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

AFTERNOON

GENEVA (25 September 2018) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Ukraine and an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

Presenting the High Commissioner’s oral update on Ukraine, Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that in the highly charged political context in Ukraine, the main concern remained the protection of all victims and the prevention and mitigation of all abuses.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine continued to claim lives, destroy homes, and tear communities apart, with more than 3,000 civilians killed.  Justice, remedy and reparation for victims and their families was virtually non-existent.  The United Nations Monitoring Mission in Ukraine recorded numerous conflict-related violations and abuses, including unlawful and arbitrary detentions, incommunicado detentions, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, and threats to the physical integrity of individuals.

Speaking as the concerned country, Ukraine noted that the Russian aggression and occupation had led to multiple violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the occupying authorities.  The Russian Federation stubbornly ignored appeals of international organizations, political leaders and civil society to save the lives of Ukrainian citizens unlawfully arrested in Crimea, convicted under trumped up charges and detained in Russian prisons.  

In the ensuing discussion, speakers expressed hope that all parties to the conflict in Ukraine would fully implement the Minsk Agreements in a way that respected the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.  They were seriously concerned about the continued harassment, arrest and ill treatment of people in the Crimean Peninsula, including Crimean Tatars.  Ethnic Ukrainians calling for the return of Crimea under Ukrainian jurisdiction were prosecuted and sentenced by the illegal authorities.  Speakers also called attention to the situation of ethnic and religious minorities, human rights defenders, journalists and displaced persons.  Some speakers reiterated their call to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out its activities with a broader approach that included the situation of different national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities living in Ukraine.  Other speakers stressed that shelling of key civilian infrastructure by Ukrainian forces was a major violation of international humanitarian law.  Kiev’s punishment of citizens in Donbas and suspension of pension payments to internally displaced persons was unacceptable.  

Speaking were European Union, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, United Nations Children’s Fund, Switzerland, Finland, France, Denmark, Russian Federation, Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Croatia, Spain, Czechia, Lithuania, Hungary, Council of Europe, Australia, Georgia, Montenegro, Romania, United Kingdom, Iceland, Poland, Norway, Turkey, Slovakia, Republic of Moldova, and Bulgaria.  

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights House Foundation, International Council of Russian Compatriots (ICRC) and World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations.

The Council then held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  

Presenting the High Commissioner’s report, Georgette Gagnon, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that three months ahead of the crucial presidential elections, the situation in the country remained very tense.  Despite repeated commitments by the Congolese authorities to create an environment conducive to transparent elections, restrictions to civil and political rights continued to increase.  Peaceful demonstrations in many provinces remained banned.  Alarming trends of violations had been reported since June 2017, including a 35 per cent increase of violations linked to restrictions of democratic space, half of which had been perpetrated by the police.

Kim Bolduc, Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reaffirmed the progress described at the previous session concerning the electoral process in the country, which had given way to the hope for a peaceful democratic transition.  The designation of a candidate by the presidential majority also helped to put an end to so much uncertainty.  However, the country continued to confront increased activity by armed groups and militants in certain provinces of the country which had inflicted violence on civilian populations and caused displacement.  Ms. Bolduc highlighted Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, Kasai and Maniema provinces as facing particularly high levels of violence.

Marie-Ange Mushobekwa Likulia, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that even though the country still needed to reach greater protection and respect for human rights, there had been much progress and good-will in that respect.  The Government was doing what it could to end the insurgence of armed groups, militias and intercommunal conflicts, namely by engaging the army, however, it was not easy as they operated in areas inhabited by civilians.  To combat impunity, the Government had engaged in awareness raising techniques to inform political actors, civil society, the army and national police of human rights.  It would also replace all unfit and corrupt judges.  

Julienne Lusenge, President of the Board and Co-Founder of Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development, noted that an open democracy needed to see the inclusion of 50 per cent of the population – women.  The country would never achieve stability and sustainable development without female representation and participation.  The elections would change nothing unless a radical change was made for those who had suffered with their own bodies.  Women had to participate in political affairs because it was them who built peace.  Those in the majority had to stop making threats and demands so that the country could have peaceful elections.
 
The National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that it had issued several public reports regarding the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  However, a number of visits could not be carried out due to security concerns and increasing violence.  The Commission asked that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain a concern for the Council and continue to be included in future Council reports.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice and to respect civil and political rights, including in the lead up to elections in December.  Free, fair and credible elections were essential to a more stable political, security and economic situation.  Speakers said that it was encouraging to learn that efforts by the Government to improve the justice system had led to an increase in sentencing of human rights perpetrators.  However, they noted with concern the reports of increased violations of civil and political rights that threatened the electoral process, as well as conflict-related sexual violence.  The sexual violence experienced by women and children was alarming and speakers urged the Government to continue to combat impunity.

Speaking were Togo on behalf of the African Group, European Union, Germany, Egypt, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Czechia, China, Australia, Sudan, Belgium, United Kingdom, Norway, Botswana, Mozambique, Algeria, Republic of Congo, and Venezuela.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture, Association Dunenyo , International Service for Human Rights , "Coup de Pousse" Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud (C.D.P-C.E.N.S), Franciscans International (in a joint statement with severals NGOs1), International Fellowship of Reconciliation and International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD).


The Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 26 September, at 9 a.m. when it will hold an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on Yemen, followed by an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Libya.  Later in the day, the Council will hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, the Independent Expert on Somalia, and with the Independent Expert on Sudan.  

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Ukraine

Presentation of the Oral Update by the Deputy High Commissioner

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights delivered a statement to the Council regarding the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.  In the highly charged political context in Ukraine, the main concern remained the protection of all victims and the prevention and mitigation of all abuses.  The conflict in eastern Ukraine continued to claim lives, destroy homes and tear communities apart, with more than 3,000 civilians killed.  Justice, remedy and reparation for victims and their families was virtually non-existent.  Numerous casualties were reported as a result of shelling or light weapons fire occurring in May and June this year.  The Mission recorded numerous conflict-related violations and abuses, including unlawful and arbitrary detentions, incommunicado detentions, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and threats to the physical integrity of individuals.

Ms. Gilmore called on national and international criminal justice systems to mobilize and take concrete measures to hold to account all perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Ukraine.  She stressed that to date, parties in the conflict had taken only limited steps to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed since 2014.  Ms. Gilmore also highlighted some positive developments, including the adoption of the law on missing persons, which criminalized enforced disappearance, and introduced a number of welfare benefits for relatives of missing persons.  She noted progress on investigations into deaths that occurred at Maidan in 2014.  However, Ms. Gilmore expressed concern that next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections were accelerating the erosion of civic space, including violence and repression against members of the Roma community, civic activists, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex communities.  She called on Governments to address such attacks more resolutely.

Access to Crimea had yet to be granted to the Human Rights Monitoring Mission. Ms. Gilmore regretted the continued disregard by Russian authorities of their obligation as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention by failing to respect the laws of the occupied territory.  Finally, Ms. Gilmore expressed concern that while human rights staff operated without impediment in government-controlled territory in Ukraine, their operations in separatist-controlled territory had faced increasing restrictions.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Ukraine, speaking as the concerned country, while acknowledging the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, continued to call for reporting from the ground.  The Russian aggression and occupation had led to multiple violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the occupying authorities.  It was heart breaking to learn that Ukrainians were regularly prosecuted under false allegations of terrorism and extremism-related offences in proceedings that fell short of human rights standards.  What was especially unacceptable was the ban of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars.  The Ukrainians residing in Crimea were denied the right to have education in Ukrainian.  At the same time, the Russian Federation had transferred its own civilian population to live in Crimea.  The Russian Federation stubbornly ignored appeals of international organizations, political leaders and civil society to save the lives of Ukrainian citizens unlawfully arrested in Crimea, convicted under trumped up charges and detained in Russian prisons.  The Russian leadership should not be allowed to repeat the crimes of Soviet dictator Stalin against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians.    

Interactive Dialogue

European Union was concerned about the ongoing human rights violations and abuses committed against persons living in areas of eastern Ukraine.  The European Union did not recognise the illegal annexation and called for the immediate release of all Ukrainian citizens that were illegally detained in Russia and illegally annexed Crimea.  Estonia was concerned about the systematic human rights violations perpetrated by Russia in illegally annexed Crimea, including acts against Crimean Tatars and those who opposed the annexation.  Estonia condemned Russia’s practice of forced conscription of Crimean residents to Russian Federation armed forces, as well as the movement of its own population into the occupied territory.  Latvia noted with concern that the freedoms of opinion and expression remained highly restricted.  Crimean Tatars continued to be disproportionately affected.  Latvia also regretted that proper, unimpeded access of international human rights mechanisms had not been granted to the Office to monitor the human rights situation in illegally annexed Crimea.

Germany said the deprivation of the freedoms of expression and of religion as well as the deprivation of freedom of movement in the Crimean Peninsula was concerning.  Germany also condemned recent attacks on Roma settlements and other minorities in Ukraine as well as the lack of accountability for the perpetrators of those attacks on minorities.  United Nations Children’s Fund urged the Government of Ukraine to embark on a comprehensive child welfare reform to include prevention, timely identification and proactive response to the social needs of vulnerable children.  These measures were particularly needed for children affected by the ongoing conflict.  Switzerland noted that abusive practices against civil society and the media were on the rise in Ukraine.  They regretted the absence of the system of compensation and reparation for those whose property rights had been violated because of the conflict and they also called on Russia to protect the rights of the people in the occupied territories.

Finland called for improved access for humanitarian assistance and said that crossing of the contact line should not be needlessly complicated.  It regretted that the targeting of Tatars and Ukrainian speaking communities in Crimea continued and Russia was urged to release unlawfully detained Ukrainian citizens, including Oleg Sentsov.  France noted that as the conflict entered its fifth year, violence in east Ukraine was very concerning.  In Crimea, Tatars were persecuted and France called for the release of illegally detained Ukrainians.  Denmark said that only the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements would end the suffering.  There were numerous ongoing violations of human rights, particularly in the armed group controlled territory where access to detained persons was increasingly restricted.

Russia stressed that the shelling of key civilian infrastructure by Ukrainian forces was a major violation of international humanitarian law and the international community was not even aware of that.  Kiev’s punishment of citizens in Donbas was unacceptable and they were not paying pensions to internally displaced persons.  Netherlands was concerned about violations of international humanitarian law in Crimea and areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, not currently under Government control.  An enabling environment for civil society and the media was indispensable for democratic elections in 2019.  Sweden said that the situation in areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Donbas was deteriorating and over 10,000 people had lost their lives in Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict.  Plans to hold local elections in parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions ran contrary to the Minsk Agreements and risked further escalation of the conflict.

Japan expressed hope that all parties to the conflict in Ukraine would fully implement the Minsk Agreements in a way that respected the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.  It was seriously concerned about the continued harassment, arrest and ill treatment of people in the Crimean Peninsula, including Crimean Tatars.  Croatia reminded that many of the internally displaced persons in Ukraine had faced psychological and physical distress inflicted during incommunicado detentions in regions under occupation.  Croatia deplored that ethnic Ukrainians calling for the return of Crimea under Ukrainian jurisdiction were prosecuted and sentenced by the illegal authorities.  Spain voiced concern for the effects of the conflict in Ukraine on human rights, which had not shown any signs of improvement.  It called attention to the situation of ethnic and religious minorities, human rights defenders and journalists, and displaced persons.  

Czechia noted that civilians in eastern Ukraine suffered from enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture.  The solution to the conflict had to be based on respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.  Lithuania said that it was disturbing that during the reporting period, the Monitoring Mission had faced increased restrictions in Ukraine’s Donbas region controlled by Russia-backed armed separatist groups.  Lithuania was deeply troubled by the ongoing human rights abuses in Luhansk and Donetsk, such as restrictions on space for freedom of opinion and expression, incommunicado detentions, and torture.  Hungary reiterated its call to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to carry out its activities with a broader approach that included the situation of different national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities living in Ukraine.  Ukraine’s law on education continued to violate the linguistic and educational rights of national minorities.    

Council of Europe welcomed the work of the new Supreme Court and its landmark decision to protect pension rights of internally displaced persons in Ukraine and the introduction of individuals’ complaints before the Constitutional Court.  Further progress was to be achieved in organization of local elections, electoral reform, and the enjoyment of rights of vulnerable groups such as Roma and internally displaced persons.  Australia steadfastly supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity and called on all parties to implement their Minsk 2 obligations.  Illegitimate authorities in Crimea were urged to cease the use of torture and enforced disappearances.  Georgia was alarmed that the population residing in the territories beyond the Ukrainian Government’s effective control continued to suffer from human rights violations.  Georgia called for the release of unlawfully detained citizens.  Full access of the United Nations human rights monitoring mission to the whole territory of Ukraine needed.

Montenegro stressed the continued growth of civilian casualties, with about 30 per cent increase compared to the last report.  It was regretful that the monitoring mission had no access to the whole of Ukraine and that there had been no progress on the majority of the recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner.  Romania was deeply concerned about human rights abuses in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by so-called separatists.  Romania pleaded for immediate resolution of cases of targeted abuses against national minorities in illegally annexed Crimea, particularly the Crimean Tatars.  United Kingdom said that as the occupying power, Russia continued to apply its legislation, including holding Russian presidential elections in March, violating international humanitarian law.  The welfare of 72 Ukrainian political prisoners was alarming, particularly Oleg Sentsov and Volodymyr Balukh who were on hunger strike

Iceland expressed its concern about the lack of effective investigation into conflict-related human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment in government-controlled territory.  Iceland deplored the civilian casualties recorded in eastern Ukraine, and called on all parties to end hostilities and human rights abuses and to bring an end to the conflict.  Poland reiterated its opposition to the illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, and reconfirmed its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.  Poland expressed concern regarding the ongoing human rights and humanitarian law violations in Crimea.  Norway expressed concern about the reported rise in attacks on media representatives and civil society activists.  Norway expressed particular concern about the human rights situation in self-proclaimed republics, and called on the de facto authorities to stop the practice of incommunicado detention.

Turkey said it continued to support all efforts aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the situation in Ukraine based on its territorial integrity and international law. Turkey called on all parties to implement the requisites of the Minsk Agreements and ensure a complete and comprehensive cease-fire in all conflict zones.  Slovakia expressed serious concern that a dire social and economic situation continued to prevail among conflict-affected civilians living along the contact line.  Slovakia called on separatist authorities to ensure unimpeded access of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other independent international observers to all places of deprivation of liberty.  Republic of Moldova commended Ukraine for its openness and close cooperation with the Monitoring Mission and other international human rights mechanisms and expressed its support for the internal reform processes that the Government was undertaking.  However, the Republic of Moldova expressed concern about the devastating effects that the active conflict had had on the human rights situation of the people living in the conflict affected area.  Bulgaria voiced deep concern about the continuation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which had disrupted civilian life and caused deaths, injuries and destruction.  Bulgaria agreed that targeted shelling of residential areas and critical infrastructure near the contact line was a serious violation of international humanitarian law.  

Human Rights House Foundation informed that its visit to the occupied Crimean Peninsula from 14 to 18 September 2018 had allowed the collection of first-hand information and giving a voice to the people in Crimea.  The findings of the mission pointed out to systematic violations and creation of an atmosphere of fear to dissuade criticism and dissent.  International Council of Russian Compatriots (ICRC) called on the international community to exert pressure on Ukraine to restore humanitarian and property rights of the Tatars, who densely inhabited the Kherson region of the country.  They were being actively manipulated by radical extremist groups that had the support of the official authorities in Kiev.  World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations noted that the population in occupied Ukrainian territories continued to suffer on a daily basis.  Although the number of killings had fallen, there was little progress in finding a resolution of the conflict, which was becoming a frozen conflict like in other areas of Russia’s interest.  

Concluding Remarks

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that given the extent of suffering in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, a complete and comprehensive ceasefire needed to be put in place.  There was a call for all parties to the conflict to immediately respect and uphold the ceasefire and implement the Minsk Agreements.  To increase access for humanitarian aid to armed groups-controlled areas, people needed the right to freedom of movement on both sides of the contact line to enjoy their fundamental right to essential services and economic, social and cultural rights.  The international community was urged to elevate humanitarian support and response plans.  Furthermore, many countries had underlined the unjustified acts and impeded access to documenting human rights violations in Crimea and contested areas.  In Crimea, it was a challenge to provide human rights information because of the lack of access, which was essential to the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Concerning accountability and access to justice, particularly for minorities and so that no one would be left behind, the mobilisation of the criminal justice system was critical.  National investigations should be supported into war crimes and breaches of human rights; conflict related sexual violence should never be a subject of amnesty.  Threats and violence by right-wing groups were also of concern.  The detention and transfer of prisoners from Crimea to Russia was reported as well as hunger strikes by detainees.  It was stressed that Ukrainians forcefully transferred to the Russian territory needed to be returned.  Regarding detention in armed groups-controlled territories, Ms. Gilmore reiterated the call for full, unimpeded access to conduct confidential interviews with detainees, which would allow them to inform family members of the status of their loved ones.  Civilian harm needed to be minimised by defending civilians and their objects from attack.  The rules of war needed to be upheld, including objects indispensable to civilians, like water structure.  She thanked the Council members for their solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human rights situation and the activities of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (A/HRC/39/42).

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Presentation of the Report

GEORGETTE GAGNON, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing the report, said that three months ahead of crucial presidential elections, the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remained very tense.  The Office of the High Commissioner was immensely concerned about the continuing shrinking of democratic space and increased suffering of civilians in conflict-affected areas.  Despite repeated commitments by the Congolese authorities to create an environment conducive to transparent elections, restrictions to civil and political rights continued to increase.  Peaceful demonstrations in many provinces remained banned.  Alarming trends of violations had been reported since June 2017, including a 35 per cent increase of violations linked to restrictions of democratic space, half of which had been perpetrated by police and included force to suppress demonstrations and intimidation.  In August in Lubumbashi and Kasumbalesa, police shot at demonstrations and 89 people were arrested.  The Government was urged to release all political prisoners.  

Since the last interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Office of the High Commissioner had documented 876 human rights violations.  This was due to the intensification of violence by armed groups and security forces.  North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, Haut and Bas-Uele as well as Tanganyika, Maniema and the Kasai region remained sites of widespread atrocities.  State agents were the main perpetrators inflicting suffering on civilians.   The High Commissioner regretted the recent promotion of a senior officer of the Congolese Armed Forces who was accused of human rights violations.  The impunity had to end.

The new Ebola outbreak in conflict-affected areas was alarming, requiring joint efforts of national authorities and the international community.  The High Commissioner commended the work of the national commission of inquiry in July 2018, set up by the Government in response to brutal repression of protests in December 2017 and January 2018.  However, the recommendations of the commission remained unimplemented.   There was another commission set up to investigate the tragic events of September and December 2016, which was seen as a step forward in the search for truth.  The accreditation of the national human rights commission with an “A” Status was not an end in itself but had to be considered as an encouragement for the institution.  The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was called on to guarantee access to the media, and to put an end to restrictions imposed to ensure credible elections and to respect the commitments made under the 31 December 2016 Agreement.  Support would be provided to the Government to reverse worrying trends in the final stretch before the December ballot.

Keynote Statements

KIM BOLDUC, Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said that the progress described at the previous session concerning the electoral process had been reaffirmed and had given way to the hope for a peaceful democratic transition.  Ms. Bolduc highlighted the upholding of the constitution by political actors, including the Head of State, as something which had been welcomed by all as a factor of peace and stability in a region marked by multiple crises.  The designation of a candidate by presidential majority also helped to put an end to so much uncertainty.  The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was calling on Congolese authorities to free political prisoners and those detained for expressing their opinion, in particular the opening of the political arena and halting measures which prevented the right to freedom of assembly, as well as arrests of members of political parties and civil society organizations by security services.  

Ms. Bolduc noted with encouragement the initiatives undertaken by the Government through the Ministry for Human Rights to put in place joint commissions of inquiry under which several concerning incidents over the last two years could be investigated.  This was seen as a sign of willingness to contribute to appeasement and to attribute responsibility for these incidents, as well as granting particular attention to the victims and their families.  Ms. Bolduc expressed concern over detention conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, however, she welcomed the reduction in pre-trial detention put in place by the Government.  

The Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to confront increased activity by armed groups and militants in certain provinces of the country which had inflicted violence on civilian populations and displacement.  Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, Kasai and Maniema provinces were facing particularly high levels of violence.  Many women and children continued to be the victims of violence, particularly in North Kivu and South Kivu, where there had been reports of mass rapes and attacks against health clinics.  There was particular concern about the Beni region, which was facing an emergency situation linked to a rising Ebola epidemic.  Despite the swift response of the Congolese Government, there was still a high risk that even provinces which had never known the disease could be affected by the epidemic.

Ms. Bolduc concluded by drawing attention to the situation faced by internally displaced persons, which was becoming an increasingly pressing issue.  She encouraged the Democratic Republic of the Congo to finalize the last international steps to ratify the Kampala Convention and adopt its own national law concerning internally displaced people.  While the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were the focus for this year, they were only one step.  By contrast, upholding human dignity, human and political rights, fundamental freedoms, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights must be inscribed in the long term through the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

MARIE-ANGE MUSHOBEKWA LIKULIA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said she had closely followed the picture painted of the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Understanding that the country still needed to make more efforts to reach greater protection and respect for the human rights, she highlighted that there had been much progress and good-will in that respect.  Some within the Council preferred to look at the situation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the glass half-empty.  As the Minister of Human Rights, she saw the glass half-full, ever aware that she was obliged to fill the glass, with pure and healthy water, fit for drinking.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo had been attacked in the east by the ADF-NALU terrorist group, operating from a neighbouring country.  Several innocent Congolese civilians had lost their lives.  She condemned and denounced that barbarity and shared the grief of the families and assured that the crimes would not go unpunished.  

The Government was doing what it could to end the insurgency of armed groups, militias and intercommunal conflicts, namely by engaging the army, however, it was not easy as they operated in areas inhabited by civilians.  To combat impunity, the Government had engaged in awareness raising techniques to inform political actors, civil society, the army and national police of human rights.  Also all unfit and corrupt judges would be replaced.  The trial regarding the murder of the two United Nations experts was proceeding in Kinshasha, where light would be shed on the truth of the situation.  Concerning atrocities committed by the terrorist group Kamuina Nsapu, trials were already underway.  She also reassured that the presidential, legislative and regional elections would remain in place, to be held on 23 December, and would be free, credible, transparent and without outside interference.  Three months ago, the restriction on public protests had also been lifted for all political parties.  The biggest step forward was, for the first time in its history, the democratic handover of power.  History would show that Joseph Kabila had organized the first elections in the country’s history allowing for the establishment of a democracy 58 years after the independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He deserved respect and support for that historic effort.

JULIENNE LUSENGE, President of the Board and Co-founder of Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development, said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been shaken by ongoing instability for three decades.  No one had been able to sleep.  People had seen abductions, massacres, forced displacement and pillaging.  As a women’s rights activist, Ms. Lusenge said she believed that an open democracy needed to see the inclusion of 50 per cent of the population – women.  The country would never achieve stability and sustainable development without female representation and participation.  Unless there was a body and structure within which women could participate, there would be no peace and stability.  Ms. Lusenge cited two examples showcasing the suffering that women and people in the country endured every day.  The elections would change nothing unless a radical change was made for those who had suffered with their own bodies.  That was the lot of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Those women had to participate in political affairs because it was them who built peace.  Ms. Lusenge voiced concern about Ms. Liberata Buratwa, who had been detained by the Congolese intelligence agency because she had carried out awareness raising against joining armed groups for the youth.  Those in the majority had to stop making threats and demands so that the country could have peaceful elections.

National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo said that it had observed and made public several reports regarding the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It also explained that it had carried out numerous visits to penitentiaries in Kinshasa and other regions of the country.  However, a number of these visits could not be carried out due to security concerns and increasing violence.  The National Human Rights Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo recommended that the Congolese Government adopt laws that had been under consideration which supported the progress and protection of human rights in the country.  It also recommended increasing the country’s budget for monthly projects, particularly civic buildings, including penitentiary buildings.  The National Human Rights Commission asked that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain a concern for the Council and continue to be included in future Council reports.

Interactive Dialogue

Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, welcomed the positive developments concerning the electoral process and encouraged the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to end impunity of perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses.  They also needed to ensure that victims of violence had appropriate remedies and that their dignity was restored.  European Union was concerned by the spike in the violations and affronts to human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The sexual violence experienced by women and children was alarming and the European Union urged the Government to continue to combat impunity, and asked for an update on conclusions concerning the use of excessive force against protestors in 2017 and 2018.  Germany said that in view of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, it was of critical importance to continue monitoring the situation to ensure inclusive, peaceful, credible, free and fair elections.  They also called upon all actors to refrain from violence and for the Government to protect fundamental human rights and liberties.  Egypt stated that measures taken by the Government in terms of bolstering the legal and institutional framework had been positive and commended the Government’s efforts to combat impunity.  Egypt suggested that the Government accept recommendations contained in the report that it deemed important while also assuming its international commitments.

Switzerland said that restrictions on public freedoms against journalists and opposition politicians were alarming.  The Congolese authorities were urged to ensure a credible and transparent election process as well as put an end to human rights violations.  Switzerland expressed alarm at continued sexual violence plaguing the country.  France said only a democratic transition to power would ensure the stability of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and also welcomed President Kabila’s decision to stand down from the upcoming presidential election.  France was concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation and human rights violations by armed groups.

Netherlands called on the authorities to fully implement the New Year’s Eve agreement and ensure free elections.  Extreme poverty and hunger in the Democratic People’s Republic of the Congo were alarming, many displaced civilians were deprived of their basic needs and there was increasing lawlessness in the eastern part of the country.  Czechia noted that violations of rights were mainly linked to the State officials, including members of the armed forces and police.  All recommendations from the High Commissioner’s report were supported, including those from election observation missions from the 2011 elections.  China followed closely the situation and hoped that all parties would find a way to reconcile their differences through dialogue and in line with the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement.  China was providing humanitarian assistance and assisting in settling of refugees in neighbouring countries.

Australia was concerned about the increase of conflict-related sexual violence, which was often perpetrated by State officials.  All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience had to be released in line with the Global and All-Inclusive Agreement of December 2016.  Sudan acknowledged the efforts of the Congolese authorities to promote human rights and the swift handling of events occurring in Kasai regions, including organizing the investigations.  The creation of the national human rights commission in line with the Paris Principles was welcomed.  Belgium underlined the necessity of upholding freedom of expression of civil society, human rights defenders, opposition and journalists.  Another source of concern were violations committed by State armed forces, particularly in Kasai region.

United Kingdom called on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice and to respect civil and political rights, including in the lead up to elections in December.  Free, fair and credible elections were essential to ensure a more stable political, security and economic situation.  Norway said that it was encouraging to learn that efforts by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to improve the justice system had led to an increase in sentencing of human rights perpetrators.  However, it noted with concern the reports of increased violations of civil and political rights that threatened the electoral process, as well as conflict-related sexual violence.  Botswana emphasized the importance of ensuring transparent, credible and inclusive elections that promoted equal participation for all.  It implored the Democratic Republic of the Congo to uphold the principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, including the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.  

Mozambique commended the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the progress made in the implementation of the previous recommendations, namely the convictions handed down to senior military officers for human rights violations.  It urged the authorities to take all relevant measures conducive to free, fair and transparent elections.  Algeria welcomed the efforts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fight impunity and sexual violence, and to bring to account soldiers responsible for the grave violations of human rights.  Algeria also welcomed the establishment of a joint commission to investigate the human rights violations during the demonstrations of 31 December 2017 and 21 January 2018.  Republic of Congo commended the advances made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with respect to the fight against impunity and sexual violence, which was the result of the will of the authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators of grave violations of human rights.  Republic of Congo encouraged the Government to continue those efforts actively.  Venezuela said technical assistance and capacity building, with the approval of a State, would improve human rights.  Venezuela asked the Government to combat impunity.  Venezuela condemned unilateral sanctions that hindered development and said the United Nations should respect the will of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a sovereign country.

International Federation for Human Rights Leagues was concerned about the undermining of public freedoms and did not believe the elections would be credible.  Without a holistic and coherent approach, the human rights situation could not be expected to improve and a follow-up system needed to be created.  International Federation of ACAT Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture said an international and independent mechanism needed to be set up to follow the human rights situation in the country.  The Government also needed to increase efforts to eliminate impunity for violations of human rights.  Association Dunenyo said the climate of terror and massacres was visible for everyone with killings that had been ongoing for 20 years with total indifference of the Congolese public authorities and the international community.  The democratic space was far from having conditions suitable to ensure free, inclusive, impartial and credible elections.

International Service for Human Rights said that earlier this month, 27 defenders from the Lucha movement had been arrested in Kinshasa and severely beaten by security forces for protesting in favour of fair elections.  They were also concerned about a draft bill that was incompatible with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s international obligations.  “Coup de Pousse” Chaîne de l’Espoir Nord-Sud (C.D.P-C.E.N.S) said the elections did not represent real democratic change because of so many obstacles put in place.  Other voices had been raised saying the use of machines in the elections would result in false results.  It had been demonstrated that more than 16 million fictitious voters were on the electoral list.

Franciscans International, in a joint statement with severals NGOs1, stressed that three months away from the elections, the current political impasse could not lead to democratic elections.  The repression of demonstrations, confiscation of media and controversies about the electoral commission had to provoke the Council to react and prevent a further worsening of the situation.  International Fellowship of Reconciliation said that activists were preoccupied with the necessity of forthcoming elections.  Putting an end to violence that was ongoing in the country was even more pressing as the recruitment of children to take part in the armed conflict was happening again.  International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) welcomed that the report focused on developments concerning elections.  Violence was only adding to one of the most expensive humanitarian crises; over eight countries were involved in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Concluding Remarks

GEORGETTE GAGNON, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked all speakers for their comments.  The Office of the High Commissioner was working to reduce the broad number of human rights violations, through advocacy, technical assistance and monitoring, with the Government and with non-governmental organizations.  The Office of the High Commissioner in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been working to release the prisoners, insisting that the Government had international responsibilities and arguing that there were consequences for not fulfilling those obligations.  There were well known fixes to reverse an increasing trend of human rights violations.  This was ending the impunity and it involved bringing perpetrators to justice.  Armed groups had to be neutralized in line with legal norms.  The support of the international community through sanctions was also a well-known option for forcing the Government to comply with human rights standards.  Security sector reform was also a possibility.  As for the assessment of the Government’s efforts to implement recommendations from the joint commission investigations related to the December 2017 and January 2018 incidents, the full report was submitted to the Ministry of Justice in June but no investigation had begun and no recommendations had been implemented.  The repression of demonstrations in Kinshasa and Lubumbashi had been occurring in August.

KIM BOLDUC, Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reiterated that the challenges of organizing elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were great and the Mission stood ready to support the Government with technical assistance, if needed.  As for the Ebola outbreak, the Mission remained concerned about it and was working together with national and international partners to control it.  The situation was particularly fragile due to the simultaneous presence of the conflict and the Ebola outbreak.  Although at first there had been much financial support for managing the Ebola outbreak, the humanitarian programme for the Democratic Republic of the Congo had so far only received 25 per cent of the needed funds, which put at great risk affected women and children.

MARIE-ANGE MUSHOBEKWA LIKULIA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said there had been much progress in the area of civil and political rights, since civil and political freedoms were in place.  Meetings in public places, with respect to public order, could now take place.  Outreach would continue with governors to sensitise the police and make them aware that people had the right to protest, because without that, there could be no credible, transparent actions.  Everyone needed the same chance.  Concerning balance in the public media, a commission had been set up by the Government to ensure that all political actors could receive the same wavelength through the public media.  Ms. Likulia asked the Minister of Information to reach out to private media heads and political actors concerning that subject.  Political actors that incited hatred in the media, public or private, would not be tolerated.  The Government continued its struggle against impunity; the willingness was there, but it would not be remedied overnight.  Officials had been condemned for sexual violence and investigations continued in other cases and those military officers, if found guilty, would be prosecuted and sanctioned.  Judicial investigations would continue and perpetrators of human rights violations would be prosecuted.  She insisted that the Government did not have militias in the Kasaï and that what happened there was an act of terrorism.  Concerning the voting machines, there had been public manipulation about their use and a number of political actors and non-governmental organizations had complained about them.  She reminded that the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a sovereign State and demanded respect; the Congolese would choose their own leaders and those leaders would not come from any European country.  

JULIENNE LUSENGE, President of the Board and Co-Founder of Women’s Solidarity for Peace and Integrated Development, said that the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a shared responsibility of the Government and of neighbouring countries which continued to manipulate armed groups and use resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A case in point was activism by the ADF-NALU armed group from Uganda.  There was a need for the international community and the African Union to work together to put an end to the conflict.  Congolese women were ready for the elections.  But they first needed to be safe from violence and abductions.  Ms. Lusenge noted that women needed to receive justice and to come forward as witnesses.  That work was done by travelling courts.  Ms. Lusenge expressed hope that the national Government would continue to work together with the international community to fight off foreign armed groups and achieve peace and development.  The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not want hand-outs; they wanted to achieve development on their own.

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1Joint statement: Franciscans International, Bischöfliches Hilfswerk Misereor e.V., Caritas Internationalis International Confederation of Catholic Charities, Dominicans for Justice and Peace Order of Preachers and Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund.

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