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Human Rights Council concludes high-level interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic

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19 junio de 2020

​Human Rights Council

19 June 2020

Hears the Presentation of Reports on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Technical Assistance and Capacity Building, and Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, Holds General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded a high-level dialogue on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic.  It then heard the presentation of reports on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, on the overview of successes, best practices and challenges in technical assistance and capacity building efforts, and on the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights.  This was followed by a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.

Lizbeth Cullity, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and Deputy Head of the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, speaking via video message, said thousands of children in the Central African Republic had been recruited and used as soldiers, killed, injured, raped or abducted.  School and health facilities had been attacked and destroyed, depriving children of their rights to education and health.  According to a study on the use of children in armed conflicts, between 6,000 and 10,000 children served in the armed forces in the Central African Republic. 

Leopold Ismael Samba, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking as the concerned country, said that following the elections of March 2016 which marked the return of the Central African Republic among nations, the new political authorities had been firmly engaged on three main areas: the fight against all forms of impunity by strengthening democracy and the rule of law; the promotion and protection of Human Rights; and the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation programme and the Security Sector Reform.

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed Conflict for the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, participating via videoconference from Cape Town, noted positive developments, including the adoption of the Child Protection Code, which criminalized child recruitment and use, and the trial of two anti-Balaka leaders charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.  This sent a positive signal in respect of accountability, as armed groups accounted for 98 per cent of documented human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations.

Brice Kévin Kakpayen, Head of Mission at Enfants Sans Frontières, participating from Bangui by teleconference, said there was a total lack of any prevention policy and difficulties in withdrawing children from the armed groups and caring for them.  Only 6,000 children had been withdrawn so far, out of a total of 10,000, leaving 4,000 children still associated with the armed groups.  He recommended establishing a national policy and mechanism to prevent the recruitment of children, reminding the armed groups of their commitments to release all children, and requesting the cessation of hostilities.

In the ensuing discussion, the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the security situation in the Central African Republic was noted by several speakers, with some underlining that this made it even more important for all armed groups to urgently implement the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  All parties should cease all acts of violence and hostility.  Central Africans only had one choice: peace.

The high-level interactive dialogue started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Speaking were the European Union, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, Libya, Togo, Australia, France, Portugal, Sudan, Morocco, Ireland, Egypt, Russian Federation, Ghana, Spain, Senegal, China, Belgium, United Kingdom, and Eritrea. 

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Institute for NGO Research (video message) and World Evangelical Alliance.

The Council then heard a presentation of the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, and on an overview of successes, best practices and challenges in technical assistance and capacity building efforts.

Georgette Gagnon, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that through the human rights component of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Office was providing capacity building and technical assistance to Afghan institutions and civil society on the full spectrum of rights.  At a time when there was hope for a negotiated political settlement, it was important to remember that any dialogues must place at its centre the needs and rights of victims.

Afghanistan, speaking as the concerned country, reiterated its commitment to the promotion and protection of all rights of Afghani citizens and noted that the new penal code had already decreased the use of the death penalty in the country, while the national human rights institution was fully functioning with an A status rating.

On the report on the overview of successes, best practices and challenges in technical assistance and capacity building efforts, Ms. Gagnon said the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of strong national frameworks for the promotion and protection of human rights.  In 2020, around 1,500 technical cooperation and advisory services activities would be implemented in close cooperation with State partners. 

The Council also heard the presentation of the report of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights.

Morten Kjaerum, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, participating from Denmark by teleconferencing, said that the Board's session in Geneva was devoted to advancing the provision of policy guidance for operationalizing financial and technical assistance towards implementing the Universal Periodic Review.  The session held at the Regional Office for Southern Africa in Pretoria illustrated well how the Office's presence in the region had managed to build solid partnerships and expanded opportunities for cooperation and engagement with countries in the region. 

The Council then held a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.

During the general debate, speakers warned against using technical assistance to meddle in the internal affairs of countries.  Capacity constraints too often held developing countries back from implementing recommendations from human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review.  Speakers also noted that the Council should respond to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring universal access to related medicine and vaccines.

Speaking were Pakistan on behalf of Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Croatia on behalf of the European Union, Azerbaijan on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement, State of Palestine on behalf of the Arab Group, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of a group of countries (video message), Brazil on behalf of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Brazil on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of a group of countries, Germany, Pakistan, Libya, India (video message), Sudan, Uruguay, Venezuela, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Cameroon, Ukraine, Philippines (video message), Iraq, Finland, Estonia, Belarus, France, Cuba, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Morocco, Lithuania (video message), Egypt, Latvia, Greece, Russian Federation, Iran, Thailand (video message), Sweden (video message), Algeria, China, Georgia, United Kingdom, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Vanuatu and Cambodia. 

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Association d'Entraide Médicale Guineé, Zero Poor in Africa, International Lesbian and Gay Association, African Green Foundation International, Iraqi Development Organisation, American Association of Jurists, Human Rights Information and Training Centre and Health and Environment Program.

Speaking in right of reply were Cambodia and China.

When the Council next resumes at 3 p.m, it will start taking action on draft resolution and decisions.

High-level Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic

The interactive dialogue started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Statement by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic

LIZBETH CULLITY, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, speaking via video message, said the armed conflict that had been raging in the Central African Republic since 2012 had had profound consequences for children in that country.  Thousands of children had been recruited and used as soldiers, killed, injured, raped or abducted.  School and health facilities had been attacked and destroyed, depriving children of their rights to education and health.  Humanitarian personnel and structures had been attacked, preventing humanitarian assistance to populations, particularly children who were the most vulnerable and the most deprived.  According to a study on the use of children in armed conflicts, between 6,000 and 10,000 children served in the armed forces in the Central African Republic.  This phenomenon was ongoing because of the lack of education, opportunities and awareness in the countries and regions concerned.  The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic had implemented a prevention policy to address this issue, which had notably led to the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  Although COVID-19 had had an impact on the country team operations on the rights of the child, work was continuing, and 186 children had been removed from the armed groups since March.  In this unprecedented situation, children's vulnerability to military recruitment and sexual exploitation had increased as schools were closed. 

Statement by the Concerned Country

LEOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking as the concerned country, recalled that, with the military-political crisis that had started in March 2013, the Central African State had almost ceased to exist and had been absent in most of the territory controlled by the armed groups.  Following the elections of March 2016 which marked the return of the Central African Republic among nations, the new political authorities had been firmly engaged on three main areas: the fight against all forms of impunity by strengthening democracy and the rule of law; the promotion and protection of human rights; and the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation programme and the Security Sector Reform.  In that regard, he said the operationalization of the Special Criminal Court continued.  The redeployment of justice and the resumption of jurisdictional activities were progressing despite a still fragile security context.  The Transitional Justice Mechanism had begun to take shape.  Efforts aimed at strengthening the rule of law and anchoring democracy followed their course.  The political will of the President of the Republic to firmly establish democracy and bolster the rule of law had resulted in the promulgation of various laws whose objective was to further strengthen rights, public freedoms and the exercise of democracy.

Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed Conflict for the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed Conflict for the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, participating via videoconference from Cape Town, noted positive developments, including the adoption of the Child Protection Code, which criminalized child recruitment and use, and the trial of two anti-Balaka leaders charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.  This sent a positive signal in respect of accountability, as armed groups accounted for 98 per cent of documented human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations.  However, some challenges remained, or had even become more urgent.  Children across the country continued to be exposed to protection risks, such as killing and maiming, recruitment and use, family separation, exploitation and other harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and early marriage.  Keeping in mind that these were predominantly just the confirmed cases, he said that the United Nations had verified 517 grave violations against 413 children.  The recruitment and use of children had been verified, affecting 208 children between the ages of 11 and 17.  A total of 96 children, some as young as six months old, had been killed (61) and maimed (35).  Rape and other forms of sexual violence had been perpetrated against 76 girls, between the ages of 6 and 17.  The child protection code being comprehensive, its implementation would inevitably touch on almost all aspects of children's lives, including those aspects that had been exacerbated as a result of the conflict. 

Statement by the Head of Mission at Enfants Sans Frontieres

BRICE KÉVIN KAKPAYEN, Head of Mission at Enfants Sans Frontieres, participating via videoconference from Bangui, stated that the recruitment of children to the armed forces and armed groups dated back to the overthrow of President Ange Félix Patasse in 2003.  The rebels, known as "Liberators", led by General François Bozize, used children in their ranks.  The situation had reached a climax with the start of the conflict in 2012 initiated by the Seleka coalition until the seizure of power in Bangui in 2013.  There was a total lack of any prevention policy and difficulties in withdrawing children from the armed groups and caring for them.  Enfants Sans Frontières and World Vision implemented prevention programmes, but they were unable to cover the entire territory of the Central African Republic.  Only 6,000 children had been withdrawn so far, out of a total of 10,000, leaving 4,000 children still associated with the armed groups.  There was a lack of financial resources to reintegrate children back to their communities, leading some children to return to the armed groups due to poverty.  Mr. Kakpayen recommended establishing a national policy and mechanism to prevent the recruitment of children, reminding the armed groups of their commitments to release all children, and requesting the cessation of hostilities.

Discussion

In the discussion that followed, speakers noted that since the signing of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in 2019, the implementation of all its provisions had proven difficult.  The security situation remained fragile, and human rights violations continued to be committed by armed groups against civilians.  Concern was expressed about sexual violence, violence against children, the numerous cases of homicide and forced displacement.  Speakers hailed the peace agreement that was signed, and expressed support to international partners who had contributed to it.  The Government was urged to hold violators of the Peace Agreement to account; advance plans to establish a Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission as mandated; and fully operationalize the special mixed security units.  Expressing solidarity with the people of the Central African Republic, some speakers said that ensuring peace and security in the Central African Republic required the involvement of the international community.  Others called on facilitators to provide lasting support to the Central African Republic.  They encouraged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue capacity building in the country.  Speakers stressed the importance of efforts to ensure safe, unhindered and humanitarian access and operations across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the security situation was noted by several speakers, with some underlining that this made it even more important for all armed groups to urgently implement the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  Speakers expressed concern about the indoctrination of children which they identified as a driver of conflict.  They welcomed the recent arrests made by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, and stressed that the fight against impunity was important.  There should be no impunity from prosecution for former armed leaders who took up political posts, speakers emphasized.  Speakers welcomed the focus of the present dialogue on preventing the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts, and regretted the reported disruptions to the education system that increased children's vulnerability to human trafficking and recruitment by armed groups, therefore undermining efforts towards peace.  All parties should cease all acts of violence and hostility.  Central Africans only had one choice: peace.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking in concluding remarks via video conference, said that the United Nations Security Council resolution 2499 had mandated the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic to assist the State authorities to deliver peaceful elections this year and next year.  The mission was working with the authorities to ensure electoral standards and public reporting.  A public report on human rights and election would be drawn up by Mission. 

YAO AGBETSE, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Central African Republic, in concluding remarks, thanked the international community for their support.  Regarding elections, the constitutional court had turned down the constitutional reform bill and this was a good step for political parties and the population towards peace.  There were unfortunate instances of hate speech by some political parties and sections in the media.  Armed groups had systematically violated their obligations under the Peace Agreement, attacking civilians, humanitarian workers and peacekeepers. 

LEOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in concluding remarks, thanked the international community.  The constitutional court's refusal of the Government's offer to play its role in the elections was a setback.  Reminding the Council that the Central African Republic was very large and lacked resources to restore peace and security, he called on the international community to finance the political will that existed in the country to restore peace.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed Conflict for the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, participating from Cape Town via videoconference, stated that there was a need to bolster prosecution and investigation of sexual violence.  Many organizations on the ground had emphasized the need for the timely provision of psycho-social services for survivors of sexual violence.  There were also instances of peacekeepers sexually abusing children, and as such the United Nations zero tolerance policy had to be implemented.  The Commission on Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Reparations was crucial to protect the rights of children.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Situation of human right in Afghanistan, and technical assistance achievements in the field of human rights (A/HRC/43/74).

The Council has before it the Report of the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights (A/HRC/43/68).

Presentation of Reports on the Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan and on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

GEORGETTE GAGNON, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said although the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan had documented an overall 5 per cent decrease in civilian casualties in 2019 compared to 2018, this was mainly due to a decrease in civilian casualties at the hand of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan.  The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan attributed 62 per cent of civilian casualties to anti-government actors and more than a quarter of them to pro-government forces.  Heightened violence had been documented in April and the first two weeks of May.  On 21 June, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan would release a report on attacks on healthcare facilities in the context of COVID-19.  The announced three-day ceasefire during the Eid festivities had been one of recent encouraging signs.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights was calling on all parties in the country to take all necessary measures to protect civilians, investigate incidents that had caused civilian casualties, and provide accountability and justice.  The only way to bring civilian casualties to zero was for the conflict to stop, Ms. Gagnon emphasized.  Through the human rights component of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Office of the High Commissioner was providing capacity building and technical assistance to Afghan institutions and civil society on the full spectrum of rights.  At a time when there was hope for a negotiated political settlement, it was important to remember that any dialogue must place at its centre the needs and rights of victims. 

Moving on to the report on successes, best practices and challenges in technical assistance and capacity building efforts by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Gagnon said the COVID-19 pandemic had underscored the importance of strong national frameworks for the promotion and protection of human rights.  She welcomed the recent establishment of country offices in Sudan and Niger.  Human Rights Advisers, working within the United Nations Sustainable Development Group framework, were also being deployed in Burkina Faso, Costa Rica and Lesotho.  The Office's human rights field presences now numbered 87.  In 2020, around 1,500 technical cooperation and advisory services activities would be implemented in close cooperation with State partners.  Supporting use of the recommendations issued by human rights mechanisms was key to facilitating the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The commitment to leave no one behind meant dismantling structural barriers that impeded full enjoyment of human rights.  Support to States in addressing chronic overcrowding in detention facilities had been the focus of technical cooperation projects with partners in numerous countries across all regions.  As the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda emphasized, young people should be at the centre of sustainable solutions for development and peace.  In Afghanistan, technical advice had been provided to advance changes in family law that affected the rights of young women.  The draft Family Law currently being finalized aimed to prevent forced and underage marriage, which perpetuated poverty, inequality and insecurity.  Regarding national human rights institutions, the Office had supported the establishment of two new "A" status institutions in Bulgaria and Madagascar, and helped implement the recommendations of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions in Honduras, resulting in "A" status for the national human rights institution. 

Statement by the Concerned Country

Afghanistan, speaking as the concerned country, reiterated its commitment to the promotion and protection of all rights of Afghani citizens.  However, the conflict presented obstacles and dealt a heavy toll, with a recent attack on a maternity hospital taking the lives of 20 mothers.  The Government took every effort to protect civilians, and the national policy to prevent civilian casualties had been a guiding principle, with positive effects of the policy already seen on the ground.  The new penal code had already decreased the use of the death penalty in the country, while the national human rights institution was fully functioning with an A status rating.  Afghanistan underlined that women as agents of change played a substantive role in the Afghan society, also playing a significant role in the peace process.  The second phase of the Action Plan for 2019-2022 had begun, with the Government taking measures to eliminate violence against women and children, establishing legal assistance centres for family disputes, and courts in all 28 provinces.  A new law prevented the recruitment of children in the army and police forces, and there were no longer any children in the army.  Furthermore, Afghanistan also established a commission to ensure the prohibition of torture, and sought to eliminate torture completely in detention centres.  Sustainable peace was the desire of the Afghan people, and as a result Afghanistan committed to giving due consideration to all recommendations of the report. 

Statement by the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights

MORTEN KJAERUM, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights, participating by teleconference from Denmark, thanked Georgette Gagnon and expressed deep appreciation for the tireless work and commitment of the staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights.  The report covered the forty-eighth and forty-ninth sessions held in Geneva and at the Office of the High Commissioner's Regional Office for Southern Africa in March and November 2019.  At its session in Geneva, the Board devoted most of the session to advancing the provision of policy guidance for operationalizing financial and technical assistance towards implementing the Universal Periodic Review.  The session held at the Regional Office for Southern Africa in Pretoria illustrated well how the Office's presence in the region had managed to build solid partnerships and expanded opportunities for cooperation and engagement with countries in the region.  The findings of the Board confirmed that highlighting human rights considerations in practical terms could serve to address both inherent inequalities and accelerate implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Progress had been made to establish a national preventive mechanism to give effect to the obligations of South Africa under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, while in Mozambique the technical support to the Ministry of Justice helped meet reporting requirements in light of two successive devastating cyclones.  A key finding of the Board's mission to South Africa was that technical cooperation helped support human rights underpinning development response as well as strengthening prevention and early warning. 

General Debate on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building

Speakers warned against using technical assistance to meddle in the internal affairs of countries.  Such an approach was counterproductive.  Each programme required its own universal review mechanisms to ensure the best possible implementation results.  Developing countries should give greater importance to economic development.  Speakers encouraged the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support regional development mechanisms and foster the sharing of best practices.  All human rights, including the right to development, were interrelated and indivisible.  In that regard, the Office's work on capacity building and technical assistance should have a focus on civil and political rights.  It was necessary to establish a mechanism that would integrate human rights across all sustainable development programmes.  Capacity constraints too often held developing countries back from implementing recommendations from human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review.  Some speakers said South-South and triangular cooperation, by means of innovative forms of knowledge and experience sharing, had brought significant improvements in the human rights situation of the "Global South" Member States.  It should be considered as one of the main tools for the success of the overall technical cooperation processes of the United Nations system.

Other speakers noted that the mandate of technical assistance and capacity building had progressively moved away from the principles of impartiality and non-politicisation, risking a serious blow to the Council's status.  Technical assistance should only be provided in line with the needs, and in consultation with and consent of the concerned States.  Interventionist unilateral coercive measures imposed on certain States in the "Global South" under this agenda item could not be allowed to continue, and speakers also noted that some non-governmental organizations undermined State efforts to build peace and security under the pretence of neutrality.  While the current pandemic situation required the mutual efforts of all States, technical cooperation was similarly crucial, and the Council should also respond to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the availability of related medicines and vaccines to everyone, everywhere.  Measures to combat COVID-19 should contribute to discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.  States were encouraged to seek the cooperation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and since technical cooperation strictly focused on the rights of individuals and was not an end in itself, it should go hand in hand with other instruments.  Technical cooperation with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Georgia, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen was welcomed.  The funding constraints of the Office of the High Commissioner were noted with concern by some speakers, who were convinced that non-earmarked funds by States must be increased.

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