Human rights council chamber

DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC50

Oral statements delivered during the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council (13 June-8 July 2022)

Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

Your report provides compelling evidence of ongoing grave human rights violations committed in Eritrea and atrocities Eritrean forces have committed in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. 

In some areas, the situation has deteriorated. For instance, as you write, “[t]he round-up of individuals for the purpose of military conscription (‘giffa’) has dramatically intensified,” and “conscripts have been forced to fight in a gruesome war in [Tigray].” Refugees who were living in Tigray were kidnapped and forcefully re­tur­ned to Eritrea. Some of them have then been forced to go back to Tigray to fight. 

As Eritreans are “trapped in cycles of poverty and vulnerability,” and “the right to education continues to be severely affected,” the government refuses to meaningfully cooperate with the UN human rights system. As of 2022, Eritrea is among the very few countries that have never received any visit by a special procedure. 

Mr. President, 

After the former sponsors of resolutions on Eritrea decided to drop their initiative based on reasons that were unrelated to human rights, in 2019, we welcomed the initiative six states took to maintain scrutiny of the country. 

We believe that it is now time for the Council to move beyond procedural resolutions and to clearly describe and condemn violations Eritrean authorities commit at home and abroad. 

The Council should extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and enshrine the Special Rapporteur’s “bench­marks for progress,” as well as recommendations made by UN bodies and mechanisms, which form a road map for reforms. 

Thank you for your attention.


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Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner,  

We thank you for your annual report, which shows that grave human rights violations and abuses continue in many parts of the world. Civic space, including freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, move­ment, and non-discrimination, is under intense pressure. Human rights defenders (HRDs) often pay a heavy price for their legitimate activities. 

Madam Bachelet, 

We encourage you to continue documenting and reporting on developments in the East and Horn of Africa. While six out of the 11 countries of DefendDefenders’ core mandate (Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan) are currently on the Human Rights Council’s agenda, your universal man­date allows you to report on violations wherever they happen, irrespective of Council resolutions. 

In Kenya, concerns are mounting ahead of the elections scheduled for August 2022. We once again stress the need for scrutiny of the human rights situation in, among others, Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Mozambique, Nigeria, the Greater Sahel, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe. 

Attention to these situations is vital, both to contribute to human rights-compatible solutions and to increase the political cost of violations for governments that choo­se to rule by fear and injustice and for any actor committing abuses. 

We encourage you to operationalise paragraphs 5 and 6 of Council resolution 45/31 by strengthening the work of your Office regarding early warning signs and prevention, as well as risks of human rights emergencies. In this regard, could intersessional briefings be used more often to bring relevant information to the attention of the Council? 

Thank you for your attention. 


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Madam High Commissioner, 

In your report, you highlighted, among other violations, unlawful killings, secu­rity forces intentionally running over protesters with their vehicles, arbitrary detentions, acts of torture, sexual violence, attacks on medical staff, and restrictions to civic freedoms¾committed with complete impunity. 

We thank Mr. Dieng for his tireless efforts. 

As the de facto military authorities are consolidating their power and violations continue, inclu­ding against peaceful protesters and in Darfur and other conflict areas, the Council should ensure that Sudan-focused debates continue to be held. 

Mr. President, 

A group of over 50 NGOs are urging states to support the adoption of a resolution that en­sures continued attention to Sudan through enhanced interactive dialogues. 

We stress that as per resolution S-32/1, adopted by consensus with the support of the African Group, the desi­gnated Expert’s mandate will be ongoing “until the restoration of [Sudan’s] civilian-led Govern­ment.” 

We also stress that the resolution called upon the High Commissioner and the designated Expert to continue to bring information to the attention of the Council “and to advise on the further steps that may be needed if the situation continues to deteriorate.” 

Lastly, we reiterate that the African Union should not endorse Sudan’s candidacy for a second term as a Coun­cil member. This would be a mockery of the 26 October 2021 Communiqué of its Peace and Secu­rity Council. 

Thank you. 


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Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur,  

We welcome your first update to the Council and wish you the best in your new role. 

Once again, we urge the Bu­rundian government to cooperate with the mechanisms esta­bli­shed by the Human Rights Coun­cil and to resume cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OH­CHR). One of the benchmarks civil society organisations have highlighted as important to measure any progress is, precisely, Burundi’s cooperation with the UN human rights system and African mechanisms. 

Mr. Zongo, 

We hope you will be able to visit Burundi soon. As you start your work, we highlight areas that deserve priority attention.

First: bringing violations to an end and ensuring accountability. How do you intend to fol­low up on the work of the Commission of Inquiry, in particular regarding identified perpetrators? 

Second: civic space and human rights defenders. How do you intend to measure and assess (re-)establishment of a safe and enabling environment for HRDs, members of civil society, journalists, and opposition members and supporters? We stress that for civil society leaders to return to the country, unfair in absentia convictions will have to be quashed and their security will have to be guaranteed. Civil society actors who remain in detention, like lawyer Tony Germain Nkina, must be released. 

Third: risks of further violations, early warning, and prevention. Can you explore ways of working on risk fac­tors of violations, using the Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes developed by the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect?

Thank you for your attention. 


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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.