South Sudan + 1 more

Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in South Sudan, Concludes Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Human Rights Council this morning continued with its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building, holding an interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in South Sudan and concluding the enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Christian Salazar Volkmann, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the activities of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan continued to yield positive impact on the beneficiaries, particularly in terms of heightened awareness of human rights concerns in the different communities. From January to August 2022, the Human Rights Division of the Mission delivered 225 capacity building and sensitisation activities to a total of 8,874 participants. These technical assistance and capacity building activities were strengthening the human rights architecture of South Sudan as well as networks to promote freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and other rights. The support of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to the rule of law institutions would contribute towards the creation of a conducive environment for transparent, inclusive, and genuine consultations in relation to transitional justice, constitutional-making and electoral process.

Ruben Madol Arol Kachuol, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, speaking as a country concerned, said to promote and protect human rights, the President had established a National Human Rights Council to conduct public awareness, advocacy, monitor investigations and to provide advice towards addressing human rights violations in the country. A technical committee was established which conducted public consultation throughout the country. The Government was consulting with the African Union Commission on the guidelines for the establishment of the Court. In April 2022, the Council adopted a resolution to urgently provide technical assistance and capacity building to South Sudan. To have meaningful technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan, the Government was requesting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up a mechanism for implementation of the resolution.

In the discussion on South Sudan, some speakers remained shocked and deeply concerned about the ongoing grave human rights violations in the country. The excessive use of repression and force by State security forces against civilians was appalling, especially reports on widespread and systematic sexual and gender-based violence. The perseverance of the Government to lower levels of violence and to bring about peace and stability was welcomed. There should be urgent reforms to bring out better living conditions in the country and ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, with free and transparent elections. Some speakers said that the situation in South Sudan clearly continued to require the Council’s attention and assistance, whilst respecting the cultural and social specificities of the country, sovereignty and non-interference, in respect of the United Nations Charter and the territorial integrity of the country, with genuine dialogue and cooperation, without politicisation, selectivity or double standards. The establishment of the National Human Rights Advisory Council was an important step in achieving lasting peace and stability in South Sudan.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Marie Thérèse Keita-Bocoum, Member of the Team of International Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in concluding remarks, welcomed progress made on the issues raised, but reiterated that what was needed was practical funding from the international community. Transitional justice was important and should be better structured, and lessons could be learned in this regard.

Abdul Aziz Thioye, Director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in concluding remarks, welcomed the convergence of ideas to establish a peaceful and human rights-based approach to elections. It was important that the Democratic Republic of the Congo adopted the necessary legislative bills for democratic progress, particularly concerning public demonstrations, such as against hate speech and promoting freedom of association and access to information.

Albert Fabrice Puela, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in concluding remarks, thanked all those who had spoken and congratulated the Democratic Republic of the Congo on their human rights efforts; it was not an easy task, moving from a repressive regime to one that was respectful of the rule of law. The Government wished for transitional justice to become truly effective and national conversations were underway in several provinces.

Christian Salazar Volkmann, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said this was a very delicate moment of transition. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was pushing for accountability of transitional justice, and it was fragile and complex. There were some signs of hope, and the international community should continue to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In the discussion on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some speakers commended the High Commissioner and the Team of International Experts for their efforts towards the continuous improvement of the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some speakers noted with concern that violations of humanitarian law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were ongoing, condemning the excessive use of force by all parties, and calling on authorities to protect civilian populations. Authorities were encouraged to continue their efforts on transitional justice, administrative reform, security and judicial sectors, which would contribute to dialogue and national reconciliation throughout the Congolese territory. Some speakers said that the international community should provide constructive assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for maintaining peace and security and improving the human rights situation. Diplomatic efforts to pursue dialogue and de-escalation were welcomed, and the High Commissioner was called on to continue its technical assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on the Democratic Republic of the Congo were Senegal, Egypt, Switzerland, Ireland, France, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Mauritania, China, United Kingdom, Benin, South Sudan, Belgium, Angola, Togo, Netherlands, Malawi, Tanzania, and United States.

Also speaking were Minority Rights Group International, International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), Lawyers for Lawyers, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Bar Association, World Organisation Against Torture, Elizka Relief Foundation, and Centre du Commerce International pour le Développement.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue on South Sudan were the European Union, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, Côte d’Ivoire on behalf of a group of African States, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Libya, Costa Rica, Egypt, Ireland, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Nations Children’s Fund, Ethiopia, Luxembourg, Australia, Russia, Mauritania, China, Netherlands, United States, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Burundi, Mali, Sudan, Eritrea, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

Also speaking were East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Elizka Relief Foundation, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Amnesty International, and Meezaan Centre for Human Rights.

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 fifty-first regular session can be found here.

The Council will next hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia. This will be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia.

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

The enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the discussion, some speakers commended the High Commissioner and the team of international experts for their efforts towards the continuous improvement of the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They welcomed the extension of the mandate to cover the whole of the Congolese territory. Some speakers appreciated the efforts of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo aimed at achieving stable conditions in the country, striving to preserve human rights and protecting civilians.

Some speakers noted with concern that violations of humanitarian and human rights law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were ongoing, condemning the excessive use of force by all parties and calling on authorities to protect civilian populations. The violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the eastern region of the country, was a serious concern and speakers called for a coordinated response. Recent violence by armed groups, especially the Allied Democratic Forces and M23, had led to human rights abuses, jeopardising efforts to pursue peace, and exacerbating the already severe humanitarian situation. There were also many cases of conflict-related sexual violence. This raised dire concerns about the protection of civilians in the conflict-affected regions, with some speakers stating that it was the Government's responsibility to protect its people and to take concrete action. Speakers were also concerned about the recent violent protests against the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which resulted in the deaths of civilians and peacekeepers.

A number of speakers called on all armed groups to immediately cease violence and participate unconditionally in the political process and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. The importance of countering impunity to put an end to violence was crucial; access to justice was a key tenant to combatting impunity and needed to be afforded priority. Speakers were also alarmed by hate speech, welcoming the bill to suppress hate speech, calling on authorities to take all measures to implement the law once it had been enacted. It was important for the Government to guarantee free and fair elections; the protection of civic and democratic space was essential, including in provinces under siege. Authorities were encouraged to continue their efforts on transitional justice, administrative reform, security and judicial sectors, which would contribute to dialogue and national reconciliation throughout the Congolese territory.

Some speakers said that the international community should provide constructive assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for maintaining peace and security and improving the human rights situation. All actors were urged to address the humanitarian impacts of the violence, ensuring the affected people, including the 5.9 million internally displaced civilians, received the assistance they needed. Diplomatic efforts to pursue dialogue and de-escalation were welcomed, and the High Commissioner was called on to continue its technical assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some speakers said they would stand by the Congolese Government to support it in improving human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Concluding Remarks

MARIE THÉRÈSE KEITA-BOCOUM, Member of the Team of International Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, welcomed progress made on the issues raised, but reiterated that what was needed was practical funding from the international community. The Government needed such support. The international community should ensure that reparations for victims were taken into account and harmonised. The funds for these reparations should be strengthened. Ms. Keita-Bocoum said that transitional justice was important and should be better structured, and lessons could be learned in this regard. The mandate of the Human Rights Commission was not for human rights but for technical assistance in the area of transitional justice, and therefore it was more difficult for her to comment on human rights conditions.

ABDUL AZIZ THIOYE, Director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, welcomed the convergence of ideas to establish a peaceful and human rights-based approach to elections. It was important that the Democratic Republic of the Congo adopted the necessary legislative bills for democratic progress, particularly concerning public demonstrations, such as against hate speech and promoting freedom of association and access to information. It was important for the Council to demonstrate support for those groups working to establish this. Mr. Thioye also called for members of the diaspora to take action against hate speech. On the state of siege, he said that the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would spare no effort to support the authorities in making the necessary adjustments and re-establish civilian administrations.

ALBERT FABRICE PUELA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, appreciated the advice which had been provided by former High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet to manage the transitional justice system, thanking her and assuring that her successor had the full cooperation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in promoting human rights in the future. Mr. Puela thanked all those who had spoken and congratulated the Democratic Republic of the Congo on their human rights efforts; it was not an easy task, moving from a repressive regime to one that was respectful of the rule of law. The President and the Government had made respect of human rights the cause. The Government wished for transitional justice to become truly effective and national conversations were underway in several provinces. A draft decree had been passed to provide protection for victims of violence and other serious crimes. There was an indigenous representative in the provisional Government and an entire programme had been established for the protection of indigenous peoples. The major enemy of the public was clear; how could elections be organised in a climate of conflict? Mr. Puela thanked the Councill for the support, asking for the Council’s assistance to ensure decent prison facilities for children adapted to their needs.

CHRISTIAN SALAZAR VOLKMANN, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was important for the Government to continue to push for compliance and oversight, as it set the example for everyone else. It was important for lasting peace, but also to tell the people that times had changed. It was a call to the Government, civil society and political parties to stop hate speech. Hate speech was divisive and dangerous, and a situation which could really lead to backwards movements in many areas, and was thus a whole-society responsibility. This was a very delicate moment of transition; the Democratic Republic of the Congo was pushing for accountability of transitional justice, and it was fragile and complex. There were some signs of hope, and the international community should continue to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the United Nations Organization Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was important to continue this both technically and financially.

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update by the High Commissioner on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building for South Sudan

Presentation of Oral Update

CHRISTIAN SALAZAR VOLKMANN, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the oral update on the human rights situation in South Sudan, including the challenges faced in the post-conflict transition, said the activities of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan continued to yield positive impact on the beneficiaries, particularly in terms of heightened awareness of human rights concerns in the different communities. From January to August 2022, the Human Rights Division of the Mission had delivered 225 capacity building and sensitisation activities to a total of 8,874 participants. The trainings included issues on international human rights law, international humanitarian law, conflict-related sexual violence, the South Sudan Police Defence Force Act 2009, and the rights of suspects during arrest and investigations. The trainings delivered to personnel of the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces and the National Police Service had improved their understanding of basic human rights and core principles, as well as in the monitoring and evaluation of their actions.

These technical assistance and capacity building activities were strengthening the human rights architecture of South Sudan as well as networks to promote freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly and other rights. They were crucial for expanding and protecting civic space. The support of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to the rule of law institutions would contribute towards the creation of a conducive environment for transparent, inclusive, and genuine consultations in relation to transitional justice, and the constitutional-making and electoral process. The activities would also help to strengthen and expand the Mission’s Human Rights Division’s local alert networks, leading to an increased and timely sharing of early warning and human rights-related information. The Office of the High Commissioner and the Mission’s Human Rights Division continued to support the Government to fully implement the Peace Agreement, and advocated for an open and pluralistic civic space.

Statement by Country Concerned

RUBEN MADOL AROL KACHUOL, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, said the challenges of a lack of financial resources and logistical and prolonged sanctions, among others, had made the parties to the agreement extend the transitional period for another 24 months. The Government had recently graduated the first batch of about 20,000 unified national army, police and other security forces, which would strengthen capacity in the protection and promotion of human rights through putting an end to the ongoing intra and inter-communal violence in the country. To promote and protect human rights, the President had established a National Human Rights Council to conduct public awareness, advocacy, monitor investigations and provide advice towards addressing human rights violations in the country. A technical committee had been established which conducted public consultation throughout the country. The Government was consulting with the African Union Commission on the guidelines for the establishment of the Court. A Judicial Reform Committee was established which would review the laws and structure of the judiciary and recommend the establishment of an independent constitutional court. Several committees were established to investigate communal violence in several states. These investigation committees were currently deployed to the sites and one had submitted its final report for consideration.

In April 2022, the Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution to urgently provide technical assistance and capacity building to South Sudan. To date, the Government was not aware of any mechanism set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to deliver technical assistance and capacity building to the Government of South Sudan. However, there had been some sporadic and uncoordinated efforts by various United Nations agencies operating in South Sudan in delivering some technical assistance and capacity building. The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs requested the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to South Sudan to invite all the United Nations agencies in South Sudan for a joint meeting with the Government, to discuss the establishment of a coordination mechanism. To have meaningful technical assistance and capacity building for South Sudan, the Government was requesting the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up a mechanism for the implementation of the resolution.

Discussion on South Sudan

In the discussion, some speakers remained shocked and deeply concerned about the ongoing grave human rights violations in South Sudan. The excessive use of repression and force by State security forces against civilians was appalling, especially reports on widespread and systematic sexual and gender-based violence. The perseverance of the Government to lower levels of violence and to bring about peace and stability was welcomed. There should be urgent reforms to bring about better living conditions in the country and ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, with free and transparent elections. Some speakers said food security continued to deteriorate, exacerbated by the ongoing insecurity and displacement of civilians. They said donor partners should fulfil their pledges under the Humanitarian Response Plan. South Sudan remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world for humanitarian workers, and speakers urged the authorities to do all in their power to protect civilians and ensure safe and unhindered humanitarian access.

A number of speakers said the situation in South Sudan clearly continued to require the Council’s attention and assistance, whilst respecting the cultural and social specificities of the country, sovereignty and non-interference, in respect of the United Nations Charter and the territorial integrity of the country, with genuine dialogue and cooperation, without politicisation, selectivity or double standards. The Government of South Sudan and all actors involved should act swiftly, ensure criminal accountability and work towards sustainable peace for the people, especially women and girls, of South Sudan. Support for victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, must also be provided. The extension of the transitional governance arrangements, and the postponement of elections until late 2024, should be used to shape the electoral system and create a conducive environment for a peaceful and stable South Sudan. Together with the implementation of the peace agreement in its entirety, these elections were what South Sudan needed for the completion of the transitional period and the establishment of lasting peace.

Some speakers said the establishment of the National Human Rights Advisory Council was an important step in achieving lasting peace and stability in South Sudan. The seemingly perpetual humanitarian crises in South Sudan would not be addressed through humanitarian action alone: long-term and systemic investments were required to ensure the realisation of the rights of all in the country, in particular with regard to social protection. The Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in South Sudan should provide technical assistance, bolstering further technical assistance in the country. The international community should pursue the provision of technical support to allow the country to build its capacity to protect and promote human rights. All parties to the Revitalised Peace Agreement should implement remaining benchmarks and ensure that free, fair and secure elections were held according to the agreed timeframe. The road to peace was long and challenging, and the Government of South Sudan was encouraged to step up its efforts to prevent any further delay.

Concluding Remarks

CHRISTIAN SALAZAR VOLKMANN, Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said one of the key topics had been the advancement on transitional justice and what could be done to establish this mechanism. It was vital that the Government, with support from regional and international actors, acted swiftly to revitalise the agreement; it was vital for effective accountability and transitional justice. Sustainable peace in South Sudan was dependent on accountability for violations of human rights. The Government had taken steps to develop enabling legislation, but much more was needed to ensure rapid progress. The international community should continue to engage in the high-level discussion with the South Sudanese authorities to demonstrate commitment to accountability. The African Union had an important role to establish the hybrid court for South Sudan. The Government had requested technical assistance and capacity building, and an overview had been drawn up to determine the technical support required.

Going forward, the Office would continue to provide technical support for the drafting of legislation for the Commission on Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing and to address the capacity issues of the national justice system. A letter had been sent to establish a coordination mechanism for technical assistance and capacity building, and Mr. Salazar Volkmann looked forward to further discussion on this request. It was important that efforts were made to establish the hybrid court as soon as possible, and whatever support was provided should allow victims to participate at all stages of the accountability mechanisms. In terms of justice accountability, the international community needed to continue to support the United Nations’ human rights work in the country. Mr. Salazar Volkmann acknowledged the Government’s engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and human rights mechanisms. The Office stood ready to continue to support the Government of South Sudan in its efforts towards lasting peace.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/10/morning-human-rights-council-holds-interactive-dialogue

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