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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Mr. President, Members of the Commission,   

We welcome your update to the Council. We call on all actors in Ethiopia to cooperate with you. More than ever, the international community needs independent, impartial reporting on develop­ments in Ethiopia. 

The protection of civilians and the cessation of hostilities remain priorities. We reiterate our call for unim­pe­ded humanitarian access to all regions in need. All parties must refrain from attacking civilians and civilian objects. This is particularly important as the humanitarian crisis continues in Tigray, at­tacks on civilians in­ten­sify in Amhara and Afar, and civilians have been targeted in Oromia. We condemn violations, including those that may amount to crimes under international law, by all parties.  

We are concerned about the recent mass arrest of more than 4,500 people, mainly in the Amhara region and Addis Ababa. We remain concerned about the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists, and social media users. 

Mr. President, 

We welcome recent positive steps, including domestic investigations and prosecutions. The lists of soldiers of federal and affiliated forces who have been convicted to prison terms for criminal acts should be made public. 

Accountability efforts at all levels are important, and all judicial, quasi-judicial, and investigative and accoun­tability mechanisms have a role to play. These include domestic institutions and processes, the joint OHCHR/ Ethio­pian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation, and the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), which should be given time and space to carry out its mandate. 

Thank you for your attention.

 

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Mr. President, 

We welcome the Ugandan government’s participation in the UPR process and engagement with civil society ahead of its review. 

I wish to extend my appreciation to Ugandan civil society orga­nisations that engaged in the process at the na­tional level. The National Coalition of Human Rights De­fenders – Uganda (NCHRD-U) hos­ted and coordi­na­ted the National CSO Stakeholders’ Forum on the UPR of Uganda for the third cycle. With the support of partners, including DefendDefenders, we en­hanced know­ledge of, and civil society partici­pa­tion in, the UPR pro­­cess. We organised and made reports on 22 human rights clusters. Ugandan civil society massively invested in the UPR process. 

We commit to ensuring follow up. We hope that the government will reconsider, among others, recom­men­dation no. 125.67, offered by Malawi, to develop an implementation plan for the systematic implementation of UPR recommendations. 

Mr. President, 

We welcome Uganda’s acceptance of recommendations to domesticate ratified international instruments, ratify ILO Convention no. 189, and implement the national action plan on business and human rights. We regret, however, that Uganda did not commit to ratify additional instruments, as recommended by Ghana (no. 125.3), Mauritius (no. 125.4), Mali (no. 125.10), Iceland (no. 125.16), or Paraguay (no. 125.17). Uganda’s refu­sal to ratify the 1962 Convention on the Reduc­tion of Statelessness is disap­poin­ting, given Uganda’s open-door policy and its status as a host country for refu­gees in East Africa and the Great Lakes region. 

We regret that the government noted recommendations on excessive use of force by security forces and the need to combat impunity (no. 125.96 to 125.105 and 125.120 to 125.122). 

We also regret that recommendations referring to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association (no. 125.129 to 125.144, among others) were noted. 

We call on the government to reconsider its position on the 16 recommendations specifically referring to civic space and human rights defenders (no. 125.59, 125.105, 125.131, 125.136 to 125.143, 125.147 to 125.151), which it noted. These recommendations were offered by states from all regional groups, from Africa to Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Western states. 

Overall, Uganda’s acceptance rate of the recommendations it received during its third review is low, at 51% (139 out of 273). 

I thank you for your attention.

 

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Mr. President, 

We welcome the South Sudanese government’s participation in the third cycle of the UPR. The UPR process complements, and should not replace, UN Human Rights Council action on South Sudan, including through the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS).  

We welcome the government’s acceptance of a large number of recommendations pertaining to, among other topics, ratification of human rights instruments, cooperation with UN mechanisms, imple­menta­tion of the Revi­talised Peace Agreement (R-ARCSS), and protection of civic space in the country. 

We regret that while South Sudan committed to ratify CEDAW, CRPD and other instru­ments, it refused to do the same for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Con­vention on Enforced Disap­pearances. 

We are particularly concerned about South Sudan’s refusal to accept recommendation no. 113.88 (“Stop all forms of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial executions, and ensure accoun­tability for human rights violations and abuses”). 

The government accepted recommendations to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan. When it comes to taking concrete steps to operationalise the Court, however, the government refused a recommendation to adopt its draft statute (no. 113.108). 

The government accepted recommendations to protect human rights defenders and journalists and to respect fundamental freedoms (for instance, no. 113.125, 113.132, and 113.133). It also accepted recommendations offered by states from all regional groups to promote and protect civic space (for instance, no. 113.136, 113.143, 113.158, and 113.159). When it comes to specificity though, the government noted recommen­da­tions. This is clear as we look at recommendations to “cease the arbitrary detention of […] human rights defenders, journalists and activists” (no. 113.137), “stop the harassment of, threats against, and arbi­trary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders, journalists and critics […]” (no. 113.150), or “put an end to the harassment, unlawful detainment and intimidation of journalists and civil society actors by the national security services” (no. 113.152). 

I thank you for your attention. 

 

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Mr. President, 

Ahead of the third UPR of Sudan, before the military takeover of 25 October 2021, DefendDefenders and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) addressed recom­men­dations on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association to the civilian-led govern­ment. 

We note that the de facto military authorities represented Sudan during the country’s review, on 9 February 2022. Our recommendations, however, remain valid. As repression of those peacefully deman­ding a return to the transitional process or full civilian rule intensifies, it is essential for UN member states to exert pressure on the authorities, including on civic space and accountability. 

We take note of de facto authorities’ replies to the recommendations states addressed to Sudan. We will fol­low with interest how recommendations are implemented, in particular those pertaining to ratifications, cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), and respect for fundamental free­doms. We stress that no reservations to the CEDAW Convention or the Maputo Protocol should run contrary to their object and purpose. 

Sudan should ratify the Rome Statute. But once this step has been taken, things should be clear: cooperating with the ICC means complying with arrest warrants issued for all indicted persons, including former President Al-Bashir. 

Mr. President, 

In the country, the situation continues to deteriorate. As the High Commissioner’s report (A/HRC/50/22) shows, authorities continue to commit violations with impunity. These include excessive use of force against and unlawful killings of protesters, arbitrary detentions, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), torture, attacks on hospitals and medical staff, and undue restrictions to freedoms. Intercommunal violence is also rising, especially in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Eastern Sudan. 

Beyond the UPR, and beyond the UN Human Rights Council’s 50th session, Sudan requires continued, long-term international scrutiny

Thank you. 

 

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