Human rights council chamber

DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC49

Oral statements delivered during the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council (28 February-1 April 2022)

Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

We thank you for your oral update and for continuing to set the bar high to address human rights violations in Eritrea. We would like to know what comes next for the benchmarks for progress in improving the situation?

Mr. President,

This debate is an opportunity to take stock of Eritrea’s first term as a Council member (2019-2021).

During the last three years, the Eritrean government failed to address violations the Com­mission of Inquiry, the Special Rapporteur, the High Commissioner, and other independent actors iden­tified.

During the last three years, the Eritrean government made a mockery of Council membership standards by refusing to engage with the Special Rapporteur.

During the last three years, the Eritrean government used its voting rights to systematically oppose scrutiny and inves­tigations. On Wednesday, it even voted “No” to a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. 

Finally, during its membership term, Eritrean forces committed what may amount to crimes under inter­na­tional law in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Today, we must ask: For failing to take steps to improve its human rights record, refusing to cooperate, displaying an appalling voting record, and committing atrocities in Tigray, how was Eritrea rewarded?

With a second term as a Council member (2022-2024) — so it can deliver more of the same. 

 

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Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner, 

We welcome the holding of a special session on 5 November 2021 and the designation of an expert on hu­man rights in the Sudan. We reiterate the need for the expert’s mandate to hold until the restoration of a civilian-led government, in accordance with resolution S-32/1. 

In Sudan, repression intensifies. Since the 25 October 2021 coup, at least 79 peaceful, anti-military rule pro­testers have been killed. The Sudanese people will not accept a return to the authoritarian politics of the past. 

We once again call for the reinstatement of the civilian-led government and full accountability, including at the command responsibility level, for all violations of human rights since the military coup. 

Mr. President, 

Despite the ongoing nature of the expert’s mandate, at the next session, in July 2022, a resolution will be needed to ensure continued public debates at the Council. 

Lastly, we urge the African Union to refrain from endorsing Sudan’s candidacy for a second term as a Council member. This would be a mockery of the 26 October 2021 Communiqué of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union and of the Lomé Declaration on Unconstitutional Changes of Government. We urge sta­tes to desist from voting for Sudan, should it run for re-election. 

Thank you. 

 

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Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner, 

We welcome your oral update, which shows that the situation in Tigray remains dire. We also welcome the holding of a special session, on 17 December 2021, and the establishment of an investigative mechanism to address the conflict in Ethiopia in a holistic human rights perspective. The International Com­mission of Human Rights Experts will shed light on violations committed by all parties in a neutral and objective manner. 

We welcome recent positive steps, including the lifting of the state of emergency and the formation of a na­tio­nal dialogue commission. We stress that the national dialogue commission should be inclusive and fully inde­pendent. We also underline the need for peace talks. 

Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner, 

Violations of international law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, remain widespread. We urge all parties to end the targeting of civilians and to facilitate humanitarian access to bring the current humanitarian crisis to an end. 

We urge all parties to protect refugees, including Eritrean refugees in Tigray and Afar, as reports of the latter being targeted by Tigrayan forces have emerged. 

Perpetrators of unlawful attacks must be held to account. Civilians, aid workers, and human rights defenders must be protected at all times. Allegations of bias made against humanitarian and human rights organisations, which have a chilling effect and signal that targeting non-combatants is legitimate, must stop. 

Lastly, all parties should recognise the findings of the joint OHCHR/Ethio­pian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (EHRC) investi­ga­tion and implement its recommendations, including on accountability. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner, 

We welcome your update. The work your Office conducts to promote and protect human rights and civic space around the globe, and in the East and Horn of Africa in particular, is vital. 

In an upcoming report, DefendDefenders will address civic space from the perspective of human rights de­fenders (HRDs) with disabilities in conflict situations, focusing on Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan. Our findings show that HRDs with disabilities face attitudinal, cultural, physical, and financial challenges.  They are often marginalised and subjected to threats, harassment, stigma, and social exclusion. Women HRDs with disabilities are subjected to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence. 

Yet HRDs with disabilities demonstrate cou­rage and resilience. They struggle for visibility, recognition, and pro­tection, advocating for the human rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). We call on governments in the East and Horn of Africa to create and maintain an enabling environment in which PWDs can fully enjoy and exercise their rights. An open civic space is key to improving society’s understanding of disability, as well as inclusion and recognition of PWDs. In this regard, HRDs with disabilities are agents of change. 

Madam High Commissioner, 

Regarding Cameroon, we welcome the release of a summary report on the technical mission your Office con­ducted in the North-West and South-West regions in 2019. However, we regret the total absence of com­mu­ni­cation around this milestone report. In addition to multilateral action to address the crisis in Cameroon, we stress the need for continued OHCHR reporting on the country. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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Mr. President, dear Commissioners, 

We thank you for your report and ongoing work to shed light on all dimensions of the human rights situ­ation in South Sudan. DefendDefenders and its partners are particularly worried about ongoing violence, impunity, and the intensifying repression civil society is facing. 

On 22 February 2022, the National Security Service (NSS) arrested eight jour­nalists and one activist within the national Parliament’s premises, while they were covering a press conference organised by lawmakers. This incident speaks volumes about the state of civic space in the country. 

Mr. President, 

This is not the time to relax the Council’s scrutiny. Ahead of this session, 81 NGOs urged states to extend the Commission’s mandate. They stressed that the Commis­sion is the only mechanism tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of viola­tions with a view to ensuring accountability, in the absence of con­tem­porary cri­minal prosecutions. 

Its mandate should continue at least until the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) is fully operational and functional, and until such a point as demonstrable progress has been made against human rights benchmarks and accountability, and based on an assessment of risk factors of further violations. 

Any technical assistance or capacity building requested by South Sudan can be, and already is, offered as part of annual resolutions extending the Commission’s mandate. However, a purely technical assistance focus, as proposed in resolution 46/29 of 2021, would be unsuitable to tackle South Sudan’s human rights challenges and would risk further emboldening those who perpetrate the most serious crimes. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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We stand with Ukraine

Mr. President, 

Three years after the joint statement delivered on behalf of 39 states, the human rights situation in Cameroon has not improved. Grave violations and abuses, committed by both government forces and non-state armed groups, continue with impunity. The government continues to arbitrarily detain activists. 

We reiterate our call on states to collectively address the situation, including, in the absence of progress, through a resolution establishing an investigative mechanism. In this regard, last December, the African Com­mission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called on the government to authorize a Fact-Finding Mission into the country. 

Beyond addressing the situation in the North-West and South-West regions, the Council should address violations committed in the Far North and in the rest of Cameroon against opposition, independent, and civil society actors. 

Mr. President, 

As Zimbabwe prepares for by-elections in March 2022 and a general election in 2023, we are concerned over mounting politically motivated violence and a crackdown on political opposition. On 27 February 2022, at least one person was killed and ten injured in skirmishes at an opposition party rally in Kwekwe, central Zimbabwe. 

Civil society has expressed concerns over the lack of independence of government institutions and their cap­ture by the ruling ZANU-PF. The opposition has accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of manipulating the voters roll, after the Commission created additional polling stations and moved voters without their con­sent. This is a receipt for disaster. 

Lastly, we urge Burundi to seize the opportunity of the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to cooperate with the Council’s mechanisms. A first step could be to invite the Special Rapporteur for an initial stocktaking visit. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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Mr. President, 

We acknowledge the Tanzanian government’s engagement with the UPR process and its high level of co­ope­ration with civil society and human rights defenders (HRDs) ahead of and during its third review. We are eager to continue working together for follow up to all recommendations received and implementation of the 187 accepted (including 20 partially). We applaud that the government just accepted initially noted re­com­men­dations. We encourage the government to reconsider its position on the 67 recommendations it noted. 

We appreciate and welcome human rights improvements since President Samia Suluhu Hassan assumed of­fi­ce, one year ago, as well as her good will, and that of the President of Zanzibar, Honourable Dr. Hussein Mwinyi, to uphold human rights and democracy in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. We call on them to main­tain and extend the same will to other areas pertaining to human rights and the rule of law. 

However, to make recent progressive developments sustainable, we call for comprehensive legal reforms, including the completion of the new constitution-making process. This includes facilitating amendments to legal provisions affecting civil society organisations’ (CSOs) and HRDs’ operations, including: the Media Servi­ces Act, the Statistics Act, the Cybercrimes Act, the Access to Information Act, the Political Parties Act, the Electronic and Postal Commu­nications (Online Content) Regulations, Amendments to the NGO Act, and the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act (BRADEA). In this regard, we regret that the government noted re­com­­mendations that are in line with Tanzania’s constitutional and international obli­gations, offer­ed by states from all regional groups. 

Mr. President, 

We call for quick amendment to the BRADEA, Section 4, which prevents CSOs and HRDs and spirited individuals from filing cases on behalf of victims of human rights violations, including vulnerable groups, and limits their duty to promote and protect human rights through the judiciary. Additionally, more should be done to ensure that more offences are bailable and to leave discretion to the courts to decide on bail. 

We strongly advise the government to halt the current plan to evict 70,000 indigenous Maasai from their ancestral land in Ngorongoro Division and the plan to take village land amounting to 1,500 km2 in Loliondo Division of Ngorongoro District. We call for wider community consultations to include human rights-based ap­proaches in any government plan regarding disputed areas. 

Mr. President, 

We welcome Tanzania’s recent announcement towards the possibility of reversing the decision to withdraw the declaration made under Article 34(6) of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights Protocol. We call on the government to speed up the process to allow citizens and HRDs to access the Court, which is situated in their country. 

Finally, we encourage the government to ratify additional international instruments, such as the Convention Against Torture, and we recommend the establishment of an independent oversight body to ensure and pro­mote accountability in law enforcement organs, including the Tanzania Police Force. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner, 

We urge the Council to adopt draft resolution L.15, which extends the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS). 

The report of the Commission, your own report, and the debate under item 4, which took place on 18 March 2022, outlined the gravity of the situation in South Sudan. We reiterate that what South Sudan needs is, first and foremost, political will.  Without political will to address gross, widespread, and systematic human rights violations, all the technical assistance in the world will be futile and ineffective. 

Mr. President, 

The government claims that it is moving forward with the transitional justice institutions. Facts on the ground speak otherwise, as the government has failed to allocate funds for the tech­nical committee on the esta­blish­ment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH) to conduct initial public consultations. The Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA) and the Hy­brid Court remain a dream.  

As the country is supposed to head for elections, it lacks an Election Law, an Electoral Commission, a census, and a perma­nent Constitution. 

Instead, the government allocates resources (that is: makes the political choice to allocate resources) to the National Security Service to intensify its crackdown on independent voices. Additionally, as the CHRSS has repor­ted, “staggering amounts of money and other wealth have been illicitly siphoned from South Sudan’s public coffers and resources.” Economic crimes have a direct, negative impact on the capacity of the state to meet its core socio-economic obligations, such as healthcare and education. 

States should listen to the South Sudanese and African voices saying: it is too early for South Sudan to move to a purely technical assistance approach. The country needs a continued focus on scrutiny and accountability. 

Thank you for your attention.

 

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