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DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC47

Oral statements delivered by DefendDefenders at the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC47, 21 June-13 July 2021) 

(Due to Covid-19-related restrictions, HRC47 is virtual; statements are video-recorded)  


Item 6: Adoption of the UPR outcome of Rwanda (8 July 2021) (statement delivered in French and available in French and English) 

Madam President, 

We welcome the government of Rwanda’s timely submission of its replies to the UPR recom­men­dations it received during its review. This sets a good practice. We also welcome Rwanda’s positive record on women’s and girls’ rights, including at the UN, which DefendDefenders docu­mented in a report

The fact that the government of Rwanda accepted numerous recommendations immediately after they were made is encouraging. We refer, among others, to recommendations on reinvi­go­rating cooperation with the UN (134.2, Armenia), combatting impunity for disap­pea­rances (134.28, Lithuania), ensuring full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assem­bly and association (134.52, Ghana), or allowing greater access to independent news out­lets (134.59, Sudan). We call on Rwanda to operationalise and implement these recommen­da­tions. 

Madam President, 

We are troubled that Rwanda noted recommendations on, among others, upholding freedom of expression and protecting journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) (136.31 to 136.37, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Sierra Leone, Spain, Canada, Australia), ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society (136.40, Ireland), or guaranteeing the independence of civil society organisations and HRDs (136.43, Côte d’Ivoire). 

We are deeply concerned over Rwanda’s refusal to accept recommendations 135.41, 135.44 and 135.45 (United States, Ireland, Austria) on protecting HRDs and journalists, while the circums­tan­ces surrounding the death, while in detention, of Kizito Mihigo, a singer and peace activist, remain unclear. We remain concerned about the use of excessive and lethal force by law enfor­cement bodies. 

We also note several inconsistencies. Rwanda accepted recom­men­dations to cooperate with the UN; yet, it noted recommendations to cooperate fully with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. Rwanda accepted recom­men­dations to combat disappearances; yet, it noted recom­men­dations to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disap­pea­rances, while Rwandan opponents have disappeared. Rwanda accepted recom­men­dations to uphold free expres­sion and associa­tion; yet, it noted recommendations to bring its legislation into line with inter­national and Afri­can standards, including legislation on criminal defamation, determining who is a journalist, or pro­viding for onerous NGO registration. 

The government of Rwanda seems to be in denial over the existence of pat­terns and instances of violations — which they regard as “inaccurate assertions” that “are not reflecting the reality on the ground” (Doc. A/HRC/47/14/Add.1). 

More generally, we are concerned over the vast and growing disconnect between the law and the practice in Rwanda. The government’s allegations against the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights are groundless and, in a number of cases, the government’s position results in depriving citizens of access to an effective remedy. 

We stress the importance of creating and maintaining an open civic space, incl­uding by lifting the restrictions on HRDs and civil society independent experts have identified. In this regard, we recall the findings of former Special Rapporteur on freedoms of peaceful assembly and associa­tion Maina Kiai, regarding civil society in Rwanda. We also stress the value of the ACHPR Gui­delines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 2: Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s annual report (22 June 2021)

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner,   

We thank you for your annual report, and your Office for its ongoing work to promote and pro­tect human rights around the globe, and in the East and Horn of Africa in particular.  

Regarding Ethiopia, we concur with your analysis and your concerns, including the statements you issued since November 2020. The situation in Tigray is serious and demands multilateral attention. 

The commencement of a joint OHCHR/Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investi­ga­tion is a positive step. It is one option. Other options can be explored. Based on your Office’s universal man­date, we encourage you, High Commissioner, to report on your assessment of the situation and formulate recommendations, including on criminal accounta­bility. 

For this assessment to be formally presented to, and discussed at, the Human Rights Council, the Council needs to adopt a resolution requesting such a debate. Together with partner NGOs, we have issued a call for such a resolution. 

There is also reason for hope in East Africa. In Tanzania, after President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in, she indicated that she would uphold freedom of expression and due pro­cess. She sent a number of positive signals for civic space. We welcome these steps and are ready to deepen dialogue and cooperation with Tan­zanian authorities, including  in Geneva, ahead of Tanzania’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

High Commissioner, 

We encourage you to continue reporting on the human rights dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis. Your work and the work of your Office regarding civic space and human rights defenders (HRDs) remains vital. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 2: Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea (22 June 2021) 

Madam President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

We thank you for your presentation and welcome your report, which provides a comprehensive overview of Eritrea’s human rights situation. We deplore that Eritrea, a Council mem­ber, con­tinues to refuse to cooperate with your mandate and to implement most of the recom­men­da­tions it received during its last Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

Violations continue with no sign of abating. The Special Rapporteur’s assessment in light of the benchmarks for progress is clear. It points, first and foremost, to a lack of political will — not a lack of capacity — as the main cause for these violations. 

Dr. Babiker: What immediate action can the Eritrean government take to register progress against Benchmarks 1 (rule of law and justice) and 3 (civic space)? 

Madam President, 

After armed conflict erupted in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Eritrean Defence Forces entered Ethio­pian territory. Reports of egregious violations and abuses they committed have emerged, inclu­ding against Tigrayan civilians and Eritrean refugees, some of whom have been killed or forcibly re­turned to Eritrea. 

We urge this Council to ensure that the High Commissioner formally reports on Tigray, and that a public debate on the situation, with all its dimensions, takes place at the earliest opportunity. 

Madam President, 

Both the violations Eritrean forces commit abroad and the violations Eritrean au­thorities com­mit at home call for a multilateral response. As a consequence, we urge the Council to adopt a resolution extending the vital mandate of the Special Rap­por­teur. 

Thank you for your attention.