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Human Rights Council discusses the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sri Lanka

Human Rights Council

MIDDAY

22 March 2017

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held separate interactive dialogues on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sri Lanka under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building.
 
Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, noted that there was an increase of about 30 per cent of human rights violations in 2016 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo compared to 2015.  The increase could be explained by two factors: violations related to restricting democratic space and the resurgence of activities of several armed groups.  The Office condemned the use of violence by demonstrators during public gatherings or marches.  At the same time, security forces had to use force only as a last resort and in compliance with the principles of necessity, proportionality and legality, when facing an immediate threat.  The Office urged the authorities to urgently adopt the law on freedom of peaceful protests and the law on human rights defenders.  The Office was also deeply concerned about violence in what the Government had termed “non-conflict zones.”  The killings, injuries, destruction of property and other documented violations in the Kasais and Lomani provinces in the context of the Kamuina Nsapu crisis, represented a serious threat to peace in the country.  
 
Maman Sambo Sidikou, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said that the political process in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been accompanied by growing instability, spreading violence and mounting human rights violations.  Regrettably, the spread of violence had also led to a significant increase in human rights violations.  The protection of civilians remained a key priority for MONUSCO.  There was good military cooperation between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and MONUSCO, aimed at the neutralization of armed groups and the establishment of a protective environment in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
Fred Bauma, Member of LUCHA – the Struggle for Change, reminded that the militias continued to recruit children into their ranks by force.  The social and economic situation was worsening, with soaring prices and inflation.  The opposition parties in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had an obsession to come to power at any cost, whereas the Government had lost all legitimacy.  Mr. Bauma urged the Council to consider the responsibility of the international community for the conflict which had resulted in millions of victims.  As for impunity, the Government had decided to launch investigations of the crimes committed by armed forces only to please the international community.  However, no single recommendation had been implemented to bring truth and justice to millions of victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
Marie Ange Mushobekwa, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that over the past several months, the human rights situation in the country had revolved around the conflict raging in the Kasais where the local militias Kamuina Nsapu were terrorizing the population.  In this context, it was possible that some elements of the armed forces had committed human rights violations.  The Minister stressed that those were undisciplined elements outside of the control of the State, whose acts would not go unpunished.  Investigations were already ongoing and the General Auditor of the Armed Forces had announced the arrest of seven members of the armed forces who had opened fire at civilians.  Measures to suspend demonstrations in public areas had been a time-bound decision taken to protect public order and protect property, she explained.
 
During the ensuing discussion, delegations voiced deep concern about the recent emergence of hotspots of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and allegations of grave human rights abuses.  They called on authorities to combat impunity and welcomed the announcement of the Government to investigate alleged human rights violations.  They underlined the importance of the continuation of technical assistance and capacity building to the country in order to achieve peace and stability.  Speakers supported the ongoing dialogue between the opposition and the Government, and encouraged all parties to find a compromise in order to implement the political agreement of 31 December 2016 on the best way forward for the holding of elections, and a peaceful and democratic transfer of power.   
 
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were European Union, Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, United Nations Children’s Fund, Czechia, Germany, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Egypt, Netherlands, Algeria, Sovereign Order of Malta, United States, Botswana, Sudan, Togo, Angola, Ireland, Central African Republic, Congo and Chad.
 
The following civil society organizations also took the floor: World Evangelical Alliance, Advocates for Human Rights, Espace Afrique International, Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort,  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Action Internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs, Association Dunenyo, and Comité International pour le Respect et l’Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples.
 
The Council then held an interactive dialogue on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
 
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented his report pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka, saying there were some positive advances in some areas, yet noting that progress to establish transitional justice mechanisms had been slow.  A number of measures must be accelerated, including the repeal of the prevention of terrorism act and the design of truth and reparation processes.  Continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforced the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism.  That mechanism should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.  At the centre of all of the efforts were the victims: there could never be sustainable peace without justice for them.
 
Sri Lanka reiterated its resolve and commitment to the reconciliation process and announced it planned to co-sponsor the resolution on Sri Lanka, which included a two-year extension for the timeline for the implementation of its commitments.  Sri Lanka expressed its commitment to continue its engagement for the benefit of its people, working to promote and protect human rights.  It recognised the need to strengthen its institutions and achieve economic progress.  It affirmed the country’s firm position to enhance the fundamental rights of all the citizens as equals in a free and democratic country, where the reconciliation process recognised the impact of conflict on all citizens, independently of their origin or status.
 
During the ensuing discussion, delegates acknowledged progress made by Sri Lanka toward implementing its key human rights, justice, and reconciliation commitments, while also pointing out numerous outstanding challenges remaining, such as ending torture and sexual and gender-based violence.  Several delegations urged Sri Lanka to take action as regards the prevention of terrorism act.  They also said that strengthening the rule of law was another area that should be prioritized.  The importance of the international community’s continued support to Sri Lanka was underscored by several delegations.  Many addressed the issue of transitional justice and expressed concern about the slow pace with which it was being implemented.
 
Speaking were the delegations of European Union, Canada, Czechia, Germany, Montenegro, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, China, Pakistan, New Zealand, United States, Estonia, Sudan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Norway, Ireland, Spain, United Nations Children’s Fund, Belgium, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Ghana, Maldives and Bangladesh.
 
The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Tourner la page, International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Minority Rights Group, Franciscans International, and Amnesty International.
 
The Council has a full day of meetings today.  At 4:30 p.m. it will hear the presentation of reports by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Guatemala, Colombia, Honduras, Cyprus and Iran, followed by a general debate on Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General.
 
Keynote Statements on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
 
ANDREW GILMOUR, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, noted that the Office of the High Commissioner had published a report last January which showed that there was an increase of about 30 per cent of human rights violations in 2016 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo compared to 2015.  The increase could be explained by two factors: violations related to restricting democratic space, and the resurgence of activities of several armed groups.  Regarding the events surrounding 19 December 2016 marking the end of President Joseph Kabila’s second and last constitutional mandate, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented the killing of at least 40 people and the wounding of 147 individuals.  That was the result of disproportionate use of force and the use of live ammunition by defence and security forces aimed at preventing civilians from protesting.  In December 2016, the Government had exclusively blamed the demonstrators for the casualties registered, while stating that the judicial institutions would conduct investigations.  However, no member of the security and defence forces had been held accountable for the documented cases of serious human rights violations.  Mr. Gilmour stressed that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights did not take sides with any party against the other.  The Office condemned the use of violence by demonstrators during public gatherings or marches.  Security forces had to use force only as a last resort and in compliance with the principles of necessity, proportionality and legality, when facing an immediate threat.  The Office urged the authorities to urgently adopt the law on freedom of peaceful protests and the law on human rights defenders. 
 
The Office was also deeply concerned about violence in what the Government had termed “non-conflict zones.”  The killings, injuries, destruction of property and other documented violations in the Kasais and Lomani provinces in the context of the Kamuina Nsapu crisis represented a serious threat to peace in the country.  The Office had deployed a fact-finding mission to Kasai Central to verify allegations of serious human rights violations committed since August 2016.  Human rights investigators had visited at least two mass graves.  There had been credible information about a third mass grave in the same location but the investigation team could not visit it.  That brought the total number of mass graves to 10 confirmed in the context of the crisis.  There were allegations of at least a further seven mass graves that the team was seeking to verify.  Urgent deployment of forensic and ballistic expertise would establish who was responsible for those mass graves.  The Office of the High Commissioner strongly condemned any excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings by defence and security forces, and called on them to strictly abide by international human rights standards during its operations.  As for Kamuina Nsapu militiamen, the Office condemned their practice of killing State actors and recruiting children into their ranks.  In addition, the conflict between Twa and Luba communities in Tanganyika province had witnessed a new wave of violence leaving at least 127 people killed since September 2016.  The number of incidents of rape and sexual violence documented was appalling.   The Government was urged to increase efforts to find durable and peaceful solutions to conflicts, in particular with the customary chiefs in Kasai Central Province.
 
MAMAN SAMBO SIDIKOU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), said that the political process which had led to the signing of the 31 December agreement, which paved the way for the formation of transitional arrangements leading to the holding of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had been accompanied by growing instability, spreading violence and mounting human rights violations.  The same sense of commitment and responsibility, which had witnessed the signing of the 31 December agreement should now also be brought to bear towards its implementation.  MONUSCO was focused on providing full support to the implementation of the 31 December agreement and the establishment of an environment conducive to the holding of peaceful, credible and inclusive elections.  Progress in the implementation of the agreement was also tied to the implementation of the confidence-building measures, including the release of political prisoners and maintaining open access for media institutions. 
 
Regrettably, the spread of violence had also been characterized by a significant increase in human rights violations.  Overall, in 2016, there had been 30 per cent more recorded human rights violations than in 2015.  MONUSCO remained fully engaged in protecting and promoting human rights and political space, and was strongly engaging with the relevant authorities on a routine basis to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations were held fully accountable for their actions and brought to justice.  In addition, the protection of civilians remained a key priority for the Mission.  Mr. Sidikou took note of President Kabila’s personal commitment in launching the zero tolerance policy on sexual violence by State actors.  There was good military cooperation between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and MONUSCO, aimed at the neutralization of armed groups and the establishment of a protective environment in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Mr. Sidikou also highlighted the work which MONUSCO was undertaking in support of the National Human Rights Commission.  The current political and security challenges facing the country required a political solution, and MONUSCO would continue to provide support to that process wherever it could.  Providing the right support for the implementation of the 31 December agreement was necessary.  
 
FRED BAUMA, Member of LUCHA – the Struggle for Change, reminded that many mass graves had been discovered in the Kasai Central Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The militias continued to recruit children into their ranks by force.  The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) had for 17 years been endeavouring to protect civilians and to disarm the armed groups.  The social and economic situation was worsening, with soaring prices and inflation.  The opposition parties had an obsession to come to power at any cost, which caused the population to suffer.  The Government had lost all legitimacy.  Mr. Bauma urged the Council to consider the responsibility of the international community for the conflict which had resulted in millions of victims.  As for impunity, the Government had decided to launch investigations of the crimes committed by armed forces only to please the international community.  What was even more serious, no single recommendation had been implemented to bring truth and justice to millions of victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The rare cases that had been prosecuted at the International Criminal Court were only a drop in the ocean.  The authorities could not be both judges and parties in proceedings.  Justice existed on paper only.  The human rights situation would continue to worsen unless a solution to the political crisis was found.   The international community had to equip MONUSCO to assume its preventive role in dealing with armed groups, and to recommend an independent investigation into the massacres in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and if necessary the establishment of an international criminal court to prosecute the committed crimes.      
 
Statement by the Concerned Country
 
MARIE ANGE MUSHOBEKWA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that over the past several months, the human rights situation in the country had been focused on the conflict ranging in the Kasais where the local militias Kamuina Nsapu were terrorizing the population.  The militias were recruiting children, women and men, drugging them and forcing them to commit crimes.  In this context, it was possible that some elements of the armed forces had committed human rights violations.  The Minister stressed that those were undisciplined elements outside of the control of the State, and said that such acts would not go unpunished.  Investigations were already ongoing and the General Auditor of the Armed Forces had announced the arrest of seven members of the armed forces who had opened fire at civilians.  Measures to suspend demonstrations in public areas had been a time-bound decision taken to protect public order and property.  The Ministry of Human Rights had started visiting detention facilities, and visits to the central prison Makala had already taken place.  In cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, a team of 35 magistrates had been set up to examine cases of persons allegedly arbitrarily detained; over the last two months, 227 persons had been released.
 
Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
 
European Union was profoundly concerned about the deterioration of the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and called for the opening of an independent and impartial inquiry into armed forces’ operations in September and December 2016.  It was urgent that all stakeholders immediately apply the 31 December agreement.  The authorities were asked to end the clampdown on peaceful demonstrations. Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, stressed its profound belief in the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  All stakeholders were urged to take steps on the implementation of the 31 December agreement.  The deployment of the Mission of Inquiry was an encouraging sign.  United Nations Children’s Fund expressed its profound concern over the increase in the use of children in militias in the provinces of Kasai, central Kasai, eastern Kasai and Tanganyika.  The use of children in armed forces was illegal.  Courts dedicated to children were the only appropriate fora which could protect their rights in line with their needs. 
 
Czechia was appalled by the recent eruption of violence in the Kasai region.  Czechia called on all parties involved in the conflict, including the Government, to stop the violence against the civilian population and to immediately release the abducted United Nations representatives.  It was urgent to fully implement the December agreement.  Germany believed it was urgent to ensure the implementation of confidence-building measures across the country.  It was vital that violence cease immediately in the affected provinces, while the recruitment of child soldiers had to halt.  The crisis in the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo could only be resolved with the implementation of the 31 December 2016 agreement.  France believed that 2017 was the key year for the consolidation of democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  France firmly condemned violence committed in the Kasai regions, which could amount to war crimes.  Holding of elections in the country this year was of crucial importance.   
 
Switzerland shared concern about recent reports of human rights violations in the Kasai and Lomani regions, which included the recruitment of children by armed groups and summary executions of civilians by the national army.  What measures must be taken to prevent excessive use of force by the national security forces in the context of management of demonstrations?  United Kingdom was alarmed about a video footage apparently showing the Congolese army shooting civilians, and was also concerned that mass killings were still taking place in and around the city of Beni in the east of the country.  Shrinking of the political space was of great concern, particularly in light of the upcoming elections.  Belgium expressed concern about grave human rights violations committed by the national army against demonstrators, with full impunity.  It was the duty of the Government to protect its citizens and bring perpetrators to justice, while respect of political space and freedom of expression were crucial for open and democratic elections.
 
Egypt urged the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to continue taking measures to stabilize the situation in the country and recognized the measures taken to reform the justice sector and the setting up of a national human rights institution.  Netherlands noted the intensification of political pressure in the country, including restrictions on freedom of expression and the media and arrests of human rights defenders.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo should immediately lift restrictions on fundamental freedoms and release all those held in arbitrary detention.  Algeria welcomed that the discussions had started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the implementation of the political agreement reached in December 2016 and urged the international community to provide the country with the necessary support.
 
Sovereign Order of Malta thanked the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for their support for the confessional activities conducted in the country.  It regretted recent attacks against churches and religious personnel, and called for the respect of international humanitarian and refugee law.  United States noted that the December 31 agreement between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the opposition was the best way forward for the holding of elections, and a peaceful and democratic transfer of power.  Action should be urgently taken to end the extreme violence suffered by the population.  Botswana stated that notwithstanding the positive developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the human rights situation continued to be a cause for concern.  It called on the international community to provide the necessary assistance to the country. 
 
Sudan welcomed the announcement of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that it would investigate alleged human rights violations.  It underlined the importance of the continuation of technical assistance and capacity building to the country.  Togo commended the efforts of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure peace and security across the country.  However, it was concerned about the recent emergence of hotspots of violence in the country and allegations of grave human rights abuses.  Angola supported the ongoing dialogue between the opposition and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and encouraged all parties to find a compromise in order to implement the political agreement of December 31.  It called on authorities to combat impunity and on the Council to provide the necessary resources to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
 
Ireland welcomed the initiation of investigations into severe human rights violations in Kasai province and stressed that holding perpetrators to account was critical to continuing progress in the fight against impunity.  What concrete steps could be taken to address the challenges in ending impunity for human rights violations?  Central African Republic recognized the setting up of the commission of inquiry into human rights violations and bringing those responsible to justice, and welcomed all other initiatives undertaken by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to combat impunity.  Mozambique was concerned about the magnitude of the gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and praised the appointment of the presidential adviser for sexual violence.
 
Republic of the Congo remained concerned about persistent violence and the suffering of the population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and noted with satisfaction the steps taken by the Government to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations, whomever they might be, including members of the armed forces.  Chad recognized the efforts of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in peace building and urged the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure the respect for fundamental freedoms in order to support national reconciliation and the rule of law.
 
World Evangelical Alliance said that since 2014, there had been hundreds of deaths of civilians in and around the town of Beni and regretted the prevailing climate of impunity which gave rise to questions about the responsibility for those violations.  An international Commission of Inquiry should be mandated to establish those responsibilities so that justice could be served.  Advocates for Human Rights said that it provided free legal services to hundreds of asylum seekers, including those trying to escape the human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was deteriorating.  Espace Afrique International called for an international commission of inquiry to shed light on massacres carried out by the Government in the central-south region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Government was urged to promote peace and stability across the territory, and transparent elections which should take place according to the time frame. 
 
Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort, in a joint statement with, International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), said the death penalty was incompatible with respect for dignity, and abolition today was a universal trend particularly visible in Africa.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo had a moratorium de facto since 2003, and was called on to make that a de jure moratorium.  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues expressed concern at the escalation of the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the murderous oppression that was being meted out against the population.  Demonstrations were outlawed and freedom of speech was not allowed; it was vital that elections were held so the country did not descend into chaos.  Action Internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs said since the organized violence carried out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, there had been repeated massacres in several provinces.  Rivers of blood were flowing across the entire region. 
 
Association Dunenyo said the Democratic Republic of the Congo had become a vast concentration camp where the most abominable crimes were committed by various forces, and mass graves were being found everywhere.  An international investigation should be organized rapidly to go to the field and the international community should assist the Congolese people so that free elections could be organized in 2017.  Comité International pour le Respect et l’Application de la Charte Africaine des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples said the entire world had been able to bear witness to extrajudicial killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, thanks to social networks.  Hundreds of lifeless bodies had been exhumed from mass graves, and independent journalism had proven that the massacres were carried out by Congolese armed forces. 
 
Concluding Remarks
 
ANDREW GILMOUR, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, welcomed the zero policy on sexual violence announced by the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He also welcomed efforts to ease the overcrowding in prisons.  He warned against the use of lethal force against demonstrators, and stressed the importance of the adoption of laws on human rights defenders and public protests.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was ready to support the Government’s investigations of human rights violations, and it stressed the value of cooperation with the Government.
 
MAMAN SAMBO SIDIKOU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), explained that MONUSCO needed to be provided with enhanced resources and capacities in order to perform better.  It was the primary responsibility of the Government to protect civilians.  MONUSCO was there to support those efforts.  Mr. Sidikou stressed the nexus between politics and human rights:  only respect for the rule of law would bring the tensions down.  The National Electoral Commission needed support as well.  Only 25 per cent of women had been registered.  Mr. Sidikou called on regional countries and the African Union to provide help to finish the registration process.  It was important to bring on board civil society and women’s groups in order to ensure that parties commit to the political agreement in good faith.
 
FRED BAUMA, Member of LUCHA – the Struggle for Change, addressed the restrictions in the political space which must be expanded to also allow for the expression of the voices of the young and elderly.  This would make a real difference on the ground.  Clamping down and restrictions only increased tensions.  The Government should provide all necessary resources to the National Electoral Commission which should publish an electoral calendar as soon as possible.  The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo should assume its responsibility in protecting civilians as the Government was unable to do so.  There should be an international investigation into the human rights violations committed in the regions of Kivu, Kasai and Tanganyika, in order to ensure accountability.
 
MARIE ANGE MUSHOBEKWA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, deplored the massacres in central and eastern Kasai and pledged support with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the realization of its mandate to support the stabilization process in the country.  The Government would also collaborate with the African Union in this sense, and the President had pledged that the perpetrators of human rights violations in all areas of the country would be brought before justice, tried and sentenced.  The Government remained committed to the promotion and protection of human rights in collaboration and with frank and open dialogue with non-governmental organizations, and vowed to correct all miscarriage of justice.  Ms. Mushobekwa stressed the progress made in reducing sexual and gender-based violence, which had seen a five per cent drop, and this was due to the zero policy approach and holding everyone accountable, including high-ranking military officials.

Documentation
 
The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka (A/HRC/34/20).
 
Presentation of the Report of the High Commissioner on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka
 
ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented his report pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka.  The report acknowledged some positive advances on human rights and constitutional reform, and noted that five Special Procedures mechanisms had visited Sri Lanka as well as four treaty bodies having reviewed Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing recommendations.  Progress to establish transitional justice mechanisms had been slow; what was needed now was agreement on a comprehensive strategy, with a time-line and detailed benchmarks, to address all the transitional justice pillars identified in resolution 30/1.  Sri Lanka’s ratifications of various conventions, including the Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, were also significant steps forward.  In the face of rising frustration among victims, a number of confidence-building measures must be accelerated.  Those included repealing the prevention of terrorism act and the design of truth and reparation processes. 
 
Combined with a general lack of trust in the impartiality of the justice system regarding past violations, the continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforced the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism.  That mechanism should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.  As cases of torture, excessive use of force and failure to respect due process continued to be reported, there was clearly a need for unequivocal instructions to all branches of the security forces that any such conduct was unacceptable and that abuses would be punished.  Sri Lanka’s “courageous” civil society and human rights defenders must be protected from harassment and intimidation, said the High Commissioner, adding that he was disturbed to hear reports of intimidation of members of civil society here in the Palais des Nations.  At the centre of all of the efforts were the victims: there could never be sustainable peace without justice for them.
 
Statement by the Concerned Country
 
Sri Lanka, speaking as the concerned country, recalled that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister on 28 February had reiterated before the Council Sri Lanka’s resolve to achieve the reconciliation process and its commitments articulated in resolution 30/1.  The Minister had outlined achievements, what remained to be done, and the challenges faced.  Sri Lanka reiterated its resolve and commitment again today to the reconciliation process and announced it planned to co-sponsor the resolution on Sri Lanka, which included a two-year extension for the timeline for the implementation of its commitments.  Sri Lanka expressed its commitment to continue its engagement for the benefit of its people, working to promote and protect human rights; and it recognised the need to strengthen its institutions and achieve economic progress.  Sri Lanka expressed its commitment to exchange information, share concerns and comments, and to engage constructively with partners.  It affirmed the country’s firm position to enhance the fundamental rights of all the citizens as equals in a free and democratic country, where the reconciliation process recognised the impact of conflict on all citizens, independently of their origin or status.
 
Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in Sri Lanka
 
European Union acknowledged Sri Lanka’s progress in advancing human rights.  However, a number of outstanding challenges remained, such as ending torture and sexual and gender-based violence.  The European Union urged Sri Lanka to replace the prevention of terrorism act, and to accelerate the prosecution or release of detainees, and downsize the military.   Canada noted the efforts towards the establishing of the Office of Missing Persons in Sri Lanka, and democratic and constitutional reforms.  But, much worked remained to be done, notably strengthening the rule of law, and enabling confidence-building and an impartial judiciary.   Czechia highly appreciated the cooperation of Sri Lanka with human rights mechanisms and strongly supported Sri Lanka on its path to full reconciliation.  The process of reconciliation and accountability was a necessary prerequisite for peace and peaceful coexistence of ethnic and religious groups. 
 
Germany noted that constitutional reforms were a unique opportunity for Sri Lanka to reach a political solution over issues that had impaired the peaceful development of the country.  It encouraged the Government to tackle the remaining issues, such as return of the land confiscated by the military and repeal of the prevention of terrorism act.  Montenegro reminded that the full implementation of the Council’s resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights remained a key challenge towards a comprehensive transformation of Sri Lanka.  In that respect, technical and financial support for the Government of Sri Lanka was of utmost importance.
 
Denmark encouraged Sri Lanka to repeal the prevention of terrorism act and replace it with human rights compliant legislation, return all military-held private land, and establish credible transitional justice mechanisms.  Lack of progress on a number of emblematic cases was disappointing and Sri Lanka should adopt a clear, time bound and transparent strategy and plan of action for a solid and credible justice process with effective witness protection.  France remained concerned about the harassment of human rights defenders and allegations of systematic use of torture and ill treatment, including sexual violence by security forces.  Sri Lanka must ensure that there was no impunity for the perpetrators of those crimes.  Switzerland regretted the delay in the implementation of measures to ensure transitional justice and constitutional reform and said that only a global reconciliation process with tangible measures for truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition could bring lasting peace and prosperity to the people of Sri Lanka.
 
Japan said it had long been involved in the Sri Lankan peace process and hoped that the High Commissioner and his Office would continue close cooperation with the Government as it was crucial for reconciliation, as was the acceptance of the national reconciliation process by all citizens.  Australia recognized the progress made in the constitutional reform, inclusive national consultations and passing the legislation for the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons.  Sri Lanka should adopt a clear roadmap for the implementation of transitional justice mechanisms and also adopt a new anti-terrorism legal framework.  United Kingdom commended the positive steps taken by Sri Lanka and stressed that much remained to be done.  Sri Lanka should provide determined leadership to deliver fully on the commitments made when co-sponsoring resolution 30/1 and to develop a comprehensive and time bound implementation strategy.
 
China commended Sri Lanka for building infrastructure and strengthening the rule of law and noted that the country had been active in the Universal Periodic Review process.  The international community should support Sri Lanka in promoting national reconciliation.  Pakistan said Sri Lanka had made tremendous progress in terms of the formulation of legislation, policy and legal framework in recent years.  The international community was called on to continue to provide relevant assistance and support as requested by the Government of Sri Lanka in strengthening the country’s democratic institutions.  New Zealand said accountability, justice and reconciliation were critical ingredients to rebuilding war-torn lives, and to further enhancing Sri Lanka’s status as a cohesive nation.  New Zealand supported the extension of the resolution for a further 24-month period to allow time for a consolidated period of concerted effort before the next report. 
 
United States noted that Sri Lanka had taken important steps toward implementing its key human rights, justice, and reconciliation commitments, but said the United States had hoped to see greater and more sustained progress over the past 18 months.  The Government of Sri Lanka was encouraged to make public a strategy and timetable for the implementation of the reforms and commitments outlined in the Council’s resolution 30/1.  Estonia expressed concern about the slow pace of the transitional justice process in Sri Lanka and asked the High Commissioner which trust-building measures were most urgently needed in Sri Lanka.  Sudan commended the cooperation of Sri Lanka with mechanisms of the United Nations, and noted the adoption of the national human rights plan of action and the establishment of a human rights committee.  The international community was called on to continue to provide support to Sri Lanka.
 
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia welcomed the reform process taking place in Sri Lanka and encouraged the efforts being made in order to achieve a lasting reconciliation.  It recognized the milestone that resolution 30/1 represented in this process.  Norway commended Sri Lanka for its political commitment to reform and justice, and encouraged it to maintain and institutionalise the momentum of resolution 30/1 and to fulfil its promises.  It emphasised the need to return the lands held by the military and replace the prevention of terrorism act.  Ireland warmly welcomed resolution 30/1 and recognised the progress that Sri Lanka had made and the constitutional reforms.  Ireland expressed its disappointment with the slow pace of the changes process, and urged the Government to persevere.
 
Spain welcomed the creation of the Office of Missing Persons and urged Sri Lanka to create a truth commission and a reparation programme.  It also urged that Sri Lanka respect and support independent commissions, and it drew attention to the fact that human rights defenders were still harassed.  United Nations Children’s Fund appreciated its cooperation with Sri Lanka and underlined the country’s considerable work to provide a legal framework concerning children rights.  It urged Sri Lanka to give a voice to children as agents of peace-building in the discussions and to ensure that their best rights were considered in the process.  Belgium commended Sri Lanka for the improvement of the human rights in the country, and for establishing the Office of Missing Persons.  It regretted the little progress that had been made in investigating human rights violations and urged Sri Lanka to return private lands held by the military.
 
Netherlands appreciated the broad national consultation on reconciliation mechanisms and urged Sri Lanka to carry out the recommendations received and also to promptly operationalize the Office of Missing Persons, allocate resources and appoint the Commissioner.  The implementation of transitional justice commitments was worryingly slow.  Russia recognized Sri Lanka’s openness for dialogue with the United Nations human rights mechanisms and its constructive approach to the implementation of resolution 30/01.  It was for Sri Lanka to define its own priorities and areas where the support of the international community was needed.  Ghana was worried that the restitution of land held by the military remained an unfulfilled reconciliation commitment and encouraged Sri Lanka to publish the list of all detainees and detention centres, repeal the prevention of terrorism act, and release all those detained under this law.
 
Maldives understood the enormous challenges that Sri Lanka was facing in its reconciliation and rehabilitation process and agreed with the High Commissioner that structural reforms underway would strengthen the protection of human rights.  Bangladesh recognized the strong willingness of Sri Lanka to work with the international community on genuine reconciliation and stressed that the country must be given ample time, without external pressure, to successfully complete the reconciliation process.
 
Tourner la page said that senior officials in Sri Lanka repeatedly rejected the notion of the Hybrid Court, and it was particularly alarming that the President of Sri Lanka had declared that no member of the armed forces would be charged in any court.  Was it only through the referral of Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court or through the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal that the people of Sri Lanka would obtain justice?  International Movement against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism said the present democratic space for justice was made possible because civil society members had risked their lives to bring resolution 30/1 to reality.  Sri Lanka required the sustained attention of the Council, and Member States were called on to renew their efforts to encourage the Government to implement the pledges and to build trust among all communities and victims.  Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation said justice had not reached the victims, and the Government’s progress on transitional justice was worryingly slow.  The Human Rights Council should continue its oversight over the process in Sri Lanka.  
 
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development urged Sri Lanka to implement all recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report.  It was deeply concerning that there were reports of human rights abuses, and a strong military presence in the north and east of the country continued. Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in a joint statement with, Franciscans International, said resolution 30/1 was being inadequately implemented on the ground, and hopes were fading as confidence was eroding.  The Government was called on to ensure that victims were able to participate in the process.  Minority Rights Group said while progressive steps had been taken, the pace of reform was slow, and the absence of transparency was eroding that progress.  It was crucial that a closely monitored time line was created.  
 
Franciscans International said much more needed to be done, and a number of measures should ensure that transitional justice was realized.  The Government had to heed the voices of its citizens.  The prevention of terrorism act should be repealed and replaced with legislation in harmony with international human rights standards.  Amnesty International noted that Sri Lanka had made limited progress in establishing new mechanisms to deliver truth, justice and reparation to victims.  It continued to hold detainees arbitrarily or without charge, and torture persisted in police stations across the country.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
ZEID RA’AD AL HUSSEIN, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked all for the broad support received for his report and recommendations.  He stressed that all the recommendations were important.  Responding to comments made by the delegations and civil society, he said that the hesitation on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka concerning transitional justice was prompted by the position that there had already been defined targets.  In September 2015, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had created a baseline which required further investigations of a criminal nature.  Belief that no steps forward should be taken was an erroneous one.  There was a lack of outcomes with respect to the emblematic cases and it deserved further consideration of the Government.   The Office believed that it would continue working with the Government of Sri Lanka in a constructive manner and in a way that would place the suffering of victims at the centre of the process.  Sri Lanka had to fundamentally change in order to build a future vastly different from the past.   Unless victims on all sides believed that justice was done, it would be difficult to build a sustainable peace.  The Office would continue to provide advice, to be vigilant and to remind the Government of Sri Lanka of its obligations.
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