Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue on Human Rights

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council in a midday meeting held an interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine. It also held a high-level interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the agreement on measures to strengthen the ceasefire had taken effect on 27 July 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner had noted a significant improvement in the security situation in eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, active hostilities continued to affect essential civilian structures. She urged the parties to the conflict to fully respect the ceasefire. The COVID-19 pandemic had revealed or exacerbated human rights issues and social shortcomings, such as the vulnerability among underpaid healthcare workers, 83 per cent of whom were women. COVID-19-related restrictions on freedom of movement in eastern Ukraine had had the largest impact on older persons, in particular older women.

Ukraine, speaking as a concerned country, said the report outlined the consequences of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, which had caused the death of 13,000 people, including 3,000 civilians. In addition to leading to barbaric treatment, mass indoctrination, and the expulsion of independent media outlets, the occupation had also particularly affected Crimean Tatars. A Russian presidential decree that had come into effect on 21 March would cause Ukrainians to be deprived from their right to land. Russia had been misusing its anti-terrorist and anti-extremism laws to silence dissenting voices in Crimea.

In the ensuing debate, speakers were concerned by the uptick in belligerent and militant rhetoric on the part of representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. The Office had rightly noted the absence of a coherent State policy to compensate damages suffered by residents of Donbass during the internal conflict in Ukraine. While the latest report documented an improved security situation in comparison to the previous reporting period, speakers remained concerned about persistent patterns of torture and ill-treatment, cases of arbitrary incommunicado detention and the overall lack of accountability. They were alarmed by the reports of how COVID-19 had been aggravating the human rights situation on the ground.

Speaking were European Union, Russian Federation, Liechtenstein, Canada, Germany, Finland, Estonia, France, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Lithuania, Norway, United States, Romania, Spain, Croatia, Albania, Belarus, Montenegro, Poland, Latvia, United Kingdom, Malawi, Turkey, Iceland, Ireland, Georgia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Republic of Moldova, North Macedonia and Azerbaijan.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Advocates for Human Rights, International Catholic Child Bureau, Human Rights House Foundation, Amnesty International, and International Commission of Jurists.

The Council then held a high-level interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in the Central African Republic.

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, commending the efforts made by the Government of the Central African Republic to advance and promote accountability, the right to truth including about past violations, and victims’ rights and dignity, said the final phase towards the establishment of the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission represented a significant milestone in the transitional justice process and the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The Office of the High Commissioner stood ready to support the next steps for the effective operationalisation of the Commission. However, violence threatening civilians had resumed ahead of the elections of December 2020. The violence was triggered by the disqualification by the Constitutional Court of the candidacy of François Bozizé, former President of the Central African Republic, and the subsequent formation of the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement.

Lizbeth Cullity, Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic, stated that since her last presentation at the Council in June 2020, the overall human rights situation in the Central African Republic had sharply deteriorated. Throughout the period surrounding the first round of the elections, from 1 October 2020 to 28 February 2021, the human rights component had documented 358 incidents of human rights violations and abuses affecting 609 victiMs. This represented an increase of over 40 per cent in the number of victims compared to the preceding five-month period.

Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, stated that given the warlike inclinations of the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, the Central African authorities had issued decrees in December 2020 and February 2021 dismissing ministers and advisers from armed groups. These decisions had been interpreted by the population as contributing to the fight against impunity. Regarding the increased need for humanitarian aid, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 57 per cent of the Central African population, or 2.8 million people, were in need of humanitarian and protection assistance, and 1.9 million people were food insecure.

François Bado, Interim Representative of the African Union in the Central African Republic, Human Rights Observer, in charge of Dialogue and Reconciliation, welcomed the dialogue’s particular emphasis on the fight against impunity, which seemed to be the major challenge not only in the Central African Republic, but also other countries around the world that experienced various crises. The African Union had been present in the country since December 2013, supporting the search for a solution. Today, its current mandate was more politically focused, aimed mainly at supporting the return to normal constitutional life.

Jean Christophe Nguinza, Minister of Public Service and Acting Minister of Justice of the Central African Republic, stated that the Government deplored the persistent abuse of human rights by armed groups, in particular the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement. This coalition had formed to conduct an assault on the holding of elections and had resulted in arson, pillaging of voting booths and even loss of civilian life and killings of United Nations peacekeepers, as well as use of child soldiers and mass displacement. On the security front, the operation to recapture the zones under the control of armed groups was ongoing. Multiform support from the Mission and other partners had helped hold the general elections.

Anicet Thierry Goue Moussangoe, Secretary General of the Network of NGOs for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, noted that the Central African Republic continued to be at the centre of the concerns of the international community, due to the multiple violations of human rights following the recurrence of military-political crises. Growing insecurity remained, maintained by armed bands claiming to be ex-elements of the Seleka coalition and so-called anti-balaka self-defence groups, which were causing desolation on the peaceful populations.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers urged action to ensure that the second round of the election was credible, transparent and peaceful. They congratulated the Government of the Central African Republic for introducing a national child protection code in 2020. This code, in accordance with human rights and juvenile justice principles, clearly spelled out that children formerly associated with armed groups should not be treated as adults. Some speakers said complying with human rights obligations was not possible in the absence of sustainable peace, while others said that combatting impunity was crucial to restore peace.

Speaking were European Union, Iceland on behalf of Nordic countries, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, United Nations Children’s Fund, Portugal, Russian Federation, Senegal, France, Togo, Mauritania, Morocco, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Angola, China, Botswana, United Kingdom, Sudan, Malawi, South Sudan, Chad, and Ireland.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Defence for Children International, World Evangelical Alliance, Elizka Relief Foundation, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, and Next Century Foundation.

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 4:30 p.m. to hold its general debate under agenda item 10 on technical cooperation and capacity building after hearing the presentation of reports by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Board of Trustees of the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights.

Interactive Dialogue on High Commissioner’s Oral Update on Ukraine

Presentation of Oral Update

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the agreement on measures to strengthen the ceasefire had taken effect on 27 July 2020, the Office had noted a significant improvement in the security situation in eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, active hostilities continued to affect essential civilian structures. She urged the parties to the conflict to fully respect the ceasefire. The COVID-19 pandemic had revealed or exacerbated human rights issues and social shortcomings, such as the vulnerability among underpaid healthcare workers, 83 per cent of whom were women. COVID-19-related restrictions on freedom of movement in eastern Ukraine had had the largest impact on older persons, in particular older women. The Office continued to enjoy unimpeded access to official places of detention in Government-controlled territory, yet the State Security Service continued to detain individuals believed to be linked to or affiliated with the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ in unofficial places of detention. While conflict-related torture and ill-treatment had decreased in recent years, the Office had documented a pattern of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials in cases that were not related to the conflict.

In the territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’, the Office continued to be denied access to detainees and places of deprivation of liberty. Those apprehended faced inadequate conditions of detention, and were at risk of torture and ill-treatment, as well as of other human rights violations. The Office welcomed the decision by the Constitutional Court to annul criminal liability of judges for delivering “deliberately unjust decisions”. Continuing attacks infringing upon freedom of expression and opinion were concerning. In the lead up to local elections in October 2020, a wave of attacks targeting the mainly two opposition parties considered by many to be “pro-Russian”, was reported. Instances of hate speech and threats against Roma and those speaking Russian and Hungarian must be condemned by the authorities. In the territory controlled by armed groups, fundamental freedoms continued to be curtailed, with individuals detained for their social media posts. In Crimea, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation, the Office received reports of inadequate conditions of detention facilities, while the Orthodox Church of Ukraine potentially lost its two largest places of worship.

Statement by Country Concerned

Ukraine, speaking as a country concerned, said the report outlined the consequences of Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, which had caused the death of 13,000 people, including 3,000 civilians. In addition to leading to barbaric treatment, mass indoctrination, and the expulsion of independent media outlets, the occupation had also particularly affected Crimean Tatars. A Russian presidential decree that had come into effect on 21 March would cause Ukrainians to be deprived of their right to land. Russia had been misusing its anti-terrorist and anti-extremism laws to silence dissenting voices in Crimea. Stressing that further concerted action was needed on the part of the international community, Ukraine said engagement by the Office and human rights bodies in the activities of the Crimea Platform would contribute to the prevention of further gross violations in Crimea, and encouraged them to contribute to the implementation of the Platform’s objectives. Reports by the Office should address recommendations to Russia as it was the aggressor.

Interactive Dialogue

Some speakers were concerned by the uptick in belligerent and militant rhetoric on the part of representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. They said the Office rightly noted the absence of a coherent State policy to compensate damages suffered by residents of Donbass during the internal conflict in Ukraine. While the latest report documented the improved security situation in comparison to the previous reporting period, speakers remained concerned about persistent patterns of torture and ill-treatment, cases of arbitrary incommunicado detention, and the overall lack of accountability. They were alarmed by the reports of how COVID-19 had been aggravating the human rights situation on the ground. All concerned parties should implement the Minsk Agreement. It was concerning that hostilities continued to take civilian lives and affect civilian infrastructure. Some speakers reiterated their support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and denounced the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.

There had been no progress in the areas under government control, some speakers regretted. They called on the international community to restore peace and release all illegally detained Ukrainians. Access to Crimea by international actors was crucial to address acute human rights issues. Russian-backed armed groups continued to carry out unlawful detention while effectively denying access for human rights monitors to the entire territory under their control, including places of detention. According to some speakers, 267 Ukrainian citizens were held in illegal detention in Donbass occupied area, while 109 were held in illegal detention in the Russian Federation and temporarily occupied Crimea, most of whom were Crimean Tatars. Speakers urged Ukraine to ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations of all attacks on lawyers, leading where appropriate, to bringing those responsible to justice; refrain from any acts which interfered with the independence of the judiciary; and annul the suspension of the President of the Constitutional Court.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that since the outbreak of COVID-19, its impacts were being monitored and vulnerable groups such as the Roma community were experiencing knock on effects on standards of living. The economic and social rights of the affected population in eastern Ukraine were significantly negatively impacted by the conflict and this was exacerbated by COVID-19. Linking pensions and benefits to internally displaced status remained an issue in occupied territories. Unfortunately, the only access to non-government-controlled areas for the United Nations had been in 2014 in Crimea. Physical access to these areas was invaluable, and the Office continued to press for modalities to enable sending a mission to Crimea. Credible allegations of poor detention conditions were concerning: the denial of access to independent human rights mechanisms had created an environment where torture, ill treatment and impunity could thrive.

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

Statements

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, commending the efforts made by the Government of the Central African Republic to advance and promote accountability, the right to truth including about past violations, and victims’ rights and dignity, said the final phase towards the establishment of the Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission represented a significant milestone in the transitional justice process and the implementation of the Peace Agreement. The Office of the High Commissioner stood ready to support the next steps for the effective operationalisation of the Commission. However, violence threatening civilians had resumed ahead of the elections of December 2020. Human rights violations and abuses had been committed and more than 200,000 thousand people were newly displaced inside and outside the country. The violence was triggered by the disqualification by the Constitutional Court of the candidacy of François Bozizé, former President of the Central African Republic, and the subsequent formation of the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, she noted.

There had been a steep increase in documented human rights violations and abuses before, during, and after the elections. The Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement bore the biggest responsibility in those violations and abuses, while State agents had a lesser responsibility. However, both parties had contributed to the high number of violations documented. Ms. Al-Nashif called on all parties to the conflict to refrain from violence and reminded them that they should abide by international human rights and international humanitarian law, and prioritise the protection of civilians. Moreover, it was crucial that the United Nations and international partners continued to join efforts with authorities at political and technical levels to ensure that the perpetrators of all sides were held accountable. The Human Rights Division of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic would continue to monitor and report on human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including for early warning and advocacy purposes, in close cooperation with the Office. Expressing her sadness at the suffering that the population of the Central African Republic continued to suffer, she called on all parties to use peaceful means to resolve the crisis.

LIZBETH CULLITY, Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic, stated that since her last presentation at the Council in June 2020, the overall human rights situation in the Central African Republic had sharply deteriorated with worrying reports of serious human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. Throughout the period surrounding the first round of the elections, from 1 October 2020 to 28 February 2021, the human rights component had documented 358 incidents of human rights violations and abuses affecting 609 victims. This represented an increase of over 40 per cent in the number of victims compared to the preceding five-month period. In this context the Mission had established a Task Force to enhance the mapping and investigation of violations and abuses. The Mission continued to enhance its early warning mechanisms and maintained its robust posture to protect civilians, also engaging with relevant authorities to address issues of impunity. It was important to note the strides that had been made to advance human rights and accountability.

YAO AGBETSE, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, said that given the warlike inclinations of the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, the Central African authorities had issued decrees in December 2020 and February 2021 dismissing ministers and advisers from armed groups. These decisions had been interpreted by the population as contributing to the fight against impunity. The population was also questioning the lack of sanctions of armed groups that had consistently violated the February 2019 Peace Agreement. Regarding the increased need for humanitarian aid, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 57 per cent of the Central African population, or 2.8 million people, were in need of humanitarian and protection assistance, and 1.9 million people were food insecure. The school system had been disrupted by the conflict and thousands of children were forced to drop out of school.

On child soldiers, despite the agreements signed by certain armed groups, the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement continued to enlist children in its ranks. It was imperative that the Central African authorities implement the provisions of the Child Protection Code relating to the sanctions of persons and entities that recruited and used children in hostilities, as well as the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The authorities’ efforts to combat conflict-related sexual violence should be commended. However, several challenges remain, especially in the limited documentation of cases, especially in the hinterland, and insufficient care and limited resources for rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Mr. Agbetse welcomed the decision of the Central African authorities to transfer to the International Criminal Court Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, former commander of the Seleka, who was suspected of being responsible for crimes such as torture, persecution and enforced disappearance in Bangui in 2013.

FRANÇOIS BADO, Interim Representative of the African Union in the Central African Republic, Human Rights Observer, in charge of Dialogue and Reconciliation, welcomed the dialogue’s particular emphasis on the fight against impunity, which seemed to be the major challenge not only in the Central African Republic, but also other countries around the world that experienced various crises. The African Union had been present in the country since December 2013, supporting the search for a solution. Today, its current mandate was more politically focused, aimed mainly at supporting the return to normal constitutional life. Impunity was a critical issue, as Mr. Bado identified the source of revolts and armed rebellions being the frustrations and injustices engendered by the mismanagement of the country’s resources. The international community and development partners must support the Government in the fight against impunity. The United Nations must be firm – often, people against whom warrants were issued or sanctions placed, continued to operate freely in the country. The fight against impunity applied to all actors, as Mr. Bado emphasised that armed groups sowed terror among innocent populations and deprived the State of resources required to fulfil its sovereign obligations.

JEAN CHRISTOPHE NGUINZA, Minister of Public Service and Acting Minister of Justice of the Central African Republic, noted that the Government was pleased to take part in this interactive dialogue, and would like to bring to the Council’s attention a number of concerns and some progress. The Government deplored the persistent abuse of human rights by armed groups, in particular the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement. This coalition had formed to conduct an assault on the holding of elections and was responsible for arson, pillaging of voting booths and even loss of civilian life and killings of United Nations peacekeepers, as well as use of child soldiers and mass displacement. Food insecurity was heightened as a result of the blockade of supply routes to the capital. Schools in the hinterlands had closed as a result of the situation. To combat impunity, 56 criminal cases were investigated during 2020 in the Bangui Court of Appeals, with the sessions unable to continue due to COVID-19. On the security front, the operation to recapture the zones under control of armed groups was ongoing. Multiform support from the Mission and other partners helped hold the general elections.

ANICET THIERRY GOUE MOUSSANGOE, Secretary General of the Network of NGOs for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, noted that the Central African Republic continued to be at the centre of the concerns of the international community, due to the multiple violations of human rights following the recurrence of military-political crises. Growing insecurity remained, maintained by armed bands claiming to be ex-elements of the Seleka coalition and so-called anti-balaka self-defence groups, which were causing desolation on the peaceful populations. Certain armed groups formed themselves into a so-called Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, unleashing violence since December 2020 following the invalidation of the candidacy of former President François Bozize in the Presidential elections. Unfortunately, basic judicial institutions, such as the police, the gendarmerie and the prosecution, were absent in most of the country. Mr. Goue Moussangoe said he was concerned by the serious, multiple, systematic and planned violations of rights, calling on the international community to take emergency measures, as well as calling for the creation of a compensation fund for victims.

Discussion

Speakers called for action to ensure the second round of the election was credible, transparent and peaceful. They congratulated the Government of the Central African Republic for introducing a national child protection code in 2020. This code, in accordance with human rights and juvenile justice principles, clearly spelled out that children formerly associated with armed groups should not be treated as adults. Some speakers said complying with human rights obligations was not possible in the absence of sustainable peace, while others said combatting impunity was crucial to restore peace. Technical and financial partners were encouraged to continue and strengthen their support to the Government, notably as regards its executive functions. The support of the international community was fundamental to the implementation of the Peace Accord.

Speakers condemned in the strongest terms all violence in the Central African Republic, reiterating their commitment to the sovereignty of the country and acknowledging the importance of political solutions. The holding of legislative elections without significant incidents was welcomed by the speakers, particularly in the context of the violence occurring during the general elections earlier. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2013, the human rights situation of children had shown little improvement, with ongoing sexual exploitation, early forced marriage and recruitment of children into armed groups. Speakers expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation since December, with at least 200,000 civilians affected by this escalation of violence. Religious leaders had a moral authority in the country and therefore had a key role in the peace process – how could they be more involved? The United Nations’ behaviour went far beyond peacekeeping, spuriously claiming they were protecting civilians while hunting down various warlords with huge mineral resources at stake.

Concluding Remarks

MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Officer-in-Charge of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, reiterated the readiness of the Office, along with the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic, to safeguard the democratic space and respect for fundamental freedoms. Combatting impunity was a priority; all must do their part, by notably supporting transitional justice. Setting up good institutions would be key to bolster governance and the rule of law across the country.

AMADU SHOUR, Officer-in-Charge of the Human Rights Division of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic, said he had taken note of all that was expressed by speakers. Ending impunity in the Central African Republic required collective involvement – thus collaboration with all partners was key.

YAO AGBETSE, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic, welcoming the proactive participation in the dialogue, said the fact that 2.8 million people required humanitarian assistance in the Central African Republic was a challenge that required that the international community continue to provide its support. He condemned all attacks on humanitarian actors. Combatting insecurity should be a priority; the training of security agents could contribute to efforts to uphold human rights across the country.

LÉOPOLD ISMAEL SAMBA, Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that the Government had shown good faith and good will. The President had respected his commitment by including members of the armed groups in his Government. There should be a holistic approach to impunity – as much as the international community helped with financial aid, it must also help with implementation. Mapping of crimes could not make exceptions to violations committed by non-Central Africans. At the transitional judiciary level, the international community must do more, implementation was systemic, the pillars had to be implemented – everyone must contribute. The country could not develop just by bringing in troops or money – accountability was crucial.

BRUNO HYACINTHE GBIEGBA, Deputy Coordinator of the Network of NGOs for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, thanked the speakers. The struggle against impunity could not be accomplished by the Central African Republic alone – the international community must assist but not foist solutions on the country. The Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement was the logical consequence of the 6 February Agreement that had allowed the rebel forces to rearm and regroup. Every time this had to be said – the country needed help, but the population must be allowed to create and find the solutions themselves.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/midday-human-rights-council-holds-interactive-dialogue-human

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