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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-11 October 2021) 


Item 10: Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on Somalia (6 October 2021)

Madam President, Madam Independent Expert, 

We thank you for your report, welcome your benchmarking effort, and welcome the Council’s ongoing work to assist the Somali authorities in fulfilling their obligations, support independent actors in the country, and scru­ti­nise the human rights situation. 

In this regard, we welcome the development of a robust resolution that reflects developments in Somalia and renews the Independent Expert’s mandate. We call for its adoption by con­sen­sus. 

Human rights challenges remain tremendous. As you reported, Madam Dyfan, these challenges cover all areas of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, while the political, consti­tutio­nal and electoral crisis continues to create a climate of uncertainty. Insecurity continues to plague the country. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence. 

Changes in laws, policies, and practices are indispensable. They include holding those respon­sible for violations to account, operationalising institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Com­mis­sion, and fully reviewing the Penal Code. In our UPR statement, we stressed that the amen­ded Media Law 2020, which unduly restricts freedom of expression, should be revised. Effective work by special prosecutors for the killings of journa­lists and violence against women and girls is vital. 

Supporting a free and independent civil society and creating and maintaining an open civic space should be a priority for all public and political actors. 

Madam Dyfan: 

What is your assessment of the state of civic space in the country and of the impact of political tensions over civic actors’ enjoyment of their rights? 

Thank you. 


Item 10: Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Sudan (6 October 2021)

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner, 

As the Human Rights Council is about to discontinue its formal reporting on Sudan, we stress that this would be a premature move. 

Ahead of this session, a group of 38 Sudanese, African, and international NGOs called on the Council to continue supporting human rights reforms in Sudan, both through technical assis­tan­ce and capacity-building and by maintaining the monitoring and public reporting ca­pa­city of OHCHR. 

In its last report, OHCHR outlined both progress and ongoing challenges, including protection gaps. While the last two and a half years have brought about positive change, Sudan continues to face significant human rights, humanitarian, political, economic, social, and health challen­ges. In recent months, violence against civilians in Darfur and inter­com­munal conflicts in the East­ern part of the country have increased. Justice and accountability remain elu­sive for the egre­gious violations and abuses committed under the Al-Bashir dictatorship and during the 3 June 2019 massacre. 

Sudan’s political transition is incomplete. The army retains significant power and ten­sions grow between the civilian and military sides of the executive. 

From a Geneva perspective, Sudan is not yet a success story for the Human Rights Council. We do not want to face a situation in which, in one or two years from now, we have to call for Sudan to be set on the Council’s agenda again. While we have to issue this warning today, we hope that we will be proven wrong — and we wish all the best to the Sudanese people, who deserve Freedom, Justice and Peace

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 10: Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on technical assistance and capacity-building for South Sudan (6 October 2021) 

Madam President, 

In the statement we delivered during the item 4 debate on South Sudan, we stressed that the country needs continued international attention. We also stressed the need for the Council to renew the man­da­te of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan at its next session, in March 2022. 

This year, despite the South Sudanese government’s claim that it only needs technical assis­tan­ce and capacity-building, many states read the report of the Commission and listened to other independent human rights actors reporting on the country. They concluded that a high level of scrutiny was still needed

We note that a second resolution was adopted—hence today’s debate. 

The provision of technical assistance and capacity-building is an essential part of the Coun­­cil’s work. Used under the right circumstances, it can go a long way toward helping the con­cerned coun­tries fulfil their human rights obligations. 

However, a government does not need technical assistance to know that its forces should not deliberately target and starve civilians. A government does not need technical assistance to know that its forces should not sexually assault women and girls. A government does not need technical assistance to know that it should not harass human rights defenders. 

It needs political will. 

Next March, only one resolution on South Sudan should be presented. Technical assistance and capacity-building can be provided through an item 4 resolution renewing the mandate of an inves­tigative me­cha­nism such as the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which al­ready includes technical co­operation elements. 

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 6: UPR outcome of Somalia (1 October 2021) 

Madam President, 

We welcome the acceptance, by the Federal Government of Somalia, of more than 90% of the recom­men­dations it received during its third UPR. 

Regarding the protection of women’s and girls’ rights, we encourage the government to ratify the CEDAW Convention and the Maputo Protocol at the earliest opportunity, as well as to imple­ment recommendations to with­draw the Sexual Intercourse and Related Crimes Bill and instead adopt the originally intro­duced Sexual Offences Bill. While this is a matter for the legislature to consider, in international law the state (represented by the executive) is responsible. 

Somalia accepted all recommendations pertaining to these areas. The test is now implemen­ta­tion. 

We highlight priority areas for legislative and policy reforms, in line with accepted recom­men­dations and as follows:

  • First, Somalia should fully respect freedom of opinion and expression. The government ac­cep­ted numerous recommendations in this regard. They include Soma­lia’s obligation to uphold freedom of the media. This obligation triggers an obligation to revise the amen­ded Media Law 2020, which unduly restricts freedom of the media and impedes the work of jour­nalists. It also triggers an obligation to protect journalists, investigate all attacks against them, and hold perpetrators to account, irrespective of their rank or status. 
  • Second, Somalia should amend its criminal law. Defa­ma­tion and national security provi­sions of the outdated 1964 Penal Code continue to be used to suppress fundamental free­doms, including freedom of expression online and offline. 
  • Third, Somalia should prioritise protecting human rights defenders and civil society ac­tors. All should be free from harassment, intimidation, threats, and attacks. While distrust and political uncertainty remain high, we stress that there will be no democratic and sta­ble Somalia, and no sustainable peace, without an open civic space

Thank you for your attention. 


Item 5: Interactive Dialogue on the Secretary General’s report on reprisals (30 September 2021) (statement delivered in French) 

Madam President, Madam Assistant Secretary-General, 

We thank you for your presentation. We deplore that Burundi, Egypt, and South Sudan remain mentioned in your report. We re­gret the presence of Ethiopia and Tanzania this year. In Bu­rundi, human rights defenders in exile have been convicted and their property seized, including by ruling CNDD-FDD officials. 

In March 2021, after we delivered a statement calling on the Council to address Cameroon’s crisis, the Cameroonian Ambassador accused DefendDefenders of finan­cing terrorism and being respon­si­ble for “several assassinations, kidnappings, and attacks.” These grave, ab­surd, preposterous, and defamatory allegations aimed to punish anyone repor­ting on the situation in Cameroon. 

We welcome the President’s commitment to fight reprisals, and her steps to approach states when­ever reprisals are alle­ged. We encourage the Bureau to make all communications, inc­lu­ding letters alleging acts of reprisal or inti­midation and state responses/notes verbales, available on the HRC extranet, in the “Commu­ni­cations to/from the President” section. This would not under­mine, but rather complement, “quiet diplomacy.” 

Madam President, 

In Djibouti, Kadar Abdi Ibrahim’s case remains unresolved. After Mr. Ibrahim participated in Universal Periodic Review (UPR) pre-sessions, in April 2018, agents of Dji­bouti’s Infor­mation and Security Service (SDS) raided his home and arbitrarily confiscated his passport. 

Three and a half years on, authorities continue to hold his passport. This has happened out­side any form or even semblance of due process. Mr. Ibra­him remains unable to challenge the deci­sion or to have his case reviewed by a court of law. This act of reprisals must stop. 

Thank you for your attention. 


(Read the letter sent to the HRC President, regarding Cameroon’s behaviour) 


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.