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DefendDefenders’ oral statements at HRC54

Oral statements delivered during the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council (11 September-13 October 2023)

Mr. President, Mr. High Commissioner, 

We thank you for your update. We salute the work of the Designated Expert and encourage him to continue advising the High Commissioner and documenting violations in line with his mandate. When the conditions are met, his mandate will allow him to resume his engagement with Sudanese authorities. 

As we speak, however, the conflict shows no sign of abating. Sudan’s human rights and humanitarian situation is dire. Egregious violations continue to be committed, including sexual violence against women and girls. In West Dar­fur, the violence has taken on an increasingly interethnic dimension that is reminiscent of the cri­mes com­mitted twenty years ago. 

As 120 NGOs, including DefendDefenders, highlighted in a recent letter, “impunity is at the heart of the cur­rent crisis and addressing it should be a priority.” This is why we called on the Council to establish, without further delay, an independent mechanism with a mandate to investigate human rights violations and abuses in Sudan, collect and preserve evidence, and identify those responsible. 

Such a mechanism should be provided with all the resources necessary to enable it to carry out its mandate, in particular in the areas of fact-finding, legal analysis, translation and interpretation, and evidence-collection and preservation. It should integrate a gender pers­pective and a survivor-centred approach throughout its work. 

The international community has failed the Sudanese people for too long. There is no more time to lose. 

Thank you. 

 

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Mr. President, Mr. High Commissioner, 

We thank you for your update. Once again, we highlight the importance of the work of your Office on civic space. While we would welcome a substantial enhancement of the capacity of your Office to work on eco­nomic, social and cultural rights, we stress that this should come with an enhancement of both OHCHR country presences and OHCHR’s civic space-related work. 

As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) celebrates its 75th anniversary, the UN Declaration on human rights defenders (HRDs) its 25th, and your Office its 30th, we highlight the value of these instruments and your Office for HRDs across Africa. DefendDefenders will dedicate its next report to the impact of the UDHR and HRD Declaration on HRDs in Africa. 

Mr. President, 

We are concerned about unconstitutional chan­ges of government in Africa. In just a month, coups have affected Niger and Gabon. These follow coups in West Africa. While we condemn military coups, which are never an adequate answer to people’s frustrations and anger, we stress that civic space, including people’s freedom to associate, demonstrate, and express criticism of incum­bent governments, is key to building better, fairer societies in which governments are ac­coun­table and can chan­ge peacefully. 

Last, we reiterate our concerns over Kenya. We condemn actions of security agencies during the Saba Saba nationwide demonstrations as well as demonstrations against the high cost of living. We call upon the Kenyan government to uphold its constitutional and international obligations to protect the right to protest, and upon all those who seek to exercise fundamental freedoms to do so lawfully and peacefully. 

Thank you. 

 

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(Statement delivered in French)

Mr. President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

We thank you for your report, which shows the persistence of violations of both civil and political rights and eco­nomic, social and cultural rights. As you point out, political and diplomatic changes have not translated into human rights reforms. Arbitrariness, intimidation, fear, violence, and poverty continue to characterise dai­ly life for most Burundians, including human rights defenders, journalists, and other indepen­dent voices. Impunity for violations committed since 2015 remains widespread. 

We share your assessment of the work of the national human rights institution, the CNIDH, which lacks independence and whose A-status accreditation should be reviewed by GANHRI. 

We urge Burundi to release journalist Floriane Irangabiye, who should never have been arrested in the first place. 

Mr. President, 

In a letter released in August 2023, dozens of NGOs urged the Council to extend the Special Rapporteur’s man­date. Additionally, they called on the Council to ensure that the Special Rapporteur is able to fulfil all of his monitoring, documentation, and advice functions as per resolution 48/16. This means ad­ditional resources for the mandate. 

The letter also raises concern over Burundi’s lack of meaningful cooperation with international and African human rights bodies and mechanisms, which is all the more worrying as Burundi is a candidate for a new three-year membership term in the Council, after a first term (2016-2018) during which the Government failed to uphold basic membership standards. 

As serious violations persist in the country, perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity, and the government refuses to take human rights concerns seriously, the Council should not relax its scru­tiny. 

Thank you. 

 

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Mr. President, 

In Eswatini, 2 September 2023 marked the end of the mourning period for Advocate and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko. He was killed in cold blood in his house, in front of his wife and children. His only sin was advocating for multi-stakeholder dialogue and a constitutional reform to end the absolute Monarchy and usher in a new Swaziland gover­nance architecture. To date, no independent investigation has been con­ducted to bring the perpetrators to jus­tice. This gives credence to the allegations of state involvement in the planning of this cowardly murder. His death is not in vain as the Thulani Maseko Foundation will carry on his legacy until the people of Swaziland achie­ve transition from subjects to citizens. 

Mr. President, 

In Egypt, recent arrests and arbitrary detention of media figures, dissidents and/or their family members show the ongoing crackdown on basic freedoms. The continued silence of the Council and its member states on the enforced disappearance of at least 3,000 citizens, death by mistreatment and medical negligence of at least 1,200 in detention centres, sexual assault against and extrajudicial killings of hundreds will only encourage further violations. In solidarity with other partners, we call on this Council to establish a moni­toring and reporting mechanism or, at the very least, adopt a follow-up joint statement at this session. 

We regret that the African Union’s unequivocal condemnation of unconstitutional chan­ges of government and call for deepening democracy and collective security have been in vain. We draw the attention of this Council to the sham referendum in the Central African Republic, re­cent coups in Gabon and Niger; and systemic violations committed while countering terrorism in the Greater Sahel

Citizens must have the ability to express frustrations over bad go­v­ernance, corruption, poverty, and inse­curity publicly, in an open civic space. Military coups are never a solution but will rather lead, we fear, to further vio­lations. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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[Statement delivered in French]

Mr. President, Madam Assistant Secretary-General, 

Once again, we welcome the Secretary-General’s report but lament the persistence of reprisals. This phe­no­menon means that instead of addressing the grievances and concerns that human rights defenders express, governments seek to silence them. 

We deplore the fact that a number of states covered by DefendDefenders’ and AfricanDefenders’ mandates are mentioned in the report. These include Algeria, Cameroon, the DRC, Mali, or South Sudan. We highlight the extreme gravity of the situation in Egypt, where reprisals are systemic. 

In Bu­rundi, four lawyers, Armel Niyongere, Dieudonné Bashirahishize, Vital Nshimirimana, and Lambert Niga­rura, were subjected to dis­barment or suspension following their cooperation with the Committee against Torture. They were previously accused of participating in an insurrectional movement and sentenced to life imprisonment. In July 2023, Burundi’s government delegation used the presence of Armel Niyongere, who was duly accredi­ted, in the room as an excuse to walk out of its review by the Human Rights Committee. This behaviour is un­prece­dented. 

In Djibouti, Kadar Abdi Ibra­him’s case remains unresolved. After Mr. Ibrahim participated in Universal Periodic Review (UPR) pre-sessions, in April 2018, Dji­boutian authorities confiscated his passport. They claimed, with­out any evidence and outside any due process, that Mr. Ibra­him has “connections with extremist movements.” Repri­sals against him must stop. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

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[Statement delivered in French]

Mr. President, 

We urge the Burundian government to implement recommendations pertaining to civic space which it has accepted (notably, no. 145.114 to 145.122). On the ground, everything indicates that Burundian citizens re­main very far from fully enjoying their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, or association. 

We are disconcerted by the lack of consistency in the government’s replies to the recommenda­tions it recei­ved during the UPR fourth cycle. 

For instance, ratifications are subject to selectivity, which undermines protection of the rights of Burundians. While we welcome the government’s acceptance of recommendations no. 145.22 to 145.125 (conven­tions on statelessness and education), we can only deplore its rejection of recommendations no. 145.1 to 145.21, which were made by states from four different regional groups and pertain to conventions on enforced disap­pearances, civil and political rights, or women’s rights. 

The government also accepted recommendations pertaining to cooperation with UN and African bodies and mechanisms. In its replies, it claimed (paragraph 6 (b)) that the government “already cooperates” with these mechanisms. This assertion is either vague or specious. If the government “cooperate[s] fully” with UN mech­a­n­isms (recommendation no. 145.29 (Georgia)) or is ready to “strengthen cooperation with international me­ch­a­nisms (recommendation no. 145.32 (Cameroon)), what about the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which had to close its country office as per a government request? What about the Special Rapporteur, whose visit requests remain unanswered? 

Recommendation no. 145.43 (Malawi), which was accepted, invites Burundi to “continue with efforts to sub­mit all outstanding reports to […] treaty bodies.” Very well, but then Burundi will have to refrain from reite­ra­ting the behaviour we witnessed in July 2023, when the government delegation walked out of its review by the Human Rights Committee. 

On a more tragic level, we can but refer to the government’s refusal to accept recommendations (no. 145.66 to 145.77) asking the authorities to investigate allegations of arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial execu­tions, sexual violence and enforced disappearances and to prosecute perpetrators as unacceptable. 

Finally, Mr. President, we reiterate the importance for the Council to continue to scrutinise the human rights situation in Burundi, including through the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. 

I thank you.

 

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Mr. President, Mr. High Commissioner, 

We thank you for your update. Last year, at the Council’s 51st session, we asked: Will the extension of South Sudan’s transitional period be used to adopt an inclusive election law, establish an independent electoral commission, conduct a national census, and adopt a perma­nent Constitution? Or will it be used to buy more time and further delay the im­ple­­mentation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement? 

As South Sudan prepares for elections, officially set for December 2024, major challenges stand in its path. The absence of key institutions raises alarming concerns. Escalating violence in Upper Nile exemplifies the potential for pre-election unrest. Sexual violence against women and girls remains widespread. Crucial legis­la­tion, including the national elections bill, has made limited progress within the Parliament. The po­li­tical party registration system remains undeveloped. 

There has been a recent decrease in armed clashes, but South Sudan’s security situation remains fragile. Ongoing challenges have been intensified by the Sudan crisis, worsening the humanitarian situation. 

While we acknowledge promises to amend the NSS Act, we are concerned about overbroad powers for the National Security Service and impunity for its agents, and we call for an urgent revision of the Act to halt abuses. South Sudan’s civic space continues to shrink. This is evidenced by reprisals against human rights de­fenders and journalists, censorship, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, acts of torture, and extrajudicial killings. 

Mr. President, 

Overcoming the obstacles facing South Sudan in the lead-up to the elections and the completion of the transitional period necessitates political commitment. Technical assistance and capacity-building will never be a substitute. Ahead of HRC55, we will once again call for the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS). 

Thank you. 

 

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Mr. President, Madam Independent Expert, 

We thank you for your comprehensive report. You make the best possible use of current available resources. In this regard, we draw the Council’s attention to the fact that ade­quate resources should be allocated to the mandate. Somalia is the only country-specific special procedure that does not benefit from full-time dedicated OHCHR staff support. The main aim of the draft reso­lution is to renew the Independent Expert’s mandate, and we call on states to adopt it by consensus. 

We salute the Expert’s work on benchmarks. We stress the need to prioritise the fight against impunity, which is entrenched in Somalia. It is of utmost im­portance to investigate and prosecute attacks against human rights de­fenders (HRDs), including journalists, and to provide redress. In this regard, the Special Prosecutor on crimes com­mitted against journalists has a key role to play. His office should be strengthened. Fighting impunity and creating a more open civic space also require signals from the highest level that attacks against civil society actors will not be tolerated. 

HRDs, including journalists, also face legal insecurity. Many of the 1964 Penal Code provisions are contrary to the Constitution and inter­na­tional standards, and are used to suppress media freedom, including those that enable prosecution on vaguely-worded offences. 

Legal reform should also include enacting an Access to Information Law in line with African and inter­national standards on freedom of opinion and expression. 

Madam Dyfan: 

Operative paragraph 21 of the draft resolution requests you to present options on “possible adjustments to the scope of the mandate in order to better respond to the technical assistance needs of the Federal Gov­ern­ment of Somalia.” 

How will you ensure that consultations on fine-tuning technical coope­ration for Somalia are inclusive of all rights-holders? 

Thank you.

 

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