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By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Committee on Thursday gave Democratic Republic of Congo a year to report on actions it has taken to hold free and fair elections and clean up its rights record.
The United Nations watchdog, whose 18 independent experts monitor countries' compliance with a global human rights treaty, said Congo should come back with an explanation by Nov. 10, 2018, rather than after the regular four years between reviews.
Congo should "cooperate with all stakeholders to establish an agreed electoral calendar for the holding of free, peaceful and honest elections as soon as possible", the committee said in its report on the central African country.
Congo's electoral commission said on Sunday the election to replace President Joseph Kabila, originally scheduled for late 2016 and repeatedly delayed, would be held on Dec. 23, 2018.
The main opposition parties have rejected the date, saying it broke the law and an agreement to go to the polls this year.
The African Union has said the new electoral timetable must be "scrupulously respected" and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said citizens are "hungry for democracy and new leadership".
"Further delays and attempts to hold onto power will only serve to isolate the DRC’s leaders and government," she said on Monday.
The U.N. committee's report also said Kabila's government should put an end to intimidation and human rights violations against opposition candidates, and ensure they were protected.
The government should take steps to make judges, officials and the public aware of the rights guaranteed by the U.N. treaty, it said, listing shortcomings such as the treatment of women and indigenous minorities, torture, extrajudicial killings, child labour and arbitrary detention.
Sexual violence was persistent both in peaceful areas and in conflict zones, where it was used as a weapon of war by armed groups and by Congolese soldiers alike, the committee said.
It was particularly concerned about the situation in the Kasai region, where the United Nations has said a rebel militia largely composed of children has been confronted by a militia suspected of a campaign of ethnic massacres and rapes.
The United Nations has set up a fact-finding mission to investigate the Kasai atrocities, although the government has insisted Congo's justice system is in charge.
It has acknowledged isolated human rights violations in the Kasai conflict and other conflict zones but denies its troops systematically use disproportionate force.
But the U.N. committee said Congo's National Human Rights Commission was unable to operate outside Kinshasa, had received no funds since March 2017, and was not regarded as independent.
(Reporting by Tom Miles, additonal reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Janet Lawrence)