Reflections on the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council

My delegation took an active part in the last UN Human Rights Council session of the year, the HRC’s 42nd regular session (HRC42, 9-27 September 2019). The session witnessed a record number of resolutions adopted by the Council for a September session: 38. The overloadingof the Council’s agenda weakens efforts that have been undertaken by UN member states to rationalise the work of the Council and make it more efficient. However, the session saw the adoption of important resolutions on both country situations and thematic issues, including Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, reprisals, the death penalty, and arbitrary detention. In other regions, resolutions on Yemen, Venezuela, and Myanmar are noteworthy. 

 

Since December 2018, Sudan has been through significant political developments that have the potential to bring about las­ting hu­man rights progress. In less than a year, peaceful mass protests that came to be referred to as the “Sudanese Uprising” brought about the demise of President Omar Al-Bashir, the signing of a power-sharing agreement between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and representatives of the civilian protest move­ment, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the adoption of a constitutional charter, and the formation of a civilian-led transitional government. 

 

Meanwhile, UN action, both at the Human Rights Council and Security Council, has been insufficient. At HRC41, in July 2019, we regretted the Council’s silence on Sudan. Ahead of HRC42, as civil society once again called on the Council to take credible steps to address Sudan’s human rights challenges in a holistic manner, a transitional government with significant presence of members of civil society – including DefendDefenders’ partner Nasredeen Abdulbari, who was appointed Minister of Justice – was formed. This opened avenues for engagement with the Sudanese government that had not been witnessed in decades. During the session, DefendDefenders met with the Sudanese delegation in Geneva and advocated for the adoption of a resolution that welcomes the peaceful popular uprising, highlights human rights priorities (including civic space and the need to protect human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society and journalists), and sets out benchmarks for Sudan to improve its record. 

 

We believe that the resolution, while imperfect, is an improvement on previous years. It renews the mandate of the Independent Expert (IE) and supports the opening of a fully-mandated Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) country office in Sudan.[1]However, many challenges remain, including ensuring accountability for the grave human rights violations committed throughout the country before, during, and after the 3 June 2019 massacre, and addressing systemic human rights issues. Combating impunity, which has enabled the recurrence of violations, should be an utmost priority. The next few months will be a test for the transitional government. The resolution adopted at HRC42 may contribute to the Sudanese people’s efforts to turn the page on three decades of dictatorship. 

 

More than four years after a political, humanitarian and human rights crisis erupted in Burundi when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term in office against the letter and spirit of the Arusha Agreement, Burundi’s human rights situation remains dire. The government has closed all channels of cooperation with the UN human rights system, including OHCHR. At HRC42, it continued to reject scrutiny, expert findings, and recommendations formulated by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI). 

 

Despite Burundi’s obstructionist behaviour, the Council adopted an important resolution, which extends the mandate of the CoI for a further year, in line with civil society demands. We welcomed this move and the relevant focus, both in the resolution and in public debates, on “risk factors” for atrocity crimes identified by the CoI in its last report. Our advocacy highlighted the importance of the “risk factor” approach and the CoI’s preventative work, which could inspire other investigative mechanisms. As Burundi heads towards presidential, legislative and Senate elections in 2020 and evidence points to a risk of perpetration of further atrocities, maintaining international attention to the country is key. 

 

As Somalia prepares for historic “one person, one vote” elections in 2020-2021, it is vital for the international community to continue providing the country with technical assistance, while monitoring and publicly discussing the country’s human rights situation. By adopting a resolution that renews the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia, the Council sent the right message. In a statement, we summarised key issues in the country and the role HRDs and civil society can play in consolidating peace and promoting and protecting human rights in the country. Historically, the Somali government has meaningfully engaged with the UN human rights system, and HRC resolutions on the country have been among the most substantial of “item 10” resolutions – read our report on the contents and evolution of the Council’s agenda item 10.

 

Replying to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ update to the Council, at the opening of HRC42, we also emphasised the importance of preventative engagement to address mounting human rights crises or prevent a further deterioration of domestic situations. We mentioned Tanzania, over which the High Commissioner expressed concern, and called on the government to acknowledge legitimate concerns over shrinking civic space in the country. Regarding Cameroon, on which we are conducting advocacy in support of AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network), we stressed that the government should engage with OHCHR, the international community, and civil society to bring an end to the “Anglophone crisis” and address the grave human rights violations and abuses committed by both government forces and armed separatists. We encouraged the Council to consider following up on the joint statement delivered on Cameroon at its 40thsession (March 2019) and take further multilateral action. 

 

During the session, while no “joint statement” was delivered on Cameroon, a number of states voiced their concern over the situation in their national capacity. They called on the government to accept technical cooperation offers, in particular by OHCHR, to address violations and abuses committed in the country’s North-West and South-West regions. 

 

During the general debate under item 4 (the item that is dedicated to the most serious human rights situations), we drew attention to ongoing grave violations committed in Eritrea. The Eritrean government has so far failed, or refused, to translate regional diplomatic breakthroughs into domestic human rights progress. In our statement, we once again called on the government to engage with the UN human rights system, including the Special Rap­porteur, and other stakeholders, such as a group of over 100 African intellectuals who wrote an open letter to President Afwerki in June 2019. We stressed: “They deserve more than a blanket denial and insults.” 

 

A year after the signing of a “Revitalised” Peace Agreement (R-ARCSS), the human rights situation in South Sudan remains of great concern. Transitional justice institutions, including the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, have not been operationalised, and deadlines set out in Chapter II of the R-ARCSS (Transitional security arrangements) are being missed. The parties’ failure to implement provisions on cantonment and separation of forces means that fighting could resume at any time, all the more since a unity government is yet to be formed. Ahead of the Council’s 43rdsession (HRC43, February-March 2020), which will consider a report by the Commission on Human Rights (CoHR) in South Sudan, we welcomed modest positive developments but expressed concern over outstanding issues and risks. Ahead of HRC43, we will advocate for the renewal of the CoHR’s mandate as it currently is, including its investigative and reporting elements. 

 

In May 2019, Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was a milestone for human rights advancement in the country. It was the first UPR review in which the Ethiopian government showed political will to engage and address key human rights issues, and the first that has the potential to buttress domestic human rights reforms. At HRC42, the Ethiopian government formulated its replies to the recommendations it received during its UPR review. In a statement, we welcomed the fact that the government accepted a large number of recommendations and highlighted key areas of progress. We however encouraged the government to reconsider its position on the recommendations it has not accepted, as acute human rights challenges remain in the country. 

 

For a number of years, the Council – and the UN system at large – has dedicated attention to how HRDs and civil society engage and cooperate with human rights bodies and mechanisms, and condemned reprisals exercised against them. At HRC42, the Council pursued its work in this regard, adopting a strong, substantial resolution on “cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights” (known as the “reprisals resolution”). It reiterated that reprisals are unacceptable. We salute the leadership of the resolution’s “core group,” composed of Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, and Uruguay, whose efforts resulted in the adoption of this important resolution, which will provide more protection to those who seek to engage with the UN human rights system. 

 

The next Council session, HRC43, will take place in February-March 2020. It will start with a “High-Level Segment” dedicated to addresses by State dignitaries and UN officials. DefendDefenders will continue to engage and advocate for stronger protection of HRDs and advancement of human rights, including in South Sudan, which will be on the session’s agenda. 

 

My delegation took an active part in the last UN Human Rights Council session of the year, the HRC’s 42ndregular session (HRC42, 9-27 September 2019). The session witnessed a record number of resolutions adopted by the Council for a September session: 38. The overloadingof the Council’s agenda weakens efforts that have been undertaken by UN member states to rationalise the work of the Council and make it more efficient. However, the session saw the adoption of important resolutions on both country situations and thematic issues, including Sudan, Burundi, Somalia, reprisals, the death penalty, and arbitrary detention. In other regions, resolutions on Yemen, Venezuela, and Myanmar are noteworthy. 

 

Since December 2018, Sudan has been through significant political developments that have the potential to bring about las­ting hu­man rights progress. In less than a year, peaceful mass protests that came to be referred to as the “Sudanese Uprising” brought about the demise of President Omar Al-Bashir, the signing of a power-sharing agreement between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and representatives of the civilian protest move­ment, the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), the adoption of a constitutional charter, and the formation of a civilian-led transitional government. 

 

Meanwhile, UN action, both at the Human Rights Council and Security Council, has been insufficient. At HRC41, in July 2019, we regretted the Council’s silence on Sudan. Ahead of HRC42, as civil society once again calledon the Council to take credible steps to address Sudan’s human rights challenges in a holistic manner, a transitional government with significant presence of members of civil society – including DefendDefenders’ partner Nasredeen Abdulbari, who was appointed Minister of Justice – was formed. This opened avenues for engagement with the Sudanese government that had not been witnessed in decades. During the session, DefendDefenders met with the Sudanese delegation in Geneva and advocated for the adoption of a resolution that welcomes the peaceful popular uprising, highlights human rights priorities (including civic space and the need to protect human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society and journalists), and sets out benchmarks for Sudan to improve its record. 

 

We believe that the resolution, while imperfect, is an improvement on previous years. It renews the mandate of the Independent Expert (IE) and supports the opening of a fully-mandated Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) country office in Sudan.[1]However, many challenges remain, including ensuring accountability for the grave human rights violations committed throughout the country before, during, and after the 3 June 2019 massacre, and addressing systemic human rights issues. Combating impunity, which has enabled the recurrence of violations, should be an utmost priority. The next few months will be a test for the transitional government. The resolution adopted at HRC42 may contribute to the Sudanese people’s efforts to turn the page on three decades of dictatorship. 

 

More than four years after a political, humanitarian and human rights crisis erupted in Burundiwhen President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term in office against the letter and spirit of the Arusha Agreement, Burundi’s human rights situation remains dire. The government has closed all channels of cooperation with the UN human rights system, including OHCHR. At HRC42, it continued to reject scrutiny, expert findings, and recommendations formulated by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI). 

 

Despite Burundi’s obstructionist behaviour, the Council adopted an important resolution, which extends the mandate of the CoI for a further year, in line with civil society demands. We welcomed this move and the relevant focus, both in the resolution and in public debates, on “risk factors” for atrocity crimes identified by the CoI in its last report. Our advocacy highlighted the importance of the “risk factor” approach and the CoI’s preventative work, which could inspire other investigative mechanisms. As Burundi heads towards presidential, legislative and Senate elections in 2020 and evidence points to a risk of perpetration of further atrocities, maintaining international attention to the country is key. 

 

As Somaliaprepares for historic “one person, one vote” elections in 2020-2021, it is vital for the international community to continue providing the country with technical assistance, while monitoring and publicly discussing the country’s human rights situation. By adopting a resolution that renews the mandate of the Independent Expert on Somalia, the Council sent the right message. In a statement, we summarised key issues in the country and the role HRDs and civil society can play in consolidating peace and promoting and protecting human rights in the country. Historically, the Somali government has meaningfully engaged with the UN human rights system, and HRC resolutions on the country have been among the most substantial of “item 10” resolutions – read our reporton the contents and evolution of the Council’s agenda item 10.

 

Replying to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ update to the Council, at the opening of HRC42, we also emphasised the importance of preventative engagement to address mounting human rights crises or prevent a further deterioration of domestic situations. We mentioned Tanzania, over which the High Commissioner expressed concern, and called on the government to acknowledge legitimate concerns over shrinking civic space in the country. Regarding Cameroon, on which we are conducting advocacy in support of AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network), we stressed that the government should engage with OHCHR, the international community, and civil society to bring an end to the “Anglophone crisis” and address the grave human rights violations and abuses committed by both government forces and armed separatists. We encouraged the Council to consider following up on the joint statement delivered on Cameroon at its 40thsession (March 2019) and take further multilateral action. 

 

During the session, while no “joint statement” was delivered on Cameroon, a number of states voiced their concern over the situation in their national capacity. They called on the government to accept technical cooperation offers, in particular by OHCHR, to address violations and abuses committed in the country’s North-West and South-West regions. 

 

During the general debate under item 4 (the item that is dedicated to the most serious human rights situations), we drew attention to ongoing grave violations committed in Eritrea. The Eritrean government has so far failed, or refused, to translate regional diplomatic breakthroughs into domestic human rights progress. In our statement, we once again called on the government to engage with the UN human rights system, including the Special Rap­porteur, and other stakeholders, such as a group of over 100 African intellectuals who wrote an open letter to President Afwerki in June 2019. We stressed: “They deserve more than a blanket denial and insults.” 

 

A year after the signing of a “Revitalised” Peace Agreement (R-ARCSS), the human rights situation in South Sudan remains of great concern. Transitional justice institutions, including the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, have not been operationalised, and deadlines set out in Chapter II of the R-ARCSS (Transitional security arrangements) are being missed. The parties’ failure to implement provisions on cantonment and separation of forces means that fighting could resume at any time, all the more since a unity government is yet to be formed. Ahead of the Council’s 43rdsession (HRC43, February-March 2020), which will consider a report by the Commission on Human Rights (CoHR) in South Sudan, we welcomed modest positive developments but expressed concern over outstanding issues and risks. Ahead of HRC43, we will advocate for the renewal of the CoHR’s mandate as it currently is, including its investigative and reporting elements. 

 

In May 2019, Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was a milestone for human rights advancement in the country. It was the first UPR review in which the Ethiopian government showed political will to engage and address key human rights issues, and the first that has the potential to buttress domestic human rights reforms. At HRC42, the Ethiopian government formulated its replies to the recommendations it received during its UPR review. In a statement, we welcomed the fact that the government accepted a large number of recommendations and highlighted key areas of progress. We however encouraged the government to reconsider its position on the recommendations it has not accepted, as acute human rights challenges remain in the country. 

 

For a number of years, the Council – and the UN system at large – has dedicated attention to how HRDs and civil society engage and cooperate with human rights bodies and mechanisms, and condemned reprisals exercised against them. At HRC42, the Council pursued its work in this regard, adopting a strong, substantial resolution on “cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights” (known as the “reprisals resolution”). It reiterated that reprisals are unacceptable. We salute the leadership of the resolution’s “core group,” composed of Fiji, Ghana, Hungary, Ireland, and Uruguay, whose efforts resulted in the adoption of this important resolution, which will provide more protection to those who seek to engage with the UN human rights system. 

 

The next Council session, HRC43, will take place in February-March 2020. It will start with a “High-Level Segment” dedicated to addresses by State dignitaries and UN officials. DefendDefenders will continue to engage and advocate for stronger protection of HRDs and advancement of human rights, including in South Sudan, which will be on the session’s agenda. 

 

Hassan Shire

 

 


[1]On 25 September 2019, OHCHR announced that an agreement had been found regarding a country office.

Oral Statements to the Council

Mr. President, Madam High Commissioner,

DefendDefenders reiterates its support to your “preventative engagement” approach, which has the potential of bringing about tangible results in a number of areas and country situ­a­tions. As you highlighted in the informal conversation you held on 4 September 2019 with Mem­bers and Ob­ser­vers of the Council, where “quiet diplomacy” is not effective, OHCHR ac­tion may include more public advocacy. Regarding a number of situations, human rights defenders and civil society need your voice more than ever.

We and the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network (AfricanDefenders) remain deeply concer­ned at the situation in Cameroon, in particular the crisis in the North-West and South-West re­gions, which deserves the Council’s attention. The Council should exercise its preven­tion mandate to end violations and contribute to settling the crisis. The Cameroonian Govern­ment should respond positively to offers of assistance now – or face stronger multilateral ac­tion at a future session.

Regarding Tanzania, we concur with your analysis. The Government should acknowledge the legitimate concerns, expressed by a range of national, regional and international stake­hol­ders, over human rights developments in the country, and accept to engage on the needed reforms, including through amending legislation affecting civic space and the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and access to information.

We will address Sudan in the dedicated interactive dialogue. We stress the need for an inter­national inquiry into violations of the rights of peaceful protesters and Sudanese citizens, mo­ni­toring and reporting through the extension of the Independent Expert’s mandate, and long-term OHCHR presence on the ground through a country office, to help Sudan implement sys­te­mic human rights reforms, including in relation to accountability.

Thank you for your attention.

 

English / French

Mr. President, dear Members of the Commission of Inquiry,

DefendDefenders thanks you for your report, which once again demonstrates the need for conti­nued attention to Burundi’s human rights situation. The Commission of Inquiry is the only exis­ting mechanism to monitor and publicly report on the situation, and its mandate should be extended to allow it to pursue its important work.

As this Council meets in Geneva, in Burundi, violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights – including possible crimes against humanity – continue to be committed with impunity. Inde­pen­dent and critical voices, including civil society members, human rights de­fenders and jour­nalists, have been particularly targeted. In July, the Ntahangwa Court of Appeal upheld the outrageous 32-year prison sentence against Germain Rukuki. With 2020 elections approa­ching, as the limited civic and democratic space in the country and the intimidation exer­cised by the Government, the ruling party, and members of the Imbo­ne­ra­kure hamper the pros­pects for a free and fair election, the scrutiny provided by the Commission remains vitally im­portant.

As Burundi’s crisis was triggered by the 2015 presidential election and most violations, in the words of the Commission, are essentially “political in nature,” Council Members and Observers should dedicate specific attention to elections and risk factors of human rights violations and abuses.

Dear Commissioners,

What more can be done to promote the risk factors and indicators identified in your report, as well as a holistic prevention and early warning approach, within the UN system and beyond?

Thank you for your attention.

Mr. President, dear Commissioners,

DefendDefenders thanks you for your update. The human rights situation in South Sudan con­ti­nues to deserve priority attention from this Council and regional bodies and mecha­nisms.

We welcome the recent positive political developments in South Sudan, inclu­ding the work being carried out by the National Constitutional Amendment Committee, and the committees composed of military and civilian actors formed to improve civil-military relations and support local justice and reconciliation in Yei River State. Additionally, we welcome the commitment to form a transitional Government by November 2019, following Riek Machar’s recent visit to the country on 11 September 2019. We urge both camps to adhere to this commitment as for­ma­tion of a unity government will go a long way towards building sustainable peace in the world’s youngest nation.

However, we remain concerned about the limited efforts to address lack of accountability for human rights violations and abuses, including conflict-related sexual and gender-based vio­lence, which remains widespread. Particularly, the failure to establish Chapter Five insti­tutions, including the Hybrid Court, the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing, and the Com­pensation and Reparations Authority is a setback to addressing impunity and ensuring justice for victims. It demonstrates the Government’s disinterest in addressing issues per­tain­ing to restoration and healing, including full rehabilitation of victims and the building of resi­lience and guarantees of non-recurrence, as civic space and human rights defenders are under pressure. All of these elements add to ongoing concern over delays in implementing transi­tional security arrangements under Chapter Two of the Revitalised Peace Agreement.

Ahead of this Council’s 43rd session, when a resolution on South Sudan will be considered, we reiterate that there can be no lasting peace without justice.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr. President,

DefendDefenders will address Burundi and South Sudan during the dedicated interactive dialo­gues under item 4, as well as Somalia and Sudan under item 10.

We highlight the ongoing gross, wide­spread, systematic, and systemic human rights violations committed in Eritrea, and once again regret that diplomatic progress, which is an op­por­tunity for people of the region, has not trans­lated into domestic progress.

As a new chapter may be opening in the Horn of Africa, human rights advancements are being secured, and Governments are engaging with civil society at the national and inter­national levels, including here on the margins of the Human Rights Council, we reiterate our call on the Eritrean Government to fulfil its membership obligations and grant the Special Rap­porteur and other special procedure mandate-holders access to the country, as a first step to­wards human rights reforms.

Mr. President,

At its 41st session, this Council decided to maintain a high level of scrutiny over the country. The Eritrean Government should heed the message sent, including by engaging on the “bench­­marks for progress” identified by the Special Rapporteur, and multiple calls to change course, including that outlined in a letter to President Afwerki signed by more than 100 African thinkers, writers, and human rights advocates. They deserve more than a blanket denial and insults.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr. President,

DefendDefenders welcomes the acceptance by the Government of Ethiopia of a large number of UPR recommendations. Last May, Ethiopia’s review was a milestone for human rights advan­ce­ment in the country – the first UPR review for which meaningful consultations were con­duc­ted with a range of national stakeholders and the first that has the potential of contributing to sys­temic human rights reforms. We salute the fact that the Ethiopian Govern­ment displayed political will to engage on human rights challenges, including past and on­going violations. The climate in the country drastically improved since its second UPR review. We warmly welcome Ethiopia’s engagement with civil society, at the national, regional, and international levels.

We welcome Ethiopia’s acceptance of recommendations on:

  • Ratifying core international human rights instruments to which it is not yet a Party, inc­lu­ding the conventions on enforced disappearances (CPED) and migrant workers (ICMW). We how­ever encourage Ethiopia to reconsider its position on recommendations no. 163.11 to 163. 14 and no. 163.17 to 163.25. Ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Optional Protocols to ICCPR, the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and CEDAW would send a powerful message to all Ethiopian citizens;
  • Conducting comprehensive legal reform. We salute Ethiopia’s commitment to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) and legislation on mass media and computer crimes are brought into line with human rights standards. We can mention accepted recommenda­tions no. 163.56 to 163.59 and 163.62. We also salute the adoption of a new CSO Procla­ma­tion that provides more space to civil society;
  • Creating and maintaining an open civic space. Acceptance of recommendations no. 163.60, 163.219 and 163.220 is a positive signal in this regard; and
  • Ensuring accountability for violations. Recommendation no. 163.154 (“[…] ensure that ac­coun­­t­ability cons­­titutes the core of ongoing political reforms”) is of symbolic significance, as is the ac­cep­tance of recommendations on combating torture and abuses of power.

We regret that Ethiopia did not go a step further in its replies and did not offer a standing in­vi­tation to all Human Rights Council special procedure mandate-holders. It is not too late, as the UPR is an ongoing process. We encourage the Government to reconsider its position on all “noted” recommendations.

Thank you.

Mr. President, Mr. Independent Expert,

This interactive dialogue comes at a critical juncture for Sudan. Last year, this Council adopted a resolution that did not reflect the situation on the ground, systemic human rights issues, and re­forms needed to advance the rights of all Sudanese, both in the centre and in the peripheries, in­cluding conflict-affected areas. Developments since December 2018 dem­onstrated that Sudan’s human rights challenges, including wide­s­pread impunity for violations and abuses, had not been addressed, and that approaching Sudan from a purely “technical assist­ance” angle was a mistake.

As a new chapter is opening in Sudan, the Council has the opportunity to meaningfully contri­bute to domestic human rights progress. A number of elements of a new relationship between Sudan and the UN human rights system were outlined in an opinion piece DefendDefenders published in May 2019.

The Council and other UN human rights bodies and mechanisms should unambiguously support systemic human rights reform in the country. “Systemic reform” includes efforts to bring the legis­la­tive framework in line with international standards and to reform various policies and practices. It also means conducting a thorough investigation into past and ongoing violations, holding per­pe­trators to account, and bringing decades of impunity to an end.

This Council should increase, not decrease, its level of scrutiny and engagement with the Suda­nese authorities, which are showing a new political will.

OHCHR also has a decisive role to play. An MoU should urgently be signed between the Suda­nese Government and the Office, providing for a fully-mandated country office with access to all areas and persons of interest and ability to conduct investigative, monitoring and public reporting work, in addition to providing advisory and capacity-building services to the Govern­ment and civil society.

An OHCHR country office and ongoing consideration by the Council are not mutually exclusive. They are rather mutually reinforcing, as Council action provides political back-up to expert work, while OHCHR work places expertise at the centre of political interventions. This Council has failed the Suda­nese people for too long. It should now do everything in its power to help it.

Thank you.

Mr. President, Mr. Independent Expert,

DefendDefenders welcomes your report. Your mandate is still needed to assist the Government and people of Somalia, monitor human rights developments, report to the international com­mu­nity, and contribute to a ho­lis­tic approach to addressing Somalia’s numerous human rights challenges.

We concur with your findings on the pro­gress achieved. We should mention an over­all decrease in insecurity and violence in the coun­try, the implementation of a num­ber of UN recom­menda­tions, security sector re­form, and legal reform, including Somalia’s recent accession to the Con­vention on the Rights of Per­sons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Ongoing concerns include recurring terrorist attacks by Al-Shabaab, attacks on civilians, the huma­ni­tarian situation, high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), violations of chil­­d­ren’s rights, violations of economic, social and cultural rights, and de­lays in codifying quo­tas for women representation in Parliament, adop­ting autho­ritative electoral and political par­ties legislation, and operationalising of the National Human Rights Commission. With regard to the rule of law, the use of military courts should be strictly limited. We encourage the re­in­for­cement of capacity-building efforts, inc­luding through the provi­sion of human rights training to paralegals. You rightly mention the Somalia Joint Human Rights Programme as a significant endeavour.

The Sexual Offences Bill should be tabled and adopted by Parliament. In Somaliland, autho­rities should implement the Rape and Sexual Offences Law as a matter of urgency. A zero-tolerance policy for SGBV and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) must prevail throughout the coun­try to protect the rights of women and girls.

Civic space, including respect for freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society and jour­nalists, is key to building a peaceful, stable, and democratic Somalia.  We support all UN recom­mendations in this regard.

Lastly, we hope that Somalia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council will be leveraged for pro­gress. Its voting record has however been disappointing so far.

Mr. Nyanduga,

What role can civil society play ahead the historic “one person, one vote” election, and how can the inter­national community strengthen it and better protect human rights defenders and civic space at large?

Thank you.

Advocacy documents and press releases

In an open letter published ahead of the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC42), a group of Burundian, African, and international civil society organisations join DefendDefenders in calling on States to support a resolution extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for a further year, until September 2020.

The work conducted by the CoI, which will present its latest report at HRC42, provides critical oversight of the human rights situation in Bu­run­di, the signatories write. The CoI has documented violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Inde­pen­dent and critical voices, including civil society members, human rights de­fenders (HRDs), and jour­nalists, have been particularly targeted.

The pre-electoral context is likely to escalate political tensions and may lead to a subsequent rise in human rights violations. The signatories present a number of arguments that justify the renewal of the CoI’s mandate, including: (a) ensuring continued scrutiny of the human rights situation in Burundi; (b) providing the CoI and its secretariat with the time they need to complete their work; (c) ensuring consistency of action and follow-up on previous Council resolutions; (d) making clear that obstructionism and attacks against the UN are not rewarded; and (e) avoiding a monitoring gap ahead of the 2020 election, as the limited civic and democratic space in the country and the intimidation exercised by government forces, the ruling party, and members of the Imbo­ne­ra­kure hamper the pros­pects for a free and fair election.

We also suggest ways of enhancing attention to Burundi ahead of the 2020 election, including through reporting with a specific focus on elections and risk factors of human rights violations and abuses and an “enhanced interactive dialogue” at the Council’s 43rd session (February-March 2020).

Read the full letter in English.

Lire la lettre en français.

Ahead of the 42nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC42), Sudanese, regional and international civil society organisations urge the Council to address serious human rights violations and abuses in Sudan and support systemic reforms in the country.

In a letter published today, DefendDefenders and partners call on the Council to formulate a holistic response to the situation in the country, including by ensuring an investigation of violations committed since December 2018; renewing the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sudan; and strengthening monitoring and reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The signatories write: “Silence is no longer an option. The transitional agreement is no guarantee of improved respect for human rights. As the UN’s top human rights body, the Council should fulfill its responsibilities towards the Sudanese people and contribute to ensuring that human rights compliance and systemic reforms are central parts of a sustainable political solution to the crisis and that peaceful transitional arrangements are respected, in line with its mandate to promote and protect human rights.”

We call on Member and Observer States of the Council to work towards the adoption of a resolution using the range of tools available to address Sudan’s short-, mid-, and long-term human rights challenges. A summary of major human rights developments in Sudan since December 2018 is included in the annex to the letter.

Read the full letter.

The UN Human Rights Council (“Council”) has decided to keep a spotlight on Burundi ahead of key elections scheduled for 2020. Today, the Council adop­ted a resolution that extends the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for one year and condemns a wide range of human rights violations and abuses, a move which DefendDefenders welcomes.

“Maintaining scrutiny over Burundi’s human rights situation is the right thing to do, as all signals are red in the electoral period,” said Has­san Shire, Execu­tive Direc­tor, Defend­­Defen­d­ers. “We once again urge the Burundian authorities to change course and engage with the UN human rights system, including the Commission of Inquiry.” 

The resolution adopted today with a broad majority[1] extends the mandate of the CoI, which has been investigating human rights violations and abuses committed in Burundi, reporting to the Coun­cil, and transmitting case files to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecutions. The resolution also condemns a range of violations of civil, political, eco­nomic, social and cul­tu­ral rights, inclu­ding those that may amount to crimes against humanity, calls for the protection of hu­man rights defenders, civil society members, and journalists, and urges the Burundian Gov­ernment to cooperate with the international community.

Additionally, the resolution welcomes the work carried out by the CoI with respect to “risk fac­tors” for atrocity crimes. In the report it presented to the Council on 17 September 2019, the CoI analysed risk factors and indicators of atrocity crimes, human rights violations and abuses, which are a key element of prevention ahead of presidential, legislative, and Senate elections scheduled for 20 May (for the former two) and 20 July 2020 (for the latter). Burundi fulfils a large number of these risk factors and indicators.

“The risk factors identified by the Commission are a key tool and a break­through for the Council. The international community should heed the warning and stand ready to act,” said Es­tel­la Ka­ba­ch­­wezi, Senior Advocacy and Research Officer at De­f­end­Defen­ders. “Existing and future inquiry mechanisms could draw inspiration from the CoI on Bu­rundi’s ‘risk fac­tor’ approach and overall preventative work.” 

The Council, which is the UN’s main body in charge of human rights promotion and protection, concludes its 42nd regular session on 27 September 2019. It is composed of 47 Members, elec­ted for three-year terms. Burundi has been on the Council’s agenda since a political, huma­nita­rian, and human rights crisis erupted in the country in 2015, when President Nkurunziza an­noun­ced its intention to run for a third term in office, against the letter and spirit of the Arusha Agreement, which had brought an end to Burundi’s civil war. The Council established the CoI on Burundi in September 2016.

Ahead of the session, DefendDefenders led civil society efforts to urge the renewal of the CoI’s mandate. Our main asks were outlined in a joint letter[2] signed by more than 40 Burundian, re­gio­nal, and international NGOs. We also held an event on the margins of the Council’s 42nd ses­sion to express support for the resolution and draw attention to risks associated with elections.

Read our press release in ENGLISH

 

For more information, please contact:  

Hassan Shire 

Executive Director, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on HassanS@defenddefenders.org or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Estella Kabachwezi

Senior Advocacy and Research Officer, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on EstellaK@defenddefenders.org or +256 782 360 460 (English)

Nicolas Agostini

Representative to the United Nations (Geneva), the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on NicolasA@defenddefenders.org or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French)

 

[1] 23 States voted in favour of the resolution, 11 voted against it, and 13 abstained.

[2] DefendDefenders et al., “Burundi: Extend CoI mandate for a further year,” 2 August 2019, https://defenddefenders.org/press_release/burundi-extend-coi-mandate-for-a-further-year/ (accessed on 27 September 2019).

 


 

En amont des élections, l’ONU garde ses projecteurs braqués sur les droits humains au Burundi

 

Le Conseil des droits de l’homme de l’ONU (ci-après, « Conseil ») a décidé de garder ses projecteurs braqués sur le Burundi en amont des élec­tions clefs de 2020. Aujourd’hui, le Conseil a adopté une résolution renou­ve­lant le mandat de la Com­mis­sion d’enquête (CoI) sur le Burundi pour une année et condamnant une lon­gue série de vio­la­tions des droits humains – une décision que Defend­De­fen­ders salue.

« Alors que tous les signaux d’alerte sont au rouge, conserver une capacité étroite de sur­veil­lance de la situation des droits humains au Bu­rundi est la bonne décision », a dit Has­san Shire, directeur exécutif de DefendDefenders. « Une fois de plus, nous exhortons les au­to­rités burundaises à changer de cap et à engager un dialogue avec le système onusien des droits humains, y compris la Commission d’enquête ». 

La résolution adoptée aujourd’hui à une large majorité[1] renouvelle le mandat de la CoI, qui en­quê­te sur les violations et atteintes aux droits humains commises au Burundi, en rend compte au Conseil et transmet ses dossiers à la Cour pénale internationale (CPI) en vue de poursuites. La résolution condamne également une série de violations des droits civils, politiques, écono­mi­ques, sociaux et culturels, dont certains pourraient être consti­tutifs de crimes contre l’humanité, appelle à la protection des défenseurs des droits humains, des membres de la société civile et des journalistes, et exhorte le Gouvernement burundais à coopérer avec la communauté inter­na­tionale.

En outre, la résolution accueille avec satisfaction le travail mené par la CoI quant aux « facteurs de risques » des atrocités criminelles. Dans le rapport qu’elle a présenté au Conseil le 17 sep­tembre 2019, la CoI a analysé des facteurs et des indicateurs de risques des atrocités, des vio­lations et des atteintes aux droits humains, dans ce qui constitue un élément clef de prévention en amont des élections présidentielle, législative et sénatoriale prévues pour le 20 mai (pour les deux premières) et le 20 juillet 2020 (pour la dernière). Le Burundi remplit un grand nombre de ces facteurs et indicateurs de risques.

« Les facteurs de risques identifiés par la Commission sont un outil crucial et une véri­ta­ble percée pour le Conseil. La communauté internationale devrait entendre le message et se tenir prête à agir », a dit Estella Kabachwezi, responsable du plaidoyer et de la recherche chez DefendDefenders. « Les mécanismes d’enquête existants et futurs pourraient s’inspi­rer de l’approche en termes de ‘facteurs de risques’ et du travail préventif de la CoI sur le Burundi ». 

Le Conseil, qui est l’organe onusien principal en charge de la promotion et de la protection des droits humains, conclut sa 42ème session ordinaire le 27 septembre 2019. Il est composé de 47 Membres, élus pour un mandat de trois ans. Le Burundi figure sur le programme de travail du Conseil depuis qu’une crise politique, humanitaire et des droits humains a éclaté dans le pays en 2015, lorsque le président Nkurunziza a annoncé son intention de concourir pour un troi­si­ème mandat, en violation de l’esprit et de la lettre de l’Accord d’Arusha, qui a mis un terme à la guerre civile dans le pays. Le Conseil a établi la CoI sur le Burundi en septembre 2016.

En amont de la session, DefendDefenders a mené les efforts de la société civile, exhortant au re­nouvellement du mandat de la CoI. Nos demandes principales ont été explicitées dans une lettre conjointe[2] signée par plus de 40 ONG burundaises, régionales et internationales. Nous avons également tenu un événement en marge de la 42ème session du Conseil, afin d’exprimer no­tre soutien à la résolution et d’attirer l’attention sur les risques associés aux élections.

Lire notre communiqué en FRANÇAIS

 

Pour davantage d’informations, contacter :  

Hassan Shire 

Directeur exécutif de DefendDefenders, via HassanS@defenddefenders.org ou par téléphone au +256 772 753 753 (anglais et somali)

Estella Kabachwezi

Responsable du plaidoyer et de la recherche pour DefendDefenders, via EstellaK@defenddefenders.org ou par téléphone au +256 782 360 460 (anglais)

Nicolas Agostini

Représentant de DefendDefenders auprès des Nations Unies à Genève, via NicolasA@defenddefenders.orgou par téléphone au +41 79 813 49 91 (anglais et français)

 

[1] 23 États ont voté en faveur de la résolution, 11 ont voté contre, et 13 se sont abstenus.

[2] DefendDefenders et al., « Il est nécessaire de renouveler le mandat de la Commission d’enquête sur le Burundi pour une année », 2 août 2019, https://defenddefenders.org/press_release/burundi-extend-coi-mandate-for-a-further-year/ (consulté le 27 septembre 2019).

At a critical juncture for Sudan, a UN resolution on the country’s human rights situa­tion offers hope that the international community will con­tri­bu­te to domestic improvements. Yet, as the Sudanese people attempt to turn the page on 30 years of dictatorship and repression, significant challenges remain. The res­o­lution adopted by the Human Rights Council (“Council”) is an encouraging signal but should push all stakeholders to be cau­tious­ly op­timistic, Defend­De­f­enders said today.

The resolution adopted today[1] extends the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on Sudan and expresses support for the opening of a “fully-mandated” country office of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – which means that it should be able to con­duct human rights monitoring and to report publicly, in addition to providing advisory ser­vi­ces to the Government and other stakeholders. On 25 September 2019, an agreement was repor­ted to have been signed bet­ween the Sudanese Government and OHCHR. The High Commis­sio­ner’s Office has indicated that the agreement provides for the open­ing of a country office with a full mandate, with a head office in Khartoum and four regional field offices. DefendDefenders warmly welcome this step forward.

The resolution also welcomes the “exemplary, non-violent, inspiring” popular uprising, the par­ti­cipation of women and youth in the movement, and political achievements since July 2019, inc­luding the signing of a constitutional document, the establishment of a Sovereign Council, and the formation of a Civilian-Led Transitional Government. It provides for enhanced attention to Sudan through­out 2020, through public debates at the Council’s 44th and 45th regular sessions (June-July and Septem­ber-October 2020).

“By saluting Sudan’s peaceful popular uprising and the role played by women and youth, the Council provides long-overdue support to the Sudanese people,” said Has­san Shire, Exe­cu­tive Director, Defend­­Defen­ders. “The Council and the UN system at large should stand ready to provide any assistance Sudan needs, while retaining a monitoring and advocacy capacity with regard to human rights issues in the country. A holistic approach is of the essence.” 

A holistic approach to systemic human rights reforms includes addressing the country’s out­stan­ding human rights issues in a comprehensive manner by amending or repealing repres­sive laws, policies and practices pertaining to human rights, civic space and the rule of law, and by tho­rough­ly refor­ming the justice and security sectors. The resolution highlights these elements, in­c­luding by urging Sudan’s Government to “create and maintain a safe and enabling environ­ment in which civil society, human rights defenders, the media and other independent actors can operate freely.” It also highlights the need to realize a “just and comprehensive peace” and to “put an end to armed conflicts” in the country’s Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan States.

While stressing the need for Sudan to investigate human rights violations and abuses by all par­ties and encouraging efforts to “hold perpetrators to account as [a] foremost priority,” the reso­lu­tion falls short of establishing its own independent inquiry into the 3 June 2019 massacre and other atrocities, including excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and targeting of ci­vi­lians by military and security forces and armed militias such as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

On 23 September 2019, Prime Minister Hamdok issued a decree establishing a national com­mis­sion to investigate the 3 June massacre. On the same day, RSF elements attacked students who took to the streets in Nyala, South Darfur to protest against the increasing price of bread and fuel. The mandate of the national commission – and of any inquiry into human rights vio­la­tions in Sudan – should include violations committed against peaceful protesters up to this day.

“Lasting human rights progress is closely intertwined with the fight against impunity. Gua­ran­tees of non-recur­ren­ce include a range of tools, of which accountability for per­petra­tors of grave cri­mes is part,” said Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the UN for Def­end­Defen­ders. “Probing instances and patterns of human rights violations in a manner that meets the highest stan­dards is vital. Sudan’s authorities should stand ready to request African or international support to meet this goal and hold perpetrators to ac­count in fair trials.” 

In several calls made public over the last months, Sudanese, regional and international civil so­ciety organisations outlined a number of benchmarks that inquiries into Sudan’s hu­man rights violations should fulfil, including with regard to the environment, standards, and scope of such inquiries. At the end of the Council’s July 2019 session, Defend­Def­enders expressed[2] disap­point­ment at the Coun­cil’s failure to respond to grave crimes commit­ted in the country, inclu­ding – but not only – on 3 June 2019, both in Khartoum and in Sudan’s peri­phe­ries.

The Human Rights Council, as the UN’s principal human rights body, should ensure long-term scru­tiny of Sudan’s human rights situation, including through investigations, identification of those responsible at all levels of the chain of command, monitoring of and reporting on human rights developments in the country, and the provision of technical assistance and capacity-buil­ding to Sudan’s Government, civil society, and other stakeholders.

DefendDefenders has been actively advocating for Member and Observer States of the Council to meaningfully address Sudan’s human rights situation. Ahead of the Council’s 41st session (June-July 2019), we were joined[3] by a large number of Su­da­nese, African and inter­na­tio­nal NGO partners.

Ahead of the Council’s 42nd session, which concludes on 27 Sept­ember 2019, we joined forces with a group of NGOs, call­ing on the Council to adopt a holistic approach to tackle Sudan’s hu­man rights chal­lenges. Our joint letter[4] called for the opening of a fully-mandated OHCHR coun­try office in Sudan and outlined steps the Council should take. It also contained a sum­mary of human rights developments in the country since December 2018. At its 42nd session, the Council has taken a number of these steps, but not all. It should keep a close eye on develop­ments in Sudan and stand ready to respond to them at any time, DefendDefenders said as the 42nd ses­sion ends.

Read our press release (PDF format).  

 

For more information, please contact: 

Hassan Shire 

Executive Director, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on HassanS@defenddefenders.org or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Estella Kabachwezi

Senior Advocacy and Research Officer, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on EstellaK@defenddefenders.org or +256 782 360 460 (English)

Nicolas Agostini

Representative to the United Nations (Geneva), the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on NicolasA@defenddefenders.org or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French)

 

[1] Resolution A/HRC/42/L.30, adopted by consensus (i.e., without a vote, as no state opposed it).

[2] DefendDefenders, “By remaining silent on Sudan, the UN Human Rights Council validates the sidelining of human rights,” 9 July 2019, https://defenddefenders.org/press_release/by-remaining-silent-on-sudan-the-un-human-rights-council-validates-the-sidelining-of-human-rights/ (accessed on 27 September 2019).

[3] DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: urgent international action needed to prevent further violence, ensure accountability,” 6 June 2019, https://www.defenddefenders.org/press_release/sudan-urgent-international-action-needed-to-prevent-further-violence-ensure-accountability/ (accessed on 27 September 2019).

[4] DefendDefenders et al., “Sudan: ensuring a credible response by the UN Human Rights Council,” 2 September 2019, https://defenddefenders.org/press_release/sudan-ensuring-a-credible-response-by-the-un-human-rights-council/ (accessed on 27 September 2019).

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