HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL CALLS FOR THE IMMEDIATE END TO ALL HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO



Human Rights Council

1 December 2008



Council Concludes Eighth Special Session after Adopting Resolution by Consensus


The eighth special session of the Human Rights Council concluded today after adopting a resolution by consensus in which the Council expressed serious concern at the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and called for the immediate end to all human rights violations.

In the resolution, the Human Rights Council expressed concern at the deteriorating situation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Council further urged all parties to allow and facilitate humanitarian assistance and to support the ongoing efforts to establish humanitarian corridors throughout the area so as to allow access and free movement of people and goods as well as to enable humanitarian agencies to provide the badly needed food, water, medication and shelter. The Council condemned the acts of violence, human rights violations and abuses committed in Kivu, in particular sexual violence and the recruitment by the militias of child soldiers. The Council underlined that the Government had the primary responsibility to make every effort to strengthen the protection of the civilian population and to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of violations of human rights. The Council also invited all thematic Special Procedures to urgently examine the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking as the concerned country, said that most of the statements during the general debate had dealt with the consequences of the crisis rather than with its causes. The mass sending of observers and Special Rapporteurs would not do anything to resolve the mass suffering. What was needed was heavy international pressure on the rebels, who were disseminating hatred in the Great Lake regions. It was vital to ensure that the refugees could go back to their homes.

Wrapping up the session, the President of the Council, Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, thanked all those involved in the Special Session, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her support. He said that he was satisfied with the result of the special session but the follow-up of the resolution was the most important next step, in order to ensure that the needs of those suffering were met and the Council thus had to remain seized of the matter.

The special session opened on Friday, 28 November, called for by France on behalf of the European Union and 15 other countries. Following consultations, France withdrew its draft resolution and the Council adopted by consensus the resolution presented by Egypt on behalf of the African Group.

In the general debate, many speakers expressed their deep concern about the human rights abuses and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly in the province of North Kivu. They said there had been grave human rights violations against civilians committed by all parties in the conflict. The targeted attacks against civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and summary executions all continued to be matters of serious concern for many. The violence had dire consequences for the human rights of people in the region, and those consequences were becoming progressively worse.

Canada, France on behalf of the European Union and the Russian Federation spoke in explanations of the vote before and after the vote.

Speaking in the general debate were representatives of New Zealand, the Maldives, Sweden, Costa Rica, Belgium and Greece.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: National Commission of Human Rights for Rwanda, Amnesty International, International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights and Democracy), Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs (AIPD), International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), Worldwide Organization for Women, Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Pax Romana, International Save the Children Alliance, World Organization against Torture, United Nations Watch, Association for World Education, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, North-South XXI, and Comité international pour le respect et l'application de la Charte africaine des droits de l'homme et des peuples.


The Human Rights Council will hold its tenth regular session from 2 to 27 March 2009.



Action on the Resolution

In a resolution (A/HRC/S-8/L.2/Rev.2), adopted as orally amended and without a vote, the Human Rights Council expresses its serious concern at the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in North Kivu since the resumption of hostilities on 28 August 2008 and calls upon all concerned parties to comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law to ensure the protection of the civilian population and to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies. The Council also calls for the immediate end to all human rights violations and expresses concern at the deteriorating situation of refugees and internally displaced persons. The Council further urges all parties to allow and facilitate humanitarian assistance and to support the ongoing efforts to establish humanitarian corridors throughout the area so as to allow access and free movement of people and goods as well as to enable humanitarian agencies to provide the badly needed food, water, medication and shelter. The Council condemns the acts of violence, human rights violations and abuses committed in Kivu, in particular sexual violence and the recruitment by the militias of child soldiers.

The Council also underlines that the Government has the primary responsibility to make every effort to strengthen the protection of the civilian population and to investigate and bring to justice perpetrators of violations of human rights. The Council further expresses support to the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the conflict. It also emphasizes the importance of strengthening the mandate of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a view to increasing its capacity to protect civilians and to restore peace. The Council also calls upon the international community to seriously address the root causes of the conflict and to continue to contribute to the promotion of peace and stability, as well as provide the Government with assistance. The Council also invites all thematic Special Procedures to urgently examine the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that there had been long discussions held on draft resolution A/HRC/S-8/L.2/Rev.2, presented by Egypt on behalf of the African Union, and consensus had been reached. Therefore the European Union formally withdrew draft resolution. A/HRC/S-8/L.1,

HISHAM BADR (Egypt), introducing resolution A/HRC/S-8/L.2/Rev.2 on behalf of the African Group, said that the African Group had held open ended consultations on the draft resolution. The main aim of the resolution was first and foremost to achieve consensus, which was the result. The Human Rights Council had an enormous job to do, and many relevant bodies and members of the international community had expectations of what the Council was able to achieve, and sometimes it was able to deliver and sometimes not, however today it was possible. The resolution before the Council called most importantly for an immediate end to all human rights and humanitarian violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was unfortunate that given the time constraints the Council was not able to hear from the high-level ministers comprising the Democratic Republic of the Congo delegation. Among other things, the resolution contained points urging all parties to allow and facilitate humanitarian assistance and to support the ongoing efforts to establish humanitarian corridors throughout the area so as to allow access and free movement of goods as well as to enable humanitarian agencies to provide the badly needed food, water, medication and shelter.

SEBASTIEN MUTOMB MUJING (Democratic Republic of the Congo), speaking as the concerned country, said that most of the statements during the general debate had dealt with the consequences of the crisis, rather than with its causes. The mass sending of observers and Special Rapporteurs would not do anything to resolve the mass suffering. What was needed was heavy international pressure on the rebels, who were disseminating hatred in the Great Lake regions. It was vital to ensure that the refugees could go back to their homes. Concerning the behaviour of the armed forces, the delegation noted that the current army was a reformed institution and included combatants of former rebels groups, who could be linked to the human rights violations, therefore discrediting all the army. Further, concerning the role of neighbouring countries, the delegation underscored the fact that some of them had become huge exporters of minerals, when their own soil did not have these minerals; a resolution of the conflict would thus cut them off of their current sources of supply.

TERRY CORMIER (Canada), in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that Canada was satisfied that the resolution included the strong condemnation of sexual violation against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Canada strongly condemned violence against women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and urged the Government to end acts of that nature. Canada regretted, among other things, that the resolution did not include mention of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s cooperation with the International Criminal Court, nor about its commitment to combat impunity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s armed forces. Canada was not in agreement with the use of the word “reiterated” in paragraph 2 of the resolution referring to resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 which had not been adopted by the Council and of which Canada did not agree to. Finally, the session brought urgent attention needed to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and to the Special Procedures of the Council.

JEAN-BAPTISTE MATTEI (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union in an explanation of the vote after the vote, expressed their appreciation on the consensus reached to adopt the resolution of the African Group. They thanked all parities but they would have preferred that the decision to call for a special session had not been contested. The resolution contained important elements and it was important for the Council to send a strong message to the international community. The special session and the resolution were part of a real effort to tackle the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The European Union supported the efforts at all levels and called for an immediate cessation to all human rights violations. They appreciated that the text paid particular attention to sexual violence and the recruitment of children, but regretted that it did not mention extrajudicial killing as all victims of human rights violations had to be protected. Further, the Council and the concerned country would have to confirm the results of this special session at the next regular session of the Human Rights Council.

NATALIA ZOLOTOVA (Russian Federation), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said the Russian Federation was satisfied with the results of the special session and believed that the Council had responded in a timely fashion. The Russian Federation thanked the sponsors of the resolution, the African Group, the European Union and all other parties who had participated in the consultations, especially for working in such an open way and in the spirit of consensus.

Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Human Rights Council, in concluding remarks, thanked all those involved in the special session, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her support. He said that he was satisfied with the result of the special session but that the follow-up of the resolution was the most important next step, in order to ensure that the needs of those suffering were met and the Council thus had to remain seized of the matter.

General Debate

DON MACKAY (New Zealand) said that New Zealand was deeply concerned about the human rights abuses and deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There had been grave human rights violations against civilians committed by all parties in the conflict. The targeted attacks against civilians, sexual violence, recruitment of child soldiers and summary executions all continued to be matters of serious concern. These abuses had been committed by all sides in the conflict: from state security officials to rebel groups and militias associated with the Government. New Zealand noted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide committed in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. New Zealand also welcomed the recently authorized temporary increase in personnel to the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and strongly supported its mandate.

ABDUL GHAFOOR MOHAMED (Maldives) said the Maldives was watching with growing concern the resurgence of violence in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly the province of North Kivu. The violence had dire consequences for the human rights of people in the region, and those consequences were becoming progressively worse. The Maldives was particularly alarmed at reports of torture, summary execution, sexual violence and the recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Maldives urged all parties in the conflict to comply fully with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law. The Maldives also called upon the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with support from the wider international community, to intensify their efforts to assist the Government in the promotion and protection of human rights. International engagement, assistance and support from both the African region and the wider world could undoubtedly play an important role in resolving the conflict and in promoting and protecting the fundamental rights of vulnerable people.

HANS DAHLGREN (Sweden) said that the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been a matter of serious concern for a long time. A number of grave, large-scale and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law had been reported. The primary responsibility for ensuring the respect for human rights of course rested with the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While welcoming the commitments made by the Government, for instance in the form of ratifications of a number of universal human rights instruments, Sweden also wished to underline the urgent need for action. Sweden urged the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to spare no efforts in combating impunity. Sweden wanted the Council to clearly identify the human rights violations being perpetrated, as well as clearly identify the responsibility and actions needed to end them. They also felt that the Council had to make full use of the instruments at its disposal when faced with an urgent situation like the one before them today.

LAURA THOMPSON CHACON (Costa Rica) said Costa Rica was concerned about the serious human rights and humanitarian violations in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In particular, the forced displacement of civilians and sexual violence against women and young girls were of concern. Costa Rica called on the international community to support specialized bodies to assist in efforts to reinstate displaced persons in the region and restore the protection and promotion of human rights. Costa Rica urged the international community to respect the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s independence in the region in those efforts. Costa Rica emphasized the need for the widening of the command of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the field to ensure that the civilian population was protected.

ALEX VAN MEEUWEN (Belgium) said that the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was worsening, especially in the east of the country. The civil population was the first victim of this situation. The recent assassination of a journalist demonstrated that human rights defenders often did so at the expense of their lives. Thousands of women and children had been physically affected by the conflict. The world could not turn its back on this situation; it was the responsibility of the international community to protect people from war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing. The Council had to come up with a tangible solution to the crisis. Belgium called on all parties to put an end to all violence. The International Criminal Court also had an important role to play in the resolution of the conflict. Belgium also supported the reinforcement of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In order to take decisions the Council needed information; Belgium thus urged that Special Rapporteurs were allowed to conduct visits to the country. It was also important that the recommendations the Special Rapporteurs had already made were implemented.

FRANCISCOS VERROS (Greece) said the Human Rights Council was mandated to address human rights situations in an urgent matter whenever they occurred. For this reason, the appalling situation prevailing in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo imposed on the international community as a whole and in particular on the Human Rights Council the primary responsibility to react promptly in an effective and adequate manner. As frequently was the case, the civilians were the main victims of acts of violence. It was for that reason that the outcome of the special session had to be precise, along the following lines of ending violence as well as violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the eastern part of the country: strengthening the fight against impunity; support for the efforts conducted by the international community towards solving the crisis with a view to implement resolution 7/20 of the Human Rights Council, pursuant to which a certain number of Special Procedures had been mandated to submit a report on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the upcoming regular session of the Council. Greece strongly felt that the consensual outcome of the special session should substantially contribute to the initiatives already deployed on the ground with the sole purpose to relieve the suffering of the victims and stop the grave violations of humanitarian and human rights law.

JEAN W. KIMANI (Kenya) said that Kenya was concerned about the prevailing situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, especially the current human rights violations taking place. The special session reflected the collective concern of the international community. On 7 November 2008, Kenya had hosted a summit on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had, in its outcome, called for an immediate ceasefire between all parties. Kenya also wished to ask the United Nations to strengthen the mandate of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The current special session should work towards all that was possible, to ensure that the current humanitarian crisis was averted.

KATHARINA ROSE, of National Commission on Human Rights of Rwanda, said that they remained gravely concerned at the appalling situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The primary responsibility of national institutions was to ensure human rights protections, in particular with regards to access to justice and the enforcement of the rule of law. Given the conflict situation in the country, the National Commission of Human Rights for Rwanda encouraged the parliament of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to set up a national human rights institution in line with the Paris principles, which would be a significant demonstration by the authorities to implement effective human rights protections.

PETER SPLINTER, of Amnesty International, said that Amnesty International urged the Council to ensure that its outcome contributed to improving the deeply disturbing human rights situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Council had to condemn in the strongest possible terms the violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by all parties in the conflict. The Council had to demand that the warring parties and the Governments that had influence over them did everything necessary to immediately halt those violations and prevent further civilian casualties. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the international community had to address the long-standing impunity of violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the country.

CYNTHIA GERVAIS, of International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights and Democracy), said they welcomed the decision of the Human Rights Council to hold the special session. Key to peace in the region was bringing an end to sexual violence crimes in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and obtaining justice for Congolese women who survived gender based crimes. Rights and Democracy had worked for over ten years with Congolese partners to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As such, Rights and Democracy was very concerned about the escalation of sexual violence crimes committed against women and girls in the region, a situation already described as an epidemic prior to the current crisis. Furthermore, the situation of human rights defenders, especially those defenders who worked to end impunity for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including crimes of sexual violence, was very precarious. Human rights defenders had been threatened, attacked and killed for their work.

MAURICE KATALA, of Action internationale pour la paix et le développement dans la région des Grands Lacs (AIPD), said that since 1960 the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been the victim of clashes between armed groups with economic and diplomatic interests, in which certain countries and international groups were accomplices. Action International for Peace and Development asked that the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General be sent to the country to conduct a fact-finding mission to find out what happened and to meet with all groups. The point of this was to promote an overall approach to solve this crisis as the problem was not just a Democratic Republic of the Congo problem. The Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo should also be helped in the protection of its people by the international community.

JULIE GROMELLON, of International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said they were very concerned about the violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Rape and all kinds of violations had increased in the last few months, including attacks against human rights defenders. Attacks against journalists and others also had been documented, including the recent murder of a journalist working for a radio station. Given the exacerbation of the situation, especially in the eastern part of the country, the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues urged the Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution that addressed those violations and condemned impunity for those who had committed extrajudicial killings and summary executions.

AGBETSE YAO, of Franciscans International, in a joint statement with Pax Romana, said that they welcomed the holding of the special session and that they continued to be concerned over the ongoing human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since the resumption of the conflict, the region had seen thousands of new displaced persons. Many of the areas were still inaccessible for humanitarian aid, and camps had to be moved due to threats of attacks. Several organizations had talked about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. Franciscans International sought efforts to make sure that people committing violations were brought before international law. They also asked that the Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial killings and on violence against women be allowed to visit the country.

KATHERINE RAY, of International Save the Children Alliance, said they appreciated the convening of the special session on the situation of human rights in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. More than 250,000 people were estimated to have fled their homes in North Kivu since August and the figure was still rising as confrontations continued across the region. The concentration of people had put extreme pressure on already minimal standards of protection. Children and women faced a proliferation of abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, commercial sexual exploitation and recruitment of children into armed groups. Due to the suddenness of the displacement and the mass of people moving, many children became separated from family and care-givers. International Save the Children Alliance urged the Council to take urgent actions and adopt a resolution which called on all parties to the conflict and the international community to end impunity, end child recruitment, and re-establish a Special Procedure of the Human Rights Council on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

ROLIN WAVRE, of the World Organization Against Torture, said that they welcomed the holding of the special session, particularly after the elimination of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With more than 2 million internally displaced persons reported, the situation of human rights defenders was critical and the humanitarian situation was alarming. The World Organization Against Torture called for all parties to put an end to the conflict, to ensure access of humanitarian help, and to conduct an impartial inquiry to identify those responsible for human rights violations.

BENJAMIN ALBERT, of United Nations Watch, said that civilians were being targeted by rape, looting, murder and other atrocities at the hands of Government forces, rebels and militants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Well over 250,000 civilians had been displaced, with 15,000 refugees sent fleeing to Uganda. Any resolution adopted by the Council needed to include the full reinstatement of the independent expert who was let go by the Council in March 2008; the dispatch of a fact-finding mission to investigate the gross human rights violations committed during the recent violence; and follow-up reports to the Council at all subsequent sessions, until the expert certified that all violations had ended. In the March 2008 session of the Council, Mr. Titinga Frederic Pacere, the independent expert on human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reported “…the lack of security remained worrying, especially in the regions in the east of the country, where militias and armed groups, as well as the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo committed serious human rights violations with impunity”.

DAVID LITTMAN, of the Association for World Education said that today’s session inevitably reminded them of the Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights in 1994 on the genocide in Rwanda. At that Special Session, they had all regretted that they had not carefully read the advance warnings contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur on summary executions where he had warned of growing tensions. Ten years later, Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that they must never forget the collective failure to protect hundreds of thousands of defenceless persons. The analysis of the Special Rapporteur on the Democratic Republic of the Congo indicating that little was being done to deal with the root causes of the conflict had not been heeded, as with Darfur. Now events came back to remind them that the efforts for the protection of human rights and reconciliation had to be constant and at the local level.

JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, said in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, progress on the political front had not been matched by progress to meet the urgent need to protect civilians at risk. Negotiations offered promise of a solution in the long run, but civilians needed protection now from the killing and raping. This was where the action of the Human Rights Council was able to make a difference. A human rights envoy was needed within the international facilitation team engaged in the peace mediation efforts to ensure that human rights protection was at the forefront of those efforts. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the combat were on the roads or crowded together in camps, some near United Nations bases, often with no shelter from the torrential daily storms. In at least one camp, cholera had broken out, with dozens already dead and the illness spreading. It was the situation of these people that the Council needed to respond to.

LUKAS MACHON, of the International Commission of Jurists, said that the human rights situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been stained anew with the blood of civilians. The national army soldiers and the rebels had been committing unlawful killings. Torture, including rape and other sexual violence had also been committed. The deterioration of the situation was attributable to weak governance and a flaw in the rule of law. Necessary army and security sector reforms had yet to be conducted. The decision to replace the mandate of the Independent Expert on the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the assistance of the Council’s thematic Special Procedures was wrong, as evidenced by the grave developments on the ground. All parties to the armed conflict had the obligation to protect civilians from human rights violations. The Government was responsible for upholding the principle of command responsibility and accountability for abuses.

CURTIS DOEBBLER, of North South XXI, said they welcomed the attention given by the Human Rights Council to the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They noted that this conflict was not new and had been ongoing for quite some time. The conflict and others in the area often were rooted in issues on the use and extraction of resources in the region by outside parties. North South XXI urged the strengthening of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to better protect civilians through technical aid locally both to people in the field and to the local agencies of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was hoped that the death of Patrice Lumanba would not be forgotten in this regard.

MALUZA WASILUADIO, of Comite international pour le respect et l'application de la Charte africaine des droits de l'homme et des peuples, said that hidden agendas had given rise to the current crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Territorial claims by some neighboring countries, the actions by certain international actors who wished to balkanize the region and the systematic plundering of the natural resources all lay behind the current situation. One also had to ask an important question. What was the exact role played by the current Congolese government in the current crisis? Who was supplying the armed groups with weapons since 2001? In the face of the current massacres, several observers had doubts as to the capacity of the Congolese authorities to bring peace to the country. A sustainable solution was needed, which meant full transparency by those involved in the conflict, such as Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, and the former colonial power of Belgium.

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