16 March 2006

Human Rights Committee Takes up Report of Democratic Republic of Congo; Experts Say Greater Effort Needed to Guarantee Fundamental Rights

Pay Tribute to Recent Achievements, Including New Constitution; Issues of Concern Include Torture Definition, Death Penalty Moratorium

NEW YORK, 15 March (UN Headquarters) -- While paying tribute to recent achievements by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, including the adoption of a new Constitution in February, members of the Human Rights Committee this afternoon agreed that the country must undertake greater efforts to promote and guarantee respect for fundamental rights.

The 18-member Committee examines compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and monitors implementation of the Covenant's two Optional Protocols -- the first allowing individuals to submit complaints to the Geneva-based Committee, the second seeking to abolish the death penalty.  The panel of independent experts continued its eighty-sixth session today with a review of the third periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Several experts expressed dissatisfaction with the State party's report, which had been submitted 15 years after its previous report, with one noting that facts were "pitifully lacking".  What was important for the Committee, stated the expert from Tunisia, was to determine the extent to which the Covenant was implemented in a country, in terms of initiatives designed and action taken.  While the report showed that the law was consistent, it was the use of the law that mattered.  For example, could the Covenant be invoked in court and had any court applied its provisions?

In addition, experts wondered about the direct applicability of the Covenant in the country, and whether there was a conflict between the Covenant and the laws adopted by the State.  Other issues of concern included whether the Government had taken measures to punish human rights violations; the lack of a definition of torture; the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty; the distinction between the police force and military forces; and the lack of cooperation by the State party regarding the Committee's requests for information on cases brought before it by individuals under the Optional Protocol.

Marie-Madeleine Kalala, Minister for Human Rights of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said her country attached great importance to all international instruments on human rights, in particular on the protection of civil and political rights.  Fundamental human rights could not be derogated, even if the President declared a state of emergency or a state of war.

Acknowledging that the report was not perfect, she stated her Government's readiness to provide clarifications on the document and to take into consideration any observations made in order to improve its respect for the Covenant.  It should be recognized, however, that efforts had been made to collate as many facts as possible.  She was not trying to hide behind "empty words", but in light of the circumstances, it was hard to get information regarding events that had taken place in the 1990s.  Also, resources had been looted during the war.

A draft bill on torture, she informed the Committee, was before the National Assembly.  A law that was not enacted could not be applied.  The Assembly had not had a chance to look at the text because it was bound by the timetable for the transition, which was to be completed by 30 June.  She added that, while the moratorium on the death sentence had been lifted in 2002, no one had been executed.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 16 March.

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