and safety, and the right not to be subjected to torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. Such an act also violates or gravely endangers the right to life .
No circumstance whatsoever, be it the threat of war, internal political instability or any other exceptional situation, may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances or out-of-court executions.
FIACAT stresses yet again that impunity is both one of the underlying causes of enforced disappearances and a major obstacle to the solving of these cases, and that effective measures must be taken to combat the impunity phenomenon .
It therefore urgently requests the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to :
Adopt Resolutions firmly condemning the practices of enforced disappearance and summary or arbitrary out-of-court execution ;
Call upon the governments concerned to conduct immediate, impartial inquiries, whatever the circumstances, every time there is reason to believe that an enforced disappearance or an out-of-court execution has taken place on territory under their jurisdiction - that is, remind them that the suspects must be prosecuted and punished where appropriate ;
Ask those same governments to put an end to the practices of enforced disappearance and summary or arbitrary out-of-court execution, and call on the competent United Nations mechanisms to visit the countries concerned ;
Keep this issue on the agenda for its next session.