Reflections on the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council’s 47th regular session (HRC47) took place from 21 June to 14 July 2021, mostly online. We hope this is the last time the Covid-19 pandemic prevents in-person participation of human rights defenders (HRDs) and organisations in the work of the Council. Civil society meetings, briefings, side events, and oral statements bring life and passion to the work of the Council. We hope they resume in September 2021. 

Out of DefendDefenders’ 11 mandate countries, six are now on the Council’s agenda: Burundi, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and now Ethiopia. This is certainly not something we can be proud of, as it shows that governments of the sub-region are grappling with their commitments to respect, protect, and fulfil human rights. Citizens of each of these countries deserve better, and we believe the Council can contribute to improving their situation. Therefore, we continue to prioritise UN advocacy and to strengthen our presence in Geneva. 

After eight months of armed conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, amid multiplication of grave violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, it was imperative for the Council to address the crisis. It did so through a modest resolution which ensures that public debates will be held on the human rights dimensions of the Tigray crisis. In a press release, we welcomed this first step towards international action. The adoption of a resolution on Ethiopia, a strategic partner to many powerful countries, shows that no state is above scrutiny. 

The Council’s move is in line with the expectations civil society outlined in a letter released ahead of the session, in an opinion piece I authored during the session, and in a side event organised with Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. We welcome the action/inaction of several African states (Gabon, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Senegal, and Sudan) that abstained from voting on the resolution, signalling their refusal to see the Council remain silent on Tigray. Their abstention enabled it to pass. 

We now urge all states, including Ethiopia, to engage with the process, and the African Union and UN Security Council to end their silence. We call on all states to prioritise objective, human rights-based criteria when determining their position on resolutions at the Council. 

In a separate resolution, the Council extended the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. This was the right thing to do, considering that both the violations Eritrean authorities commit at home and the violations Eritrean forces commit in Tigray demand scrutiny. This was also in line with our expectations, outlined in a joint civil society letter ahead of HRC47. Read our press release on the session’s outcome on Eritrea. 

Furthermore, the Council adopted a modest resolution on civil society space. It will need to do much more to better protect HRDs and civic space, including by relying on a preventative approach and using early warning and risk factor analyses. Civil society actors face intense pressure, including because Covid-19-related restrictions have been used to target these actors’ ability to operate in certain countries. 

We delivered several oral statements during the session, including on Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda (UPR adoption), and on freedom of opinion and expression (in collaboration with ARTICLE 19 and partners). 

Lastly, we continue to draw states’ attention to the situation in Cameroon – one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address so far. AfricanDefenders and DefendDefenders released a letter, prepared ahead of HRC47 and signed by over 60 NGOs, calling on states to collectively address Cameroon’s crisis. Council action on Cameroon is long overdue. 

We will continue to engage diplomatic missions and the UN human rights system ahead of the next session. HRC48 will be particularly busy for us, with resolutions and/or debates expected on Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia. 

Hassan Shire

Oral Statements to the Council

Madam President, 

We welcome the government of Rwanda’s timely submission of its replies to the UPR recom­men­dations it received during its review. This sets a good practice. We also welcome Rwanda’s positive record on women’s and girls’ rights, including at the UN, which DefendDefenders docu­mented in a report

The fact that the government of Rwanda accepted numerous recommendations immediately after they were made is encouraging. We refer, among others, to recommendations on reinvi­go­rating cooperation with the UN (134.2, Armenia), combatting impunity for disap­pea­rances (134.28, Lithuania), ensuring full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assem­bly and association (134.52, Ghana), or allowing greater access to independent news out­lets (134.59, Sudan). We call on Rwanda to operationalise and implement these recommen­da­tions. 

Madam President, 

We are troubled that Rwanda noted recommendations on, among others, upholding freedom of expression and protecting journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) (136.31 to 136.37, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Sierra Leone, Spain, Canada, Australia), ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society (136.40, Ireland), or guaranteeing the independence of civil society organisations and HRDs (136.43, Côte d’Ivoire). 

We are deeply concerned over Rwanda’s refusal to accept recommendations 135.41, 135.44 and 135.45 (United States, Ireland, Austria) on protecting HRDs and journalists, while the circums­tan­ces surrounding the death, while in detention, of Kizito Mihigo, a singer and peace activist, remain unclear. We remain concerned about the use of excessive and lethal force by law enfor­cement bodies. 

We also note several inconsistencies. Rwanda accepted recom­men­dations to cooperate with the UN; yet, it noted recommendations to cooperate fully with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture. Rwanda accepted recom­men­dations to combat disappearances; yet, it noted recom­men­dations to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disap­pea­rances, while Rwandan opponents have disappeared. Rwanda accepted recom­men­dations to uphold free expres­sion and associa­tion; yet, it noted recommendations to bring its legislation into line with inter­national and Afri­can standards, including legislation on criminal defamation, determining who is a journalist, or pro­viding for onerous NGO registration. 

The government of Rwanda seems to be in denial over the existence of pat­terns and instances of violations — which they regard as “inaccurate assertions” that “are not reflecting the reality on the ground” (Doc. A/HRC/47/14/Add.1). 

More generally, we are concerned over the vast and growing disconnect between the law and the practice in Rwanda. The government’s allegations against the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights are groundless and, in a number of cases, the government’s position results in depriving citizens of access to an effective remedy. 

We stress the importance of creating and maintaining an open civic space, incl­uding by lifting the restrictions on HRDs and civil society independent experts have identified. In this regard, we recall the findings of former Special Rapporteur on freedoms of peaceful assembly and associa­tion Maina Kiai, regarding civil society in Rwanda. We also stress the value of the ACHPR Gui­delines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa. 

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

We thank you for your update and wish you the best in your new role. Your mandate re­mains a vital mechanism to monitor and report on Eritrea’s human rights situ­ation. 

This is the last year of Eritrea’s membership in the Human Rights Council—and it is clear that being a member did not defeat international scrutiny. 

We urge the Eritrean government to move beyond inconsistent, fickle communication streams with the UN human rights system and to invite the Special Rapporteur to visit the country to explore avenues for cooperation and reform. 

We remain deeply concerned over ongoing human rights violations, including the in­commu­ni­cado detention of journalists and unresol­ved cases of disappearances and detentions, including that of Ciham Ali Ahmed. 

Madam President, Mr. Special Rapporteur, 

Since November, there have been independent reports, including by the UN High Commis­sio­ner for Refugees, of Eritrean military involvement in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Infiltration of armed actors in refugee camps has led to violations of Eritrean refugees’ rights, including kil­lings, abductions, and forced return to Eritrea. Refugees must be protected. Elsewhere, as in Axum, reports of egregious violations by Eritrean soldiers have emerged. We urge indepen­dent, impartial inquiries into all these violations. 

Dr. Mohamed: What is your analysis of Eritrea’s involvement in Tigray, and possible violations of international law? 

Thank you. 

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner,   

We thank you for your annual report, and your Office for its ongoing work to promote and pro­tect human rights around the globe, and in the East and Horn of Africa in particular.  

Regarding Ethiopia, we concur with your analysis and your concerns, including the statements you issued since November 2020. The situation in Tigray is serious and demands multilateral attention. 

The commencement of a joint OHCHR/Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investi­ga­tion is a positive step. It is one option. Other options can be explored. Based on your Office’s universal man­date, we encourage you, High Commissioner, to report on your assessment of the situation and formulate recommendations, including on criminal accounta­bility. 

For this assessment to be formally presented to, and discussed at, the Human Rights Council, the Council needs to adopt a resolution requesting such a debate. Together with partner NGOs, we have issued a call for such a resolution. 

There is also reason for hope in East Africa. In Tanzania, after President Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in, she indicated that she would uphold freedom of expression and due pro­cess. She sent a number of positive signals for civic space. We welcome these steps and are ready to deepen dialogue and cooperation with Tan­zanian authorities, including  in Geneva, ahead of Tanzania’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

High Commissioner, 

We encourage you to continue reporting on the human rights dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis. Your work and the work of your Office regarding civic space and human rights defenders (HRDs) remains vital. 

Thank you for your attention. 

Advocacy documents and press releases

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council

 

10 May 2021

Eritrea: renew vital mandate of UN Special Rapporteur

Excellencies,

In 2020, the UN Human Rights Council maintained its scrutiny of Eritrea’s human rights situation. Since no progress could be reported in the country, the Council considered that monitoring of and reporting on the situation was still needed.1 As Eritrea completes its first term as a Member of the Council (2019-2021), its Government shows no willingness to address the grave human rights violations and abuses UN bodies and mechanisms have highlighted or to engage in a serious dialogue with the international community, including on the basis of the “benchmarks for progress” identified by the Special Rapporteur in 2019. Furthermore, Eritrean forces are credibly accused of being responsible for grave violations in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, some of which may amount to crimes under international law, since the beginning of the conflict in November 2020. Scrutiny of Eritrea remains vital. At the 47th session of the Council (21 June-15 July 2021), we urge your delegation to support the adoption of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country for a further year. In addition to ensuring that Eritrea’s domestic situation remains subject to monitoring and public reporting, the resolution should include a request on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the role played and possible violations committed by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since November 2020. While welcoming the adoption of resolutions 41/1 and 44/12 under the Council’s agenda item 2, many non-governmental organisations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s approach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground.

Regrettably, the concerns expressed in a joint civil society letter published last year remain valid. Key human rights issues in Eritrea include:

  • Widespread impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations. Arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention continue unabated,4 as do violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, and lack of information on disappeared persons. For instance, the fate and whereabouts of Ciham Ali Ahmed, an Eritrean-American citizen who in 2012 was thrown into indefinite detention aged 15 for attempting to flee the country because her father, a government official, defected, remain unknown.
  • Conscription into the country’s abusive national service system. Secondary school students, some still children, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year, including amidst the pandemic. 6 Indefinite national service, involving torture, sexual violence against women and girls, and forced labour, continues. Thousands remain in open-ended conscription, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia.7 Those who joined the national service in 1994 have not been demobilised, and they are still conscripts 27 years later.
  • Restrictions on the media and media workers. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001.
  • Severe restrictions on civic space. These restrictions result in Eritrean citizens being largely unable to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion or belief.

 

On 24 February 2021, in his first address to the Council, the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, indicated that he had seen “no concrete evidence of progress or actual improvement in the human rights situation in the country.” He added that “Eritrea has not yet put in place an institutional and legal framework to uphold minimum human rights standards in a democratic society. The country lacks rule of law, a constitution and an independent judiciary to enforce the protection of and respect for human rights […].”10 On 26 October 2020, his predecessor, Ms. Daniela Kravetz, highlighted that two years after the peace agreement with Ethiopia and the lifting of UN sanctions, she could only note that severe restrictions on civil liberties remained in place and lament a “lack of meaningful and substantive improvement” in relation to the benchmarks for progress she identified. 11 On 26 February 2021, High Commissioner Michele Bachelet stressed that she “remained concerned by the lack of tangible progress” in the country and was “disturbed by reported abductions and forcible returns of Eritrean refugees living in Tigray – some reportedly at the hands of Eritrean forces.”

Since November 2020, these and other independent experts and UN actors have expressed deep concern over the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict affecting Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The violations reported include violations of Eritrean refugees’ rights, including possible killings,13 abductions, and forced return to Eritrea, as well as atrocity crimes against civilians. In early 2021, Amnesty International reported that on 28-29 November 2020, Eritrean troops fighting in Tigray systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Axum, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity.14 Human Rights Watch also reported on how Eritrean and Ethiopian forces indiscriminately shelled Axum, killing and wounding civilians, shot civilians, and pillaged and destroyed property, before the Eritrean forces fatally shot and summarily executed several hundred residents, mostly men and boys, over a 24- hour period. 15 UN actors, including the Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, and the Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Mr. Mark Lowcock, called on Eritrean troops to leave Tigray. Mr. Lowcock added that “countless well-corroborated reports suggest [Eritrean forces’] culpability for atrocities.”16 The High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Filippo Grandi, also publicly expressed concern about the safety of Eritrean refugees in Tigray, considering in particular the infiltration of armed actors in refugee camps. 17 In 2018,18 the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as with the Office of the High Commissioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound plan of action for their implementation.” As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, the Eritrean Government refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations and calls for reform. The Council should ensure adequate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue his work and OHCHR to deepen its engagement with the Eritrean Government. It should also urge Eritrea to meet its membership obligations before the end of its term (31 December 2021) and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. At the recent 46th session, Eritrea announced its intention to again seek Council membership for a further three-year term. The Council should not reward non-cooperation, but rather maintain scrutiny of Eritrea and hold it to its membership obligations to engage in good faith with Council-appointed mechanisms and take concrete, measurable steps to address the grave human rights concerns repeatedly identified by successive Special Rapporteurs and the High Commissioner herself.

At its upcoming 47th session, the Council should adopt a resolution:

(a) Extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for one year; 

(b) Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur by granting him access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council Member;

(c) Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the benchmarks for progress, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR;

(d) Requesting the High Commissioner to present an oral update on the human rights situation in Eritrea at the Council’s 49th session;

(e) Requesting the Special Rapporteur to present an oral update at the Council’s 49th session in an interactive dialogue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 50th session and to the General Assembly at its 77th session; and

(f) Requesting the High Commissioner to present an oral report on the role played and possible violations committed by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since November 2020, at the Council’s 48th session.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as needed.

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva, Switzerland)

10 June 2021

Joint NGO Call for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the ongoing human rights crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia

Your Excellency, We, the undersigned human rights non-governmental organizations, strongly urge the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt a resolution at its upcoming 47th session (HRC47) on the ongoing human rights crisis in Tigray, Ethiopia. Over the last seven months an overwhelming number of reports have emerged of abuses and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law (IHL/IHRL) during the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. Reports by civil society organizations have detailed widespread massacres, violence against civilians and indiscriminate attacks across Tigray while preliminary analysis by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) indicates that all warring parties have committed abuses that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There is now ample evidence 1 that atrocities continue to be committed, notably by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Eritrean Defense Forces, and Amhara regional special police and affiliated Fano militias. These include indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, widespread and mass extrajudicial executions, rape and other sexual violence, forced displacement, arbitrary detentions, including of displaced persons, widespread destruction and pillage of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, factories and businesses, and the destruction of refugee camps, crops and livestock. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict has repeatedly expressed alarm over the widespread and systematic commission of rape and sexual violence in Tigray. On 21 April she stated that women and girls in Tigray are being subjected to sexual violence “with a cruelty that is beyond comprehension,” including gang rape by men in uniform, targeted sexual attacks on young girls and pregnant women, and family members forced to witness these horrific abuses. The SRSG also stated that these reports, coupled with assessments by healthcare providers in the region, indicate that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war. Thousands of civilians are estimated to have been killed, while the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs believes at least 1.7 million people remain displaced. On top of ethnic targeting and massacres within Tigray, there have been reports of government discrimination, demonization and hate speech directed at Tigrayans in other parts of Ethiopia. A number of UN officials, from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to UNICEF’s Executive Director and the UN Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, have publicly called for urgent action to end the abuses in Tigray and alleviate the conflict’s devastating impact on the region’s civilian population. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator has also warned that famine is imminent in Tigray and that without a drastic upscaling of funding and access, hundreds of thousands of people could starve. Despite this looming risk, humanitarian workers have also been targeted throughout the conflict, with nine aid workers killed since November, the most recent on 29 May. On 25 March, OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission announced the launch of a joint investigation into the ongoing reports of atrocity crimes in Tigray. On 12 May, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted an important resolution establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate violations of IHL and IHRL and identify perpetrators. Unfortunately, the HRC has so far remained largely silent on Tigray, aside from a welcome joint statement delivered by Germany on behalf of 42 states on 26 February 2021. A robust, dedicated and coordinated approach to this human rights crisis by the international community is both critical and urgent, given the gravity of ongoing crimes, the complex nature of the situation, and the involvement of various parties. After seven months of serious violations and abuses, the HRC can no longer stay silent. It should take urgent action to address the crisis and fulfil its mandate to address and prevent violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations and abuses, and to respond promptly to emergencies. We therefore respectfully urge your Mission to work towards the adoption of a resolution at HRC47 that: • Recognizes the serious concerns expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to Protect, and other senior UN officials regarding possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray; • Requests the High Commissioner to report on her investigations, findings and recommendations to date regarding the human rights situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, and possible violations of IHL and IHRL at the HRC’s 48th session in the context of an enhanced interactive dialogue; • Also invites the ACHPR’s CoI to brief the HRC on its investigation at the enhanced interactive dialogue at the 48th session; • Emphasizes the important role of the HRC’s prevention mandate, as outlined in Resolution 45/31, and requests the High Commissioner to brief UN member states intersessionally and on an ad-hoc basis to update the HRC on the situation in Tigray. The adoption of such a resolution would provide a concrete foundation for the HRC to decide on the action needed to prevent further human rights violations and abuses in Tigray and ensure accountability.

The Human Rights Council should discuss the Tigray crisis

African states should support holding a debate

This week, in Geneva, a resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis is expected to be formally presented to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which has opened its 47th session (HRC47). Holding a debate on Tigray at the Council’s 48th session (HRC48, September 2021) is imperative. It fits with the HRC’s prevention mandate, as outlined in HRC resolution 45/31. Since November 2020, reports have emerged of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region. While the Ethiopian government should engage and share ownership of the resolution, its refusal to do so (if it is confirmed that this is the government’s position) should not be an obstacle to action. All states should support the draft resolution on Tigray, which outlines a gradual and reasonable approach. The draft resolution is short. Its main objective is to enable the holding of an interactive dialogue on the human rights dimensions of the Tigray crisis. Other UN and African bodies should address the political, security, and humanitarian dimensions of what has become one of the worst crises in Africa. Civil society, including DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders, has called for the adoption of a resolution at HRC47. In a letter, we wrote: “After seven months of serious violations and abuses, the HRC can no longer stay silent. It should take urgent action to address the crisis and fulfil its mandate to address and prevent violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations and abuses, and to respond promptly to emergencies.” DefendDefenders has made it clear that the situation in Tigray demands multilateral attention. While the commencement of a joint OHCHR/Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation is a positive step, other options can, and should, be explored. Based on her universal mandate, High Commissioner Bachelet should report on her assessment of the situation. An enhanced interactive dialogue, to be held at HRC48, should also include the expertise of Ethiopian and regional actors, such as the ACHPR Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Tigray, which the HRC should invite. It is still time for Ethiopia to demonstrate leadership and choose a consensual outcome. A debate at the HRC would not obstruct but rather complement national and regional efforts, as well as the joint OHCHR/EHRC inquiry. In this regard, HRC efforts are not “premature”; they are helpful. Failing to act at HRC47 would mean that the Council will have to wait until HRC48 to adopt a resolution—and will not discuss Tigray before HRC49 (March 2022). A request on the High Commissioner to report and the holding of a debate at the HRC do not “prejudge” outcomes; they pave the way for synergies and for addressing the crisis in a holistic manner. By HRC48, OHCHR and EHRC, on the one hand, and the ACHPR CoI, on the other hand, will have completed their work. We urge all states to support what is a reasonable and realistic course of action on Tigray. We call on African delegations to do their part and contribute to ending the suffering of so many people in Tigray and beyond.

Hassan Shire Executive Director, DefendDefenders Chairperson, AfricanDefenders

Eritrea: vital international scrutiny is extended

By adopting a new resolution on Eritrea, the UN Human Rights Coun­cil extends its scrutiny of the country’s human rights situation, a vital move to address both Eritrea’s domestic human rights violations and atrocities Eritrean forces are commit­ting in Ethio­pia’s Tigray region. 

“The violations Eritrean au­thorities com­­mit at home and the violations Eritrean forces com­mit in Tigray demand international scrutiny,” said Has­san Shire, Exe­cu­tive Direc­tor, Def­end­­Defen­ders. “By ensuring the extension of UN scrutiny, the Council did the right thing.” 

The resolution adopted today extends the mandate of the UN Special Rappor­teur on the coun­try’s human rights situation for one year. It ensures continued reporting and public discussions of Eritrea’s human rights record. 

These discussions will cover Eritrean forces’ role in Tigray, after they enter­ed Ethio­pian territory as armed conflict erupted in Tigray in November 2020. Reports of atrocities they have committed have emerged. They inclu­de abuses against Tigrayan civilians and Eritrean refugees, some of whom have been killed, raped, or for­cibly re­turned to Eritrea. 

Despite being a Council mem­ber, Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and to implement recommendations UN human rights bodies have formulated. 

Ahead of the Council’s 47th session (21 June-13 July 2021), DefendDefenders coordinated the de­ve­lopment of a joint civil society letter,1 which called on states to support the adoption of a re­so­lution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for a further year. The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert tasked with assessing the human rights situation in the country, reporting to the Human Rights Council, and formulating recommendations to improve the situation. 

  

For more information, please contact:

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Estella Kabachwezi

Advocacy, Research and Communications Manager, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +256 782 360 460 (English)

Nicolas Agostini

Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French) 

“Ethiopia: at the UN, a first step towards long-overdue action on Tigray”

By adopting a resolution on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the UN Hu­man Rights Coun­cil takes a first step towards long-overdue international action to address one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. DefendDefenders welcomes this de­ve­lop­ment, which ensures that public debates will be held on the human rights dimensions of the Tigray crisis. Other African and UN bodies should follow suit and end their silence over Tigray. 

“By deciding to formally discuss the Tigray crisis, the Human Rights Council has taken vital action,” said Has­san Shire, Exe­cu­tive Direc­tor, Def­end­­Defen­ders. “All states, including Ethiopia, should engage with the process, and the African Union and UN Security Council should end their silence. On the ground, violations must stop immediately.” 

Since armed conflict erupted in November 2020 between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and their respective allies, reports have emerged of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. 

The resolution adopted today provides for the organisation of two public debates at the Human Rights Council, in September 2021 and March 2022. An “enhanced” interactive dialogue, to be held in September 2021, will allow the Council to hear from Ethiopian and regional actors, such as the Commission of Inquiry on Tigray (CoI)1 set up by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). 

In March 2021, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) agreed to conduct a joint investigation into Tigray.2 Their work is ongoing. 

“Irrespective of the outcomes of the joint investigation, which we hope will be known by September, the High Commissioner will be able to brief the Council,” said Estella Ka­bach­wezi, Advocacy, Research and Communications Ma­na­­ger, Def­end­­Defen­ders. “Today’s re­so­­lu­tion does not prejudge outcomes; it paves the way for experts to con­tri­bute to ad­dres­sing the crisis, based on independent human rights assessments.” 

Ahead of the Council’s 47th session (21 June-13 July 2021), DefendDefenders joined a group of civil society organisations in calling on the Council to adopt a resolution on Tigray. In a joint letter,3 we urged states to support the adoption of a resolution on the crisis in Tigray. “After seven months of serious violations and abuses, the HRC can no longer stay silent,” we wrote. Defend­Defenders’ Executive Director, Hassan Shire, also advocated4 for the Council to discuss Tigray, and encou­ra­ged African states to support the organisation of a debate.  

Out of 47 Council members, 20 voted in favour of the resolution, allowing it to pass. 13 abstained, and 14 voted against. 16 amendments were also presented, which were all rejected by vote. Ano­ther two amendments were withdrawn. The Coun­cil will hold its 48th regular session from 13 Sep­tember to 1 October 2021, and its 49th session in March 2022. 

 

For more information, please contact: 

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali) 

Estella Kabachwezi

Advocacy, Research and Communications Manager, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +256 782 360 460 (English) 

Nicolas Agostini

Representative to the United Nations, DefendDefenders; [email protected] or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French) 

 

 

Side-events at the Council

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