Oral Intervention to HRC on Human Rights Defenders in South Sudan

Delivered by Rachel Nicholson on 12th June 2013

(Human Rights Council, 23rd session, Item 10)

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project welcomes the High Commissioner’s report on South Sudan and its recommendations. We also take this opportunity to congratulate South Sudan for its recent decision to accede to a number of international and regional human rights conventions.

The government has made positive public commitments in the field of human rights. In this line, the decision to put forward South Sudan as a pilot country for implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity should be commended and followed through with concrete action. Continuing threats and attacks against journalists and other members of civil society demonstrate the urgency of addressing this issue. Isaiah Abraham was a regular contributor to a number of well-known news websites in South Sudan. On 5th December 2012, he was shot dead in a Juba suburb. Since then, UNMISS reports at least 18 incidents of arbitrary arrest, detention and harassment of journalists and other individuals.
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South Sudan must ensure that such attacks are properly investigated and ensure that perpetrators are held to account, including where security forces are alleged to be responsible.
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EHAHRDP shares the concerns voiced by South Sudanese civil society about the Voluntary and Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organizations Bill currently before Parliament. The draft legislation threatens to hamper the work of human rights defenders. We urge the government to take into account recommendations made by the Civil Society Working Group on the bill to explicitly allow advocacy work on human rights issues and to ensure that its provisions are not overly burdensome.

Open and frank debate, including critical and divergent opinions, is vital for building up a peaceful, democratic and rights-respecting society. EHAHRDP calls on South Sudan to put in place legislation, policies and practices that promote freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and which create an enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders.

Thank you.


Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

“I grew up in a society where ageism and sexism were so entrenched. As a young person, you weren’t supposed to give your opinion on public issues, especially if you were a woman. Women who dared to speak up were caricatured and branded as frustrated, unmarriageable prostitutes, all designed to shut them up,” she says.