The UN rights chief decried Thursday surging violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with rampant sexual violence and more than 1,300 people, including over 100 children, killed since October.
Rebel militias have plagued the DR Congo for decades, and Volker Turk warned the United Nations Human Rights Council that "armed violence has intensified in eastern provinces, notably in Ituri and North Kivu".
The Islamist-aligned Allied Democratic Forces, a notorious militia called CODECO, and M23 insurgents, along with the Zaire and Nyatura armed groups, were continuing to "perpetrate despicable attacks against the civilian population with complete impunity", he said.
"Since October 2022, at least 1,334 people, including 107 children, have been killed in these eastern provinces," the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
Turk lamented that the violence had displaced some six million people inside the DRC, marking the highest number of internally displaced people in Africa.
He warned that areas that until now have generally been spared, including the western provinces of Mai-Ndombe and Kwilu, had begun seeing outbreaks of violence.
Human Rights Watch warned Thursday that intercommunal violence in western DRC had left at least 300 people dead since last June.
Just last Friday, 14 people were killed in Kwilu, all but two of them hacked to death with machetes, according to a local official.
Turk on Thursday also condemned continued widespread "vicious sexual violence," which he pointed out had historically been "used in the DRC as a deliberate weapon of war and strategy of terror".
In 2022 alone, he said the UN had "documented and verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence against 701 victims, including 503 women, 11 men and 187 girls".
Turk warned that such violence was "fuelled by impunity and corruption".
At the same time he hailed the authorities taking "significant steps" in the fight against impunity, with at least 91 members of the defence and security forces and at least 143 members of armed groups convicted of offences related to rights violations last year.
"These are important achievements, both for the victims and in terms of their deterrent effect," he said, underlining that, "The scale of violations and abuses that have been suffered demands much more action to stem widespread perceptions of impunity."
- 'Hate speech' -
Turk also decried heightened tensions between the DRC and neighbouring Rwanda, which he warned had "generated disinformation and hate speech".
Kinshasa and several Western governments say the M23 rebels are backed by Rwanda eyeing the natural resources across the border, a claim denied by Kigali.
Turk warned of severe hate speech and incitement to hostility in eastern DRC, targeting among others people presumed to be of Rwandan origin.
The UN rights chief also said he remained "deeply concerned by persistent restrictions on the Congolese people's fundamental freedoms and civic space."
This was particularly concerning in light of presidential, legislative and local elections scheduled for December, he said.
Turk noted what appeared to be "systematic efforts to prevent journalists and civil society actors from investigating allegations involving the security forces, particularly in conflict areas".