The continuing armed violence, forced displacement, and devastating floods in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have led to deadly disease outbreaks and endangered healthcare, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Boureima Hama Sambo, WHO’s representative to the DRC, expressed concern over the targeting of health facilities, killings of healthcare workers, and threats faced by others on a constant basis. Additionally, looting has resulted in the depletion of medical supplies. The situation has been further compounded by heavy rain, flooding, and landslides, which have hindered aid access.
Dr. Sambo highlighted that the DRC is currently facing its worst cholera outbreak since 2017, with the eastern provinces accounting for 80 percent of the cases. Moreover, the country is grappling with a major measles epidemic. The combination of measles and malnutrition has proven to be particularly fatal for children under the age of five. In response to these outbreaks, WHO has deployed experts to assist with investigations and response efforts. The organization has also provided medical supplies for cholera treatment, supported the transportation of samples to labs for testing, and built cholera treatment centers.
To combat these outbreaks more effectively in eastern DRC, Dr. Sambo called for stronger donor support. Currently, WHO’s response in the region is only 14 percent funded. The organization recently completed a vaccination campaign in Ituri province, reaching over one million children under five. Additional campaigns are planned to take place in Kasaï and Mai-Ndombe provinces. WHO is also providing healthcare services, including mental health and psychosocial support, to victims of gender-based violence.
In another development, Volker Türk, the High Commissioner for human rights, criticized Iran’s proposed Chastity and Hijab Bill, describing it as “draconian” and in violation of international law. The bill includes significantly increased jail terms and substantial fines for women and girls who do not adhere to the country’s compulsory dress code. Under the new legislation, those found in breach could face up to 10 years in jail, as well as floggings, fines of up to $8,500, travel restrictions, and online access deprivation. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced this decree as “repressive and demeaning” and emphasized that women and girls should not be treated as second-class citizens.
On the issue of human rights in Russia, Mariana Katzarova, the independent UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia, highlighted the significance of her mandate and its role in giving a voice to victims of alleged violations. She expressed grave concerns about mass arbitrary arrests and the “persistent use of torture and ill-treatment.” The independent expert cautioned about a lack of judicial independence and the right to a fair trial. Katzarova stressed the importance of continuing the mandate amid what she referred to as “dark times for human rights” in Russia. This is the first time that the Human Rights Council has authorized a rights expert to investigate violations within a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Katzarova further emphasized that the P5 had a special responsibility to set an example for the rest of the world.
Lastly, the UN rights chief, Volker Türk, applauded India’s passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which reserves one-third of seats in national and state parliaments for women. Türk hailed this landmark legislation as a transformative move for gender equality in India and called on parliamentarians worldwide to adopt similar measures, including gender quotas if necessary, to ensure women’s equal participation in the political discourse. The new bill must receive ratification by at least 50 percent of India’s states to come into effect, and the UN rights office urged swift support and implementation of the new system.
In conclusion, the situation in the eastern DRC is dire, with armed violence, displacement, and floods leading to deadly disease outbreaks and compromising healthcare. The response to these outbreaks requires stronger donor support, as WHO’s efforts are currently significantly underfunded. Iran’s proposed Chastity and Hijab Bill has drawn criticism for its severe penalties on women and girls who do not adhere to the strict dress code. The importance of human rights mandates, like the one focused on Russia, was underscored as a means to give a voice to victims of alleged violations. Lastly, India’s Women’s Reservation Bill was hailed as a significant step towards gender equality by the UN rights chief, who called for similar legislation around the world.