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DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC53

Oral statements delivered during the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council (19 June-14 July 2023)

Mr. President, Mr. High Commissioner, 

Following the outbreak of conflict in Sudan, on 15 April 2023, a united civil society issued a call on states to urgently convene a special session of the Human Rights Council and establish an investigative mechanism. 

The Council acted on the first part of our call; however, it failed to act on the second. We welcome the holding of a special session on 11 May 2023 but regret that its outcome was below what is needed to send the right signal to all actors, including warring parties. 

It is pathetic that neighbouring powers, who have no interest in seeing a democratic Sudan at their borders, actively opposed Council action despite risks of atrocity crimes. 

Mr. President, 

The Council should stand ready to strengthen its action. Pursuant to resolutions S-32/1 and S-36/1, the High Commissioner and the designated Expert should continue to report on the situation in Sudan and advise on the further steps that may be needed. 

We reiterate our call to establish an independent mechanism to investigate violations and ad­vance account­a­bility in Sudan. Such investigation should address the gender dimensions of violations, their extent, and whe­ther they may constitute international crimes. It should establish the facts, circumstances and root causes of violations; collect and preserve evidence; and identify, where possible, those individuals and entities res­pon­sible. 

Thank you.

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Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

Thank you for your report. As you outlined, Eritrean government violations continue unabated. They include arbitrary arrests and detentions, vio­lations of the rights to a fair trial, enforced disappearances, severe restric­tions on civic space, widespread impunity for past and ongoing violations, and conscription into the national service system, including conscription for indefinite periods of national service. Since last year, the govern­ment conducted waves of roundups to identify people it considers draft evaders or deserters, punishing their family members. 

In addition, Eritrean forces are credibly accused of grave violations of international law in Tigray. These vio­la­tions, and the associated complete lack of accountability, deserve the Council’s attention. 

We welcome the Council’s continued attention to Eritrea’s human rights situation. Item 2 is the product of his­torical circumstances; by any standard, Eritrea belongs in item 4 as it remains one of the most serious situ­ations in Africa and in the world. 

Mr. President, 

When it became a Council member, Eritrea hoped it would be shielded from scrutiny, even after the Com­mis­sion of Inquiry found that there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that crimes against humanity had been committed in the country since 1991. 

Eritrea did not evade scrutiny. Since 2019, however, resolutions on the country have been merely procedural. They contained no substantive assessment of Eritrea’s situation. 

For the violations it continues to commit, for its refusal to cooperate with the Coun­cil’s mechanisms, for its appalling failure to fulfil any of the Council’s membership criteria, the Eritrean government should now face stronger action in the form of a substantive resolution that:

  • Clearly describes and condemns violations; and
  • Renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

Thank you for your attention.


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Thank you, Mr. President.

Mr. High Commissioner,   

We thank you for your report. Around the world, crises multiply, human rights violations continue, and civic space is under pressure. Human rights defenders often pay a heavy price, including in Defend­De­fenders’ man­date countries, namely the East and Horn of Africa sub-region. 

Six of the 11 countries of our mandate (Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan) are cur­rently on the Human Rights Council’s agenda. 

Mr. Türk, 

We encourage you to continue documenting and reporting on developments in the sub-region and on the Afri­can continent. Wherever the opening of a country office is considered, we urge you to insist on signing an agreement for a fully mandated office, allowing it to conduct a range of human rights activities, including monitoring and documentation of violations. 

Wherever this is not possible, your global mandate allows you to report on situations that require attention, including on early warning signs and risks of human rights emergencies, as per Council resolution 45/31. In this regard, intersessional briefings could be used more often to bring relevant information to the attention of the Council. 

Thank you for your attention.


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[Statement delivered in French]


Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

Before partners of Burundi further normalize their bilateral relationships, and before they consider a change of approach regarding Burundi’s human rights situation in multilateral fora, we urge them to consider the fol­lo­wing:

  • While former Prime Minister Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni was arrested and detained on security charges, a welcome step toward justice in Burundi, due process and fair trial rights must be upheld. Thousands of victims deserve redress for violations com­mitted by state and para-state actors since 2015. They de­mand accountability at all levels of the chain of command. They are still waiting.
  • Signals in favour of a more open civic space have yet to be matched by actual reforms and tangible im­pro­vement in the environment human rights defenders (HRDs), journalists, and civil society organi­sa­tions operate in. While five arbitrarily detained HRDs were released in April 2023, in May, the Appeal Court confirmed journalist Floriane Irangabiye’s conviction to 10 years imprisonment. This raises the worst fears about the Burundian judiciary.
  • The Burundian government must, once and for all, change course, acknowledge the severity of human rights issues in the country, and resume cooperation with the UN human rights system. This means, among other steps, welcoming the Special Rapporteur for a country visit and allow­ing the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to re-establish a country pre­sen­ce.

On 3 July 2023, in an unprecedented and unfortunate move, the Burundian government withdrew from its review by the UN Hu­man Rights Committee, taking the presence of human rights lawyer Armel Niyongere, who was duly accredited for the session, as an ex­cuse to avoid answering the Committee’s questions. 

At the Council’s 54th session, DefendDefenders and civil society partners will once again call for an ex­tension of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to ensure continued scrutiny of and reporting on Burundi’s human rights situation. 

I thank you for your attention.


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