The UN must demonstrate its capacity to react: FIDH’s advocacy at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council

Facing criticism once again, the Human Rights Council must demonstrate its relevance at its June session which opened yesterday. Belarus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, among others... FIDH and its members voice their priorities for this 35th session.

A necessary mandate renewal on the Belarusian issue

As pointed out on several occasions by FIDH and its member organization the Human Rights Center "Viasna", the human rights situation in Belarus has been steadily deteriorating in recent months, culminating in the severe crackdown against peaceful demonstrators and detention of the observers, on the background of a police raid at the Viasna office in Minsk on the morning of the 25 March demonstrations against the Lukashenko government’s imposition of a tax on the unemployed. [1] Two persons currently in detention were recognized political prisoners, after a short period of release of all previous political prisoners. Moreover, recourse to the death penalty has resumed in 2016, [2] on track to reach the highest number per year since 2008. The worsening of the situation was confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur, Miklós Haraszti, in his 2017 report. His recommendation is straightforward:

«The current level of scrutiny by the United Nations of the respect for human rights in Belarus must therefore be maintained, especially given the response to the recent demonstrations.»

The Council must therefore act, and support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. In view of the increasing human rights violations in Belarus, it is crucial that the international community reaffirms its support for what is effectively the only comprehensive international human rights monitoring tool in the country.

Democratic Republic of the Congo: the urgent need to investigate Kasai violence

This is one of the major issues at stake at this 35th session. Six months after the political Accord of 31 December 2016 which was to pave the way for democratic change, the political, security and human rights situation has seriously deteriorated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Kasai region, large-scale violence broke out between the Congolese army and the Kamuina Nsapu movement. Between 500 and 1,000 people have been killed, including large numbers of women and children, and over 1.3 million displaced. The UN High Commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate violence in the Kasais. In his opening statement yesterday, he made it clear that:

«unless [he] receive[s] appropriate responses from the Government regarding a joint investigation by 8 June, [he] will insist on the creation of an international investigative mechanism for the Kasais”. [3]»

Coupled with armed violence in the east, and the persistent repression of opposition voices and increased restrictions to democratic discourse in the pre-election context, this has added to fears of unrest ahead of the holding of elections, scheduled for December 2017. For Paul Nsapu, deputy secretary-general of FIDH, the objective is clear:

«The Human Rights Council’s engagement now is critical to help protect civilians from further violence, and to press for accountability for serious violations and abuses both by the Congolese army and armed groups.»

It is time for the Council to heed these warning signs and respond in the strongest possible way by urgently establishing a commission of inquiry into the situation in the central Kasai. As stated by Paul Nsapu, «a strong message is needed to show that these crimes won’t go unpunished.»

The need for a strong commitment on Burundi to break the impasse

FIDH and its member organization, the ITEKA League, are alarmed by the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, affecting first and foremost the civilian population, two years after the outbreak of the crisis. Our investigations indicate that the main perpetrators of these crimes, committed with impunity, are members of the police, the National Intelligence Service (SNR) and Imbonerakure, the youth militia of the ruling party, acting as irregular security forces whose abuses are most often backed by the authorities.

Moreover, the Burundian authorities have constantly sought to hide from the international community the serious crimes committed in the country, in particular those by the security services and the Imbonerakure militia.

While the Council took responsible action in September 2016 to prevent the worst in Burundi by establishing an international commission of inquiry, [4] the Burundian authorities reacted immediately, declaring the resolution to be inapplicable in or to Burundi, and preventing the commission from entering the territory.

The presentation by the commission of an oral briefing on its thorough investigation (despite being denied access to the territory) into human rights violations committed in Burundi must be an opportunity for the Council to fight the widespread impunity in the country. In particular, it must take action towards suspending Burundi’s rights of membership if the authorities do not immediately put an end to the serious human rights violations committed in the country and continue to refuse to cooperate with the COI.

The Commission of Inquiry, mandated to identify the alleged perpetrators of violations with a view to ensuring accountability, should also transmit the evidence gathered to the International Criminal Court (ICC) by October 2017, when Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC statute will take effect.

The Human Rights Council’s response ought to complement efforts that African institutions and the UN Security Council should keep on making, including through the deployment of an international police force with the means of ending the current spiral of violence.

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