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DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC46

Oral statements delivered by DefendDefenders at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC46, 22 February-24 March 2021) 

(Due to the Covid-19-related restrictions, HRC46 is entirely virtual, and all statements are video-recorded statements)  


Item 4: General Debate (15 March 2021) 

Madam President, 

DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders remain deeply concerned over ongoing grave hu­man rights violations and abuses in Cameroon. Since 2016, this Council has failed to take steps to address the situation in the North-West and South-West regions, where violations by armed sepa­ratists and govern­ment forces have led to killings, kidnappings, looting, SGBV, and attacks on schools, students, and aid workers. Despite the Grand National Dialogue, the grie­vances that gave rise to the “Anglophone cri­sis” remain unaddressed. 

In the Far North, there has been a resurgence of exactions by terrorist group Boko Haram. Security forces’ response has also resulted in grave violations. 

The deterioration of civic space is alarming. Cameroonian authorities have in­tensified their crack­down on the political opposition, demonstrators, the media, and civil society. Laws are being used to restrict free­doms of expression, peaceful assembly and asso­ciation. 

Enhancement of cooperation between OHCHR and the government is a positive step. However, high levels of violence and impunity continue to be reported. The hu­ma­nitarian situation re­mains dire. Four million people are in need of assistance. To date, more than 3,000 civilians have lost their lives, and more than one million have been internally displaced. 

Madam President, 

Cameroon is among the human rights crises this Council has been unable or un­willing to ade­quately address. Being a member of the Council should not shield a State from scrutiny. 

We call on states to collectively make clear that should Came­roon fail to take concrete steps to improve its human rights situ­ation, they will stand ready to take action. 

Thank you. 


Item 4: Interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (12 March 2021) 

Madam President, dear members of the Commission,  

We thank you for your report and presentation. The situation in South Sudan continues to call for the Human Rights Council’s utmost attention. As you reported, staggering levels of violence continue and threaten to spiral out of control. We are particularly concerned over conflict at the local level, ongoing SGBV, and attacks against the civilian population. Some of the violations may amount to crimes against humanity. 

We concur with your analysis of the situation of civil society. Human rights defenders, including civil so­cie­ty members and journalists, are subjected to pervasive surveillance, in particular by the National Security Service (NSS). We urge the government to cease its intimidation of inde­pendent actors and to fully uphold freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, in line with its constitutional and international obligations. 

We welcome the recent cabinet approval of a plan by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to start setting up accountability and transitional justice institutions as per Chapter V of the Revitalised Peace Agreement. Operationalisation of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan and other Chapter V institutions is key to building sustainable peace. The process must now be fast-tracked. 


In a joint letter released ahead of this session, 38 civil society organisations stres­sed that “the mandate of the Commission should continue until such a point as demons­tra­ble progress has been made against human rights benchmarks and based on an assess­ment of risk factors of further vio­lations.” What could such benchmarks and indicators be? 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 4: Interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (11 March 2021) (statement delivered in French)

Madam President, 

DefendDefenders and the Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) Burundi thank the Commission of Inquiry for its update. In September 2020, the Commission’s mandate was extended for the fourth time. Therefore, it is now the fifth year in which the Commission docu­ments killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence, extorsions, and other violations against Burundians. 

This mandate extension was imperative in light of the gravity of the human rights situation, which remain largely unchanged. The release of four Iwacu journalists, on 24 December 2020, is a welcome step. However, it is important to recall that they were detained for 430 days; they should never have been held.It is also important to recall that several human rights defenders remain in detention, including Germain Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga, for conducting legiti­ma­te, peaceful human rights activities. 

As regards accountability for violations, the few instances of arrests and prosecution of mem­bers of the ruling party’s youth league and of security forces are exceptional cases. Impunity remains the norm. 


Does the Commission have information as to: (1) the recurrence of cases of rape and assassina­tions of young women in several of the country’s regions; and (2) violations committed against recent Burundian returnees? 

I thank you. 


Item 2: General debate (1 March 2021) 

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner,  

We are deeply troubled by the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. While the political dispute between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and its allies is a domestic matter, its implications are not. Violations of international humani­tarian law and human rights violations and abuses associated with armed ope­ra­tions are mat­ters for multilateral discussion. 

Since November 2020, a range of actors, including your Office, the UN High Commissioner for Refu­gees, and the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, have expressed deep concern over the situation. In other areas, violence has been reported, as in Benishangul-Gumuz. 

We urge the government and all those exercising control over parts of the Ethiopian territory to allow unhindered humanitarian access, protect civilians, and allow or launch impartial in­vestigations with a view to ensuring accountability. All parties should refrain from inflammatory remarks and incitement to commit crimes under international law. 

We urge the Ethiopian government to engage, rather than dismiss the concerns expressed by UN actors, special procedures, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), states, and NGOs. 

Madam President,  

Regarding Tanzania, we reiterate the concerns a range of actors have expressed over what is becoming a human rights and political crisis. We encourage OHCHR and special procedures to monitor and report on developments, and states to engage the Tanzanian government both bilaterally and publicly, including here at the Council. 

Thank you. 


Item 2: Interactive dialogue on the oral update by the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea (24 February 2021)  

Madam President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

We thank you for your update and wish you the best in your new role. Your mandate re­mains a vital mechanism to monitor and report on Eritrea’s human rights situ­ation. 

This is the last year of Eritrea’s membership in the Human Rights Council—and it is clear that being a member did not defeat international scrutiny. 

We urge the Eritrean government to move beyond inconsistent, fickle communication streams with the UN human rights system and to invite the Special Rapporteur to visit the country to explore avenues for cooperation and reform. 

We remain deeply concerned over ongoing human rights violations, including the in­commu­ni­cado detention of journalists and unresol­ved cases of disappearances and detentions, including that of Ciham Ali Ahmed. 

Madam President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

Since November, there have been independent reports, including by the UN High Commis­sio­ner for Refugees, of Eritrean military involvement in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Infiltration of armed actors in refugee camps has led to violations of Eritrean refugees’ rights, including kil­lings, abductions, and forced return to Eritrea. Refugees must be protected. Elsewhere, as in Axum, reports of egregious violations by Eritrean soldiers have emerged. We urge independent, impartial inquiries into all these violations. 

Dr. Mohamed: What is your analysis of Eritrea’s involvement in Tigray, and possible violations of international law? 

Thank you.