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DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC42

Oral statements delivered by DefendDefenders at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC42, 9-27 September 2019)


Item 10: Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Sudan (25 September 2019)

Mr. President, Mr. Independent Expert,

This interactive dialogue comes at a critical juncture for Sudan. Last year, this Council adopted a resolution that did not reflect the situation on the ground, systemic human rights issues, and re­forms needed to advance the rights of all Sudanese, both in the centre and in the peripheries, in­cluding conflict-affected areas. Developments since December 2018 dem­onstrated that Sudan’s human rights challenges, including wide­s­pread impunity for violations and abuses, had not been addressed, and that approaching Sudan from a purely “technical assist­ance” angle was a mistake.

As a new chapter is opening in Sudan, the Council has the opportunity to meaningfully contri­bute to domestic human rights progress. A number of elements of a new relationship between Sudan and the UN human rights system were outlined in an opinion piece DefendDefenders published in May 2019.

The Council and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms should unambiguously support systemic human rights reform in the country. “Systemic reform” includes efforts to bring the legis­la­tive framework in line with international standards and to reform various policies and practices. It also means conducting a thorough investigation into past and ongoing violations, holding per­pe­trators to account, and bringing decades of impunity to an end.

This Council should increase, not decrease, its level of scrutiny and engagement with the Suda­nese authorities, which are showing a new political will.

OHCHR also has a decisive role to play. An MoU should urgently be signed between the Suda­nese Government and the Office, providing for a fully-mandated country office with access to all areas and persons of interest and ability to conduct investigative, monitoring and public reporting work, in addition to providing advisory and capacity-building services to the Govern­ment and civil society.

An OHCHR country office and ongoing consideration by the Council are not mutually exclusive. They are rather mutually reinforcing, as Council action provides political back-up to expert work, while OHCHR work places expertise at the centre of political interventions. This Council has failed the Suda­nese people for too long. It should now do everything in its power to help it.

Thank you.


Item 10: Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia (25 September 2019)

Mr. President, Mr. Independent Expert,

DefendDefenders welcomes your report. Your mandate is still needed to assist the Government and people of Somalia, monitor human rights developments, report to the international com­mu­nity, and contribute to a ho­lis­tic approach to addressing Somalia’s numerous human rights challenges.

We concur with your findings on the pro­gress achieved. We should mention an over­all decrease in insecurity and violence in the coun­try, the implementation of a num­ber of UN recom­menda­tions, security sector re­form, and legal reform, including Somalia’s recent accession to the Con­vention on the Rights of Per­sons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Ongoing concerns include recurring terrorist attacks by Al-Shabaab, attacks on civilians, the huma­ni­tarian situation, high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), violations of chil­­d­ren’s rights, violations of economic, social and cultural rights, and de­lays in codifying quo­tas for women representation in Parliament, adop­ting autho­ritative electoral and political par­ties legislation, and operationalising of the National Human Rights Commission. With regard to the rule of law, the use of military courts should be strictly limited. We encourage the re­in­for­cement of capacity-building efforts, inc­luding through the provi­sion of human rights training to paralegals. You rightly mention the Somalia Joint Human Rights Programme as a significant endeavour.

The Sexual Offences Bill should be tabled and adopted by Parliament. In Somaliland, autho­rities should implement the Rape and Sexual Offences Law as a matter of urgency. A zero-tolerance policy for SGBV and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) must prevail throughout the coun­try to protect the rights of women and girls.

Civic space, including respect for freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society and jour­nalists, is key to building a peaceful, stable, and democratic Somalia.  We support all UN recom­mendations in this regard.

Lastly, we hope that Somalia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council will be leveraged for pro­gress. Its voting record has however been disappointing so far.

Mr. Nyanduga,

What role can civil society play ahead the historic “one person, one vote” election, and how can the inter­national community strengthen it and better protect human rights defenders and civic space at large?

Thank you.


Item 6: Adoption of the report on the UPR of Ethiopia (20 September 2019)

Mr. President,

DefendDefenders welcomes the acceptance by the Government of Ethiopia of a large number of UPR recommendations. Last May, Ethiopia’s review was a milestone for human rights advan­ce­ment in the country – the first UPR review for which meaningful consultations were con­duc­ted with a range of national stakeholders and the first that has the potential of contributing to sys­temic human rights reforms. We salute the fact that the Ethiopian Govern­ment displayed political will to engage on human rights challenges, including past and on­going violations. The climate in the country drastically improved since its second UPR review. We warmly welcome Ethiopia’s engagement with civil society, at the national, regional, and international levels.

We welcome Ethiopia’s acceptance of recommendations on:

  • Ratifying core international human rights instruments to which it is not yet a Party, inc­lu­ding the conventions on enforced disappearances (CPED) and migrant workers (ICMW). We how­ever encourage Ethiopia to reconsider its position on recommendations no. 163.11 to 163. 14 and no. 163.17 to 163.25. Ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Optional Protocols to ICCPR, the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and CEDAW would send a powerful message to all Ethiopian citizens;
  • Conducting comprehensive legal reform. We salute Ethiopia’s commitment to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) and legislation on mass media and computer crimes are brought into line with human rights standards. We can mention accepted recommenda­tions no. 163.56 to 163.59 and 163.62. We also salute the adoption of a new CSO Procla­ma­tion that provides more space to civil society;
  • Creating and maintaining an open civic space. Acceptance of recommendations no. 163.60, 163.219 and 163.220 is a positive signal in this regard; and
  • Ensuring accountability for violations. Recommendation no. 163.154 (“[…] ensure that ac­coun­­t­ability cons­­titutes the core of ongoing political reforms”) is of symbolic significance, as is the ac­cep­tance of recommendations on combating torture and abuses of power.

We regret that Ethiopia did not go a step further in its replies and did not offer a standing in­vi­tation to all Human Rights Council special procedure mandate-holders. It is not too late, as the UPR is an ongoing process. We encourage the Government to reconsider its position on all “noted” recommendations.

Thank you.


Item 4: General debate (18 September 2019)

Mr. President,

DefendDefenders will address Burundi and South Sudan during the dedicated interactive dialo­gues under item 4, as well as Somalia and Sudan under item 10.

We highlight the ongoing gross, wide­spread, systematic, and systemic human rights violations committed in Eritrea, and once again regret that diplomatic progress, which is an op­por­tunity for people of the region, has not trans­lated into domestic progress.

As a new chapter may be opening in the Horn of Africa, human rights advancements are being secured, and Governments are engaging with civil society at the national and inter­national levels, including here on the margins of the Human Rights Council, we reiterate our call on the Eritrean Government to fulfil its membership obligations and grant the Special Rap­porteur and other special procedure mandate-holders access to the country, as a first step to­wards human rights reforms.

Mr. President,

At its 41st session, this Council decided to maintain a high level of scrutiny over the country. The Eritrean Government should heed the message sent, including by engaging on the “bench­­marks for progress” identified by the Special Rapporteur, and multiple calls to change course, including that outlined in a letter to President Afwerki signed by more than 100 African thinkers, writers, and human rights advocates. They deserve more than a blanket denial and insults.

Thank you for your attention.


Item 4: Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (17 September 2019)


Mr. President, dear Members of the Commission of Inquiry,

DefendDefenders thanks you for your report, which once again demonstrates the need for conti­nued attention to Burundi’s human rights situation. The Commission of Inquiry is the only exis­ting mechanism to monitor and publicly report on the situation, and its mandate should be extended to allow it to pursue its important work.

As this Council meets in Geneva, in Burundi, violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights – including possible crimes against humanity – continue to be committed with impunity. Inde­pen­dent and critical voices, including civil society members, human rights de­fenders and jour­nalists, have been particularly targeted. In July, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the outrageous 32-year prison sentence against Germain Rukuki. With 2020 elections approa­ching, as the limited civic and democratic space in the country and the intimidation exer­cised by the Government, the ruling party, and members of the Imbo­ne­ra­kure hamper the pros­pects for a free and fair election, the scrutiny provided by the Commission remains vitally im­portant.

As Burundi’s crisis was triggered by the 2015 presidential election and most violations, in the words of the Commission, are essentially “political in nature,” Council Members and Observers should dedicate specific attention to elections and risk factors of human rights violations and abuses.

Dear Commissioners,

What more can be done to promote the risk factors and indicators identified in your report, as well as a holistic prevention and early warning approach, within the UN system and beyond?

Thank you for your attention.


Item 4: Interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (16 September 2019)

Mr. President, dear Commissioners,

DefendDefenders thanks you for your update. The human rights situation in South Sudan con­ti­nues to deserve priority attention from this Council and regional bodies and mecha­nisms.

We welcome the recent positive political developments in South Sudan, inclu­ding the work being carried out by the National Constitutional Amendment Committee, and the committees composed of military and civilian actors formed to improve civil-military relations and support local justice and reconciliation in Yei River State. Additionally, we welcome the commitment to form a transitional Government by November 2019, following Riek Machar’s recent visit to the country on 11 September 2019. We urge both camps to adhere to this commitment as for­ma­tion of a unity government will go a long way towards building sustainable peace in the world’s youngest nation.

However, we remain concerned about the limited efforts to address lack of accountability for human rights violations and abuses, including conflict-related sexual and gender-based vio­lence, which remains widespread. Particularly, the failure to establish Chapter Five insti­tutions, including the Hybrid Court, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing, and the Com­pensation and Reparations Authority is a setback to addressing impunity and ensuring justice for victims. It demonstrates the Government’s disinterest in addressing issues per­tain­ing to restoration and healing, including full rehabilitation of victims and the building of resi­lience and guarantees of non-recurrence, as civic space and human rights defenders are under pressure. All of these elements add to ongoing concern over delays in implementing transi­tional security arrangements under Chapter Two of the Revitalised Peace Agreement.

Ahead of this Council’s 43rd session, when a resolution on South Sudan will be considered, we reiterate that there can be no lasting peace without justice.

Thank you for your attention.


Item 2: General Debate (oral update of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), 10 September 2019

Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner,

DefendDefenders reiterates its support to your “preventative engagement” approach, which has the potential of bringing about tangible results in a number of areas and country situ­a­tions. As you highlighted in the informal conversation you held on 4 September 2019 with Mem­bers and Ob­ser­vers of the Council, where “quiet diplomacy” is not effective, OHCHR ac­tion may include more public advocacy. Regarding a number of situations, human rights defenders and civil society need your voice more than ever.

We and the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (AfricanDefenders) remain deeply concer­ned at the situation in Cameroon, in particular the crisis in the North-West and South-West re­gions, which deserves the Council’s attention. The Council should exercise its preven­tion mandate to end violations and contribute to settling the crisis. The Cameroonian Govern­ment should respond positively to offers of assistance now – or face stronger multilateral ac­tion at a future session.

Regarding Tanzania, we concur with your analysis. The Government should acknowledge the legitimate concerns, expressed by a range of national, regional and international stake­hol­ders, over human rights developments in the country, and accept to engage on the needed reforms, including through amending legislation affecting civic space and the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and access to information.

We will address Sudan in the dedicated interactive dialogue. We stress the need for an inter­national inquiry into violations of the rights of peaceful protesters and Sudanese citizens, mo­ni­toring and reporting through the extension of the Independent Expert’s mandate, and long-term OHCHR presence on the ground through a country office, to help Sudan implement sys­te­mic human rights reforms, including in relation to accountability.

Thank you for your attention.





Human Rights Defender of the month: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.