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Human rights council holds interactive dialogues on human rights in Ukraine and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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. 

Distributed by APO on behalf of United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG).