Human rights council chamber

Reflections on the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Exceptionally, this year’s September session of the Human Rights Council, HRC48, took place over four weeks (13 September-11 October 2021). The Council’s programme of work included numerous human rights situations in Africa.

Together with partners from Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan, DefendDefenders delivered a record number of ten oral statements during the session. The statements addressed Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis, Burundi, South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia, among other situations.

Last July, I noted that out of DefendDefenders’ 11 mandate countries, six were on the Council’s agenda: Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. In 2022, there will be only five as the Council dropped its Sudan-focused resolutions and debates.

The decision to discontinue scrutiny of Sudan is premature – which we highlighted in an oral statement and in a press release. Ahead of the session, 38 NGOs urged the Council to maintain Sudan on its agenda by adopting a resolution extending support to and scrutiny of the country. The Council’s decision to drop its Sudan resolutions sends a contradicting message as the Sudanese people attempt to consolidate gains of the 2018-2019 popular Revolution and to achieve “Freedom, Justice and Peace.”

While the human rights situation in Burundi has not structurally improved, the Council decided to change its approach. The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) established in 2016 will be replaced with a Special Rapporteur mandate. While the decision to maintain international scrutiny of the country’s situation is sensible, the Council should formulate a clear, long-term strategy relying on objective benchmarks and indicators to continue addressing Burundi’s situation. As we highlighted in a press release, through its work over the last five years, the CoI has set the bar high for investigative mechanisms. As the evidence it collected and the recommendations it formulated will stay, this is a new chapter, not a blank page for the UN-Burundi relationship.

Positively, the Council adopted a robust resolution on Somalia. The resolution outlines human rights developments and challenges in the country and renews the Independent Expert’s mandate.

Additionally, the Council adopted an important resolution on reprisals as many states continue to commit reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN, including by engaging in advocacy. Several DefendDefenders and AfricanDefenders partners have been targeted and are mentioned in the UN Secretary-General’s report on the issue of reprisals (A/HRC/48/28). In Djibouti, authorities continue to hold Kadar Abdi Ibrahim’s passport without due process. In Burundi, several human rights defenders (HRDs) in exile have been convicted on politically motivated charges, and their assets seized. Lastly, following grave, preposterous allegations made against DefendDefenders at the Council, Cameroon is mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report as having committed an act of intimidation or reprisal. We will not be deterred. We will not be silenced. We will continue to push states to address Cameroon’s human rights crisis collectively through the Council.

I would like to close the year with a reflection about our advocacy work.

The HRC is an intergovernmental—therefore a political—body. After years of achievements, including pushing states to rely on objective criteria and address human rights situations based on their merits, HRC48 marked a return of politics (in the negative sense of the word). While overall we had seen less politics and more expertise guide the action of the Council, at this session, political considerations and non-human rights-based criteria guided many of the Council’s decisions. These include the shift away from the CoI on Burundi and the Council’s failure to adopt a resolution on Sudan. It also includes the Council’s rejection of an important draft resolution on Yemen.

HRC48 provides food for thought and will inform future advocacy efforts.

HRC49 (February-March 2022) will include debates on, among others, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and the situation of HRDs worldwide. We hope that in-person participation in the work of the Council will finally resume, the health situation allowing.

 

Hassan Shire

Oral Statements to the Council

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner, 

We thank you for your presentation, which provides an overview of the dire situ­ation in Tigray. The armed conflict in the region is complex. Multiple actors, including Eritrean Defence Forces, are involved. Egregious violations and abuses against civilians and Eritrean refugees, inc­lu­ding sexual violence, have been documented. All perpe­tra­tors of grave vio­la­tions must be held to account. 

The conflict has spilled over to neighbouring regions, namely Afar and Amhara. Violence, inc­rea­singly along ethnic lines and carried out by militias, is mounting and threatens to spread across the entire country. 

The absolute priority is the cessation of hostilities by all parties and de-escalation of tensions. 

Madam President, 

At the last session, by ensuring reporting and debates on Tigray, the UN Human Rights Council took an im­por­tant step. Council action is legitimate both in itself and as a com­plement to na­tional and regional efforts, as well as the joint OHCHR/Ethio­pian Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion (EHRC) investi­ga­tion

We urge the Ethiopian authorities to continue cooperating with the joint investi­ga­tion and to accept and engage with any findings, as well as to implement other expert recommendations (inc­luding by OHCHR and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Com­mission of Inquiry) to im­prove the situation. 

When ready, the findings of the joint investigation should be made public. All parties to the con­­flict must own the report and its recommendations, including on accountability. This is the only path to ending the violations and preventing their recurrence.

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, 

We addressed Ethiopia during the Tigray-focused debate under this agenda item. 

At the last session, we mentioned positive developments in Tanzania. Upon assuming office, Pre­­sident Samia Suluhu Hassan indicated that she would uphold freedom of expression and due pro­cess. She sent positive signals for civic space, including ordering the reopening of media outlets that had been closed or suspended. We welcomed these steps, which took place ahead of Tanzania’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 

Unfortunately, in less than a month, Tanzanian authorities ordered the sus­pen­sion of two news­papers, Uhuru and Raia Mwema, for publishing “false information.” Additionally, opposition lea­der Freeman Mbowe was arrested, just before he was due to launch a constitutional reform programme. He is facing economic cri­mes- and financing of terrorism-related charges. We call on President Hassan’s government to deliver on the promise of a more open Tanzania, in line with its Cons­titution and history of respect for human rights and the rule of law. 

Madam President, 

As Covid-19 continues to spread, reporting on the human rights dimensions of the Covid-19 crisis remains essential. 

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, members of the Commission, 

Ten years after its independence, South Sudan still needs the UN’s utmost attention. The man­da­te of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan remains vital. In March 2022, the Hu­man Rights Council should ex­tend it further. 

We remain concerned over conflict at the local level, ongoing sexual and gender-based vio­len­ce, ex­tra­judicial executions, and attacks against civilians. As the Commission em­pha­sised, South Sudanese citizens are longing for sustainable peace, national cohesion, and ac­count­ability. 

DefendDefenders and the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network are deeply con­cer­ned over the pressure faced by independent hu­man rights, civil society and pea­ce­­­building ac­tors in the country. Human rights defenders working to advance justi­ce, ac­coun­tability and democratic governance are subject­ed to pervasive surveillance by the Na­tio­nal Secu­rity Service. 

Despite con­ti­nu­ous efforts from the Network and the South Sudan Human Rights Commission to facilitate dia­logue between civil society organisations and government officials, violations continue. They are facilitated by a cul­ture of intimidation, abuse of power, and impu­nity. 

We highlight the following cases:

  1. On 30 March 2021, the joint security agents tortured peaceful protestors who were de­man­ding justice for an artist who died due to negligence and the poor state of health ser­vices in the country.
  2. On 16 July 2021, the NSS stormed and shut down a vital civil society public discussion meant to popularise the nation’s Constitution amidst ongoing amendments.
  3. Rampant arrests of civil society members, across the country, on 30 August 2021. In Yei, three of those arrested are still incarcerated, Internet was shut down, and in Jonglei State, a community radio station was closed. 

We call on the government to: (i) cease the harassment of HRDs, journalists, and civil society actors; (ii) release all those being detained for enga­ging in peaceful activities relating to human rights; and (iii) ensure independent and ef­fec­tive investigations into attacks against HRDs. 

Thank you. 

Madam President, members of the Commission, 

We thank you for your report and for the work of the Commission over the last five years. While the human rights situation in Burundi has not significantly improved, your work and multi­la­te­ral action to address the country’s crisis have provided invaluable updates on developments and contributed to preventing the perpetration of further violations. Scrutiny of Burundi’s situ­ation has also enabled substantive work on accountability and given victims and survivors tan­gible hope that they will obtain justice. 

Madam President, 

All the structural issues the Commission and other independent human rights actors have iden­ti­fied remain in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections and despite positive steps such as the long-overdue releases of Ger­main Rukuki and Nestor Nibitanga. Burundian authorities should immediately and uncondi­tio­nally release lawyer Tony Germain Nkina. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016. 

Ahead of this session, a large group of NGOs called on the Council to ensure continued scrutiny. We reiterate that consideration of Burundi’s situation should be dependent on demonstrable and sustainable progress on key human rights issues, and that the Council’s approach should rely on benchmarks and indicators. The reopening of the OHCHR country office is one such bench­mark. 

At this session, at minimum, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground and ensures: (i) continued independent documentation of violations, monitoring of, and public reporting on, the human rights situation, and (ii) follow up to the work and recom­men­dations of the Commission, in particular on justice and accountability. 

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, 

Last May, a group of 62 NGOs released a letter addressing Cameroon’s human rights situation and urging collective action in this regard. 

We will not be deterred by the government of Cameroon’s attempts (including in the form of intimidation before this Council) to silence evidence-based re­por­ting and advocacy on the on­going crisis. We reiterate that the crisis, which affects not only the Anglophone North-West and South-West regions and the Far North (with grave violations and atrocities committed by all parties), but also the rest of the coun­try (with violations committed by the government against dissenting voices), is serious. It requires urgent re­gio­nal and international attention. 

It has been two and a half years since a group of 39 states last delivered a joint oral statement on Cameroon. Despite the High Commissioner’s visit to Yaoundé, the holding of a “national dia­­logue,” and OHCHR’s field presence and engagement with the government, vio­la­tions con­ti­nue. 

We regret that the outcome of OHCHR’s September 2019 technical visit to the Anglo­pho­ne regions and engagement with the Cameroonian authorities remains unpublished. 

As the African Union and the UN Security Council remain silent, this Council has a res­ponsibility to step up its scrutiny. States should come together and formulate benchmarks for progress, which, if fulfilled, will cons­titute a path for Cameroon to improve its situation. If these bench­marks remain unfulfilled and the situation fails to improve, more for­mal Council action should follow, including a resolution establishing an in­ves­tigative and accountability mechanism. 

Thank you for your attention.

Madam President, Madam Assistant Secretary-General, 

We thank you for your presentation. We deplore that BurundiEgypt, and South Sudan remain mentioned in your report. We re­gret the presence of Ethiopia and Tanzania this year. In Bu­rundi, human rights defenders in exile have been convicted and their property seized, including by ruling CNDD-FDD officials. 

In March 2021, after we delivered a statement calling on the Council to address Cameroon’s crisis, the Cameroonian Ambassador accused DefendDefenders of finan­cing terrorism and being respon­si­ble for “several assassinations, kidnappings, and attacks.” These grave, ab­surd, preposterous, and defamatory allegations aimed to punish anyone repor­ting on the situation in Cameroon. 

We welcome the President’s commitment to fight reprisals, and her steps to approach states when­ever reprisals are alle­ged. We encourage the Bureau to make all communications, inc­lu­ding letters alleging acts of reprisal or inti­midation and state responses/notes verbales, available on the HRC extranet, in the “Commu­ni­cations to/from the President” section. This would not under­mine, but rather complement, “quiet diplomacy.” 

Madam President, 

In DjiboutiKadar Abdi Ibrahim’s case remains unresolved. After Mr. Ibrahim participated in Universal Periodic Review (UPR) pre-sessions, in April 2018, agents of Dji­bouti’s Infor­mation and Security Service (SDS) raided his home and arbitrarily confiscated his passport. 

Three and a half years on, authorities continue to hold his passport. This has happened out­side any form or even semblance of due process. Mr. Ibra­him remains unable to challenge the deci­sion or to have his case reviewed by a court of law. This act of reprisals must stop. 

Thank you for your attention. 

 

(Read the letter sent to the HRC President, regarding Cameroon’s behaviour) 

Madam President, 

We welcome the acceptance, by the Federal Government of Somalia, of more than 90% of the recom­men­dations it received during its third UPR. 

Regarding the protection of women’s and girls’ rights, we encourage the government to ratify the CEDAW Convention and the Maputo Protocol at the earliest opportunity, as well as to imple­ment recommendations to with­draw the Sexual Intercourse and Related Crimes Bill and instead adopt the originally intro­duced Sexual Offences Bill. While this is a matter for the legislature to consider, in international law the state (represented by the executive) is responsible. 

Somalia accepted all recommendations pertaining to these areas. The test is now implemen­ta­tion. 

We highlight priority areas for legislative and policy reforms, in line with accepted recom­men­dations and as follows:

  • First, Somalia should fully respect freedom of opinion and expression. The government ac­cep­ted numerous recommendations in this regard. They include Soma­lia’s obligation to uphold freedom of the media. This obligation triggers an obligation to revise the amen­ded Media Law 2020, which unduly restricts freedom of the media and impedes the work of jour­nalists. It also triggers an obligation to protect journalists, investigate all attacks against them, and hold perpetrators to account, irrespective of their rank or status. 
  • Second, Somalia should amend its criminal law. Defa­ma­tion and national security provi­sions of the outdated 1964 Penal Code continue to be used to suppress fundamental free­doms, including freedom of expression online and offline. 
  • Third, Somalia should prioritise protecting human rights defenders and civil society ac­tors. All should be free from harassment, intimidation, threats, and attacks. While distrust and political uncertainty remain high, we stress that there will be no democratic and sta­ble Somalia, and no sustainable peace, without an open civic space

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, 

In the statement we delivered during the item 4 debate on South Sudan, we stressed that the country needs continued international attention. We also stressed the need for the Council to renew the man­da­te of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan at its next session, in March 2022. 

This year, despite the South Sudanese government’s claim that it only needs technical assis­tan­ce and capacity-building, many states read the report of the Commission and listened to other independent human rights actors reporting on the country. They concluded that a high level of scrutiny was still needed

We note that a second resolution was adopted—hence today’s debate. 

The provision of technical assistance and capacity-building is an essential part of the Coun­­cil’s work. Used under the right circumstances, it can go a long way toward helping the con­cerned coun­tries fulfil their human rights obligations. 

However, a government does not need technical assistance to know that its forces should not deliberately target and starve civilians. A government does not need technical assistance to know that its forces should not sexually assault women and girls. A government does not need technical assistance to know that it should not harass human rights defenders. 

It needs political will. 

Next March, only one resolution on South Sudan should be presented. Technical assistance and capacity-building can be provided through an item 4 resolution renewing the mandate of an inves­tigative me­cha­nism such as the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, which al­ready includes technical co­operation elements. 

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, Madam High Commissioner, 

As the Human Rights Council is about to discontinue its formal reporting on Sudan, we stress that this would be a premature move. 

Ahead of this session, a group of 38 Sudanese, African, and international NGOs called on the Council to continue supporting human rights reforms in Sudan, both through technical assis­tan­ce and capacity-building and by maintaining the monitoring and public reporting ca­pa­city of OHCHR. 

In its last report, OHCHR outlined both progress and ongoing challenges, including protection gaps. While the last two and a half years have brought about positive change, Sudan continues to face significant human rights, humanitarian, political, economic, social, and health challen­ges. In recent months, violence against civilians in Darfur and inter­com­munal conflicts in the East­ern part of the country have increased. Justice and accountability remain elu­sive for the egre­gious violations and abuses committed under the Al-Bashir dictatorship and during the 3 June 2019 massacre. 

Sudan’s political transition is incomplete. The army retains significant power and ten­sions grow between the civilian and military sides of the executive. 

From a Geneva perspective, Sudan is not yet a success story for the Human Rights Council. We do not want to face a situation in which, in one or two years from now, we have to call for Sudan to be set on the Council’s agenda again. While we have to issue this warning today, we hope that we will be proven wrong — and we wish all the best to the Sudanese people, who deserve Freedom, Justice and Peace

Thank you for your attention. 

Madam President, Madam Independent Expert, 

We thank you for your report, welcome your benchmarking effort, and welcome the Council’s ongoing work to assist the Somali authorities in fulfilling their obligations, support independent actors in the country, and scru­ti­nise the human rights situation. 

In this regard, we welcome the development of a robust resolution that reflects developments in Somalia and renews the Independent Expert’s mandate. We call for its adoption by con­sen­sus. 

Human rights challenges remain tremendous. As you reported, Madam Dyfan, these challenges cover all areas of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, while the political, consti­tutio­nal and electoral crisis continues to create a climate of uncertainty. Insecurity continues to plague the country. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence. 

Changes in laws, policies, and practices are indispensable. They include holding those respon­sible for violations to account, operationalising institutions such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Com­mis­sion, and fully reviewing the Penal Code. In our UPR statement, we stressed that the amen­ded Media Law 2020, which unduly restricts freedom of expression, should be revised. Effective work by special prosecutors for the killings of journa­lists and violence against women and girls is vital. 

Supporting a free and independent civil society and creating and maintaining an open civic space should be a priority for all public and political actors. 

Madam Dyfan: 

What is your assessment of the state of civic space in the country and of the impact of political tensions over civic actors’ enjoyment of their rights? 

Thank you. 

Advocacy documents and press releases

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

 

18 August 2021

Burundi: The Human Rights Council should continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability

 

Excellencies,

At the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (the Coun­cil) in October 2020, the Council rene­wed the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi for a further year. This allow­ed the only independent mechanism mandated to document human rights vio­la­tions and abuses, moni­tor, and publicly report on the situation in Burundi to continue its work. By adopting resolution 45/19, the Coun­cil reco­gni­sed that chan­ging political circumstances do not equate to human rights change, and main­tained its res­pon­sibility to support victims and sur­­vivors of violations and continue working to improve the situ­a­tion in the country. 

Ahead of the Council’s 48th session (13 September-8 October 2021), we are writing to urge your delegation to support efforts to ensure that the Council continues its scrutiny and pursues its work towards justice and accountability in Burundi. In the absence of structural improvements, and in view of the recent increase in human rights violations against persons perceived as government opponents, we con­­si­der that there is no basis, nor measurable progress, that would warrant a de­par­ture from the current approach or a failure to renew the mandate of the CoI. At the up­coming session, at minimum, the Council should adopt a resolution that reflects realities on the ground, including the following elements.

First, the resolution should acknowledge that despite some improvements over the past year, the human rights situation in Burundi has not changed in a substantial or sustainable way. All the structural issues the CoI and other human rights actors have iden­ti­fied since 2015 re­main in place. In recent months, there has been an increase in arbitrary arrests of political opponents or those perceived as such, as well as cases of torture, enforced disappearances and targeted killings, apparently reversing initial progress after the 2020 elections. Serious violations, some of which may amount to crimes against hu­ma­nity, continue. Impunity remains widespread, particularly relating to the grave crimes committed in 2015 and 2016.[1] Even if some human rights defenders have been released, national and international human rights organisations are still un­able to operate in the country.

The resolution should acknowledge that any substantive change to the Council’s consideration of Bu­run­di’s situation is dependent on demonstrable and sustainable progress on key human rights issues of con­­cern. The Coun­cil’s approach should rely on benchmarks designed to measure tangible progress and based on key indicators identified by the CoI.[2] The Burundian Govern­ment should acknowledge exis­ting human rights challenges explicitly and grant access to and cooperate with independent human rights mechanisms. It should also design a clear implementation plan and timeframe.

Second, the Council’s approach should focus on the following core functions:

(i) Continued independent documentation of violations and abuses, monitoring of, and public re­por­ting on, the hu­man rights situation in Burundi, with adequate resources.

These functions remain essential, espe­cial­ly in the absence of a strong human rights movement and independent institutions in Burundi. This work should be conducted by the CoI, or a similarly inde­pendent mechanism or team of experts, who are solely focused on Burundi and use professio­nal me­tho­dologies to collect detailed information. The mechanism or team should be mandated to esta­blish responsibilities and identify all those suspected of criminal responsibility. To follow up on the CoI’s previous work, including on links between human rights violations and economic networks and corruption, it should en­ga­ge in thorough analysis of political, social, and economic dynamics in Burundi. To do so, it requires an adequate level of expertise, resources, and staffing.

(ii) Follow up to the work and recommendations of the CoI, in particular on justice and accoun­ta­­bility.

The reports and recommendations of the CoI since 2017 form a road map for reform, particularly in the area of justice and accountability. The Burun­dian Government has not taken meaningful steps to resume cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) or to cooperate with regional human rights me­cha­nisms.[3] The national human rights institution, the Commission Nationale Indépendante des Droits de l’Homme du Bu­run­di (CNIDH), lacks indepen­dence, demonstrated by its failure to investigate and report on politically motivated human rights violations, and therefore cannot be a substitute for the CoI, despite its renewed A status. Therefore, an independent mechanism or team that is also mandated to conduct substantive work on justice and accountability remains essential. In addition to documenting violations and iden­ti­fying all those sus­pected of criminal responsibility, its work should also include recommendations on ending impunity.

The CoI, which is due to present a written report to the Council at its up­coming 48th session, continues to provide critical oversight of the hu­man rights situation in Bu­run­di. Like its predecessor, the UN Inde­pendent In­ves­tigation on Bu­rundi (UNIIB), it has do­cumented gross, widespread and syste­ma­tic human rights vio­lations and abu­ses. The thoroughness and visibility of its work has put those suspected of criminal responsibility on notice that their conduct is being monitored and documented.

Concrete and long-term improvements in the human rights situation in Burundi will not come as a result of the Council relaxing its scrutiny. Rather, continued international scrutiny and substantive work towards justice and accountability constitutes the best chance to achieve meaningful change in the country.

At its 48th session, the Council should avoid sending the Burundian Government signals that would disincentivise domestic human rights re­forms. The Council should ensure conti­nued do­cu­men­ta­tion, monitoring, public reporting, and public debates on Burundi’s human rights si­tua­tion, with a focus on justice and accountability. It should urge the Burundian authorities to make concrete commitments to implement human rights reforms within a clear time-frame, which should be mea­su­red against specific benchmarks.

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

Sincerely,

  1. Action des Chrétiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture – Burundi (ACAT-Burundi)
  2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  3. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  4. Amnesty International
  5. Article 20 Network
  6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  7. Association Burundaise pour la Protection des Droits Humains et des Personnes Détenues (APRODH)
  8. Association des Journalistes Burundais en Exil (AJBE)
  9. The Burundi Human Rights Initiative (BHRI)
  10. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  11. Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG)
  12. Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)
  13. CIVICUS
  14. Civil Society Coalition for Monitoring the Elections (COSOME)
  15. Coalition Burundaise pour la Cour Pénale Internationale (CB-CPI)
  16. Collectif des Avocats pour la Défense des Victimes de Crimes de Droit International Commis au Burundi (CAVIB)
  17. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  18. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
  19. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center
  20. European Network for Central Africa (EurAc)
  21. Forum pour la Conscience et le Développement (FOCODE)
  22. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  23. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  24. Human Rights Watch
  25. INAMAHORO Movement, Women and Girls for Peace and Security
  26. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  27. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  28. International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT)
  29. International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
  30. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  31. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
  32. Light For All
  33. Ligue Iteka
  34. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Burundi (CBDDH)
  35. Observatoire de la Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques (OLUCOME)
  36. Odhikar
  37. Organisation pour la Transparence et la Gouvernance (OTRAG)
  38. Protection International Africa
  39. Reporters Without Borders
  40. Réseau des Citoyens Probes (RCP)
  41. SOS-Torture/Burundi
  42. Tournons La Page
  43. TRIAL International
  44. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

[1] In its latest oral briefing to the Council, assessing the human rights situation against specific action points identified in their September 2020 report, the CoI concluded that “the current situation in Burundi is too complex and uncertain to be referred to as genuine improvement” (Oral briefing of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, Human Rights Council 46th session, 11 March 2021, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=26879&LangID=E).

[2] See the 2020 civil society letter, available at: DefendDefenders et al., “Burundi: Vital role of the Commission of Inquiry in prompting meaningful human rights progress,” 20 August 2020, https://defenddefenders.org/burundi-vital-role-of-the-commission-of-inquiry-in-prompting-meaningful-human-rights-progress/ (accessed on 22 July 2021). The latest CoI report is available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundiReportHRC45.aspx.

[3] The African Union (AU) human rights ob­servers were never fully deployed and faced a num­ber of serious limitations to their work. Their mission ended on 31 May 2021. Burundi never cooperated with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACH­PR) to implement its resolutions.

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

 

10 September 2021

The Human Rights Council should extend its support to, and scrutiny of, Sudan

 

Excellencies,

Ahead of the 48th session of the UN Human Rights Council (13 September-8 October 2021), we, the undersigned civil society organisations, write to highlight the need for the Coun­cil to continue supporting human rights reforms in Sudan, both through technical assistance and capa­city-buil­ding and by holding public debates on progress and challenges, as well as the work of the Office of t­he UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in the country.

As Su­dan’s political transition re­mains incomplete, the Council has a responsibility to sup­port na­tio­­nal authorities and actors, including civil society organisations, and to maintain the moni­tor­ing and public reporting ca­pacity of OHCHR, which should form a basis for annual enhanced interactive dialogues at the Council.

Last year, by adopting resolution 45/25[1] by consensus, the Council decided to end the mandate of the Inde­pen­dent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan and to request OHCHR to report on progress made and ongoing human rights challenges in the country. Pursuant to the resolution, and on the basis of the High Com­mis­sioner’s universal mandate, the OHCHR has continued to provide valuable updates on human rights deve­lopments in Sudan.

In its last report,[2] the OHCHR said it was “encouraged by the positive steps taken by the Government of the Sudan to address systemic human rights and rule-of-law concerns […].” It added: “However, the prolonged precarious situation in Darfur and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, coupled with the unresolved root causes of the conflict, often lead to the reoccurrence of violence, resulting in significant civi­lian displacements, with immediate human rights and protection implications. Following the termi­na­tion of the [UN/African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, UNAMID] mandate in December 2020, civilian vulnerability increased, which mani­fested it­self in a series of violent incidents in Darfur. For the most part, the violence was triggered by inter­communal feuds and the impunity arising from weak law enforcement and judicial institutions.”

In its report, the OHCHR also expressed a series of other concerns, including the curtailment of the rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and participation, the targeting of jour­na­lists and human rights defenders by security forces, and sexual and gender-based violence against wo­men and girls.

The report identified protection gaps and formulated recommendations per­tain­ing to protection of civilians, economic, social and cultural rights, human rights mechanisms, accoun­ta­bi­lity, and legal and institu­tional reforms. Additionally, it endorsed all recommendations made by the Indepen­dent Expert in his final report.

 

This year, as a fully mandated OHCHR country office is operational,[3] and taking note of the latter’s capacity to identify and report on both positive developments and challenges and risks, the Council should acknowledge that monitoring and reporting complement technical co­ope­ra­tion.

Building upon the good level of cooperation between the Sudanese authorities and the UN human rights system, and cognizant of ongoing challenges on the ground and possible moni­tor­ing and reporting gaps due to the UNAMID draw­down,[4] the Council should signal its willingness to both continue supporting Sudan and extend its scrutiny of the country’s human rights situation.

*   *   *

The last two and a half years have brought about significant changes for the Sudanese people and Su­dan’s rela­tionship with independent human rights actors. Some of these changes have the potential to beco­me systemic, if they are sustained and complemented with wide-ranging institutional, legislative, and po­licy reforms. A joint civil society letter, issued in September 2020,[5] contains a summary of pro­gress in these areas as well as regarding Sudan’s peace process. Since then, further reforms have been announ­ced, including the ratification of key human rights instruments and enhanced cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC).

However, Sudan continues to face significant human rights, humanitarian, political, economic, social, and health challenges. In recent months, violence against civilians in Darfur and intercommunal con­flicts in the Eastern part of the country have increased. Significant steps are yet to be taken to address systemic human rights issues and achieve meaningful, sustainable progress. Justice and accountability remain elusive for the egregious violations and abuses committed under the 30-year Al-Bashir dicta­torship, including violations that may amount to crimes under international law, especially in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, and the 3 June 2019 massacre. Freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right of access to information, continue to suffer from legal provisions and practices that undermine fun­damental rights. Barriers to the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as well as of freedom of religion or belief, remain in place.

*   *   *

In this context, the Human Rights Council has a responsibility to keep Sudan high on its list of priorities and to contribute to meaningful progress in the country.

For its part, in line with its announced “full cooperation policy” and the positive steps it has taken in multilateral arenas, the Sudanese Government should con­tinue to use all possible avenues of work with the UN human rights system. It should continue to send positive signals to the international community by taking the lead in the development and adoption of a resolution that extends the holding of enhanced interactive dialogues on Sudan at the Human Rights Council. This multilateral effort would constitute the perfect corollary to the Govern­ment’s bilateral coope­ration with OHCHR.

At its upcoming 48th session, the Council should adopt a resolution extending technical assistance and ca­pa­city-building to the Sudanese Government and human rights actors in the country, while en­su­ring regular monitoring of, and reporting to the Council on, the human rights situation and the work of the OHCHR country office.

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

Sincerely,

  1. Act for Sudan
  2. Africa Initiative for Media & Journalists Safety (AIM – Journalists Safety)
  3. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
  4. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  5. Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE)
  6. Amnesty International
  7. Brooklyn Coalition for Darfur & Marginalized Sudan
  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  2. CIVICUS
  3. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  4. Darfur and Beyond
  5. Darfur Bar Association
  6. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  7. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  8. Human Rights Advocacy Network for Democracy
  9. Human Rights Watch
  10. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  11. International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  12. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  13. Investors Against Genocide
  14. Jewish World Watch
  15. Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) – Sudan
  16. Justice Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultations
  17. Massachusetts Coalition to Save Darfur
  18. Never Again Coalition
  19. Nubia Project-USA
  1. PAX
  2. REDRESS
  3. Sudan Civil Society Initiative
  4. Sudanese Human Rights Initiative (SHRI)
  5. Sudanese Lawyers and Legal Practitioners’ Association in the UK
  6. Sudanese Rural Association for Peace and Development (SRAPD)
  7. Sudanese Transitional Justice Organization (STJO)
  8. Sudan of The Future
  9. Sudan Social Development Organisation (SUDO)
  10. SUDO (UK)
  11. Sudan Unlimited
  12. Waging Peace

[1] United Nations General Assembly, “Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 6 October 2020; 45/25: Technical assistance and capacity-building to further improve human rights in the Sudan,” Doc. A/HRC/RES/45/25, 14 October 2020, available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/RES/45/25

[2] United Nations General Assembly, “Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Sudan,” Doc. A/HRC/48/46, 27 July 2021, available at: https://undocs.org/A/HRC/48/46 (para. 55 and infra).

[3] According to OHCHR, “As of 1 January 2021, in line with the 2011 policy on human rights in United Nations peace operations and political missions, the OHCHR country office in the Sudan has been integrated with the [UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS)] Office of Support to Civilian Protection, referred to in the present report as the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office in the Sudan. Currently, the Joint Office has 21 staff, including 3 staff in three field offices (El Fasher, Kadugli and El Damazin), and recruitment is ongoing.” OHCHR officers have also conducted field missions (Ibid., paras. 1-2; 4).

However, a more regular presence in conflict-affected areas is yet to be established. There is also a need to integrate human rights monitoring and reporting of OHCHR fully into UNITAMS.

[4] United Nations Sudan, “UNAMID completes drawdown, begins liquidation,” 29 June 2021, https://sudan.un.org/en/133581-unamid-completes-drawdown-begins-liquidation (accessed on 26 August 2021).  

[5] DefendDefenders et al., “The Human Rights Council should support systemic human rights reforms in Sudan,” 9 September 2020, https://defenddefenders.org/the-human-rights-council-should-support-human-rights-reforms-in-sudan/ (accessed on 26 August 2021).

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

 

17 August 2021

Cameroon: Multilateral action is urgently needed

 

Excellencies,

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, remain deeply concerned over ongoing grave hu­man rights violations and abuses in Cameroon. We reiterate the concerns expressed in a letter[1] sent to your delegation and others ahead of the Human Rights Council’s 47th ses­sion. We urge your delegation to support multi­lateral action to address Cameroon’s hu­man rights crisis, at a minimum through a joint oral statement to the Council’s 48th session (13 September-8 October 2021).

Cameroon is among the human rights crises the Council has failed to adequately address. Given the inaction of other bodies (including the African Union and the UN Security Coun­cil) and increasing concerns over Cameroon’s low level of engagement with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), it is vital for the Council to send a clear message by stepping up its scrutiny and engagement.

The Council’s 48th session will provide States with more opportunities to raise concerns about human rights violations and abuses in country-specific contexts, in particular given the resumption of general debates.

As outlined in the May 2021 civil society letter, a joint oral statement should include benchmarks for pro­gress, which, if fulfilled, will cons­ti­tute a path for Came­roon to improve its situation. If these bench­marks remain unfulfilled, then the sta­te­ment will pave the way for more formal Council action, inclu­ding, but not limited to, a reso­lution esta­bli­shing an in­vestigative and accoun­tability mechanism.

We thank you for your attention and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

Sincerely,

  1. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  2. CIVICUS
  3. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  4. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  5. Franciscans International
  6. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  7. Human Rights Watch
  8. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)

[1] Available at DefendDefenders et al., “Multilateral action is needed to address the human rights crisis in Cameroon,” 29 June 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/multilateral-action-is-needed-to-address-the-human-rights-crisis-in-cameroon/ (accessed on 27 July 2021). 62 organisations joined the letter, dated 12 May 2021.

Sudan is not a Human Rights Council success story yet

Both Council support and scrutiny should continue

 

In Geneva, this will be a key week for Sudan. As we entered the third week of the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session (HRC48), no draft resolution addressing Sudan’s human rights needs and challen­ges has been circulated. If no text is tabled with the Council’s Secretariat by Wednesday 29 September, no reso­lution will be adopted at the end of the session, on 8 October 2021.

This would be a first in the Council’s existence. Since its creation, in 2006, the Council has adopted at least one resolution on the country every year.

In practical terms, the Council’s failure to adopt a resolution on Sudan would mean that the country quietly lea­ves the agenda. There would be no more formal reporting and no more plenary debates on Sudan.

As the army retains significant power and tensions grow between the civilian and military sides of Sudan’s executive branch, this would be a premature move.

The country’s political, security, economic, and huma­ni­tarian situation remains fragile. The transition is in­com­plete. Justice and accountability remain elusive, including for the decades of conflict-related atrocities in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan and human rights violations committed in the rest of the country, inc­luding on 3 June 2019 in Khartoum. There has been human rights progress, inclu­ding the opening of the civic space, but much remains to be done. The country needs to consolidate gains of its 2018-2019 Revolution and prevent setbacks. In short: we are still far from the democratic, rule-of-law, rights-res­pecting country that Su­danese citizens envisioned when they peacefully marched to demand change.

For the Council, Sudan is not yet a success story. The country needs continued support and scrutiny. This can be done through what close to 40 Sudanese, African, and international NGOs suggested in a letter — namely, that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) continue reporting to the Council on a yearly basis, and that its reports form a basis for debates on Sudan. To do this, the Council needs to adopt a resolution.

Such a resolution would provide for additional support to the OHCHR country office in Sudan, which plays a key role in helping the Sudanese authorities advance human rights in the country.

We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation in which, in one or two years from now, we regret this ses­sion’s decision and have to call for Sudan to be set on the Council’s agenda again.

The ball is in the Sudanese authorities’ court. It is up to the permanent mission of Sudan in Geneva to take the initiative, accept to discuss and draft a resolution, and lead negotiations towards its adoption.

African Group members should encourage Sudan to follow this path and continue sending the right signals to the international community.

 

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, DefendDefenders

Chairperson, AfricanDefenders

Burundi and the UN: a new chapter, not a blank page

 

The UN Human Rights Council’s decision to maintain its scrutiny of Burundi is sensible, DefendDefenders said today. As the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Burundi completed its work, the UN’s top human rights body adopted a reso­lution that esta­bli­shes a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country. It is now vital for the Council to formu­late a clear strategy of engagement with the Burundian gov­ern­ment.

“Through its work over the last five years, the CoI set the bar high for inde­pendent inves­tigative mecha­nisms,” said Has­san Shire, Exe­cu­tive Direc­tor, Def­end­­Defen­ders. “The Human Rights Council decided to change its approach but maintain a special focus on Burundi. As the evidence collected and recommendations formulated by the CoI will stay, this is a new chapter, not a blank page.”

The resolution adopted today provides an overview of the human rights situation in Burundi. While noting some positive steps (including the release of political prisoners and resumption of ope­ra­tions of radio stations), it condemns the killings, disappearances, torture and arbitrary arrests documented in the country, as well as severe restrictions on civil and political rights and wide­spread im­pu­nity. It was adopted a few days after the Ngozi Appeals Court upheld the ground­less conviction of lawyer Tony Germain Nkina.

The resolution establishes a mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi, an ex­pert tasked with monitoring the human rights situation, making recommendations for its imp­ro­ve­ment, and re­por­ting to the Human Rights Council. While the Spe­cial Rapporteur will be unable to continue the totality of the investigative work carried out by the CoI, he or she will “collect, examine and assess” information on human rights deve­lop­ments. Additionally, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) will ensure that evidence col­lec­ted by the CoI is “consolidated, preserved, accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts.” This includes International Criminal Court (ICC) efforts to hold Bu­rundian officials responsible for atrocities to account.

The Burundian government continues to reject cooperation with the UN human rights system. As a first step towards resuming its engagement with the Council, it should grant the Specal Rap­porteur, who will be appointed in March 2022, access to the country for an official visit.

“The Council needs a clear, long-term strategy regarding Burundi,” said Estella Ka­bach­wezi, Advocacy, Research and Communications Ma­na­­ger, Def­end­­Defen­ders. “This strategy should rely on bench­marks and indicators to objectively assess both human rights developments and its approach to addressing Burundi’s situation.

Resolution L.19/Rev.1[1] was adopted as the Council completes its 48th regular session (HRC48, 13 Sep­tember-8 October 2021). Ahead of HRC48, DefendDefenders and more than 40 NGOs urged[2] the Council to “ensure continued documentation, monitoring, public reporting, and public deba­tes on Burundi’s human rights situation, with a focus on justice and accountability.”

The CoI on Burundi was established in 2016. Its mandate[3] was renewed in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020. During the Council’s 49th session (HRC49), in February-March 2022, the Council’s President will appoint a Special Rapporteur on Burundi, to be chosen among a list of qua­lified candidates. The Special Rapporteur mandate will be part of the Council’s special proce­dures,[4] namely inde­pendent, unpaid human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective.

 

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)

 

[1] See https://ap.ohchr.org/documents/sdpage_e.aspx?b=10&se=220&t=4

[2] DefendDefenders et al., “Burundi: The Human Rights Council should continue its scrutiny and pursue its work towards justice and accountability,” 18 August 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/burundi-the-human-rights-council-should-continue-its-scrutiny-and-pursue-its-work-towards-justice-and-accountability/ (accessed on 7 October 2021).

[3] See https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIBurundi/Pages/CoIBurundi.aspx

[4] See https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

The UN jumps the gun and drops its human rights resolutions on Sudan

 

The UN Human Rights Council’s decision to drop its Sudan-focused resolutions is a premature move that sends the wrong message, DefendDefenders said today. In 2022, for the first time in the Council’s existence, there will be no annual plenary debate on Sudan’s human rights situation. 

“This is not the time to relax international scrutiny of Sudan’s human rights situation,” said Hassan Shire, Exe­cu­tive Direc­tor, DefendDefenders. “The Sudanese authorities’ rejection of calls for a resolution on Sudan and the Human Rights Council’s failure to adopt one mean that Sudan quietly goes under the radar. The UN clearly jumps the gun.” 

As the Council is about to close its 48th regular session (HRC48, 13 Sep­tember-11 October 2021), its failure to adopt a resolution on Sudan means that there will be no formal reporting and no public debates on Sudan anymore. Up to HRC48, independent reporting on human rights deve­lopments in the country had been ensured by an Independent Expert and the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR). 

For the Council, Sudan is not yet a success story.[1] The country’s political, security, economic, and humanitarian situation remains fragile. The transition is incomplete. While Sudan has achieved human rights progress since 2019, including the opening of the civic and democratic space, much remains to be done. Justice and accountability for human rights violations remain elu­sive. 

Sudan needs continued international sup­port and scrutiny. Ahead of HRC48, close to 40 Suda­nese, African, and inter­na­tional NGOs urged[2] the Council to maintain Sudan on its agenda by adop­ting a resolution on the country. In an oral statement, DefendDefenders issued a caution, stressing that the Sudanese people deserves Freedom, Justice and Peace — the motto of the 2018-2019 po­pu­lar movement. 

 

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) 

 

[1] See Hassan Shire, “Sudan is not a Human Rights Council success story yet; Both Council support and scrutiny should continue,” DefendDefenders, 28 September 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/sudan-is-not-a-human-rights-council-success-story-yet/ (accessed on 5 October 2021). 

[2] DefendDefenders et al., “The Human Rights Council should extend its support to, and scrutiny of, Sudan,” 10 September 2021, https://defenddefenders.org/the-human-rights-council-should-extend-its-support-to-and-scrutiny-of-sudan/ (accessed on 5 October 2021). 

Outcomes and resolutions

Draft resolution L.19/Rev.1; resolution 48/16, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session48/Pages/ResDecStat.aspx 

Draft resolution L.15/Rev.1; resolution 48/22, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session48/Pages/ResDecStat.aspx 

Draft resolution L.21/Rev.1; resolution 48/17 available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session48/Pages/ResDecStat.aspx

MORE NEWS:

Public statement to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on closing civic space

As the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights holds its 69th ordinary session, DefendDefenders and the South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN), call on the government of the Republic of South Sudan to respect the rights of its citizens to peacefully assemble, associate, and express opinions and views, strengthen the legal framework that allows citizens and civil society organizations to form and operate without any hinderances.

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