HRC39: DefendDefenders welcomes the appointment of new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

DefendDefenders welcomes the appointment of Ms. Michelle Bachelet as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and looks forward to maintaining the close working relationship developed with her office over the years, to advance the rights of human rights defenders across the East and Horn of Africa sub-region.

In her opening statement to the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Ms. Bachelet highlights five countries covered by our mandate: EritreaEthiopiaSomalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Positively, she hails the signing of the Joint Declaration on Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia and hopes that it will end the decades-long conflict between the two countries. She also calls for an end to indefinite national service in Eritrea. In Sudan, she condemns the attacks on internally displaced peoples in Darfur, which are attributed to government-affiliated security forces. In South Sudan, she expresses hope the new Peace Agreement will bring an end to the conflict, and urges the government to sign the statute establishing the Hybrid Court. She expresses concern with the limited democratic space in Somalia, the attacks on civilians by both state and non-state actors, and the infringement on the right to freedom of expression, including the targeting of journalists.

DefendDefenders appreciates the work of former High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, particularly his role towards addressing the volatile situations in Burundi and South Sudan. In 2015, he strongly called on the international community to take robust and decisive action on the situation in Burundi to avert a civil war. The Human Rights Council then proceeded to hold a special session on the country situation, and established a Commission of Inquiry to, among other responsibilities, conduct a thorough investigation into human rights violations and abuses committed in Burundi since April 2015 –  including whether they may constitute international crimes.

In a statement delivered today, during the general debate on the oral update by the High Commissioner, Mr. Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders, addressed the need for a strong public advocacy role under Ms. Bachelet’s mandate to defend human rights and the international human rights system, as well as a strong role internally within the UN to mainstream respect for human rights.

“Ms. Michelle Bachelet assumes office during very challenging times, where human rights defenders across the globe face significant risks and attacks associated with their work,” said Mr. Shire. “I encourage her to be a staunch defender of the voiceless and not refrain from naming and shaming states that go against their responsibility to protect and respect human rights.”


Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:


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