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UN concerned about increase in violence and hate speech in eastern DRC

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Nderitu, today expressed deep concern about the impact of the recent upsurge in hostilities between the M23 armed group and the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the local population in eastern DRC. The two senior officials called for an immediate end to all attacks on civilians.

The M23 resumed hostilities against DRC troops in November 2021. Since then, multiple skirmishes have taken place with the Congolese Armed Forces in North Kivu province. Since May 2022, at least 23 civilians have been killed and 16 wounded, and many others have been displaced from their homes. Among them, three children were killed when their school was bombed by M23 combatants.

"We call on all parties to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law," Bachelet and Nderitu said. "We urge the government to ensure that those responsible for the abuses and violations committed are held accountable."

Michelle Bachelet and Alice Nderitu also expressed concern about recent developments in Bunagana, Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province, where restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as looting and ransacking of official buildings, private businesses and media organisations by M23 fighters have been reported.

"We have also seen an escalation of hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence throughout the country - and particularly against Kinyarwanda speakers - as the DRC government has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23," the UN officials stated.

"Hate speech fuels the conflict by exacerbating mistrust between communities. It focuses on aspects that were previously less important, encourages an 'us versus them' discourse and undermines social cohesion between communities that previously lived together," they added.

So far, the UN has identified eight cases of hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The hate speech has been disseminated by political party figures, community leaders, civil society actors and members of the Congolese diaspora, among others.

"Periods of heightened political tension and armed conflict tend to be correlated with increased use of hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence," the two senior officials said. "Hate messages increase the risk of violence, including atrocity crimes targeting specific groups of people. The use of such hate speech must be strongly condemned by the highest national authorities and curbed".

The UN officials encouraged Parliament to speed up the process of discussion and adoption of the "Racism, Xenophobia and Tribalism Bill" in order to strengthen the legal framework to address and counter hate speech.

They welcomed the DRC government's public statements condemning the continued spread of hate speech and called on it to strengthen existing prevention mechanisms, including national and provincial genocide prevention committees, by adopting a firm legal framework for their existence, appointing all of their members and providing the resources necessary for their operation, and to redouble its efforts in partnership with MONUSCO to combat inter-communal violence throughout the country.