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DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC48

Oral statements delivered by DefendDefenders at the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC48, 13 September-8 October 2021) 


Item 4: General Debate (27 September 2021) 

Madam President, 

Last May, a group of 62 NGOs released a letter addressing Cameroon’s human rights situation and urging collective action in this regard. 

We will not be deterred by the government of Cameroon’s attempts (including in the form of intimidation before this Council) to silence evidence-based re­por­ting and advocacy on the on­going crisis. We reiterate that the crisis, which affects not only the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions and the Far North (with grave violations and atrocities committed by all parties), but also the rest of the coun­try (with violations committed by the government against dissenting voices), is serious. It requires urgent re­gio­nal and international attention. 

It has been two and a half years since a group of 39 states last delivered a joint oral statement on Cameroon. Despite the High Commissioner’s visit to Yaoundé, the holding of a “national dia­­logue,” and OHCHR’s field presence and engagement with the government, vio­la­tions con­ti­nue. 

We regret that the outcome of OHCHR’s September 2019 technical visit to the Anglo­pho­ne regions and engagement with the Cameroonian authorities remains unpublished. 

As the African Union and the UN Security Council remain silent, this Council has a res­ponsibility to step up its scrutiny. States should come together and formulate benchmarks for progress, which, if fulfilled, will cons­titute a path for Cameroon to improve its situation. If these bench­marks remain unfulfilled and the situation fails to improve, more for­mal Council action should follow, including a resolution establishing an in­ves­tigative and accountability mechanism. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 4: Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi (23 September 2021) (statement delivered in French)

Madam President, members of the Commission, 

We thank you for your report and for the work of the Commission over the last five years. While the human rights situation in Burundi has not significantly improved, your work and multi­la­te­ral action to address the country’s crisis have provided invaluable updates on developments and contributed to preventing the perpetration of further violations. Scrutiny of Burundi’s situ­ation has also enabled substantive work on accountability and given victims and survivors tan­gible hope that they will obtain justice. 

Madam President, 

All the structural issues the Commission and other independent human rights actors have iden­ti­fied remain in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections and despite positive steps such as the long-overdue releases of Ger­main Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga. Burundian authorities should immediately and uncondi­tio­nally release lawyer Tony Germain Nkina. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016. 

Ahead of this session, a large group of NGOs called on the Council to ensure continued scrutiny. We reiterate that consideration of Burundi’s situation should be dependent on demonstrable and sustainable progress on key human rights issues, and that the Council’s approach should rely on benchmarks and indicators. The reopening of the OHCHR country office is one such bench­mark. 

At this session, at minimum, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground and ensures: (i) continued independent documentation of violations, monitoring of, and public reporting on, the human rights situation, and (ii) follow up to the work and recom­men­dations of the Commission, in particular on justice and accountability. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 4: Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the oral update by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (23 September 2021)

Madam President, members of the Commission, 

Ten years after its independence, South Sudan still needs the UN’s utmost attention. The man­da­te of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan remains vital. In March 2022, the Hu­man Rights Council should ex­tend it further. 

We remain concerned over conflict at the local level, ongoing sexual and gender-based vio­len­ce, ex­tra­judicial executions, and attacks against civilians. As the Commission em­pha­sised, South Sudanese citizens are longing for sustainable peace, national cohesion, and ac­count­ability. 

DefendDefenders and the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network are deeply con­cer­ned over the pressure faced by independent hu­man rights, civil society and pea­ce­­­building ac­tors in the country. Human rights defenders working to advance justi­ce, ac­coun­tability and democratic governance are subject­ed to pervasive surveillance by the Na­tio­nal Secu­rity Service. 

Despite con­ti­nu­ous efforts from the Network and the South Sudan Human Rights Commission to facilitate dia­logue between civil society organisations and government officials, violations continue. They are facilitated by a cul­ture of intimidation, abuse of power, and impu­nity. 

We highlight the following cases:

  1. On 30 March 2021, the joint security agents tortured peaceful protestors who were de­man­ding justice for an artist who died due to negligence and the poor state of health ser­vices in the country.
  2. On 16 July 2021, the NSS stormed and shut down a vital civil society public discussion meant to popularise the nation’s Constitution amidst ongoing amendments.
  3. Rampant arrests of civil society members, across the country, on 30 August 2021. In Yei, three of those arrested are still incarcerated, Internet was shut down, and in Jonglei State, a community radio station was closed. 

We call on the government to: (i) cease the harassment of HRDs, journalists, and civil society actors; (ii) release all those being detained for enga­ging in peaceful activities relating to human rights; and (iii) ensure independent and ef­fec­tive investigations into attacks against HRDs. 

Thank you. 


Item 2: General Debate (15 September 2021) 

Madam President, 

We addressed Ethiopia during the Tigray-focused debate under this agenda item. 

At the last session, we mentioned positive developments in Tanzania. Upon assuming office, Pre­­sident Samia Suluhu Hassan indicated that she would uphold freedom of expression and due pro­cess. She sent positive signals for civic space, including ordering the reopening of media outlets that had been closed or suspended. We welcomed these steps, which took place ahead of Tanzania’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

Unfortunately, in less than a month, Tanzanian authorities ordered the sus­pen­sion of two news­papers, Uhuru and Raia Mwema, for publishing “false information.” Additionally, opposition lea­der Freeman Mbowe was arrested, just before he was due to launch a constitutional reform programme. He is facing economic cri­mes- and financing of terrorism-related charges. We call on President Hassan’s government to deliver on the promise of a more open Tanzania, in line with its Cons­titution and history of respect for human rights and the rule of law. 

Madam President, 

As Covid-19 continues to spread, reporting on the human rights dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis remains essential. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 2: Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia (13 September 2021) 

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner, 

We thank you for your presentation, which provides an overview of the dire situ­ation in Tigray. The armed conflict in the region is complex. Multiple actors, including Eritrean Defence Forces, are involved. Egregious violations and abuses against civilians and Eritrean refugees, inc­lu­ding sexual violence, have been documented. All perpe­tra­tors of grave vio­la­tions must be held to account. 

The conflict has spilled over to neighbouring regions, namely Afar and Amhara. Violence, inc­rea­singly along ethnic lines and carried out by militias, is mounting and threatens to spread across the entire country. 

The absolute priority is the cessation of hostilities by all parties and de-escalation of tensions. 

Madam President, 

At the last session, by ensuring reporting and debates on Tigray, the UN Human Rights Council took an im­por­tant step. Council action is legitimate both in itself and as a com­plement to na­tional and regional efforts, as well as the joint OHCHR/Ethio­pian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (EHRC) investi­ga­tion

We urge the Ethiopian authorities to continue cooperating with the joint investi­ga­tion and to accept and engage with any findings, as well as to implement other expert recommendations (inc­luding by OHCHR and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Com­mission of Inquiry) to im­prove the situation. 

When ready, the findings of the joint investigation should be made public. All parties to the con­­flict must own the report and its recommendations, including on accountability. This is the only path to ending the violations and preventing their recurrence.

Thank you for your attention. 




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