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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ENHANCED INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

Meeting Summaries

Begins Interactive Dialogue on the Human Rights Situation in Mali

 

The Human Rights Council this morning held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after hearing an oral update from Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It also started an interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Mali after hearing the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali, Alioune Tine, present his report.

Ms. Bachelet said that there had been progress in opening up political space at the national level in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and measures had been taken to end corruption and embezzlement of public resources, which were major obstacles to development.  Further progress had been achieved in the areas of free education to primary school pupils and expanded access to healthcare.  She expressed deep concern over the armed conflict in the country, with several situations worsening significantly.  Around 1,300 civilians had been killed in conflicts between armed groups and Government forces over the past eight months.  Some of these incidents may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes. 

Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that since the investment of a new government, important steps had been taken in the political and social life of the country.  She welcomed the initiatives already taken by the Government for the promotion and protection of human rights.  However, the situation in the conflict-affected provinces continued to be a cause for concern. 

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, International Expert on the situation in Kasaï, speaking also on behalf the Sheila Beedwantee Keetharuth, noted that efforts by the Government to combat impunity and protect victims continued with the prosecution of judicial cases, new arrests and the taking of witness statements from victims in Nganza.  However, more resources for the Kasai Task Force were needed for it to fully fulfil its role.  Despite the progress, obstacles remained, such as the lack of judges, a shortfall in the budget, and difficulties in obtaining waivers of parliamentary immunity for elected officials accused of serious crimes. 

André Lite Asebea, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the Government had taken concrete steps in the area of human rights, including the revitalization of the inter-ministerial human rights committee, the creation of a committee against torture, the holding of mobile court hearings, and a national strategy to fight sexual violence.  To achieve the deep aspirations of the Congolese people as regard the rule of law, the road that laid ahead was without a doubt still fraught with obstacles.  But nothing would stand in the way of the Government’s determination to achieve this goal, whatever the cost.

Raphael Wakenge Ngimbi, National Coordinator of the Congolese Coalition for Transitional Justice, highlighted that human rights violations were a daily occurrence across all Congolese provinces, and that the COVID-19 pandemic had greatly worsened the human rights situation in the country, calling for a change in direction.

In the discussion, speakers, while welcoming social progress made in past months, said the human rights situation was a great concern, notably in conflict areas, where violations at the hand of armed groups were rife.  They recognized the potential for positive change in last year’s change of power but expressed concern about the violent response to protest and asked what Government initiatives were underway to ensure the enjoyment of civil liberties.

Speaking in the enhanced interactive dialogue were Burkina Faso on behalf of African States, Sweden on behalf of Nordic States, European Union, Togo, Australia, Switzerland, France, Egypt, Russian Federation, Mozambique, Venezuela, Senegal, China, Belgium, United Kingdom and Sudan.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Dominicans for Justice and Peace and International Service for Human Rights.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Mali.  Presenting his report, Mr. Tine said that during his missions, he had focused on the efforts deployed by the Malian authorities and their partners at the international level to improve the protection of civilians, particularly in the centre and the north of Mali where intercommunal violence had reached alarming levels.  Concerning the protection of civilians, in particular in the centre and north of the country, overall the absence of the administrative authorities and local security forces in the majority of regions meant that the civilian populations were increasingly vulnerable. 

Mali, speaking as the concerned country, noted that progress had been made in the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion process in the north of the country.  Almost 16,000 statements by victims had been deposited to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.  The Government was determined to tackle impunity and cooperate with the International Criminal Court regarding war crimes committed.  To prevent human rights violations, armed forces were undergoing training before deployment.  The fact that terrorist groups stole military vehicles and equipment meant that it was too early to reach conclusions regarding potential human rights violations by the armed forces. 

In the ensuing dialogue on Mali, speakers expressed deep concern regarding the increased insecurity in the centre and north of Mali, especially in regard of its effects on the already fragile human rights situation.  Many speakers welcomed positive developments in the transitional justice process, and the inclusive national dialogue launched in September 2019 by the Prime Minister of Mali, calling for the further inclusion of women in the process and a prioritization of gender parity in the upcoming elections.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on Mali were Burkina Faso on behalf of a Group of African countries, European Union, UN Women on behalf of a group, Czech Republic, Togo, Estonia, Australia, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Sudan, Morocco, Denmark, Ireland, Egypt, Russian Federation, Spain (video message), Senegal, China, Belgium, United Kingdom and Mauritania.  The interactive dialogue on Mali will resume on Thursday, 18 June.

The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of UN Web TV.

The Council will meet next this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hold an urgent debate on current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Documentation

The Council has before it the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12 July 2019 on the Renewal of the mandate of the team of international experts on the situation in Kasai (A/HRC/RES/41/26).

The Council has before it the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 27 September 2019 on the Technical assistance and capacity-building in the field of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (A/HRC/RES/42/34).

Opening Statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her oral update, said that since her last update in September 2019, there had been progress in opening up political space at the national level and this should continue.  Measures had been taken to end corruption and embezzlement of public resources, which were major obstacles to development.  Further progress had been achieved in the areas of free education to primary school pupils and expanded access to healthcare.  The Office of the High Commissioner would continue to assist efforts to ensure inclusive protection and assistance, which were especially important in the context of COVID-19.  Ms. Bachelet expressed deep concern over the armed conflict in the country, with several situations worsening significantly.  Around 1,300 civilians had been killed in conflicts between armed groups and Government forces over the past eight months.  Some of these incidents may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.  In Ituri, dozens of people, including children, were being killed every week by armed groups.  The security forces had also reportedly committed human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.  Close to 1.5 million people had been displaced.   The High Commissioner urged the Government to intensify efforts to end the increasingly brutal attacks and promote peaceful coexistence.  The military tribunal had made notable efforts to advance accountability despite limited resources.

In North Kivu, operations by the army against the Allied Democratic Forces armed group, had been followed by reprisal attacks on civilians by the armed group.  Between November 2019 and May 2020, at least 502 civilians had been killed, including 14 children.  Other armed groups continued to operate, particularly in areas where State security forces were not present.  Ms. Bachelet welcomed the arrest warrant issued for the leader of the Ndoma Defence of Congo-Rénové on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and continued efforts for accountability.  This should be accompanied by demobilization, disarmament, and socio-economic measures to provide alternatives to violence for young people.  In Tanganyika province, violence had broken out between the Bantu and Twa communities in January.  Tensions had been exacerbated by hate speech by officials against the Twa community and humanitarian actors.  In the Kasai regions, the majority of documented human rights violations were committed by the security and defence forces.  It was essential to extend State institutions and services throughout the country in order to stop attacks by armed groups and ensure respect for rights, including the right to life.  It was equally important to ensure that police and military forces upheld the human rights of the Congolese people.  To conclude, Ms. Bachelet noted that since her last update, at least 100 people had been killed by police and in 2019 more than one third of documented cases of sexual violence had been perpetrated by members of the police or the army. 

Key-Note Statements

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking via video from Kinshasa, called for support for the Congolese authorities to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was putting a strain on the very limited capacity of the health services.  In addition to COVID-19, they must also respond to the resurgence of the Ebola epidemic in Equateur province in addition to the still active one in North Kivu.  Necessary efforts must be made to reconcile differences in order to preserve and consolidate the gains resulting from the alternation of power on 24 January 2019 and meet challenges related to peace, security and development.  This was particularly important at a time when, in addition to the pandemic, hate speech in some parts of the country was fuelling divisions, discrimination and violence, and posed a threat to democratic principles and values, the harmonious and peaceful coexistence of people, and the sustainable development of the country.  Since the investment of a new government, important steps had been taken in the political and social life of the country.  Ms. Zerrougui welcomed the initiatives already taken by the Government for the promotion and protection of human rights.  However, the situation in the conflict-affected provinces continued to be a cause for concern.  She stressed the need for all stakeholders to work to preserve political stability.  This process had unfortunately been hampered by the priority given to the response to the pandemic.

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, International Expert on the Situation in Kasai, speaking via video from Dakar and also on behalf the Sheila Beedwantee Keetharuth, noted that after two visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the reporting period, there had been an increase in crime.  Members of the Bana Mura militia were still present in Kasai, and many women were being taken hostage as sexual slaves in Kamonia.  Returnees from Angola faced a dire humanitarian situation, with some facing rejection of their communities, and others the dispossession of their land and property.  Efforts by the Government to combat impunity and protect victims continued with the prosecution of judicial cases, new arrests and the taking of witness statements from victims in Nganza.  However, more resources for the Kasai Task Force were needed for it to fully fulfil its role.  Despite the progress, obstacles remained, such as the lack of judges, a shortfall in the budget, and difficulties in obtaining waivers of parliamentary immunity for elected officials accused of serious crimes. 

ANDRÉ LITE ASEBEA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking via video from Kinshasa, said the Government had taken concrete steps in the area of human rights.  These steps included the revitalization of the inter-ministerial human rights committee, the creation of a committee against torture, the holding of mobile court hearings, and forming a national strategy to fight sexual violence.  In line with Human Rights Council resolution 3820, it was necessary to address the root causes of the conflict lest violence was renewed.  In order to alleviate prison overcrowding, the Government had decided some time ago to release, throughout the country, all those who were eligible for parole, including all those detained illegally.  As regarded social and economic rights, the Government was fighting against corruption and forming a rational management of public finances as well as redistributing national income to combat mass poverty.  This feat had contributed to the provision of free basic education, the regularization of teachers’ salaries, the forthcoming adoption of the universal national plan for access to health care with the regularization of doctors’ salaries, and salary increases for men in uniform.  To achieve the deep aspirations of the Congolese people as regard the rule of law, the road that lay ahead was without a doubt still fraught with obstacles.  But nothing would stand in the way of the Government’s determination to achieve this goal, whatever the cost.

RAPHAEL WAKENGE NGIMBI, National Coordinator of the Congolese Coalition for Transnational Justice, speaking via video from Goma, stated that grave human rights violations were a daily occurrence in all provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and were directly connected to the abuses committed by agents of the security services.  This was a consequence of a combination of a 20-year history of serious crimes committed with impunity and the intensification of the situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  During the reporting period, civilians had been victims of attacks by various armed groups in Ituri, Beni, Fizi, Uvira, Mwenga and other territories.  Moreover, citizen movements faced government repression, particularly in Bukavu, where between March and May 2020 there was an increase of 40 per cent in human rights violations, linked mostly to arbitrary arrests and detentions.  Violations linked to the COVID-19 pandemic included arbitrary fines and arrests of citizens who did not wear masks as well as forced closures of restaurants despite the Interior Minister’s authorization for them to remain open.  Mr. Ngimbi concluded that COVID-19 caused the greatest number of human rights violations, and that the response needed to change in order to alleviate the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Interactive Discussion

In the interactive discussion that followed, speakers, while welcoming social progress made in past months, said the human rights situation remained of great concern, notably in conflict areas, where violations at the hand of armed groups were rife.  They recognized the potential for positive change in last year’s change of power but expressed concern about the violent response to protests and asked what Government initiatives were underway to ensure the enjoyment of civil liberties.  The Government should take urgent measures to address the economic situation and provide humanitarian assistance to people affected by Ebola and COVID-19, some speakers said.  Other speakers noted that the armed conflict was making the health situation worse, and that there would be no return to normal without addressing the military situation.  They flagged the situation in Ituri province and in Kasai and drew attention to its effects on women, girls and vulnerable groups.  Victims should be at the centre of efforts to deal with the past, some speakers said.  Other speakers called for transitional justice mechanisms, stressing that they should be deployed with the assistance of the international community.  They asked what measures could be put in place to fight impunity.  The exploitation of mines fuelled instability in various regions of the country, an issue which the COVID-19 situation had exacerbated, speakers said.  The Government was urged to better manage the exploitation of natural resources.

Concluding Remarks

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, responding to questions and comments, said her Office had been working with the Government to identify the root causes of the conflict.  This was how it would be possible to make peace sustainable.  It was also necessary to carry out independent investigations to bring alleged perpetrators to justice, as well as condemn all instances of hate speech.  Lack of justice had caused hate to fester in parts of the country, she said.  The Office of the High Commissioner had also assisted local authorities, including in Ituri, to develop transitional justice mechanisms.  Any emergency measures must be necessary, proportional and clearly time bound.  Her Office was working with local authorities to ensure that the response to emergencies had human rights components and addressed the needs of migrants, internally displaced persons and refugees.

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, echoed the message of the High Commissioner to stand and work together.  The importance of the contribution of the international community in its   role of ameliorating the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was highlighted.  The best way of managing prisons was to ensure that they were dealt with by the State, rather than privatizing the carceral institutions. 

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, International Expert on the Situation in Kasai, noted that women held in sexual slavery were still not released, displaced persons were still not being assisted, and armed groups were still not disarmed; as a result, people were thirsting for justice, rather than transitional justice.  There was a need to coordinate existing regional and provincial justice initiatives in this regard at the national level. 

SHEILA BEEDWANTEE KEETHARUTH, International Expert on the Situation in Kasai, said efforts in terms of justice in Kasai was focused almost exclusively on the trial for the murder of the two United Nations experts.  This trial should not overshadow the others as all crimes must be investigated to ensure lasting peace.   

ANDRÉ LITE ASEBEA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said justice was a national issue.  There were other provinces facing challenges similar to those Kasai was grappling with.  The Government had designed a concept of transitional justice with a fund to compensate victims at the national level, on a permanent basis.  In that regard, it was important to avoid creating a cacophony; the Government wanted to tackle this matter with a comprehensive, coordinated approach.

RAPHAEL WAKENGE NGIMBI, National Coordinator of the Congolese Coalition for Transnational Justice, noted that a particular focus on transitional justice was needed, including harmonization efforts, so that all the initiatives would be operational without restricting them to the single concern of having a compensation fund.  A strong message was needed, and the Government should focus on specific measures.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Mali

Documentation

The Council has before it the Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 22 March 2019 on the Technical assistance and capacity-building for Mali in the field of human rights (A/HRC/RES/40/26).

The Council has before it the Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali (A/HRC/43/76).

Presentation of the Report by the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Mali

ALIOUNE TINE, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, presenting his second report on the situation of human rights in Mali, said he had carried out his fourth mission to Mali in November 2019 and his fifth mission in February 2020.  He had visited the capital and areas in the centre and north of the country.  He commended the remarkable cooperation that he had received from the Malian Government.  During his missions, he had focused on the efforts deployed by the Malian authorities and their partners at the international level to improve the protection of civilians, particularly in the centre and the north of Mali where intercommunal violence had reached alarming levels.  He highlighted the specific decision to put an end to impunity, which fed violations and the infringement of human rights, the results obtained from transitional justice, the serious humanitarian situation that was not gaining significant attention, and the participation of civil society and particularly women and youth in the peace and reconciliation process. 

Concerning the protection of civilians, in particular in the centre and north of the country, overall the absence of the administrative authorities and local security forces in the majority of regions meant that the civilian populations were increasingly vulnerable.  Mr. Tine welcomed the gradual redeployment of the reconstituted Malian armed forces as well as the acceleration of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, together with the creation of the economic development zone in the north.  These were all important steps forward in implementation of the agreement on peace and reconciliation in Mali.  While he had noted glimmers of light about the situation in the north of Mali, in terms of the security situation and human rights, in the centre, he had noticed with concern that the situation was deteriorating with no adequate response being bought to protect civilian populations.  There were also increasing failings in terms of security, the judicial system and the administration, which had led to mass violence and widespread impunity.  An infernal, eternal cycle of violence and reprisals was continuing in the central region.  

Despite the gravity of the situation, the Independent Expert highlighted the initiatives mentioned in the report taken by the Malian authorities to provide a solution to violence based on community tensions.  He also noted that limited but commendable progress had been made in the fight against impunity in Mali, including the specialized judicial system specializing in the fight against corruption and economic crimes.  Unfortunately, most perpetrators of violations of human rights remain unpunished.  He welcomed the progress made by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.  However, the deteriorating security situation had contributed to a continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation.  According to information received, the number of internally displaced persons in Mali had more than doubled for the second consecutive year.  Although significant progress had been made in the implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in Mali since the beginning of 2019, he regretted that, in general, the participation of women in the peace and reconciliation process remained marginal, particularly in decision-making bodies. 

Mr. Tine recommended that the Malian authorities should step up their efforts to combat impunity and bring to justice all perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, regardless of their status or political, religious or ethnic affiliation.  He recommended that the G5 Sahel States adopt a holistic, regional and coordinated approach to security and human rights responses given the similarity of the problems they faced.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Mali, speaking as the concerned country, thanked the Independent Expert for his efforts in defending human rights in Mali.  The country had been in a deep and multidimensional crisis since 2012, which, despite the help from the international community, did affect the human rights situation.  Major progress had been achieved in the implementation of the disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion process in the north of the country, despite obstacles from certain signatories to the peace agreement.  Almost 16,000 statements by victims had been deposited to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.  The Government was determined to tackle impunity and cooperate with the International Criminal Court regarding war crimes committed.  To prevent human rights violations, armed forces were undergoing training before deployment.  The fact that terrorist groups stole military vehicles and equipment meant that it was too early to reach conclusions regarding potential human rights violations by the armed forces. 

Interactive Dialogue

In the interactive dialogue, speakers expressed deep concern regarding the increased insecurity in the centre and north of Mali, especially in regard of its effects on the already fragile human rights situation.  Speakers expressed concerns about impunity, violent extremism, slavery, enforced disappearances and torture, noting that arming civilians was not the answer to the attacks by armed groups, citing a lack of appropriate response to protect the civilian population.  Justice was the major component of peace and reconciliation, said speakers, calling on Mali to strengthen the fight against impunity.  Grave violations of human rights, which had increased in the first quarter of 2020, must be subject to investigations, regardless of who was responsible.  Many speakers welcomed positive developments in the transitional justice process, and the inclusive national dialogue launched in September 2019 by the Prime Minister of Mali.  Speakers noted that gender equality was fundamental to the peace process, calling for the further inclusion of women in the process, and noted that gender parity in upcoming elections had to be prioritized.  There was concern that many election candidates had received threats, and some had even been kidnapped.  Speakers stated that peace and security in Mali was a global problem, and an end to the problem of terrorism must be achieved by restoring State authority with the help of the international community. 

 

HRC20.042E