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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

6 May 2009 (morning)

For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Republic of Congo this morning, during which 44 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on the Central African Republic, following the review of the country on Monday, 4 May.

· Presenting the national report of the Republic of Congo was PAUL MBOT, Minister of Public Order and Security of the Republic of Congo, who said the national report of the Republic of Congo was prepared in consultation with various government institutions, NGOs, civil society and human rights organizations, as well as the Geneva-based FIDH [International Federation of Human Rights]. The Republic of Congo gained its independence in 1960 and has ever since striven to uphold human rights throughout the country. All international human rights instruments ratified by the Republic of Congo had constitutional value and were superior to domestic laws. The Constitution of the Republic of Congo enshrined a pluralist democracy based on fundamental values and human rights. Among the national institutions charged with upholding human rights were the Constitutional Court, the economic and social council, the high counsel for freedom of expression, the Office of the Mediator, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the National Commission of Human Rights, which was a constitutional and independent body.

The Minister noted that on 30 April this year the National Assembly of the Republic of Congo adopted a Bill on the protection of the child upholding the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the African Convention on the Well-being of the Child. Schooling was compulsory and free in the Republic of Congo and the overall school enrolment rate was 51%. Special attention had been given to vulnerable groups as regards school attendance. In the area of health, the State had taken important steps, for example by providing treatment for HIV/AIDS free of charge. On the political front, it was noted that there were more than 100 political organizations which freely engaged in activities in the State. To promote women in political life their candidacies enjoyed support from the House of Women. The Government had been making efforts to correct certain irregularities in previous elections in view of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for July this year. There were no persons being detained because of their opinions and the Government was making major efforts to fully respect the freedom of the press. There were no journalists in prison and the Government sought to ensure they were able to conduct their work unhindered.

Responding to questions posed in advance, another member of the delegation recalled that, as regards indigenous communities in the Republic of Congo, all citizens were equal in the country and that the Government sought to raise awareness of the rights afforded to these communities in order to enhance educational opportunities and to encourage them to participate actively in community life. As to the pygmies in the Republic of Congo, the State was doing its best to ensure that these peoples fully enjoyed their rights. On education for girls, it was noted that the school enrolment rate for primary schools was 80% and the figures for boys and girls was equal. The Government held as a priority the promotion and protection of the rights of the girl child. There was a ministry for the advancement and integration of women, which was evidence of the Government’s commitment to promoting and protecting women’s rights. The status of the Congolese woman was changing and changing for the better. Moreover, a law was being prepared to address violence against women. On the issue of HIV/AIDS, it was noted that tests and treatment were free and provided without distinction of any kind. As to general health issues, it was noted that last week the State reopened a health centre which was demolished as a result of the war. The Government was committed to provide better training for health staff, with a special focus on vulnerable groups, including women and girls through the provision of maternal and reproductive health.

As regards the upcoming elections this year, another member of the delegation said the Government had undertaken to facilitate a consultation between government and civil society to pave the way to the elections and to create conditions conducive to free, fair and transparent elections. It was noted that one opposition group walked away from these consultations. The consultations considered that the problem of participation of the opposition was resolved and thus they were given ample space to conduct their campaigns. The right to freedom of assembly was a reality in the Republic of Congo. Furthermore, a training programme was established for the police in the area of criminal law and political freedoms, as well as international humanitarian law; as a result, arbitrary arrest has been receding. This was also attributed to the fact that many arbitrary arrests took place during the previous conflict.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the State’s fight against HIV/AIDS; the health plan geared towards reaching the Millennium Development Goals; efforts being taken to address high infant mortality rates; the ratification of the core human rights treaties, the Statute of Rome on the International Criminal Court; the adoption of a law on the promotion and protection of indigenous populations; the participation of the Congolese authorities in political dialogue under the Cotonou Agreement and the renewed commitment towards good governance; judicial reforms carries out by the State; the creation of the Ministries of Justice and Human Rights and of the Advancement and Integration of Women; and the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, measures to address stereotype attitude against women to avoid discrimination against them; steps being taken to guarantee a woman’s right to health; additional measures undertaken to decrease the number of victims of all forms of violence against women; steps being taken to establish laws specific to the crime of trafficking in persons and to ensure stiff penalties for perpetrators; measures to provide care to trafficking victims and to raise public awareness about the dangers of trafficking in persons; measures to combat child labour; and steps to cater to children with special needs.

Other issues and questions pertained to the steps being taken by the Government to ensure transparent, free and fair presidential elections in July; steps to ensure the right to peaceful assembly; measures to prevent violations to the freedom of religion; information o the current circumstance of two activists who were arrested – Christina Mounzeo and Brice Mackosso; steps being taken in response to concerns about lack of access to justice for detainees; steps to improve the conditions of prisons; the response of the Government to request from UNHCR to amend the draft law on refugees; measures being taken to work towards the elimination of discrimination against indigenous people and to foster their participation in society; measures to guarantee the full and equal enjoyment of rights for different ethnic groups and to combat discrimination; and the elements of the national action plan on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Additionally, the Working Group asked questions related to the duties of the Ombudsman and the National Commission on Human Rights; the steps to address the backlog of reports to the United Nations human rights treaty bodies; intentions to expand health services to remote areas in the country; measures implemented to provide adequate schooling facilitates and to increase school enrolment rates; and measures to provide access to clean drinking water and basic health services, particularly related to reproductive health.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To guarantee women’s rights within the labour market; to take all measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, particularly as regards property rights, inheritance and participation in political life; to adopt laws to prohibit female genital mutilation; to continue efforts to prevent violence against women and combat impunity; to adopt legislation to prohibit sexual violence, including marital rape; to protect victims of sexual violence; to give women equal rights in marriage and pre-marriage; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to finalize and enact the draft law prohibiting all forms of trafficking; to develop formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as females in prostitution, street children and pygmies, and for train police and social workers to implement these procedures; and to increase efforts to provide care for trafficking victims.

The Republic of Congo was also encouraged to continue efforts to uphold the right of the child, particularly in the area of education; to adopt measures to prevent the exploitations of children and child trafficking; to end the practice of jailing children found in prostitution; to ratify the two Optional Protocols to Convention on the Rights of the Child; to review strategies aimed at the protection of children with a view to developing a comprehensive plan for the care of children aligned with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other instruments to which the Republic of Congo was a State party; to improve procedures aimed at raising the percentage of children registered at birth; to request the support of United Nations programmes and agencies to establish programmes on literacy and training for women; to invest in education, giving special attention to women and girls; to further invest in obstetrics clinics and in the formation of skilled birth attendants; and to increase efforts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Additionally, the Working Group recommended that the Republic of Congo decriminalize same-sex activities between consenting adults; take further measures to address discrimination against women and vulnerable groups including children, minorities and indigenous people; finalize the project to elaborate the national law to provide assistance to IDPs; accede to ILO Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples; approve the new law regarding indigenous peoples as soon as possible with the aim of safeguarding minority rights in the country, specifically as regards pygmies; allow for greater freedom of expression for members of the press in advance of elections; and encourage participation, including of civil society, in the electoral process.

Other recommendations included for the Republic of Congo to take measurers to ensure the full compliance of the Convention against Torture; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to guarantee that every detainee had the right to contest the legality of their arrest; to immediately end the detention of those who were not held in detention centres per the Penal Code; to ensure that prison conditions were independently monitored and that perpetrators of acts of torture were duly prosecuted and that detainees had the right to a fair trial; to fully abolish the death penalty; to ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to ratify the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide; to ratify the Palermo Protocols on human trafficking; to open an inquiry into all allegations of acts of torture; and to establish a programme to monitor places of detention.

The Working Group also recommended that the Republic of Congo incorporate human rights in school curricula; enhance the mandate and capacity of the National Human Rights Commission to bring it in line with the Paris Principles; provide the necessary resources to enable the National Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Mediator to carry out its work; and extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures. Some States also called on the international community to extend technical and financial assistance to the Republic of Congo as well as capacity building for the promotion and protection of human rights.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Brazil, France, Egypt, the Netherlands, Djibouti, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Argentina, Mexico, Burkina Faso, China, South Africa, Gabon, Italy, Slovenia, Germany, Nigeria, Canada, Senegal, Cuba, Japan, Ghana, Cameroon and Angola.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Sudan, Morocco, the United States, Turkey, the Holy See, Sweden, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad, Tunisia, the Czech Republic, Spain, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Latvia, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and Belgium.

· The 18-person delegation of the Republic of Congo consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Public Order and Security, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Administration and Decentralization, the Ministry of Public Affairs, the Ministry for the Advancement and Integration of Women, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the Office of the President, the National Commission on Human Rights, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Congo to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of the Republic of Congo are the Netherlands, Bahrain and Madagascar.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on the Republic of Congo can be found here.

· Adoption of report on the Central African Republic: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the Central African Republic are Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Gabon. Introducing the report SAMUEL NANG NANG (Gabon) said the draft report reflected the discussion which took place on 4 May which took place in a spirit of cooperation and constructively. It was noted that not a single recommendation had been rejected by the State under review, while others would be considered further. Representing the State under review, LÉOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, assured all delegations of the readiness of the delegation to take all the comments and recommendations made by the Working Group on which there would be a concerted follow-up.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of the Republic of Congo on Friday, 8 May.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2.30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Malta after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Monaco.

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To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp 

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