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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUES ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN UKRAINE AND IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO

26 September 2017

The Human Rights Council this afternoon opened its technical assistance and capacity building agenda item and held an interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on the situation of human rights in Ukraine. It also started an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented an oral update on the nineteenth quarterly report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Ukraine, and the report on the situation of human rights in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Introducing the quarterly report on the situation in Ukraine, she said the human rights situation for civilians, especially those living along the conflict line, continued to be dismal. The Office therefore reiterated its call to all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their own commitments to a ceasefire. The report on the human rights situation in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol detailed the deterioration of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms since the occupation of the peninsula by the Russian Federation. Those most affected by the occupation included journalists, bloggers, civil society activists, and supporters of the Mejlis- the Representative Institution of Crimean Tatars.

Ukraine, speaking as the concerned country, said the main cause for the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the territories of Ukraine out of Government control was the brutal interference of the Russian Federation: in Donbas by the supply of foreign fighters, ammunition and heavy weaponry, and in Crimea by violations of international humanitarian law. The Council was called on to secure the release of illegally detained Ukrainian citizens.

During the ensuing discussion, delegations expressed concern about the ongoing human rights and humanitarian law violations in eastern Ukraine. They underscored that it was ever more important to stand firm on principles and avoid a shift toward acceptance of the current situation. Particular concern was expressed about the reported violations against Crimean Tatars and indigenous peoples of Crimea. Equally of concern was the fact that civilians continued to bear the brunt of the conflict in Ukraine.

Speaking in the debate were Poland, Iceland, Denmark, Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Japan, Finland, Australia, Albania, Czechia, Croatia, Estonia, Spain, Slovenia, Georgia, United States, Austria, United Kingdom, Latvia, Luxembourg, Turkey, Romania, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, New Zealand, Republic of Moldova, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Russian Federation.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Minority Rights Group, Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities), and World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations.

The Council then began an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Taking part in the dialogue were Maman Sidikou, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Cessouma Minata Samate, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union; Georges Kapiamba, Chairperson of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice; and Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking about the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the electoral context, reminded that one year ago, the Council had called for an end to impunity following the brutal and systematic action by the Congolese army and police that had left dozens of civilians dead. However, in December 2016 there had been large-scale killings of civilians by security forces for which no one had been held accountable. Although the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had shared the location of 87 mass graves with the authorities, no one so far had been held accountable. Ms. Gilmore urged the Government to implement the 31 December Agreement.

Maman Sidikou, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the implementation of the Political Peace Agreement of 31 December 2016 had not been maintained consistently, leading to a climate of fear. Mr. Sidikou reaffirmed the centrality of the Peace Agreement, which would give way to a timely holding of free, fair and peaceful elections with the assistance of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He drew attention to the fact that journalists, political opponents and political society remained under the threat of harassment and violence.

Cessouma Minata Samate, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, said the most recent reports from the field noted executions and rape, and many refugees requiring assistance. The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo called for a strong synergy among national stakeholders, the international community and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission. During the electoral process, the Democratic Republic of the Congo could count on the support of the African Union. The Government should uphold the rule of law principle, end impunity, prosecute all perpetrators, and ensure prevention through awareness raising activities.

Georges Kapiamba, Chairperson of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, said that the human rights situation in the country remained of grave concern to civil society, and that it was worsening. There was systematic repression of freedoms, in particular the freedom of association, opinion and peaceful assembly. The repression entailed the arrest of numerous persons, many of whom had been subjected to ill-treatment and torture. Mr. Kapiamba urged the Human Rights Council to continue its efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noting that the situation had to continue to be monitored.

Marie-Ange Mushobekwa, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noted that the picture painted by the report left the impression that people could not breathe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was far from the truth. The provisions of the 31 December Agreement were being implemented, with opposition leader Bruno Tshibala Nzenyze being nominated in the Government of National Unity, and the setting up of the National Council for the monitoring of the Agreement. The national election voter registration had already started in the Kasai region, and had so far registered 42 million voters out of a total of 45 million. The law amending electoral rules would be presented to the Parliament.

The Council will continue its enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday, 27 September, at 9 a.m. It will then hold separate interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on Cambodia, and with the Independent Expert on Somalia.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Ukraine (A/HRC/36/CRP.2).

The Council has before it the report on the Situation of human rights in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine) (A/HRC/36/CRP.3).

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in Ukraine

Presentation of the Oral Update

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented an oral update on the nineteenth quarterly report of the High Commissioner on the human rights situation in Ukraine, and the report on the situation of human rights in Crimea. Both reports were prepared mindful of General Assembly resolutions 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and 71/205 recognizing Crimea as under the temporary occupation of the Russian Federation. Introducing the quarterly report on the situation in Ukraine, which covered the period from 16 May and 15 August 2017, Ms. Gilmore said that the human rights situations for civilians, especially those living along the conflict line, continued to be dismal. The total number of conflict-related deaths had exceeded 2,800 since the beginning of the conflict. Two ceasefire renewals had contributed to welcome lulls in the hostilities. However, the ceasefires were never fully respected. A 17 per cent decrease from the previous three-month period had been observed in deaths, which showed that if strictly observed, the ceasefire had a significant positive impact on the right to life. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, therefore, reiterated its call to all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their own commitments to a ceasefire. A national mechanism was urgently needed to ensure effective, prompt and appropriate remedies, including reparations. Equally needed were mine-awareness and mine clearing activities. Hostilities continued to have a severe impact on critical civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools. Despite agreements reached in Minsk between the parties to ensure safety zones around critical water facilities, water filtration and pumping facilities around Donetsk were still affected by shelling. The agreed “windows of silence” to allow for vital repairs of infrastructure were also not fully respected. The Office had also documented evidence of the continuing use of torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, in detention settings for the purpose of extracting confessions from conflict-related detainees on both sides of the contact line. Unlawful detentions, some amounting to enforced disappearances, also continued on both sides. The situation in territories controlled by armed groups was particularly worrisome. Accountability was sorely lacking for killings and violent deaths in the context of mass assemblies in Ukraine. More than three years after Maidan and the 2 May 2014 events in Odesa, senior officials who were behind at least 108 Maidan violent killings had yet to be brought to justice.
Ms. Gilmore then presented the report on the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which covered the period from 22 February 2014 to 12 September 2017, and detailed the deterioration of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms since the occupation of the peninsula by the Russian Federation. Serious human rights violations by State agents of the Russian Federation had been documented, including torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions. Those violations had not been investigated effectively. In addition, courts often failed to uphold fair trial rights and due process guarantees. The imposition of the Russian Federation citizenship on residents of Crimea had had regressive effects on the enjoyment of human rights for those who rejected it or who were illegible. Some residents lost various rights and benefits connected with citizenship, including free health care; some risked losing their employment; and others faced deportation. The substitution of Ukrainian laws with those of the Russian Federation severely curtailed the exercise of certain fundamental freedoms. Those most affected by the occupation included individuals who opposed the March 2014 referendum on Crimea’s incorporation into the Russian Federation and those critical of Russian Federation control over Crimea, such as journalists, bloggers, civil society activists, and supporters of the Mejlis – the representative institution of Crimean Tatars. Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted and affected by the occupation. The Mejlis was arbitrarily declared to be an extremist organization and banned in April 2016, and hundreds of prisoners and pre-trial detainees had been transferred to facilities located in the Russian Federation. In closing, Ms. Gilmore urged the Russian Federation to ensure the proper and unimpeded access of international human rights monitoring missions and human rights non-governmental organizations to Crimea, and to fulfil its obligations as the occupying power, by ensuring human rights protection, accountability, and redress for victims of human rights violations. She also urged Ukraine to use all available legal and diplomatic means to promote and guarantee the enjoyment of human rights in Crimea, and to refrain from raising obstacles to their enjoyment.

Statement by the Concerned Country

SERGIY KYSLYTSYA, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, thanked the Deputy High Commissioner for her update, and praised the hard work of the United Nations Monitoring Mission in Ukraine whose findings had contributed to reporting on the human rights situation in Ukraine. Mr. Kyslytsya noted the tremendous efforts of the High Commissioner’s Office in preparing a dedicated thematic report on the situation in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Despite denial of entry to the temporarily occupied Ukrainian peninsula by the Russian Federation, the Monitoring Mission had had multiple reliable sources of information. There was a clear case of cognitive dissonance in Moscow’s position. The Russian propagandistic media had spared no effort to misrepresent the trials of numerous Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists, but denied the reports on the same trials. Both reports proved that the main cause for the significant deterioration of human rights in the territories of Ukraine outside Government control was the brutal interference of the Russian Federation: in Donbas by the supply of foreign fighters, ammunition and heavy weaponry, and in Crimea by violations of international humanitarian law. Mr. Kyslytsya called on the Council to use all available possibilities to secure the immediate release of the illegally detained Ukrainian citizens. Ukraine insisted that the General Assembly resolution 71/205 should be fully implemented and it regretted that the recommendations by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had ignored the steps taken by Ukraine in the areas of national minorities and their languages. Ukraine was ready to revisit those recommendations with the view of their adoption.

Interactive Dialogue

Poland noted that the data collected by the High Commissioner proved that during the past summer armed hostilities had continued in eastern Ukraine, endangering lives, damaging property and threatening the environment. Poland was concerned about the ongoing human rights violations in eastern Ukraine, and it remained opposed to the annexation of Crimea. Iceland said that the situation in Ukraine was deeply worrisome. It could not look past the violations of international law committed by the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, noting that it was ever more important to stand firm and avoid a shift towards the acceptance of the current situation. Denmark noted that the conflict in eastern Ukraine impacted 3.8 million people whose lives were marked by hardship and increasing poverty. In areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists, human rights violations were widespread.

Germany remained deeply concerned by the daily violations of the latest ceasefire in Ukraine, which was supposed to allow children’s safe return to schools in September. Germany noted with concern that since the beginning of the conflict, more than 10,200 people had been killed and around 1.7 million had been internally displaced. France took note of the reduction of the number of civilians killed in the previous months, thanks to the establishment of a ceasefire in August 2017. Ukraine and Russia should continue their joint efforts to fully implement the Minsk Agreements. Switzerland thanked the High Commissioner and welcomed the recommendations of the two reports. The security situation in eastern Ukraine was difficult. Switzerland called on all parties to respect the obligations under the Minsk Agreements, and it voiced concern about persistent acts of torture and reports of summary executions.

Netherlands reiterated its strong concern about the human rights situation in illegally annexed Crimea and separatist controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. It urged the Government of Ukraine to address worrisome developments in the territories under its full control. Japan expressed hope that all the concerned parties would implement the Minsk Agreements, in full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. What should the international community do in order to protect human rights in the region, seeing there were no improvements? Finland fully supported the invaluable work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and deeply regretted the loss of innocent lives in eastern Ukraine, where the humanitarian suffering continued. What was the possibility of Tatars and Ukrainian-speaking communities to fully enjoy economic, social and cultural rights in a situation where their civil and political rights had been violated?

Australia remained gravely concerned about continuing reports of summary executions, disappearances, torture and sexual violence near the conflict zones in Ukraine. It was also worried about the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk which continued to have a disproportionate effect on civilians. Albania deplored the fact that the United Nations Monitoring Mission was not granted full access to Ukraine, and it remained concerned that civilians lived in conditions of insecurity and threats in spite of the Minsk Agreements. Czechia noted that the conflict in eastern Ukraine continued to take a heavy toll on the population. Whereas the Ukrainian Government had accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and had asked for an investigation of possible war crimes, the Russian-backed rebels continued to stay outside law and justice.

Croatia noted that the reports of the Monitoring Mission in Ukraine were valuable instruments in the evaluation of the events on the ground. Unfortunately, the nineteenth report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued to report hostilities resulting in damage to civilian infrastructure, further endangering civilians and disrupting basic services. Estonia remained deeply concerned about the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, including the areas not controlled by the Government. It was particularly concerned about the reported violations against Crimean Tatars and indigenous peoples of Crimea. Spain praised the efforts made by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide up-to-date information on the situation in Ukraine. Spain reiterated the need to provide access to Crimea and Sevastopol, and it expressed concern that civilians continued to bear the brunt of the conflict in Ukraine.

Slovenia was concerned about the various reports of grave human rights violations in Crimea and the continuation of armed hostilities, human rights abuses and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. Georgia voiced concern about reports suggesting that the situation in Ukraine had been aggravated due to the presence of foreign fighters and the supply of ammunition and heavy weaponry from the Russian Federation. Georgia stressed the importance of the implementation of all recommendations addressed to the Russian Federation. United States condemned the widespread abuses of human rights by the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea and forces in eastern Ukraine. It was deeply troubled by the conviction and eight-year sentence recently handed down to the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Majlis, Akhtem Chiygoz.

Austria remained gravely concerned about the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine, adding that under the Austrian chairmanship the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe continued to monitor the situation. What could the international community do to address the specific situation of people living close to the conflict line? United Kingdom commended the thematic report on Crimea and Sevastopol, as it detailed numerous concerns including the forced imposition of Russian citizenship, retrospective application of laws, arbitrary arrests, detention and illegal transfer to Russia of prisoners and pre-trial detainees. Was a trend of persecution of religious minorities in the non-government controlled areas of Ukraine detected? Latvia said that the nineteenth report of the Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continued to record conflict-related civilian casualties for the fourth year of hostilities. Had any steps been taken by the Russian Federation regarding the ability of the Crimean Tatar community to preserve its representative institutions?

Luxembourg said that 1.6 million people had been displaced in Ukraine, noting that the ill-treatment of prisoners had to be investigated. Luxembourg urged the parties to the conflict to respect the ceasefire and the Minsk Agreements. Turkey continued to support all efforts aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine, based on its territorial integrity and international law. The rights and interests of all vulnerable groups had to be protected, including those of Crimean Tatars. Romania stated that people living in eastern Ukraine continued to suffer from physical, political, social and economic isolation. The Monitoring Mission should be granted access to the Crimean Peninsula, in line with the General Assembly resolution 71/205.

Sweden welcomed the ceasefire in Ukraine as a step in the right direction and urged all sides to show restraint. Russia’s aggression and continued support for armed groups were the root causes of the grave human rights situation in the country. The human rights situation in illegally annexed Crimea was also deteriorating. Norway underscored the heavy responsibility of the Russian Federation and the self-proclaimed republics in Donbass. It encouraged all parties to refrain from targeting civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. Hungary underlined that in the conflict zones in Ukraine, the damage to critical infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and water facilities, raised serious concern for the protection and promotion of human rights. It added that Ukraine had failed to fulfil its obligations under the relevant multilateral and bilateral agreements, in particular with respect to the rights of the child.

Ireland was gravely concerned about the unacceptable dangers and unnecessary hardships faced by the civilian population living near the contact line in eastern Ukraine. It was alarming that a significant increase in the severity of incidents affecting water supply facilities had been recorded. Lithuania thanked the Deputy High Commissioner for her update and report, noting that it was alarming that systematic violations of human rights had become a norm in eastern Ukraine and the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula. Lithuania particularly condemned the violations against ethnic minorities, especially the Crimean Tatars. Azerbaijan welcomed the increased interest of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the plight of the victims of the ongoing armed conflict in Ukraine. Azerbaijan reaffirmed its full commitment to the principles of sovereignty and integrity of all States.

New Zealand remained concerned about the human rights situation in Ukraine where at least 2,800 civilians had been killed during the conflict and over 1.7 million people had been displaced. Continued monitoring of the human rights situation of Ukrainian citizens was necessary, as well as the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Republic of Moldova commended the Ukrainian Government for cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and welcomed the steps taken to extend access to healthcare and pensions for internally displaced people, irrespective of their residence. Allegations of cases of enforced disappearances, incommunicado detention, arbitrary detention and conflict-related sexual violence was deeply alarming. Slovakia expressed its concern regarding attempts to limit civil society space and attacks against journalists. It condemned violations of the basic human rights by the de facto authorities in illegally annexed Crimea, especially with respect to the local Tatar population.

Bulgaria was concerned about continued violations of the ceasefire in Ukraine and the high level of casualties, particularly among civilians, and it called for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Noting the promulgation of a new education law in Ukraine, Bulgaria stressed that the law should be in line with the core international human rights instruments. Russian Federation was deeply concerned about the systematic violations of human rights by the Ukrainian forces, including the use of electric shocks. The fact that such incidents had not been investigated was fostering a culture of impunity. The Russian Federation thus invited Ukraine to comply with the requirements under the Minsk Agreements and international standards.

Minority Rights Group expressed concern over the violent incident undertaken against the Roma residents in Odesa Oblast. The failure of the Ukrainian authorities to safeguard the basic human rights of the Roma created a dangerous precedent and undermined the credibility of the Government. Human Rights House Foundation called on Ukraine to withdraw the draft legislation that required non-governmental organizations and individual entrepreneurs and enterprises to file additional reports to tax authorities. Those measures indicated a growing pattern of the presidential administration to control Ukraine’s civil society. Human Rights Watch shared the High Commissioner’s concerns about the impact of repeated ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine on civilians’ lives. The use by all parties of heavy weapons in residential areas of conflict-affected regions continued to endanger civilians and damage civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.

Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities) expressed deep concern about the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine, which had deprived millions of Ukrainians of their basic needs and fundamental human rights. More than 58.3 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line, while 3.8 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance. World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations was concerned that people suffering had become routine in eastern Ukraine. Since the annexation of Crimea, violations of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had been ongoing. All available diplomatic instruments had to be used to liberate the occupied territories.

Concluding Remarks

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked all participants for their rich engagement in the discussion. However modest the developments, there were signs that things could be done. Decreasing civilian casualties were welcome and ceasefires could work and transform work for both sides. Ms. Gilmore urged compliance with ceasefires, stating that she appreciated references by a number of States commending the importance of the Minsk Agreements. Access had enabled the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide precise and accurate information. However, Ms. Gilmore lamented that there was no access to Crimea and that the Office was monitoring the situation in Crimea from its offices in mainland Ukraine. In that respect, she urged the international community to call upon the Russian Federation to uphold its obligations as the occupying power, to uphold human rights in Crimea, and not to obstruct the enjoyment of human rights. It was obvious that there was a broad pattern of systematic violations that were largely not investigated, thus feeding the conflict. Nonetheless, Ms. Gilmore noted that several investigations had taken place with legal proceedings underway and those were being followed closely. A sustained shift in that direction had to be supported by institutions that were independent. The climate of impunity could not be addressed overnight. Ms. Gilmore acknowledged positive steps, such as the judicial reform, which could make an enormous difference in combatting impunity and assuring justice. Recommendations from more than 18 reports offered a way forward. While very few had been implemented, all remained relevant.

On the question of how to best ensure the freedom of assembly and association, hate speech was frequently perpetrated by members of radical groups. In those instances, police needed to step up efforts and undertake investigative actions. As for the assessment of the possibility of Tatars and Ukrainian speaking communities to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights, the Russian occupation had had a regressive effect. Many had become ineligible for citizenship and as a result had lost many rights associated with citizenship. The Office continued to be gravely concerned about the treatment of detained persons, but it remained committed to gaining access to Crimea in the proper manner. Not being given access aggravated the concerns of the Office and gave reason to believe that the true reason for the denial of access was the use of torture. It was clear that there were severe discriminatory impacts on specific groups, including members of Jehovah’s witnesses, who had been accused and subjected to harassment, summoned to police offices and told that they must stop their operation. Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians had been denied exercise of their fundamental rights. Regarding the availability of teaching in the Ukrainian language, the Office had received information that 12,700 students had received education in the Ukrainian language during the previous academic year, but that number had dropped to 370 students this academic year. Ms. Gilmore called upon the Russian Federation to refrain from placing administrative obstacles to the enjoyment of fundamental rights and dignities. Human rights defenders in Crimea were suffering gravely from excessive and unnecessary administrative procedures that impeded their rights.

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

Presentation of the Oral Update

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking about the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the electoral context, said that during its enhanced interactive dialogue one year ago, the Human Rights Council had called for an end to impunity following the brutal and systematic action by the Congolese army and police that had left dozens of civilians dead. However, in December 2016 there had been large-scale killings of civilians by security forces for which no one had been held accountable. The mediation efforts of the Congolese National Episcopal Conference had led to an agreement between the Government and the opposition groups designed to pave the way for presidential elections in 2017. Measures from the 31 December Agreement had not been implemented and the number of political prisoners had tripled, demonstrating the lack of political will to implement the agreement. Violence had erupted in North and South Kivu and Tanganyika to the east, Kinshasa to the west, and in the southern provinces of the Kasai region. There were 3.8 million internally displaced people – the highest number in all of Africa.

The United Nations Joint Human Rights Office had been investigating and documenting the killing and rape of dozens of people as a result of clashes between the Pygmy and Luba communities in the Tanganyika province. Armed groups, such as the Patriotic Resistance Front in Ituri, and various Mayi Mayi groups such as the Nyatura and the Kata Katanga, were engaged in the illegal exploitation of natural resources, attacking villages and killing inhabitants. In the Kasai region, violence had continued for over a year, resulting in more than 600 killings of civilians, destruction of over 100 villages, and displacement of 1.6 million people, representing one of the worst human rights crises that the world was facing nowadays. Although the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been sharing with the authorities the details on the location of 87 mass graves, no one had been held accountable so far. Ms. Gilmore reminded that during its thirty-fifth session, the Council had mandated the establishment of an international team of experts to determine the allegations of human rights violations. The Government was urged to implement the terms of the 31 December Agreement and end the cycle of impunity. In closing, Ms. Gilmore noted that the lives that had been lost to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo could not go unanswered.

Keynote Presentations

MAMAN SIDIKOU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that the implementation of the Political Peace Agreement of 31 December 2016 had not been maintained consistently. A climate of fear had gradually emerged. The United Nations had convened a side event on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at which it had called upon the Government to create measures for a conducive environment and a peaceful and democratic electoral process. It reaffirmed the centrality of the Peace Agreement, which would give way to a timely holding of free, fair and peaceful elections with the assistance of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There was a need for an electoral calendar and a budget for holding the elections. Mr. Sidikou reminded that the endeavour entailed the full implementation of all measures, the opening of the space and full respect for freedom for all, particularly the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Journalists, political opponents and political society remained under the threat of harassment and violence. Such actions did not instil confidence in the political process and they had to stop. While much attention remained on the political process, the fragile situation in the remaining areas were of concern.

Mr. Sidikou was deeply shocked by the violations and brutality committed in the region of Kasai, and the targeting of children, schools and churches. He was concerned about the disproportionate use of force by the army. Nothing could justify the human tragedy that the international community was witnessing. Mr. Sidikou called on the State and on all actors to stop the violence. The crisis, particularly in the Kasai region, was of grave concern. He emphasised the efforts made by the United Nations to combat impunity, including sanctioning of those who had committed sexual violence. He called upon the Government to bring to justice members of the army and the national police who had committed crimes. He noted with satisfaction that the National Human Rights Commission had been established a couple of years ago. In conclusion, Mr. Sidikou reiterated the commitment of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fully bring the perpetrators of violence to justice, noting that the victims of the violence in the Kasai Province deserved justice.

CESSOUMA MINATA SAMATE, Commissioner for Political Affairs of the African Union, stated that the political and social situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was a delicate one. The most recent reports of observers from the field noted the persistence of many challenges, including executions and incidents of rape from July to August 2017. The Democratic Republic of the Congo was also hosting many refugees and required assistance. The Peace and Security Council of the African Union at its meeting in August 2017 had voiced its grave concerns and had called on the authorities to continue cooperating with international experts investigating the situation in the Kasai region. It called on the Government to uphold the rule of law principle, to end impunity, to prosecute all perpetrators, and to ensure prevention through awareness raising activities. The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo called for a strong synergy among national stakeholders, the international community and the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The appeal was launched on 15 September 2017 by the President of the two legislative chambers, calling on the National Independent Electoral Commission to publish the electoral calendar. During the electoral process, the Democratic Republic of the Congo could count on the support of the African Union.

GEORGES KAPIAMBA, Chairperson of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, thanked the Deputy High Commissioner and the Special Representative for highlighting the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and stated that he was in full agreement with their analyses. He also congratulated the African Union leaders for the steps taken. He stated that the human rights situation in the country remained of grave concern to civil society, and that it was worsening. It was impossible to control the situation, as the parties and the Government were not committed to peace. There was systematic repression of freedoms, in particular the freedoms of association, opinion and peaceful assembly. Four activists in the civil movement had been detained in the south east since July 2017. The prosecutor had called for their five-year imprisonment because they had been investigating the electoral enrolment process. They had been accused of divulging State secrets. Civil society had called for peaceful marches in order to make it possible for the public to exercise their right to vote. There had been waves of arrests, and 150 members of civil society had been arrested. Artists and journalists who had organized a sit-in before the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been arrested. The repression entailed the arrest of numerous persons, many of whom had been subjected to ill-treatment and torture. Certain officials were using the State media to accuse people. In conclusion, Mr. Kapiamba urged the Human Rights Council to continue its efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, noting that the situation had to continue to be monitored.

MARIE-ANGE MUSHOBEKWA, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, appreciated the attention that the Human Rights Council was giving to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The picture that had been painted by the report left the impression that people could not breathe in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was far from the truth. The provisions of the 31 December Agreement were being implemented, and opposition leader Bruno Tshibala Nzenyze had been nominated in the Government of National Unity in May 2017. The National Council for the monitoring of the Agreement had been set up on 22 July 2017. The national election voter registration had already started in the Kasai region, and the National Independent Electorate Commission had so far registered 42 million voters out of a total of 45 million, whereas the law amending electoral rules would be presented to the Parliament. The Inspectorate General of the armed forces had identified nine suspects in relation to the killing of the two United Nations experts. The Democratic Republic of the Congo would welcome the international team of experts from the Human Rights Council which would conduct investigations in the Kasai region. Concerning the mass graves, they were the consequence of operations of the terrorist group Kamuina Nsapu. Ms. Mushobekwa explained that the Angolan Refugee Commission had stated that there had been 33,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Angola, out of which 2,000 had already returned.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/17/152E