The 51st Session of the Human Rights Council
12 September – 7 October 2022
Item 10 – Technical assistance and capacity-building
Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on a Comprehensive Report of the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on the Final Report of the Team of International Experts
4-5 October 2022
By Ardya Syafhana / GICJ
Pursuant to Resolution 48/20, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) requested the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (High Commissioner) and the team of international experts (Expert) to present a comprehensive report about related issues according to their mandate at the fifty-first session in the format of interactive dialogue. The High Commissioner was mandated to collect data and information concerning human rights violations in the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo), while the expert was limited to transitional justice in the Kasai Region.
Prior to the interactive dialogue, report A/HRC/51/60 and report A/HRC/51/60 were made available to the public. Report A/HRC/51/60, compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), disclosed thousands of human rights cases in Congo, with almost half of them linked to state agents. Although there was a slight decrease in the number of cases, hate crimes and sexual-based offences were still tormenting civilians in Congo. Special attention was given to the escalation of violence committed by numerous armed groups, even in the area declared as état de siège. The Expert also submitted report A/HRC/51/60 to follow up on the progress of transitional justice efforts in the Kasai Region before commencing its new mandate to cover the entire territory of Congo. Despite several programmes still progressing, the deficiency of the administration of justice and delays in the criminal justice system invited doubts about the future of transitional justice in Congo.
During the interactive dialogue, the UN High Commissioner was represented by Mr Chritian Salazar Volkman. Mr Volkman called for stronger endeavours by the government without undermining the progress made, particularly for conflict resolution with non-state armed groups. Marie-Thérèse Keita-Bocoum also gave statements on behalf of the Head of the Experts, recounting the remarkable steps of transitional justice in Congo and advising the respected authorities to move forward in seizing all opportunities from within and the international community. Overall, delegates present during the dialogue condemned the violent campaign against civilians by armed groups and, to some extent, deplored responsible governmental authorities in related events. NGOs also requested that the same attention be paid to the cases related to the intimidation of human rights defenders and political opponents by the Congolese government. The dialogue concluded with a reaffirmation of the Congolese government's commitment to take the developments to the next level. The representative of Congo emphasised that they need all support available to achieve this.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the efforts made by the government of Congo to enhance the protection of human rights and transitional justice efforts, most notably in the area of legal reform. We note with deep concern that, despite this strong commitment, human rights violations and impunity still persist in the country. GICJ call for the end of the impeding of the accountability process and invite the international community to consolidate their assistance to Congo.
In Congo, a number of conflicts have taken place one after another, i.e. the First and Second Congo Wars and the internal conflict between ethnic groups in different regions. After the signing of the Lusaka agreement, the United Nations organisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo/MONUC (recently referred to as “MONUSCO”) was deployed to monitor its implementation in Congo. The Congolese government was later assisted by MONUSCO in the stabilisation and strengthening of public institutions as well as in the implementation of governance and security reforms. Nevertheless, multi-ethnic clashes still persist in Congo, mostly due to the country's unstable governance, not only at the regional level but also in the latest presidential election. Previously in 2016, Kasai Region became the most affected area by armed conflicts, which were triggered due to a power struggle between two ethnicities in Kasai, resulting in the formation of militias and clashes among them afterwards.
The Expert was initially tasked to collect and determine information in the Kasai Regions, which was included in the High Commissioner’s Report. Based on Res 48/20, the Experts’ mandate covers the entire territory of Congo in assisting with transitional justice and efforts and enhancing the judicial process to tackle impunity. Meanwhile, the High Commissioner is assigned to monitor the human rights situation in Congo between 1 June 2021 and 31 May 2022.
Report of the UN High Commissioner on the Situation of Congo
The High Commissioner submitted report A/HRC/51/60 based on the documentation by the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office (Joint Office) and OHCHR therein. This report revealed the remaining insecurity in conflict-affected provinces and widespread ethnic and political violence due to the incitement of hate speech and discrimination. The Joint Office recorded about 6,782 human rights violations--which had decreased by 5 per cent from the previous report--with 44 per cent of these cases attributed to the Congolese Armed Forces and National Police. The office discussed the dire situation in Congo, particularly in North Kivu and Ituri, where armed groups, namely the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23), Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (CODECO), the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the Nyatura, and various Mai-Mai factions continue to attack the civilian population. While MONUSCO started gradually withdrawing from Tanganyika Province, état de siège was declared in North Kivu and Ituri. Inter-community conflict and conflicts between M23 and the Congolese Armed Forces were also exacerbated in several areas. These conditions claimed the lives of thousands of civilians as well as members of the peacekeeping mission. Approximately 5.97 million civilians have been internally displaced. To deter the escalation of violence, peace talks between Congolese and a number of armed groups were facilitated by Kenya in Nairobi last April.
Report of the Expert on the Situation of Kasai
To fulfil its mandate in UNHRC Res 48/20, the Experts submitted Report Number A/HRC/51/61 to the UNHRC on 18 August 2022 concerning the Expert assessment of the security, political, judicial, social and humanitarian situation in Kasai; the implementation of transitional justice by Congolese Government; and the Experts recommendations. The Experts expressed their concern about the minimum human and material resources provided for the justice administration and the prolonged investigation period for criminal cases in civil court. In relation to the first mandate, the Experts noted the small number of judges handling cases in Congo and the absence of newly recruited judges over the previous 11 years. A lack of infrastructure, housing, transportation and courthouses in certain parts of Congo has undermined the judicial process, particularly in provinces where état de siège had been declared. In addition to issues in administration, only one of the 16 priority cases has completed the preliminary proceedings and been referred to the military high court for trial. Accordingly, numerous civil organisations called for upholding the cases in international or hybrid courts, including the International Criminal Court (ICC).
On a positive note, the Experts appreciated the national initiative on the establishment of the Joint Steering Commission on Transitional Justice, the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Community Recovery and Stabilisation Programme. The Reconciliation and Implementation of the Transitional Justice Process still face challenges, including the coordination between the different processes underway within the general transitional justice framework and their harmonious implementation; funding and the question of victim reparations; overall insecurity and inter-community conflicts in Congo and in the cross-border dimension. In July 2022, the Experts designed a workshop with governmental stakeholders (e.g., members of parliament, representatives of the office of the president, ministries, academic figures and civil society) to discuss the topics related to the aforementioned challenges and to facilitate further implementation of transitional justice policy in Congo.
Interactive Dialogue on the Report by the High Commissioner and the Expert
Geneva, 4 October 2022. At the 53rd meeting of the 51st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, the Director of the Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at OHCHR, Mr Christian Salazar Volkmann, opened the interactive dialogue by discussing key developments in Congo. As stated in the High Commissioner Report, the cases related to human rights violations in Congo had declined, and the Joint Office along with OHCHR, had contributed to the progressive development of Congo’s transitional justice. Mr Volkman also welcomed the positive development by the Congolese Government in the legislative reforms, national prosecution strategy, and persistent national consultations on transitional justice in seven provinces of Congo. At the same time, he deplored the rise of violence in several areas, primarily in the eastern provinces and condemned violations of international humanitarian law by M23 and other armed groups against civilians, humanitarian workers and UN Personnel. Finally, Mr Volkman expressed his condolences toward the victims of the recent incident involving MONUSCO and demonstrators. In response to the MONUSCO withdrawal, he invited the related stakeholders to strengthen the support for future technical assistance and capacity building in Congo.
The delegate of Congo, the Minister of Human Rights of Congo, Mr Albert Fabrice Puela attended the meeting to welcome the work of the Joint Office and the Office of the High Commissioner in the country. First and foremost, the delegate put special emphasis on the newly-established transitional justice mechanisms, which marked a historical alteration of justice reforms in Congo. He further recalled the report of the UNHRC Working Group concerning the Universal Periodic Review in Congo, to which he proposed a mid-term report on the progress of recommendations made for the country. The delegate underscored the Congolese government’s desire to promote and protect human rights in its territory, such as the continuous legislative reform, especially in the enactment of the National Fund for Reparations in favour of sexual victims and other serious crimes under international law and international humanitarian law.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Head of MONUSCO, Ms Bintou Keita, noted that, while some positive breakthroughs have been made by the local authorities, there is still an urgent need to construct meaningful solutions for the persistent insecurity in the eastern part of Congo, i.e., the resurgence of M23, attacks against the civilian population by ADF in North Kivu and CODECO in Ituri. The incitement of hate speech and propaganda also poses a serious threat to the country, evident in the latest incident in Kwamouth and Maindombe. In this regard, MONUSCO launched a working group in Kishaha to form a sub-regional strategy for eradicating hate speech and other forms of intolerance both for traditional and online media. Ms Keita called for the cooperation of all stakeholders to achieve the purported peace and stability in Congo as they had succeeded in Kalemie and Tangayika, leading MONUSCO to close its stations. In the meantime, Congolese leaders shall focus their attention on the next general election, in particular, the enactment of laws concerning women's electoral participation; the criminalisation of tribalism, racism, and xenophobia; the protection of human rights defenders; and freedom of access to information and peaceful demonstration.
Ms Marie-Thérèse Keita-Bocoum, a Member of the Experts, thanked the Council for the new mandate of the Expert to cover the entire territory of Congo. This mandate allowed the Experts to step up their assistance in fighting against impunity and uphold transitional justice by the Congolese Government. She accordingly detailed the milestones made by the Expert comprising the four visits between November 2021 and July 2022 in Kinshasa, North Kivu, Tanganyika, and Ituri-Haut Katanga. Those visits resulted in crucial findings regarding Transitional Justice in Congo with respect to the hope of breaking the cycle of violence and bringing adequate reparations to the victims. Reiterating the challenges discussed in Report A/HRC/51/61, she reminded the Congolese authorities that they must seize and strengthen all opportunities and that it is the priority for all state members to support Congolese national peace and reconciliation mechanisms.
Mr Dismas Kitenge Senga, President and Co-founder of the Lotus Group, gave the opening remarks as the leading officer of national human rights institutions in Congo. Mr Senga regretted the endless civilian massacres and violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in North Kivu and Ituri despite the imposition of état de siège. He strongly suggested the development of national policy in the truth and justice process following the recommendation of the UN Mapping Report. Furthermore, the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders and journalists remain concerning as the implementation of laws related to access to information and association was still in the process of finalisation. Mr Senga requested that exchanges between Congolese authorities and UN Bodies in Congo (notably MONUSCO) be equally available to civil society in order to avoid anarchy and chaos resulting from future disengagement and withdrawal plans of the institutions.
The delegate of the European Union underlined the need for respected authorities and state members to take into account the cross-border aspects of conflict in Congo. Not only did it create challenges to the Congolese Transitional Justice plan, but it also became the root of insecurity in Congo. The delegate highlighted the possible repercussions of the illegal exploitation of resources in the country, as well as the rise of hate crimes and discrimination directed at certain members of the population. Finally, the delegate raised a question on the subsequent plan for the accountability process in Congo after the trial of the killers of the UN Experts (Catalan and Sharp) and human rights defenders (Chebeya and Bazana).
The delegate of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland began by discussing the alarming cycle of violence caused by ADF and M23 in the territory of Congo and accordingly called for the end of such violence. While being concerned with the violent protest against MONUSCO and the victims tolls followed by the incident, the delegate expressed his full support for the work of MONUSCO. He also invited the government of Congo to guarantee the protection of UN staff in its territory.
The delegate of the United States of America strongly condemned the abuses committed by non-state armed groups in Congo and called on all states to cut ties with these groups. The delegate deplored the alleged human rights violations carried out by Burundian security forces toward Congolese civilians. He afterwards encouraged an immediate investigation by both states. The representative asked how his country could ensure a reliable human rights investigation is carried out in Congo, including but not limited to violations by foreign forces.
The delegate of the Russian Federation invoked its right to reply to several countries’ statements concerning the human rights situation in Ukraine. On 5th October, the delegate commended the technical assistance provided by the Joint Office and the Experts as long as they took the auxiliary approach. In this sense, Congolese political independence must be the priority, and all states must refrain from perpetuating political jeopardy against Congolese Authorities.
The delegate of African Countries, such as Malawi, South Sudan, and Togo, expressed their appreciation for the remarkable progress made by the Congolese leadership with the support of related UN Bodies. The delegate of Senegal highlighted the remaining threat posed by armed groups in the Kasai Region, where some humanitarian organisations were forced to cease operations due to the rise of violence near the area. The delegate of Mauritania and Tanzania also welcomed several new laws in regard to human trafficking and disabled people. Some delegates also asked that the Joint Office and the Experts include the main priorities for the Congolese Human Rights Commission, the monetary assistance for the Transitional Justice Program, and the main issues from the situation in Congo in the framework of the UNHRC Special Procedures.
A number of civil society organisations were subsequently permitted to speak on the report’s findings. NGOs directed attention to the involvement of Congolese authorities in human rights abuses and violations, targetting civilians, human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents. The level of rape and other forms of sexual violence is exceptionally concerning. NGOs called on the national government to prove its commitment to fight against impunity, including its own stakeholders. Most organisations requested the transparency of the government and UN mission in relation to the consultation on the Conflict of Eastern Congo, the withdrawal plan of MONUSCO and the deployment of the regional force of the East African Community (EAC).
Member of the Team of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ms Marie-Thérèse Keita-Bocoum responded to the question concerning the future agenda of transitional justice in Congo and the measures necessary to strengthen the ongoing programme. She mentioned that, first and foremost, the national authorities should harmonise and increase their national effort parallel to the proper coordination between the stakeholders. In addition, she directed attention to the transboundary aspects of conflict in Congo and the need to enhance the reparation victims mechanism both in its administration and financial aspects. Ms Keita-Bocoum highlighted the major impact cooperation between government and internal actors has had on transitional justice efforts as well as the trust displayed by the international community in the realisation of lasting peace in Congo.
Director of the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Mr Abdul Aziz Thioye welcomed the support of state members for the Joint Office, OHCHR and the Experts and strongly urged them to continue this cooperation. In the upcoming election, Mr Thioye concurred that there is an urgent need to prevent possible electoral violence and endorsed the adoption of bills in the relevant matters, e.g., public demonstration system, freedom of association and access to information, and hate speech. Finally, he strongly advised the national authorities to take a step forward in fighting impunity, i.e., the adoption of laws against racism, xenophobia, discrimination and so forth.
The delegate of Congo, Minister of Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
H.E. Mr Albert Fabrice Puela began his statement with the deepest appreciation to the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. He reiterated his hope for the international community to work hand in hand with Congo to establish political and internal stability. Mr Puela further stressed the commitment of Congo to ensure transitional justice measures in the country are effective and meaningful, especially for the victims. He also revealed the update on the trial of the killers of UN Experts will have reached the appeal stage in the high military court within the next few days.Finally, Mr Puela concurred with the challenges posed by non-state armed groups' widespread violence in Congo fueled by hostile conflicts. He called for the international community's support in condemning and taking other forceful measures against them, in addition to providing essential protection for vulnerable groups such as children.
The Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Congo
Mr Christian Salazar Volkman continued to call on the Congolese government to uphold the accountability process and ensure the compliance of related state actors. It would be an important step to achieve lasting peace in Congo and serve an important message for the people to move forward. He also put emphasis on the consequences of recurring hate speech and intolerance associated with violence in Congo, which could lead to a backward movement in the country. He closed the statement with an invitation to all actors to continue their support, whether material or technical assistance, for wider stabilisation efforts in Congo.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the strong commitment and milestones achieved by the Congolese government in respect of the promotion of human rights and transitional justice. Notwithstanding the positive destabilisation efforts made by the government, civilians remain the target of abuses by armed groups and state actors. The government needs to take more meaningful action to protect civilians, especially with the impending withdrawal of MONUSCO. The prevalence of sexual violence has added to the civilian population’s prolonged suffering, and hate speech is adding fuel to the fire. We therefore call for greater preventative approaches to be taken by the government to preserve the life, dignity and security of the Congolese people as a whole. Reparations and retributive justice should be aligned with the non-recurrence principle of transitional justice.
We also are deeply concerned that impunity continues to persist in Congo. Even though some immunity of government officers had been lifted, most responsible actors were not held accountable by the judicial system. The Congolese authorities need to expedite the entire accountability process, especially for those prioritised cases, and take more inter-state initiatives to improve the administration of justice.
During the discussion, in a joint statement with EAOFRD, GICJ’s intern Rasika Gopalakrishnan delivered an oral statement on the situation in the Congo. Recognising the need to quell the threat to civilian lives and security in the Congo, she advocated for further cooperation with other political and diplomatic stakeholders in the enhancement of the transitional justice system in the country.
Democratic Republic of Congo, Transitional Justice, Impunity, United Nations, Geneva4Justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice, Justice