12 January 2003
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, is traveling to central and southern Africa on his first field mission since he took the post in September.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Burundi are all engaged in fragile peace processes. U.N. Human Rights spokesman Jose Dias said the U.N. High Commissioner's main message to the officials he meets is that human rights are essential for maintaining the peace.
"The best way to make a peace process stick, make it solid, to make it work is to make the respect of human rights an integral part of that process. If people feel that they are being listened to, that their rights are being respected - that they can see some dividends in the form of greater political freedom, the respect also of social and economic rights - I think that is one way of making sure that the peace process works," Mr. Dias said.
Mr. Vieira de Mello is scheduled to meet the presidents of all three countries, as well as opposition leaders and human rights activists. His first stop will be in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he will meet President Joseph Kabila and other senior officials on Monday.
Mr. Dias said the high commissioner plans to ask President Kabila to commute the death sentences of 30 people, implicated in the assassination of his father, President Laurent Kabila. Mr. Vieira de Mello will also see how his office can play a more effective role in supporting the recently-signed peace agreements.
The high commissioner will travel to the eastern part of the Congo on Tuesday, where he will discuss reports of serious human rights violations with rebel leaders and human rights activists. "There have been some horrendous human rights abuses in that part of the country, resulting from the conflict there. And, that will indeed be a major part of his agenda while there. He has expressed his deep concern about the reports of massacres and other serious human rights violations," Mr. Dias said.
After the Congo, Mr. Dias said, the high commissioner will spend three days each in Angola and Burundi.