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Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council: Transitional Justice is Key to Unblocking the Vicious Circle of Violence that Persists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Ukraine

5 October 2021
Afternoon

Transitional justice is key to unblocking the vicious circle of violence that persists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Human Rights Council this afternoon. The establishment of transitional justice mechanisms needs to effectively address impunity, guarantee access to justice and redress for victims, and ensure the implementation of guarantees of non-repetition. Such measures should go hand in hand with demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programmes for former combatants.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that although some progress had been reported, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to face important challenges, in particular in the eastern provinces. Despite an overall decrease in the number of violations and abuses reported during the period between 1 June 2020 and 31 May 2021, the number of victims of summary and extrajudicial executions by armed groups had risen during this period and the continuing violence posed serious challenges to the protection of civilians. Although considerable efforts had been made by the Government to improve the behaviour of the State security forces involved in military operations against armed groups, human rights violations continued to pose serious concerns.

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Chair of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai, said the Kasai crisis that had grieved and ravaged greater Kasai, especially from 2016-2017, had now subsided, with a few incidents. However, the causes of the eruption of violence remained and may reignite. Faced with this situation, the implementation of the recommendations of the survey carried out by the Team of International Experts during its first mandate remained a necessity more than ever. The most important recommendations concerned the fight against impunity and the efforts of reconciliation, reparation, and prevention of non-repetition within the framework of a process of transitional justice.

Albert Fabrice Puela, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, affirmed the Government’s determination to set up a National Commission for Transitional Justice as well as create a national reparation fund for victims of serious crimes. In addition, the prosecution of the perpetrators of acts of corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement of corporate assets and other acts of financial embezzlement as denounced by the General Inspectorate of Finance and after the transmission of all cases to the Prosecutor General by the Court of Cassation sufficiently demonstrated the Government's will to track down and prosecute the perpetrators of human rights violations. The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the first half of 2021 had seen a 14 per cent drop of human rights violations, compared to the same period last year.

Denis Mukwege, Director of the Panzi Foundation, said the United Nations must provide effective support to the Congolese authorities and civil society in order to adopt and implement without further delay a holistic national transitional justice strategy. He invited the members of the Council to support without further delay the establishment of a team of investigators integrated into the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, including inter alia experts in forensic anthropology, to exhume the numerous mass graves in order to collect and preserve evidence of acts that may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the discussion, speakers said the large number of attacks against civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remained a serious concern. Those responsible for serious human rights violations or abuses must be held accountable. All perpetrators of human rights abuses must be brought to justice and reconciliation must be promoted. The Office of the High Commissioner was asked to provide the Government with assistance to support the process of establishing a transitional justice mechanism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through the establishment of a national transitional justice and reconciliation commission.

Speaking in the enhanced interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo were European Union, Sweden on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, France, Senegal, Togo, Egypt, Switzerland, Angola, Netherlands, Venezuela, Holy See, Russian Federation, United States, Belgium, China, United Kingdom, Botswana, Ireland and Malawi.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: World Vision International, Joint statement: Franciscans International Co-sponsor: Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Order of Preachers, International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Advocates for Human Rights, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Elizka Relief Foundation, and International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue on the oral presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.

Ukraine, speaking as a country concerned, said the human rights situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine was increasingly deteriorating. Millions of Ukrainians living in the occupied territories continued to be deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Russian occupation. Illegal searches, arrests, detentions, involuntary disappearances, and torture in places of detention was the grim reality of the once flourishing Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine reiterated its call to the international community to pressure Russia to release political prisoners in Crimea.

In the interactive dialogue, speakers regretted the continuing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s occupation of Crimea, including arbitrary arrests and continued detention of Crimean prisoners. They called on Russia to release all political prisoners. The continuous deterioration of human rights in eastern Ukraine - and in Crimea - was a widely shared concern among Member States. Several speakers said they did not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. The need to ensure the protection of victims in the occupied territories was also highlighted by one speaker, who said victims of abuse had accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers urged the implementation of the Minsk Agreement.

Speaking on Ukraine were the Russian Federation, Belarus, United States, Turkey, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Georgia, Latvia, Slovakia, United Nations Women, United Kingdom, Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria, Romania, North Macedonia, Ireland, Australia, European Union, Montenegro and Azerbaijan.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Human Rights House Foundation, Minority Rights Group, Advocates for Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists, Joint statement: Ingenieurs du Monde Co-sponsor: United Nations Watch, United Nations Watch, International Council of Russian Compatriots, and World Federation of Ukrainian Women's Organizations.

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-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work on Wednesday, 6 October at 10 a.m. to hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in South Sudan. This will be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, and an enhanced interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Sudan.

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

The interactive dialogue on the oral presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine started in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Ukraine, speaking as a country concerned, said the human rights situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine was increasingly deteriorating, as evidenced in the report and today’s oral update. Millions of Ukrainians living in the occupied territories continued to be deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Russian occupation. Illegal searches, arrests, detentions, involuntary disappearances, and torture in places of detention was the grim reality of the once flourishing Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine reiterated its call to the international community to pressure Russia to release its political prisoners. Ukraine thanked Member States for their support of Ukraine. The Government of Ukraine would continue its faithful and effective implementation of national legislation on education and on functioning of the State language. It would continue regular consultations with interested partners, in particular with Hungary, on the issues of education in minority languages. This interactive dialogue once again demonstrated that Russia did not shy away from exploiting the Council in its continuous attempts to legitimise its annexation of Crimea. It was doing so by engaging individuals who were implicated in gross violations of international law, sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as human rights abuses in Crimea. The fact that this henchman had addressed the Council as part of the national delegation of the Russian Federation seriously discredited this podium.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers regretted the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s occupation of Crimea, including arbitrary arrests and continued detention of Crimean prisoners. Speakers called on Russia to release all political prisoners. The continuous deterioration of human rights in eastern Ukraine - and in Crimea - was a widely shared concern among Member States. As a result, one speaker called for the full implementation of the Minsk Agreement and for Russia to stop its intimidation. Speakers regretted the treatment of Crimean Tatars and urged the Russian Federation to implement all recommendations in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Several speakers said they did not recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. The need to ensure the protection of victims in the occupied territories was also highlighted by one speaker, who said victims of abuse had accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several speakers expressed full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Speakers urged the implementation of the Minsk Agreement. Cases of domestic violence in occupied territories were also raised as a grave concern. Speakers appealed to all parties to respect human rights. One speaker said the Russian elections held in the illegally annexed Crimea would not be recognised. The Russian Federation was urged to refrain from all forms of violence. One speaker noted the detention of 60 Crimean Tatars on 4 and 5 September and called on Russia to release these political prisoners. The High Commissioner’s report was welcomed for highlighting these issues. Crimean men were forced into the Russian military in contravention of international law and Russia was called upon to cease such practices.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the current report outlined steps that could be taken to address arbitrary arrests and detentions. In particular, the national police and security service of Ukraine could discontinue applying a wide interpretation of the concept of continuous crime in order to justify arrests without court warrants. The ongoing reform of the national policy and security service was an opportunity to strengthen the processes of arbitrary detention, including enforced disappearances. Arbitrary detention in territory controlled by armed groups in eastern Ukraine remained of great concern. The practices of preventive arrests and administrative arrests in the self-proclaimed republic amounted to arbitrary detention and may constitute enforced disappearance.

In Crimea, the Office continued to document and report on cases of arbitrary detention. In terms of support, the international community could emphasise to the Russian Federation the importance of allowing unimpeded access to Crimea. Regarding the situation in territories controlled by armed groups, Ukraine should continue to work with the international community to ensure the protection of human rights defenders there. In both eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the diplomatic community should consider areas where their influence could have a protective impact. She noted the launch of the New Crimea Platform Initiative in August. The Office of the High Commissioner continued to monitor remotely the situation in Crimea. Unfortunately, there had been no change in the Office’s lack of access to the Crimean Peninsula. In its reports, the Office provided recommendations to the Russian Federation but to date, Russia had not implemented any of them, partly implemented 3 per cent of them, leaving 97 per cent unaddressed. Freedom of religion in territories controlled by armed groups remained significantly limited and religious communities faced selective restrictions. The Office of the High Commissioner had been present since 2014 in Ukraine and issued regular reports. It would continue to follow up on the situation and continue to engage with the authorities on human rights issues.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the Final Report of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai

Opening Statements

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said although some progress had been reported, the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to face important challenges, in particular the eastern provinces, and required an ever-closer cooperation between the Government, the United Nations and civil society in order to ensure that human rights were effectively protected and respected. Despite an overall decrease in the number of violations and abuses reported during the period between 1 June 2020 and 31 May 2021, the number of victims of summary and extrajudicial executions by armed groups had risen during this period and the continuing violence posed serious challenges to the protection of civilians. The great majority of human rights abuses and violations continued to take place in areas of armed conflict. At least 5.3 million people were internally displaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mainly because of ongoing conflicts. Globally, this was the second largest number of internally displaced persons in one single country.

Although considerable efforts had been made by the Government to improve the behaviour of the State security forces involved in military operations against armed groups, human rights violations continued to pose serious concerns, especially in Ituri province where the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office had documented a staggering increase of violations by the armed forces in Djugu territory from May to July 2021. These violations undermined efforts deployed to secure the east of the country. The Government must take the necessary measures to ensure that military operations of the armed forces against armed groups were conducted in strict compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law and that violations by any members of the security forces were investigated and prosecuted promptly in accordance with the right to fair trial standards.

During the reporting period, at least 107 members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 55 Congolese National Police officers, and 134 members of armed groups had been convicted of committing acts constituting human rights violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes. This was encouraging and it was critical to ensure that investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators of violations and abuses continued to be undertaken in accordance with fair trial standards, including in the Kasai province, and in relation to those alleged to be responsible for sexual violence. Transitional justice was key to unblocking the vicious circle of violence that persisted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The establishment of transitional justice mechanisms needed to effectively address impunity, guarantee access to justice and redress for victims, and ensure the implementation of guarantees of non-repetition. Such measures should go hand in hand with demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programmes for former combatants. The Office continued to receive alerts of attacks and threats against journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors, and of the violent repression of several peaceful demonstrations, including during the state of siege. The level of hate speech and incitement to hatred and hostility throughout the country continued to be alarming.

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Chair of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai, said the Kasai crisis that had grieved and ravaged greater Kasai especially from 2016-2017, had now subsided, with a few incidents. However, the causes of the eruption of violence remained and may reignite. The countless displaced persons had reached 1.5 million at one point, including refugees and survivors of massacres and rapes. Faced with this situation, the implementation of the recommendations of the survey carried out by the Team of International Experts during its first mandate remained a necessity more than ever. The most important recommendations concerned the fight against impunity and the efforts of reconciliation, reparation, and prevention of non-repetition within the framework of a process of transitional justice. In this regard, it was important to underline that without the will to fight against impunity through exemplary cases of punitive justice, the efforts of transitional justice would have the appearance of a make-up of helplessness as a lure for them.

ALBERT FABRICE PUELA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said the state of siege had had a beneficial effect on the population. The Democratic Republic of the Congo remained committed to respecting human rights. The Government sought to bolster human rights protections through its plans and programmes. Turning to cooperation, the follow-up plan had already been drafted. The Minister affirmed the Government’s determination to set up a National Commission for Transitional Justice as well as create a national reparation fund for victims of serious crimes. In addition, the prosecution of the perpetrators of acts of corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement of corporate assets and other acts of financial embezzlement as denounced by the General Inspectorate of Finance and after the transmission of all cases to the Prosecutor General by the Court of Cassation sufficiently demonstrated the Government's will to track down and prosecute the perpetrators of human rights violations. The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the first half of 2021 had seen a 14 per cent drop of human rights violations, compared to the same period last year. The Minister reiterated the will of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and all the human rights mechanisms.

DENIS MUKWEGE, Director of the Panzi Foundation, said he did not need to remind everyone that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo was one of the worst in the world. The Mapping Report on the most serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1993 and 2003, published by the Office of the High Commissioner 11 years ago, described atrocities that defied the imagination and deeply shocked human conscience: large-scale massacres, burning of villages, looting and rape committed with extreme violence. All these war crimes, these crimes against humanity, remained largely unpunished. Various Security Council resolutions had highlighted that the culture of impunity had been and remained one of the main obstacles to the establishment of peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and largely explained the perpetuation of mass atrocities to date in Kivu and Ituri provinces. The United Nations must provide effective support to the Congolese authorities and civil society in order to adopt and implement without further delay a holistic national transitional justice strategy. He invited the members of this Council to support without further delay the establishment of a team of investigators integrated into the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, including inter alia experts in forensic anthropology, to exhume the numerous mass graves in order to collect and preserve evidence of acts that may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Interactive Dialogue

Some speakers said that even though the work in the Kasai region was not finished, the seed of transitional justice had been sown there. This work could be replicated, especially in the east of the country. Justice must be rendered for the murder of two United Nations experts and their companions in 2017. Another aspect of the fight against impunity was the need to put in place legislation to protect human rights defenders and whistle blowers. Some speakers said the large number of attacks against civilians in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo remained a serious concern. Those responsible for serious human rights violations or abuses must be held accountable. Daily reports of serious violations and abuses of human rights, including extra-judicial killings, attacks against civilians and sexual and gender-based violence, called for increased attention to the plight of the civilian population in the area.

A number of speakers welcomed the cooperation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the Office of the High Commissioner and the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai and encouraged the Government to implement all decisions of treaty bodies and those of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to improve the human rights situation in the country. All perpetrators of human rights abuses must be brought to justice and reconciliation must be promoted. The Office of the High Commissioner was asked to provide the Government with assistance to support the process of establishing a transitional justice mechanism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through the establishment of a national transitional justice and reconciliation commission. Some speakers welcomed the Council’s decision to renew the mandate of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai. The human rights situation in the provinces scarred by conflict remained of concern as the civilians were the prime victims. Journalists, human rights defenders and humanitarian workers must be allowed to continue their work without reprisals.

Some speakers said the report said the situation in Kasai still saw a series of inter-community conflicts, highlighting how fragile the situation was. There had been important progress at the national and local levels, including the adoption of the local truth and reconciliation commission in Kasai. Bilateral and multilateral partners needed to ensure that this commission had the necessary resources. Some speakers welcomed the recorded decrease in the number of violations and abuses of human rights, the various convictions for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the continuation of the opening of the democratic space observed since 2019. They urged partners to ensure multifaceted technical and financial assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure a lasting return to peace, security and stability, which would ensure better promotion and protection for human rights.

A number of speakers were concerned that violations of human rights were continuing, particularly in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All violations must be investigated and prosecuted at the national, and maybe international level. Hate speech had led to acts of violence. All human rights defenders and journalists must be protected by measures. Impunity must be combatted and transitional justice must be ensured. One speaker said the situation of refugees needed to be duly addressed in the framework of the tripartite agreement between Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the bilateral joint defence and security commission. Speakers regretted that despite documented violations in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, courts had not acted on any of the priority cases. Fighting against impunity must be ensured. The fact that most violations were committed by State actors was a source of alarm, said one speaker, adding that in Kasai State actors were responsible for almost all violations. The increase of hate speech and incitement to violence was alarming and the Congolese authorities were called upon to refrain from any hate speech.

Some speakers stressed the importance of technical assistance and capacity building, always with the consent of the State concerned, and supported efforts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. One speaker was particularly concerned by attacks on the Catholic Church and church institutions that had occurred across the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the current process of the designation of the president of the National Independent Electoral Commission. This process must take place in an authentic, independent, transparent and democratic way so that an effective consensus could be reached among the eight confessions. The Council was asked to renew the mandate of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai and expand the geographic scope of the Team to cover the entire country.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said fact-finding missions had been carried out and shared. With regard to the events in North Kivu, a province bordering Lake Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in Ituri, the Office of the High Commissioner was collecting information from actors on the ground and had collaborated with the Ministries of Human Rights and Justice. The establishment of a state of siege had led to some progress, but had had little impact on the protection of civilians, as violations had actually increased.

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Chair of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai, noted that the delivery of justice was slow, given the extent of the damage suffered. The means available to the courts in the greater Kivu region were clearly insufficient. Progress in Kasai was evident in a number of areas, including the very strong gesture of the Minister of Human Rights. The prosecution of several members of the Kamuina Nsapu militia was also positive.

MARIE-THÉRÈSE KEITA-BOCOUM, Member of the Team of International Experts on the Situation in Kasai, said that the Kasai experience could not be "cut and pasted" in other regions. On the contrary, it was important that regional experiences, which took into account the needs of local populations, were harmonised in a national strategy.

ALBERT FABRICE PUELA, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, thanked speakers for their contributions and said that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, in order to help companies in the sector to act in accordance with human rights. The Government was totally opposed to child labour in the mining sector, as well as to the recruitment of children by armed groups. The Government was also working to sanction any slippage in human rights violations. Elements of the armed forces who had committed abuses were also being prosecuted in the courts.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/10/la-justice-transitionnelle-est-essentielle-pour-debloquer-le

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