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Human Rights Council holds separate dialogues on Ukraine and on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Human Rights Council
MIDDAY

27 September 2016

The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting held separate interactive dialogues on the High Commissioner’s oral update on the situation of human rights in Ukraine and on the High Commissioner’s report on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the High Commissioner’s oral update on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, said that the conflict continued to impact densely populated civilian areas, adding that the self-proclaimed “Donetsk people’s republic” and “Luhansk people’s republic” continued to deny access to external observers, which raised serious concerns of torture and gender-based violence.  The situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea continued to deteriorate.  There was a pressing need for all parties to the conflict to take decisive steps to protect civilians and comply with a full ceasefire, in line with the Minsk Agreements.

Ukraine, speaking as the concerned country, said that the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had become an important source of information, noting that as the Mission’s work went beyond reporting, the Government had recently extended its mandate for another term.  The next report should be a review of the human rights situation in the illegally occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.  There was a need for unimpeded access for missions of international organizations and Special Procedures to monitor the observance of human rights there.

During the ensuing discussion, delegations expressed deep concern over the increased intensity of hostilities and the increased number of civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, noting that the proliferation of arms and ammunition facilitated human rights violations and abuses.  All measures had to be taken to de-escalate tensions at the contact line in eastern Ukraine, prevent civilian casualties and cease attacks on schools and hospitals.  The situation in the Crimea and the continued harassment and detention of Crimean Tatars were of particular concern.  The parties to the conflict were called on to fully implement the Minsk Agreements as the only way of achieving durable peace.  

Speaking in the debate were delegations of European Union, Finland, Poland, Germany, Japan, Austria, Czechia, France, Australia, Canada, Russian Federation, Denmark, Turkey, Albania, Spain, Georgia, Netherlands, Sweden, United States, Switzerland, Croatia, Belgium, Ireland, Council of Europe, Hungary, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Iceland, Republic of Moldova, Luxembourg, Latvia, Romania, and Lithuania.  

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Minority Rights Group, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Human Rights House Foundation, World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations, and United Nations Watch.

Presenting the High Commissioner’s report on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ms. Gilmore said that the previous week’s events in the country obliged the Office to speak out; respect for sovereignty did not equal indifference.  On 19 and 20 September, at least 53 people, including 49 civilians, had been killed during clashes in Kinshasa.  What was already clear was that manifestly excessive and lethal force had been deployed by security forces against crowds.  The Council was called on to augment its scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country and to join the call for investigations into alleged human rights violations there.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, speaking as the concerned country, said it would focus on the most important issues, namely the events of 19 and 20 September 2016.   It was clarified that those events had not been peaceful demonstrations as there had been looting and burning of State offices and of various political parties.  In the following days there had been a reaction of the representatives of political parties whose offices had been set on fire.  Speaking of the holding of elections, he said there was no question of breaching the Constitution.  The elections would take place according to the calendar determined by the National Electorate Commission.  As for political prisoners, more than 300 political prisoners had been released recently.

In the discussion speakers expressed deep concern at the violence in Kinshasa and elsewhere the week before, and condemned the excessive use of force by the security forces, with particular concern expressed at reports of sexual and gender-based violence.  The uncertainty about the elections had led to this alarming situation, some said, and added that the Government should end further procrastination of the election process, and find a broad and inclusive agreement on the way forward and in respect of the Constitution.

Speaking were European Union, Japan, France, Czech Republic, Spain, Spain, Algeria, Ireland, Egypt, China, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Sudan, Luxembourg, Togo, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, Mozambique, and Ghana.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Amnesty International, Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, United Nations Watch, and International Catholic Child Bureau (joint statement).

The Council has a full day of meetings today.  It will next hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on Burundi. 

Documentation
 
The Council has before it the Oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Ukraine (A/HRC/33/CRP.1, A/HRC/33/CRP.2).
 
Presentation of High Commissioner’s Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Ukraine
 
KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the High Commissioner’s oral update on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, said that during the period from mid-May to mid-August, there had been a significant increase in hostilities along the contact line in eastern Ukraine and that the Office had recorded a two-thirds increase in the numbers of civilians killed or wounded in areas of Donetsk and Luhansk as compared to the previous reporting period.  More than half of all civilian casualties recorded in June and July were caused by shelling around the contact line, allegedly including use of weapons expressly prohibited by the Minsk Agreements.  The conflict continued to impact densely populated civilian areas in the region of Donetsk, and attacks on necessary civilian infrastructure were causing harm and suffering to people living on both sides of the contact line.  The Deputy High Commissioner noted that the 1 September recommitment to a ceasefire had already been violated and said that the 21 September disengagement framework that the parties had agreed to was a positive step toward de-escalating hostilities and that it must mark a conclusive departure from the repeated violations of ceasefires to avoid further deterioration into a cycle typical of protracted conflicts.  While there had been an incremental improvement in access to places of deprivation of liberty, the self-proclaimed “Donetsk people’s republic” and “Luhansk people’s republic” continued to deny access to external observers, which raised serious concerns of torture and gender-based violence.  Allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and incommunicado detention prior to transfer to the criminal justice system accounted for 70 per cent of cases of human rights violations documented by the Office during the reporting period.  The majority of the allegations against the Government implicated the Security Service of Ukraine officials and police and the findings indicated that Ukraine authorities had allowed individuals to be deprived of their liberty in secret and for prolonged periods of time. 

Grave human rights abuses by the armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continued, including a documented increase in detentions and disappearances at checkpoints controlled by the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, which were often accompanied by torture, and spread fear among civilians in particular because of the arbitrary nature of abductions.  The efforts of the Ukrainian authorities to bring to account perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in the east had not yielded many results, and the Government was urged to intensify the efforts in this area, and address the interference with and pressure against the independence of the judiciary, which was one of the sources of impunity.  Journalists and media workers continued to experience pressure at the hands of the Ukrainian Secret Service, the armed forces and the armed groups.  The suspension of payments of social entitlements severely affected several hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons. 

The situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea continued to deteriorate in the context of further administrative integration into the Russian Federation’s south federal district, and the conduct of elections for the Russian Parliament.  Both were in violation of United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  The right to peaceful assembly was further curtailed by the de facto authorities and people continued to be interrogated and harassed by law enforcement agents for expressing views that were abusively deemed "extremist".   A deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis had been ordered by a Crimean so-called ‘court’ to undergo psychiatric assessment and had been released after a month-long forced stay in hospital.  The search for missing persons who disappeared under circumstances suggestive of political or ethnic motivation remained inconclusive and this absence of accountability and redress for victims nurtured impunity.

Ms. Gilmore recalled that the first thematic report on Ukraine had focused on the painfully slow progress in accountability for killings committed throughout Ukraine since the Maidan events and noted a widespread absence of political will to ensure that such cases were investigated promptly, impartially and independently.  Impunity fuelled mistrust in institutions, encouraged the perpetuation of violence, undermined efforts to establish more solidly the rule of law, and eroded prospects for reconciliation.  The Deputy High Commissioner welcomed the continued institutional reforms by the Government of Ukraine and the adoption of constitutional amendments related to the judiciary, as this had created a welcome opportunity to protect and enforce rights.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was committed to assisting all who bore human rights obligations fulfil their duties.  However, the escalation in hostilities and drastic increase in civilian casualties between 16 May and 15 August demonstrated the pressing need for all parties to the conflict to take decisive steps to protect civilians, including to withdraw military personnel, fighters and weapons from the contact line, uphold the material integrity of protected objects such as schools, hospitals and medical centres, and comply with a full ceasefire, in line with the Minsk Agreements.

Statement by the Concerned Country
 
Ukraine, speaking as the concerned country, said that the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had become an important source of information, noting that as the Mission’s work went beyond reporting, the Government had recently extended its mandate for another term.  The next report should be a review of the human rights situation in the illegally occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.  There was a need for unimpeded access for missions of international organizations and Special Procedures to monitor the observance of human rights there.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was called on to develop closer cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which had a mandate to monitor Crimea.  It had not been mentioned in Ms. Gilmore’s statement that the root cause was the gross violations of human rights by the Russian Federation on Ukrainian territory.  The Russians spoke in New York and bombed in Aleppo.  Russia and the regimes it supported were responsible for war crimes wherever Russia wished to build the Russian world. 
 
Interactive Dialogue on Ukraine

European Union asked which concrete measures could be taken by the international community for the protection of the fundamental rights of people who lived in the territories controlled by Russian-backed separatists.  Finland asked for an assessment of internally displaced children’s access to education, and also how Ukraine could be supported to ensure that the right to education was realized for all, including children in eastern Ukraine.  Poland expressed deep concern over reported cases of conflict-related sexual violence, and noted that the international community could not turn a blind eye to the deterioration of the human rights situation in Crimea, following its illegal annexation by the Russian Federation.  Germany expressed alarm at the disregard for the protection of civilians by all sides of the conflict, urging all parties to investigate all alleged human rights violations and effectively combat impunity.     

Japan said that all measures must be taken to de-escalate tensions at the contact line in eastern Ukraine, prevent civilian casualties and cease attacks on schools and hospitals.  The situation in the Crimea and the continued harassment and detention of Crimean Tatars were issues of concern.  What should the international community prioritize in order to protect women and children in the conflict affected areas?  Austria was deeply worried that the human rights standards in the territories controlled by armed separatist groups remained exasperatingly low and had no doubt that one of the key factors in prolonging this situation was the continued stream of weapons, ammunition and fighters from Russia into those territories.  Ukraine must step up efforts to protect journalists from attacks and harassment and to strengthen the efficiency of the judiciary by protecting it from undue influence.  Czechia was deeply troubled by the human rights situation in Crimea following its illegal annexation by Russia and the ongoing attacks against journalists reporting from the conflict areas.  France was very concerned about the intensity of hostilities at the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, by the situation in Crimea where the violation of rights and freedoms continued by the de facto authorities, and by the dysfunctionality of the justice system, and the suspension of payments of social entitlements and pensions.  

Australia remained concerned by the continued disregard for the protection of civilians by all parties, and noted with concern Ukraine’s notification of its derogation from its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Canada joined the call of the Deputy High Commissioner for additional efforts to find a lasting solution to the crisis in Ukraine as the heavy toll of the ongoing conflict, particularly on the civilian population, was too great.  Russian Federation regretted the loss of life of civilians, the use of torture, arbitrary detention and in communicado custody committed by the Ukrainian special forces.  It raised concern about the new Ukrainian amnesty law, which seemed to suggest that the Ukrainian authorities were prepared to forgive those guilty of mass murder.  Denmark deeply regretted the increased intensity of hostilities and the increased number of civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine.  In the areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists, human rights violations and abuses were widespread.  Turkey noted that the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements was the only way to achieve long lasting peace.  It encouraged the High Commissioner to timely and swiftly report on human rights violations in Ukraine, adding that the rights of Crimean Tatars were particularly at stake.  Albania welcomed Ukraine’s cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  But, it was very discouraging that the de facto authorities in Crimea had not granted the Office request to open a sub-office of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Crimea. 

Spain condemned the human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine and said that it was urgent to ensure that accountability prevailed and not impunity.  There was a pressing need to ensure access for verification mechanisms to places of detention throughout the country, including in east Ukraine and in Crimea.  How could the essential work of journalists and human rights defenders be protected?  Georgia said that the uninterrupted inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from Russia continued to dramatically fuel the conflict and facilitated serious humanitarian and human rights violations.  Russia must comply with its obligations under the Minsk Agreements.  Netherlands was cautiously optimistic about the renewed ceasefire and hoped that it could be a further step towards the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, but condemned the decision by the so-called prosecutor of Crimea of 26 April 2016 to declare the Mejlis an extremist organization and to ban its activities.  What should be the next steps on the ground to ensure that humanitarian aid could be provided?  Sweden took note of the Russian parliamentary elections taking place in illegally annexed Crimea and, recalling the shared responsibility of all United Nations Member States to uphold international law, condemned this unequivocally.  The imperative must be to stop the human rights violations carried out by Russia’s proxies in Donbass and Crimea.

United States commended the Government of Ukraine for its full cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights since the establishment of the monitoring mission.  Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was not limited to the east; Russia’s occupation of Crimea needed to end.  Estonia continued to be concerned about the difficult human rights situation in the occupied areas of Ukraine.  The dire situation could not improve before the hostilities stopped, and the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements was the only way forward.  The reform processes in Ukraine were welcomed and encouraged.  Switzerland said that violations of the ceasefire had direct and severe consequences on civilian populations that had to be protected.  Switzerland was worried about the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by all parties, while impunity seemed to be the rule.  Croatia was concerned about the deep instability along the contact line, and the risk of a new outbreak of violence.  The Minsk Agreements constituted the only credible path towards a peaceful and sustainable resolution of the conflict.  Croatia was ready to provide its expertise in transition to peace and post-conflict rehabilitation.  Belgium noted that the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine had deteriorated.  It deplored the fact that civilian populations were paying a heavy price; indiscriminate bombings of civilian areas, including with cluster bombs, needed to end everywhere.  Ireland was concerned about the reported dramatic rise in civilian casualties of the conflict in recent months.  Concern was also expressed at the situation in Crimea, where minorities seemed to be increasingly targeted, and the right to peaceful assembly was increasingly curtailed.          

Council of Europe said it was working with the Ukrainian authorities to reinforce democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.  Some of its main goals were: good governance, freedom of expression and the media, protection of internally displaced persons, anti-corruption, and the implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy.  Hungary emphasized that all parties should fully respect and implement their obligations under the Minsk Agreements as a crucial element of the political solution that was based on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  New Zealand expressed concern for the welfare of various Ukrainian citizens detained in the Russian Federation and by the opaque human rights situation of the population of Crimea, in particular the Crimean Tatars.  United Kingdom echoed the High Commissioner’s call for both sides to do their utmost to protect civilians, adding hope that the recent commitments to a renewed ceasefire showed that political will could be found to stop the fighting.  It called on the Russian Federation to stop the flow of weapons to the separatist areas in Ukraine.  Iceland regretted the alarming level of civilian casualties in Ukraine, noting that the escalation of the conflict was fuelled by the flow of weapons from the Russian Federation.  It called on all parties to fully implement the Minsk Agreements as the only way to find a durable solution. 

Republic of Moldova regretted the continued loss of civilian lives in Ukraine, and shared the concern over the gradual deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Crimea.  The Republic of Moldova supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, which included Crimea; and human rights needed to be respected everywhere.  Luxembourg was concerned that there were almost 1.7 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine.  The conflict had lasted for too long, and the full and swift implementation of the Minsk Agreements was needed in order to advance the peace process.  Latvia reiterated that ensuring accountability remained of paramount importance.  The systematic intimidation and persecution of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian speaking communities continued to take place.  All parties were asked to implement the Minsk Agreements.  Romania said that the civilian population continued to pay the highest price of the conflict, and that civilians were at risk of being harmed at any time.  There was no improvement in the human rights situation in the illegally-annexed Crimea, where the situation of Tatars was worsening.  Lithuania noted that the human rights situation in Crimea had aggravated since its illegal annexation by Russia; those who disagreed with Russia’s annexation policy were facing continuous abuse, persecution, torture and restrictions on fundamental freedoms. 

International Fellowship of Reconciliation drew attention to the plight of young men in Ukraine who did not wish to become embroiled on either side of the ongoing armed conflict.  It called on all States to offer protection, and asylum when appropriate, to those who would be at risk of embroilment in a conflict against their fellow citizens.  Minority Rights Group expressed concern over the situation of the Roma minority and the indigenous Crimean Tatars in Ukraine.  It was furthermore concerned about the continued detention of Crimean Tatars on politically motivated charges.  It called on the Ukrainian authorities to ensure the safe return of the Roma population of Loschynivka to their homes.  International Association of Democratic Lawyers noted that the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were not sufficiently accurate and comprehensive as they failed to take into account a number of relevant violations and threats.  The debate had been repetitive and highly politicized.  Human Rights House Foundation noted that the constant and growing inflow of ammunition, weapons and fighters from the Russian Federation continued to fuel the conflict and facilitated human rights abuses and violations.  Increasingly worrying was the gradual deterioration of the human rights situation in Crimea, caused by the “Russianisation” of the peninsula.   World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations reminded that since the illegal annexation of Crimea, Ukraine had been plunged into conflict.  There had been a 66 per cent increase in victims, many of them women.  It was important to block the provision of Russian weapons in order to alleviate the conflict.  United Nations Watch was gravely concerned about the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, and it urged the Russian Federation to respect the lives of civilians.  It reminded the Council that nothing had been done to pressure the Russian Federation to be held accountable regarding the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. 
 
Concluding Remarks
 
KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted questions about the balance of the reports, and responded that the focus had been placed on the relevant parts of the country.  The conflict was fuelled by the flow of foreign fighters and arms from the Russian Federation, and the current report identified eight action points for the Russian Federation.  In regard to questions about the protection of those who lived in noted areas, she said that there seemed to be a strong recognition of the importance of upholding the Minsk Agreements.  The recommendations across 16 reports formed a practical, achievable framework of action to uphold the protection of human rights in all areas under question. 

Responding to a question from Japan which had asked about the protection of women and children, she said there was at present no protection.  Measures needed to be taken by all those in authority.  In response to a question on children’s education, she said that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights worked closely with the United Nations Children’s Fund on that issue.  Regarding questions on the amnesty law, she said there was a general lack of accountability for human rights violations, and that concern remained about the matter. 

Grave concerns remained for the million people who were internally displaced.  The risks for the future of the country were the renewal of the conflict, and the further suffering of the people.  Regarding the protection of human rights defenders, they should be allowed to carry out their work without the fear of reprisals.  There was no credible protection to date in the areas to the east that were controlled by armed groups.  Political will was still wanting, and the return of displaced people had to take place within the context of respect for human rights.  In respect to the three pillars based on the rule of law, police, prosecution and the judiciary, they all had to start functioning if impunity was to be overcome.  All members of the Government and the Ombudsman were called on to ensure that there was support for the action plan.  All authorities were also called on to support efforts for peace in Ukraine.  Responsibility and accountability had to be pursued.  The flow of weapons and the failure of duty-bearers left the population nursing long-held grievances.  That seeded a bitter harvest of hate, and made reconciliation more elusive.   

Documentation
 
The Council has before it the Report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo(A/HRC/33/36).

Presentation of High Commissioner’s Report on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
 
KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that for 20 years, the Office of the High Commissioner had been a partner of the Congolese people and authorities, which was a sign of its long-standing commitment to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The previous week’s events in the country obliged the Office to speak out; respect for sovereignty did not equal indifference.  On 19 and 20 September, at least 53 people, including 49 civilians, had been killed during clashes in Kinshasa.  What was already clear was that manifestly excessive and lethal force had been deployed by security forces against crowds.  Deeply disturbing were also the reports that journalists and photographers had been rounded up prior to those incidents.  A large-scale crisis could be just around the corner, and all actors were urged to heed that wake-up call.  There could be no appeasement, and an independent, transparent and credible investigation was needed to bring the perpetrators and instigators of violence to justice.  It was also very disturbing that gun shots had been used to intimidate the Office’s human rights monitors in Kinshasa, to deter them from doing their job.

The leaders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo knew what was required: genuine commitment to human rights, as enshrined in the Congolese Constitution.  Police forces had to be more adequately trained and had to be supplied with non-lethal equipment to enable peaceful and proportionate crowd control.  All parties and actors had to refrain from incitement to violence, and use instead legal and peaceful means to express their views and claim their rights.  In recent weeks, there had been worrying reports of further arrests and detention of human rights activists and political opponents.  The authorities were urged to free all those detained because of their political activity or opinions, and to drop all politically motivated charges against them.  Ms. Gilmore expressed appreciation for the authorities’ continued cooperation with the Office, but much more needed to be done, and the Office was committed to continuing its support for those important efforts to ensure justice.  The Council was called on to augment its scrutiny of the human rights situation in the country and to join the call for investigations into alleged human rights violations there.    
 
Statement by the Concerned Country

Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking as the concerned country, said it would focus on the most important issues, namely the events of 19 and 20 September 2016.   It was clarified that those events had not been peaceful demonstrations as there had been looting and burning of State offices and of various political parties.  In the following days there had been a reaction of the representatives of political parties whose offices had been set on fire.  Speaking of the holding of elections, it was noted that some 8.5 million people were not registered in the electorate register.  The Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue of the election deadline.  Concerning constitutional principles, several reports had said that the country had breached the Constitution.  However, there was no question of breaching the Constitution.  The elections would take place according to the calendar determined by the National Electorate Commission.  As for political prisoners, more than 300 political prisoners had been released recently, and all of them were on the list of the European Union.  Those who remained in prison were looters and rapists.  All prisoners of conscience would be released, but those who used their status of political activists and prisoners of conscience to set Government buildings on fire and to loot would be sentenced accordingly.

Interactive Dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
 
European Union expressed its deep concern at the violence in Kinshasa and elsewhere the week before, and condemned the excessive use of force by the security forces.  It was critical that fundamental freedoms be respected, especially when it came to the media.  The European Union expressed appreciation for the work of human rights monitors on the ground.  Japan said that human rights violations against women and human rights defenders were particularly conspicuous, and Japan stressed the importance of taking countermeasures without delay.  The Government was urged to enhance its measures towards ensuring and promoting human rights.  France was in favour of the adoption of a resolution in support of the steps taken by the Congolese authorities towards further stabilization of the country.  All actors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were called upon to demonstrate restraint, and the authorities were urged to accelerate transparent preparations for the elections.  Czech Republic called upon the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to strengthen the rule of law.  What were the necessary actions of the international community and regional organizations to prevent the election-related violence and support the preparations for the elections?  Spain applauded the removal of immunity for officials through the reform of the Criminal Code; support was expressed for the efforts to combat impunity.  Spain was outraged by human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, by members of the national police.        
 
Spain welcomed the removal of impunity for officials for international crimes through amendments to the Criminal Code; welcomed the sentencing of members of the armed forces for sexual offences committed during the conflict; and expressed concern about the lack of support and remedy for victims of sexual violence.  Algeria was pleased by measures taken to strengthen the role of women in the electoral process, in particular through abolishing discriminatory measures contained in the Family Code.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo should continue to strengthen its institutional and legal framework, particularly in the east of the country.  Ireland shared concern regarding increasing restrictions on political space and offences against civil society, journalists and human rights defenders, and said that any use of violence was unacceptable.  Ireland took positive note of the fight against impunity and urged the Government to ensure that perpetrators of all violence, including sexual violence, were held to account - sexual and gender-based violations must not be tolerated.  Egypt welcomed the enactment of legislation to domesticate the Rome Statute which was an important step in ensuring accountability and noted that the continuing conflict in the east of the country was impeding the enjoyment of rights in the country.  The responsibility of the State to ensure rights must not be impinged on.  China commended the Government for the remarkable progress in the area of human rights and noted the serious humanitarian problems due to the ongoing conflict in the east of the country.  China stood ready to promote regional organizations in promoting regional peace.  Germany was deeply concerned about the violence around recent protests in Kinshasa in the election context and stressed the obligation of the Government to protect peaceful protests and prevent any form of excessive use of force by its security forces.  The uncertainty about the elections had led to this alarming situation.  The Government should end further procrastination of the election process, and find a broad and inclusive agreement on the way forward and in respect of the Constitution.

Switzerland expressed concern at the shrinking democratic space across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noting that despite improvements, there were obstacles to progress such as human rights violations committed by the security forces.  Portugal expressed concern at structural problems in the judiciary, noting that the shrinking democratic space was alarming, as were reports of sexual and gender-based violence.  Belgium noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was at a crossroads, with no clarity on the electoral timetable, and serious human rights violations being observed in recent days, with excessive use of force by security forces.  Sudan welcomed the continued cooperation of the Congolese Government with the Human Rights Council, and called on human rights mechanisms to provide support so the Government could take human rights protective steps.  Luxembourg said that the Government should ensure the protection of civil society and media representatives, and expressed worry at ongoing abuses and human rights violations faced by civilians in the east of the country. 

Togo welcomed the improvement of a legislative framework for human rights, adding that the progress achieved in combatting impunity testified to the willingness of the Congolese authorities to adhere to international human rights standards.  Togo encouraged the international community to support the reform of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s judiciary.  New Zealand regretted the increase of human rights violations perpetrated by the Government against opposition leaders.  It urged all sides to exercise restraint and called on the Government to outline a pathway to inclusive and credible elections.  United Kingdom remained deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and urged the authorities to urgently investigate the deaths that took place during the recent violent protests.  How could the Council best respond to the increased pattern of violence in the country?  United States noted that there had been increased repression and the closing of political space by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, directed primarily at political opposition and civil society, and related to the election cycle.  Mozambique commended the improvement in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s legislative framework for human rights protection, and the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution in line with the Paris Principles.  It called for assistance by the international community to continue improving the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Ghana welcomed the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and considerable steps taken by the Government to combat impunity for military and security officers.  The levels of forced disappearances, sexual violence and limits on freedom of expression and the media, however, remained a matter of deep concern.
 
Human Rights Watch urged the Council to act now to help prevent further escalation of the political crisis and the deteriorating situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – if not checked quickly, the situation could have violent and destabilizing repercussions across the region.  Strong action was needed now to show that there were consequences for the repression and to help deter further violence.  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues reiterated its profound concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in the run up to elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and said that the Council should give the situation its urgent attention.  This could include setting up a dedicated monitoring mechanism and the preparing of a thematic report.  Amnesty International said that over the past year, the repression of those criticising the Government had been brutal, the political and civic space had been shrinking, and those documenting violations, and their families, had been facing reprisals.  The Government should engage in a meaningful reform of the National Intelligence Service and establish an oversight mechanism – this vital institution had ceased to act under its legal framework and was at the centre of many human rights violations.  Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was again faced with violence in the run up to the elections.  Geological and mineral scandals meant that more than half of the population lived in poverty, while corruption marred the inability of the Congolese people to build institutions to promote governance and freedoms.  United Nations Watch was deeply concerned by the use of force by the Government against civilians and opposition parties who demanded a peaceful political transition and the re-establishment of democracy.  The Government should immediately free all political prisoners and commence a process of democratization. International Catholic Child Bureau, in a joint statement with Pax Christi International, International Catholic Peace Movement; International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development – VIDES; Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco; and Association Points-Coeur, said that the national strategy to combat gender-based violence was challenged by lengthy and expensive legal procedures, and victims, in fear and without legal representation, often agreed to pitiful compensation.  What technical assistance was being offered to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in this regard?

Concluding Remarks
 
KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that there was a heavy burden now to be carried.  Independent, transparent, and credible investigations needed to be carried out, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stood ready to offer support.  Turning to questions asked, she said that the team in Kinshasa had been reinforced, and noted that cooperation had also been coordinated.  The Government was urged to take all reasonable measures to ensure that there was full respect for the independence of the judiciary.  There needed to be recognition and assistance to victims.  There needed to be resolved engagement and more support was required; the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not be left alone at the present time.  If violence were to spread across the country, it would have disastrous consequences for the entire region. 

In response to questions asked about sexual violence at the hands of State actors, she said that statistics showed that there could be progress with regard to impunity.  The deployment of female magistrates was one practical move.  Challenges, however, remained.  Concrete steps needed to be taken so that those collaborating with armed groups answered to the rule of law.  Human rights and the upholding of fundamental freedoms were a sine qua non for free and fair elections.  A preliminary report would soon be shared with authorities.  Continued unfettered access to sites of detention and other areas where violence had been perpetrated were key.  The independence of the judiciary was key; justice systems could not be exploited to silence political opponents. 

The current pattern of annual reporting was not enough under current circumstances, and the Council should receive updates throughout the coming year.  The National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was encouraged to assert its full independence.  Laws were in need of reform, specifically a law for the protection of human rights defenders.  The international community needed to be fully engaged, and not compromise on human rights.  The Sanctions Committee of the Security Council was key, with its newly reinforced mandate which included targeted sanctions for individual perpetrators.  Sovereignty could not transmogrify into a mandate to perpetrate crime.  It was not a violation of sovereignty to decry the failure to uphold for all citizens their constitutional rights.  No sovereign authority worthy of its name was imperilled because violations of human rights were reported with due respect to the rule of law.  The Government had to govern for all, and any government had no right to crush to maintain its power.  
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