Human Rights Council Holds Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights Situation

OHCHR

Concludes General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance

The Human Rights Council this morning held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Mali. It also concluded its general debate on racism and racial discrimination.

Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that in October she had advised the Council of her major concerns regarding the devastating impact of armed conflict on the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, the situation in the east of the country had continued to worsen – the scale of the violence was alarming with the Office verifying the killing of at least 2,945 civilians, including 553 women and 286 children. This was particularly concerning as the human rights violations were committed by a range of armed groups in areas with little to no presence of Congolese authorities, as well as by the Congolese military and police force.

Bintou Keita, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that in recent months the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been marked by political upheavals leading to major changes within the institutions of the country. The main issue was the establishment of a government able to respond effectively to the many expectations of the Congolese in terms of peace, security and development. There was a worrying increase in attacks by armed groups against the civilian population, in particular in the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu.

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, International Expert on the situation in Kasai, stated that there was little progress in the fight against impunity since the presentation of the last report. The recent conviction of militia leader Katende Laurent by the Military Garrison Tribunal of Kananga was encouraging, but none of the priority case files opened were currently in a state of trial. This judicial slowness provoked the concerns of the populations of Kasai and particularly of the victims, some of whom had formed associations to better claim their right to justice and reparation.

André Lite Asebea, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, highlighted the progress made on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These included, inter alia, the adoption of a strategic document prepared by the Government with the support of the Joint United Nations Office for Human Rights; the assessment at the beginning of March 2021 of the implementation of the Framework Peace Agreement; and the bill on the rights of persons with disabilities and the bill on the rights of indigenous peoples adopted by the National Assembly and sent to the Senate for a second reading.

Rostin Manketa, Executive Director of Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l’Homme, stated that in general, the human rights situation had experienced a setback in recent months as the authorities marked their first steps with the relaxation of civic space. In recent months, several human rights defenders and journalists had been subjected to intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in many provinces where peaceful demonstrations had taken place. The Council must remain vigilant so that the Congolese authorities do not stop at simple declarations but rather took concrete actions.

In the ensuing debate, speakers urged the international community to make efforts to address the illicit exploitation of resources and the endemic poverty. The militants of the United Democratic Forces continued to attack civilians and increase pressure on the Congolese army and peacekeepers, speakers noted. The Government should continue its efforts to bolster the rule of law; protect human rights defenders; and combat impunity through expedited operationalisation of transitional justice processes and the investigation and prosecution of all reported abuses.

Speaking were Sweden on behalf of Nordic-Baltic Countries, European Union, Cameroon on behalf of the African Group, Russian Federation, Senegal, France, Togo, Japan, Netherlands, Mauritania, Switzerland, Venezuela, Belgium, United States, Egypt, Angola, China, Botswana, United Kingdom, South Sudan, Ireland and Italy.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: World Vision International, Lutheran World Federation; World Organisation Against Torture, International Service for Human Rights; Reporters Without Borders International; Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme; CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation; and Centre for Human Rights.

The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali.

Alioune Tine, Independent Expert on Mali, said the situation remained concerning in the north and centre of Mali, where civilians continued to be attacked by violent extremist groups as well as armed community self-defence groups, despite the presence of international and national security forces. Unfortunately, no significant progress had been observed in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations and abuses committed, especially in the past two years. The Independent Expert recommended that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali respond proactively to threats against civilians.

Mali, speaking as a concerned country, thanked Mr. Tine for his presentation, taking due note of the comments and recommendations. During the past year, Mali had been shaken by a socio-political crisis whose developments had led, on 18 August, 2020, to an institutional change that had paved the way for a political transition. Real difficulties in connection with the security situation and the context of the fight against terrorism remained. The implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali was essential.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the cooperation of Mali with the human rights mechanisms, as well as regional bodies. Implementing the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement must remain a priority for the transitional Government. Speakers expressed particular concern over the scale of human rights violations. The root causes of the security situation and ongoing impunity must be addressed in order to move forward. One of the priorities must be the establishment of inclusive dialogue and the holding of free and fair democratic elections.

Speaking were the European Union, Sweden on behalf of Nordic countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Russian Federation, Senegal, France, Togo, Netherlands on behalf of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, Mauritania, Switzerland, Morocco, Venezuela, Burkina Faso, United States, Egypt, Spain, Sierra Leone, Botswana, United Kingdom, Sudan, Estonia, UN Women, Czech Republic, Chad, Ireland and South Sudan.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: International Catholic Child Bureau, International Service for Human Rights, The International Organisation for LDCs, Elizka Relief Foundation, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, and International-Lawyers.Org

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance.

Speakers denounced the serious violations of the rights of Tamils ​​in Sri Lanka, some stating that such violations amounted to genocide, and voiced concerns about the situation of religious minorities in Yemen. Discrimination against the populations of the north of India and the issue of violations against the Balochis in Pakistan were also raised. Speakers said Western countries were promoting ideological and controversial agendas in what amounted to a form of racism, and noted that Uighur students in Japan faced difficulties in renewing their passports because they risked having them confiscated by the Chinese Embassy. Some speakers drew attention to the kidnapping of children in Japan following parental divorces. The vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Israel excluded Palestinians, in violation of Israel’s status as an occupying power.

Speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France, Le Pont, Prahar, Centre for Africa Development and Progress, Centre for Gender Justice and Women empowerment, Asociacion HazteOir.org, Japan Society for History Textbook, Palestinian Return Centre Ltd, Alliance Creative Community Project, International Career Support Association, Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational and Transparty, and Community Human Rights and Advocacy Centre.

Japan, Israel, Brazil, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Turkey, Armenia, China, Azerbaijan, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 1 p.m. to hold an interactive discussion on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.

General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance

The beginning of the general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action started in previous meetings and a summary can be found here and here.

Speakers denounced the serious violations of the rights of Tamils ​​in Sri Lanka, some stating that such violations amounted to genocide. Turning to the issue of forced cremations of Muslims in the context of the pandemic, speakers urged respect for the dignity of the dead and the cultural and religious practices of their families. Speakers voiced concerns about the situation of religious minorities in Yemen, especially in the context of the intensification of the conflict. They criticised discrimination against the populations of the north of India, in particular, because of their appearance. The issue of violations against the Balochis in Pakistan was also raised. Drawing attention to the issue of cultural imperialism and ideological colonisation, speakers said Western countries were promoting ideological and controversial agendas in what amounted to a form of racism. Speakers noted that Uighur students in Japan faced difficulties in renewing their passports because they risked having them confiscated by the Chinese Embassy. Some speakers drew attention to the kidnapping of children in Japan following parental divorces and sending them to foster families. Some speakers said the vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in Israel excluded Palestinians, in violation of Israel’s status as an occupying power.

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

Keynote Statement

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that in October she had advised the Council of her major concerns regarding the devastating impact of armed conflict on the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, the situation in the east of the country had continued to worsen – the scale of the violence was alarming with the Office verifying the killing of at least 2,945 civilians, including 553 women and 286 children. This was particularly concerning as the human rights violations were committed by a range of armed groups in areas with little to no presence of Congolese authorities, as well as by the Congolese military and police force. The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office had issued five public reports on this deteriorating situation over the last 12 months. This year, an update on the situation in Ituri published in January reported the killing of 647 civilians between May and December 2020 in the context of the inter-community violence. An update on the area targeted by the Allied Democratic Forces in North Kivu that was published in February reported a further 468 civilians killed between July and December 2020. The Allied Democratic Forces were also responsible for at least 457 enforced disappearances last year.

Given the context of escalating bloodshed and the history of communal violence, a documented rise in hate speech could further escalate the conflict. Hate speech found fertile ground in the context of political, economic and social fragility. Widespread impunity and mistrust between communities contributed to this situation, undermining hopes for lasting peace. Ms. Bachelet called on the authorities to combat discrimination and hostility directed at people because of their ethnic, religious and gender identity – they must stop as discrimination was yet another warning sign predicting violence. The Office continued to support accountability in the country. Ms. Bachelet noted and commended various initiatives to extend transitional justice efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – work to ensure truth and accountability was crucial to lasting reconciliation. The Office’s multiple reports and long-standing discussions should not numb the international community to the need to continue working for prevention. An enormous number of children’s lives were being devastated by this conflict. They had the same fundamental human rights, and today they looked to the Council to support those rights.

Statements by Presenters

BINTOU KEITA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that in recent months the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been marked by political upheavals leading to major changes within the institutions of the country. The main issue was the establishment of a government able to respond effectively to the many expectations of the Congolese in terms of peace, security and development. There was a worrying increase in attacks by armed groups against the civilian population, in particular in the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu. There was an urgent need to redouble efforts to secure populations and tackle the various causes that contributed to conflicts in order to guarantee stability in the east. The Democratic Republic of the Congo had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had led to a general deterioration of the living conditions of the population. In October 2020, a common transition strategy had been adopted, in order to allow the gradual transfer of the tasks accomplished by the Mission to the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, International Expert on the Situation in Kasai, stated that there was little progress in the fight against impunity since the presentation of the last report. The recent conviction of militia leader Katende Laurent by the Military Garrison Tribunal of Kananga was encouraging, but none of the priority case files opened were currently in a state of trial. This judicial slowness provoked the concerns of the populations of Kasai and particularly of the victims, some of whom had formed associations to better claim their right to justice and reparation. Regarding the transitional justice process, the team saluted the manifest desire of the highest Congolese authorities to use such a mechanism as a means of lasting settlement of conflict, noting with satisfaction the progress made in Kasaï Central and Kasaï provinces. The situation of internally displaced persons and returnees from Angola remained a serious concern from a humanitarian point of view. Regretfully, the Kasai region remained in a state of constant fragility due to the ongoing security crisis, with the increase in criminal activities attributable to national police agents and elements of the armed forces.

ANDRÉ LITE ASEBEA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, highlighted the progress made on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This progress included, inter alia, the adoption of a strategic document prepared by the Government with the support of the Joint United Nations Office for Human Rights; the assessment at the beginning of March 2021 of the implementation of the Framework Peace Agreement; the bill on the rights of persons with disabilities and the bill on the rights of indigenous peoples adopted by the National Assembly and sent to the Senate for a second reading; the continuation of the trial initiated against the alleged perpetrators of the murder of two United Nations experts and their companions; several pardon measures taken by the Head of State as well as conditional release to relieve the congestion of prisons; the adoption by specialised government commissions of two draft decrees relating to the implementation of transitional justice; the easing of the curfew as part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic; the continuation of security service reforms; and the continued holding of trials in the context of international crimes.

ROSTIN MANKETA, Executive Director of Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l’Homme, stated that in general, the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had experienced a setback in recent months as the authorities marked their first steps with the relaxation of civic space. In recent months, several human rights defenders and journalists had been subjected to intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions in many provinces where peaceful demonstrations had taken place. The Council must remain vigilant so that the Congolese authorities did not stop at simple declarations but rather took concrete actions. Impunity had affected many victims of human rights violations for many years. The efforts made by the new government had so far not been able to provide lasting solutions: only a transitional justice process combining reparations for victims, the search for the truth and the fight against impunity could guarantee Congolese society the ability to rebuild itself and break the cycle of conflicts. The conflicts in eastern regions, epidemics including Ebola, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as intercommunal violence, continued. The engagement of humanitarian actors and United Nations agencies should continue, to prevent these regions from relapsing into a cycle of violence.

Discussion

Speakers underlined the need for efforts to address the illicit exploitation of resources and endemic poverty. Both armed groups and militias as well as the national army had committed violations, they noted. The 22 February armed attack that had caused the death of Luca Attanasio, the Italian Ambassador, his bodyguard Vittorio Iacovacci and a World Food Programme driver Mustapha Milambo was unequivocally condemned. The militants of the United Democratic Forces continued to attack civilians and increase pressure on the Congolese army and peacekeepers, speakers noted. The Government should continue its efforts to bolster the rule of law; protect human rights defenders; and combat impunity through expedited operationalisation of transitional justice processes and the investigation and prosecution of all reported abuses.

Speakers called on the international community to immediately increase funding for humanitarian aid, development, peace and reconciliation, now and beyond the withdrawal of the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and ensure the implementation of the Children and Armed Conflict Mandate. They urged a closer consideration of the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence, notably rape. Regretting that arbitrary and incommunicado detentions by the intelligence services continued, they cited the case of 111 people arrested in Goma in connection with the Ngezayo case, and who were currently detained at the Ndolo military prison in Kinshasa, where 20 people had tested positive for COVID-19. It was essential for the international community to give priority to economic recovery to allow the organization of credible elections in 2023. Speakers underscored the dire situation of human rights defenders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the last three decades, the eastern part of the country had been a fertile ground for extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders which often ended up not being properly investigated or prosecuted by the Government.

Concluding Remarks

BINTOU KEITA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said everyone was keen to see the conclusions of the investigations into the incident that led to the tragic death of three persons. Many questions regarding reconciliation, transitional justice, military and civilian justice were asked – the United Nations agencies were supporting the country’s authorities, together with civil society, on all these issues. Regarding the help on the efforts on fundamental rights, freedom of expression, and sexual violence – the scale was such that it merited a separate programme. Social cohesion and national reconciliation were key in this regard.

MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division of the Office of the High Commissioner, regarding the improvement of the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the United Nations needed to press on with what was being done already, ensuring that the democratic space remained. Ensuring a change of course vis-a-vis the increase in the number of assaults on fundamental rights was essential. The rights of human rights defenders must be reinforced, as they were key actors. Continued work on initiatives to combat impunity was important, including operationalisation, supporting the Government to implement transitional justice. To ensure more women stood as candidates, they must be supported, properly trained and educated. Engagement in legal reforms to promote their participation was also needed. To combat impunity, the fact that the national authorities had already made encouraging efforts must be recognised.

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, International Expert on the Situation in Kasai, underscored that what was happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo concerned the whole world. Stressing that neighbouring countries were sovereign States, he noted that they could contribute to monitoring the circulation of arms. They could also support the Great Lakes Pact, the implementation of which would help the Democratic Republic of Congo address the persistent issues it had been grappling with for years.

ANDRÉ LITE ASEBEA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the Democratic Republic of the Congo was facing many challenges. Some elements of the State did not always respect human rights; the authorities were not only condemning these acts but also conducting investigations into allegations of violations. Under the leadership of the President, reforms would be implemented in the near future on the death penalty, and the judiciary and its role at the regional level, among other issues. However, lack of resources remained a challenge. The Government was developing road and electricity infrastructure projects in the Kasai region, in collaboration with the Egyptian Government.

ROSTIN MANKETA, Executive Director of Voix des Sans Voix pour les Droits de l’Homme, was very pleased that all the speakers recognised that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was alarming – it was up to the authorities in the country to work towards putting an end towards human rights violations. The people were counting on the Government to do this in order to ensure the promotion and protection of their human rights.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Mali

Statement by the Independent Expert on Mali

ALIOUNE TINE, Independent Expert on Mali, said the situation remained concerning in the north and centre of Mali, where civilians continued to be attacked by violent extremist groups as well as armed community self-defence groups, despite the presence of international and national security forces. In the northern regions, the situation continued to be marked by the activity of violent extremist groups, including the Support Group for Islam and Muslims and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara. In the centre of Mali, violent extremist groups attacked and threatened the civilian population in several villages. Mr. Tine was deeply concerned by the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation, notably the continued detention of five public figures despite the fact that a court decision had ordered their immediate release. He was also concerned about allegations that at least 19 civilians were killed and several others injured when an airstrike on January 3, 2021 hit a wedding in the village of Bounti in the Mopti region.

With regard to women’s rights, there was a worrying recurrence of cases of gender-based violence, the number of which increased, for the period from January to July, from 2,021 cases in 2019 to 2,981 cases in 2020, a 47 per cent increase. Unfortunately, no significant progress had been observed in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations and abuses committed, especially in the past two years. The Independent Expert recommended that the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali respond proactively to threats against civilians and, in particular, continue to strengthen its presence in all sensitive areas, including those where attacks against civilian populations were the most recurrent and the most threatening. The International Criminal Court must initiate investigations as soon as possible in order to establish criminal responsibility for crimes under the Rome Statute which had been committed in the past or which continued to be committed, in particular in the north and centre of Mali, he added.

Statement by Country Concerned

Mali, speaking as a country concerned, thanked Mr. Tine for his presentation, taking due note of the comments and recommendations. During the past year, Mali had been shaken by a socio-political crisis whose developments led, on 18 August 2020, to an institutional change that paved the way for a political transition. Real difficulties in connection with the security situation and the context of the fight against terrorism remained. The implementation of the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali was essential. The situation in the central regions of Mali unfortunately remained marked by the continued criminal activities of terrorist groups fuelling intercommunal violence. Hence, the Government was increasing initiatives aimed at promoting direct dialogue between communities. The progress of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, hearing more than 19,800 testimonies by victims and holding two public hearings, was encouraging. In the fight against impunity, national courts held more than a dozen cases involving elements of the Malian defence and security forces. The Specialised Judicial Unit for the fight against terrorism had taken legal action against non-State actors as well.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers welcomed the cooperation of Mali with human rights mechanisms, as well as regional bodies. Implementing the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement must remain a priority for the transitional Government. Speakers expressed particular concern over the scale of human rights violations. The root causes of the security situation and ongoing impunity must be addressed in order to move forward. One of the priorities must be the establishment of inclusive dialogue and the holding of free and fair democratic elections. All political forces must adhere to the provisions of the Algiers Peace Agreement. Breaking the cycle of violence was vital to regain lasting stability. All forms of discrimination against women, in law and in practice, must be abolished by the Government, and women must be fully integrated into the political process. The fact that Malian actors had reached an agreement on the transitional process in the aftermath of the coup was welcomed by speakers, who also condemned attacks on United Nations peacekeepers. Speakers asked the Independent Expert about ways in which the international community could support the peace process in the country.

The continued recruitment of children by armed and jihadist groups, as well as the growing number of trafficking cases and instances of child labour, was concerning, particularly given the fact that psycho-social and legal services to support children were limited in Mali. The health situation and restrictions on fundamental liberties had led to increased violence, sexual slavery and forced marriages. Women human rights defenders, especially those working on female genital mutilation and violence against women, were particularly vulnerable. The military coup d’etat in August 2020 had considerably affected the human rights situation in the north and centre of the country. Speakers regretted the fact that the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Mali had not yet been published, remaining sceptical that the roadmap would be adhered to by all non-state actors in effective control of various territories in the country. Concern was expressed over the presence of foreign troops in Mali, as speakers reminded the Government that it held the ultimate responsibility over all human rights violations committed in the country.

Concluding Remarks

ALIOUNE TINE, Independent Expert on Mali, urged the international community to provide support to Mali as it endeavoured to ensure a smooth transition. There was a need for a strategy that would ensure human development in a comprehensive manner. In that regard, Mali required assistance in strengthening institutions. Lawyers could not properly exercise their work, for instance. While it would be difficult to combat impunity, solidarity on the part of the international and African communities was crucial; failing that, the whole region could be engulfed. In light of the structural and ideological obstacles, political leadership should be working with religious leaders and civil society organizations to tackle gender-based violence.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/mme-bachelet-alerte-le-conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-sur-lampleur

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