MORNING - Human Rights Council Discusses Situation of Human Rights in South Sudan, Cambodia and Sudan under its Agenda Item on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building
The Human Rights Council this morning discussed the situation of human rights in South Sudan, Cambodia and Sudan under its agenda item on technical assistance and capacity building.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council held a minute of silence at the request of Norway to mark the passing of John Ruggie, the former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
In the enhanced interactive dialogue on South Sudan, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the Government’s intention, expressed during the enhanced dialogue, to work together with all stakeholders towards the full implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement and resolving human rights concerns. She shared deep concern over the high levels of violence attributed to community-based militias, which continued to affect innocent civilians, threaten the country’s stability and endanger prospects for lasting peace.
Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said that many challenges remained but noted progress that was critical for the overall improvement of the political, security and human rights situation in South Sudan. The ceasefire agreed to in the Revitalised Peace Agreement had largely held and had led to a significant decline in the number of civilian casualties at the hands of the conflict parties since September 2018.
Ruben Madol Arol Kachuol, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, said that the Revitalised Government of National Unity had now reached the nearing point into the completion of the implementation of security arrangements. So far, as many as 53,000 forces composed of soldiers from all political parties to the Agreement, were now in various training camps across the country and were ready for graduation. The Government remained committed to the Rome Declaration with the non-signatories to the Revitalised Peace Agreement under the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance. This Group had been violating the ceasefire and continued to create instability and havoc. But the Government remained committed to the Cessation of Hostilities of 2017.
In the discussion on South Sudan, speakers commended the continuous efforts of the Government of South Sudan to reduce the level of violence and implement the benefits of the Revitalised Peace Agreement. The international community was urged to continue providing the necessary technical, humanitarian and development support to South Sudan to enable it to build its national institutions and fulfil its human rights obligations. Several speakers shared deep concern about the violence in South Sudan
Speaking on South Sudan were European Union, Cameroon, on behalf of the Group of African States, Togo, Senegal, Egypt, Venezuela, Russian Federation, China, United Kingdom, United Nations Children's Fund, Mauritania, Sudan and Sri Lanka.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Elizka Relief Foundation, Meezan Center for Human Rights, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Amnesty International, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Human Rights Watch, and Ingenieurs du Monde.
The Council then held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, said there had been progress on several fronts but noted that in recent years, there had been disturbing, deteriorating backsliding with democratic space, with civil and political rights and freedoms regressing, interlinked with the monopolisation of power. He raised concerns over the commune elections in 2022 and national elections in 2023 that may take place without the existence of a viable opposition party, putting at risk the genuine right to participate in public affairs.
Cambodia, speaking as the country concerned, said a surge of hate speech, slander, disinformation and incitement disguised under the freedom of expression was polarising people and attacking the essence of human rights norms. Sadly, the Special Rapporteur and human rights advocates were utterly silent on this worrying trend, including dangerous populist rhetoric of a former extreme opposition leader. Cambodia challenged “the indictment of a shrinking civil and political space”. The number of newly registered non-governmental organizations kept rising, bringing the total number to nearly 6,000. On political space, steps were being taken to enable the former opposition politicians to return to politics.
In the discussion on Cambodia, some speakers remained concerned over restrictions on political rights and called on Cambodia to respect all individual rights to freedom of expression. Some speakers commended Cambodia for giving reliable signs that it was cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Speakers on Cambodia were Brunei Darussalam, European Union, Iceland, Australia, Japan, France, Switzerland, Venezuela, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Belarus, United States, Belgium, China, Philippines, United Kingdom, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Cuba, India, Brunei Darussalam, Cameroon, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Kuwait.
The following non-governmental organizations also spoke on Cambodia: Liberal International, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada, Human Rights Watch, Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Now, Amnesty International, and joint statement: Ingenieurs du Monde Co-sponsor: United Nations Watch.
The Council then started its enhanced interactive dialogue on Sudan.
Nada Al- Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the commitment of Sudan to put in place important economic reforms and strengthen social protections, which could lead to improvements in the lives of the Sudanese people and their access to key economic, social and cultural rights.
She noted that Darfur continued to experience multifaceted human rights challenges since the withdrawal of the Hybrid United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. These included harassment, intimidation, extortion of civilians and sexual violence against women and girls by armed groups, as well as intercommunal violence, resulting in civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects.
Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, said that it had been one year since the historic signing of the Juba Peace Agreement, a significant achievement for those committed to peace, justice and stability in Sudan. Its implementation remained paramount, but challenges persisted. The attempted coup d’état of 21 September – which the United Nations and international partners strongly condemned - was a stark reminder of the challenges.
Ilham Ibrahim Mohamed Ahmed, Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, said all knew why it had been necessary to keep Sudan on the agenda of the Council for so long, given the wide-spread violations committed by the previous regime. Although the report attested to several developments in Sudan, it was not comprehensive enough in its analysis. This included the huge efforts made by the Transitional Government to promote and protect human rights in Sudan, despite the extremely complex circumstances facing it, foremost of which were the economic challenges.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.
The Council will resume its work at 3 p.m. this afternoon to conclude its enhanced
interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner on Sudan. It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic.
Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update by the High Commissioner on Technical Assistance and Capacity Building for South Sudan
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, updated the Council on the human rights situation in South Sudan, in particular the technical assistance and capacity building provided to the Government pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 46/29. She reiterated her appreciation of the work of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan and its crucial contributions to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. She also welcomed the Government’s intention, expressed during the enhanced dialogue, to work together with all stakeholders towards the full implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement and resolving human rights concerns. She welcomed the launch of the Technical Committee on the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, held on 30 June 2021. She also welcomed the Action Plan for the Armed Forces on addressing conflict-related sexual violence, launched by the South Sudanese Government on 19 June.
At the same time, the High Commissioner said she remained deeply concerned at the high levels of violence attributed to community-based militias, which continued to affect innocent civilians, threaten the country’s stability, and endanger prospects for lasting peace. During the second quarter of 2021, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s Human Rights Division continued to document a high number of additional abductions, including at least 133 women and children, largely connected to a surge of localised violence in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, in May. She welcomed the continued efforts by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and other partners to ensure that all of those abducted were released. In that regard, at least 111 women and children had been released since March, following negotiations amongst Murle, Dinka and Nuer community leaders. These ongoing efforts were crucial to building trust between communities and laying the groundwork for dialogue and sustainable peace.
The High Commissioner noted with regret the recent restrictions by the Government on civic space and people’s rights to express their views and opinions. She strongly encouraged the Government to open up civic space and to refrain from restricting freedom of opinion and expression and the rights to peaceful assembly and association, which were essential to create conditions for peaceful, free, fair and credible elections and a vibrant democratic state. Despite challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s Human Rights Division had carried out a total of 245 capacity-building activities on human rights for 6,169 people, including 2,285 women. The Division had also provided technical support to the Inter-Ministerial Committee on international human rights mechanisms. Finally, following the adoption of the Council’s resolution 46/29 last March, her Office had received, in July, funding to hire two consultants, who would be embedded within national institutions and work on human rights capacity building. The Office was also planning two workshops on transitional justice.
NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said that on 12 September, South Sudan had marked the three-year anniversary of the Revitalised Peace Agreement. This agreement provided the only broadly agreed framework through which long-term stability, durable peace, and the protection and promotion of human rights could be achieved. Many challenges remained. He acknowledged notable progress that was critical for the overall improvement of the political, security and human rights situation. The ceasefire agreed to in the Peace Agreement had largely held. A reconstituted parliament had been inaugurated, with the appointment of the first female speaker in the country’s history. The Government had established a task force to coordinate transitional justice and other reforms in line with Chapter 5 of the Agreement. He underscored that the establishment of a hybrid court and the Compensation and Reparation Authority were essential for restorative justice and the exercise of accountability. Both were essential for societal healing and stability. As required by the peace agreement, electoral preparations should be conducted in parallel to constitution-making.
Notwithstanding such progress, Mr. Haysom highlighted the failure to advance Chapter 2 of the Agreement, on transitional security arrangements. Progress in this chapter was pivotal to almost every aspect of the Agreement. The delay had led to the splintering of the opposition groups, opening the possibility of violent infighting among the opposition and in camps for internally displaced persons. The profile of violence in South Sudan had changed. During the second quarter of 2021, more than 90 per cent of civilian casualties were attributed to inter-communal violence and community-based militias. According to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s Human Rights Division, at least 585 people were killed, 305 injured, and thousands displaced in more than 269 incidents. Responses to intercommunal violence through extra judicial executions, at the instruction of State officials were disturbing. Mr. Haysom said he had expressed concern to the leadership about the increasingly restricted civic space, characterised by the detention of journalists and leaders of civil society groups, following the calls for non-violent protests by the People’s Coalition for Civic Action.
Ultimately, Mr. Haysom said the promotion and protection of human rights would be long-lasting if it was led by the South Sudanese themselves. The Child Protection Team had provided training and capacity building to more than 12,000 security personnel and political actors in South Sudan. Awareness-raising activities had reached more than 11,000 community members. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan had established a temporary base with increased patrols to deter violence and allow internally displaced persons the opportunity to gather food and water. The Mission was encouraging the demilitarisation of the area and had reinforced its special investigation capacities in Tambura. Local authorities wanted assistance in tackling disarmament and sub-national conflict. They urgently needed financial, technical, and capacity building support, to strengthen governance, rule of law and justice institutions and infrastructure. Ultimately, it was the responsibility of the Government to support and protect civilians. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, within the scope of its mandate, must assist.
RUBEN MADOL AROL KACHUOL, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of South Sudan, said South Sudan thanked the Human Rights Council for considering capacity building and technical assistance in the field of human rights for the Government to enhance its efforts in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. The Government had recently communicated to the Office of the High Commissioner on the needed areas for technical assistance and capacity building in South Sudan that were necessary. Updating the Council on current developments regarding the implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement in South Sudan, he said that the Revitalised Government of National Unity had come into being in February 2020, to mark the implementation of the first phase of the Chapter 1 of the Revitalised Peace Agreement for South Sudan. Since then, all other government structures, at the national and state level, had all been instituted and were now operating. On 30 August 2021, the President of the Republic had inaugurated the joint houses of the Revitalised Transitional National Legislature, to signal the completion of the implementation of articles in Chapter 1 of the Agreement. The new parliament would now oversee all outstanding bills that were awaiting ratification.
On security arrangements, the Revitalised Government of National Unity had now reached the nearing point into the completion of their implementation. So far, as many as 53,000 forces composed of soldiers from all political parties to the Agreement, were now in various training camps across the country and were ready for graduation. The Government remained committed to the Rome Declaration with the non-signatories to the Revitalised Peace Agreement under the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance. This Group had been violating the ceasefire and continued to create instability and havoc, in the form of roadblocks and indiscriminate ambushing of civilians and robbery along highways in some parts of the country. But the Government remained committed to the Cessation of Hostilities of 2017.
Mr. Kachuol said that also, in April 2021, the Government through the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional affairs, had initiated processes of drafting the permanent constitution and judicial reforms that would lead to the establishment of the Constitutional Court as required by the Agreement, including the formation of the technical committee to conduct consultations in order to inform the legislature that should regulate the establishment of the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing. The Government recognised the importance of establishing institutions of the Transitional Justice Mechanism; accountability, healing and reconciliation, including the Hybrid Court in South Sudan, were the key component of achieving a lasting and sustainable peace in the country. In conclusion, the Government emphasised on needed assistance per the adoption in March 2021 of the resolution under item 10 for technical assistance and capacity building on South Sudan. South Sudan urged the Office of the High Commissioner to assist the Government in providing technical assistance and capacity building to the National Police Service, the Correction Service and other important institutions that the Government had communicated to the Office. The Government acknowledged the slow phase of the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement, but what was important was the commitment of the Government to fully implement the Agreement to bring a lasting and sustainable peace in South Sudan
Speakers expressed their concern over the issues raised on South Sudan and commended the continuous efforts of the Government of South Sudan to reduce the level of violence and implement the benefits of the revitalised peace agreement, which represented an important step towards restoring security and stability in the country. They welcomed the Government's endorsement of the establishment of the Hybrid Court and other transitional justice mechanisms to investigate allegations of human rights violations during the conflict, as well as the opening of the Transitional Parliament and the State Council, particularly with their important role in the constitution-making process. One speaker urged the international community to continue providing the necessary technical, humanitarian and development support to South Sudan to enable it to build its national institutions and fulfil its human rights obligations. Another speaker said that improvement usually began with the recognition that change was needed. In this regard, it was understood that the current dialogue was constructive. Progress in the implementation of the Revitalised Peace Agreement was recognised. However, restrictions on peaceful protests were a concern. More needed to be done to address such human rights violations. At the same time, robust monitoring was essential.
One speaker noted how the humanitarian situation in South Sudan had continued to deteriorate due to multiple factors that included the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, run-away inflation, sub-national violence, flooding and food insecurity. This had been compounded by existing negative social norms that further reinforced multiple forms of violence against women and girls, including sexual violence, child marriage, abductions and denial of livelihoods. Some speakers said that while the violence at a national level had largely subsided due to the Revitalised Peace Agreement, women and children continued to bear the brunt of armed intercommunal violence perpetrated by warring communities over resources such as cattle, border conflict and revenge killings in the absence of effective rule of law and governance systems. The recent political developments in Upper Nile and Western Equatoria states - where armed conflict had escalated and resulted in massive displacement of population - placed an additional strain on families, communities and local authorities to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children.
Some speakers remained concerned about the slow pace of implementation of key provisions of the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement. The three-year transitional period to implement the agreement would lapse in May 2022 when the country was expected to hold elections. All parties to the conflict in South Sudan were called on to end and prevent grave violations against children. Some speakers shared deep concern about the continuing violence in South Sudan. One speaker said it was necessary to establish a national commission of inquiry to investigate the extrajudicial killings that took place in Warra state in March 2021, when dozens of individuals, including young children, were executed. The national commission of inquiry should be responsible for holding government officials accountable for ordering these executions without a fair trial. Holding a national conference under the supervision of United Nations experts and human rights activists in South Sudan was also recommended by some speakers, in order to discuss ways to enhance freedom of opinion, expression and political participation.
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the deployment on 8 September of a defence team to investigate ongoing violence, adding that she was deeply concerned about localised violence. She was encouraged by the efforts of the South Sudanese Government as it continued to strengthen the rule of law, particularly in rural areas. Technical cooperation helped prevent human suffering. However, for it to be more effective, it needed to be built on regular human rights monitoring. The High Commissioner further encouraged the Government of South Sudan to establish a timeline of its commitments. She welcomed community efforts and said her Office stood ready to assist the Government of South Sudan to help promote and protect human rights.
NICHOLAS HAYSOM, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, said that famine-like conditions in South Sudan were soaring. Attacks on humanitarian workers and non-governmental organizations remained unacceptable. A peace dialogue was under implementation and what was clear was that in order to have an effective impact, the United Nations must work closely with regional partners across the board too.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia.
Presentation of Report
VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, presenting his report, said that this year marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords that ensured the return of peace to Cambodia after over a decade of warfare preceded by genocide. Thirty years on, there had been progress on several fronts. However, in recent years, there had been disturbing, deteriorating backsliding. Regression of the democratic space and civil and political rights and freedoms, interlinked with monopolisation of power, had emerged as the most ostensible longitudinal issue. Currently, the hermetic atmosphere caused by executive superimposition was intimidating.
Mr. Muntarbhorn praised the very extensive rollout of the country’s vaccination drive to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there were various anomalies. In 2021, the anti-COVID-19 law was passed and its severe enforcement had resulted in the arrests of more than 700 individuals, according to reliable sources. The penalties mounted up to 20 years’ imprisonment and hefty fines. Intolerance towards online criticism of the response of the authorities to the pandemic had led to arrests and prosecutions with a chilling impact on freedom of expression, leading to both self-censorship and censorship. In recent years, there had been a contraction of civic space - especially due to constraints on activities of human rights defenders, environmentalists and non-governmental organizations where they were seen to be critical of the authorities. According to reliable sources, at least 25 human rights defenders were currently in prison. This year alone, the Cambodian Journalist Association had documented 50 instances of harassment of journalists.
The Special Rapporteur said there was a closed political environment. Substantively, democratic space in Cambodia was non-existent, especially after the decision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 1 March convicting nine senior leaders of the Cambodia National Rescue Party to 20 and 25 years imprisonment respectively. This decision came after the early verdict by the Supreme Court in 2017 to dissolve what-was-then the main opposition party. This would effectively deny the rights of these leaders to stand as candidates in the next election. He raised concerns over the commune elections in 2022 and national elections in 2023, that may take place without the existence of a viable opposition party, putting at risk the genuine right to participate in public affairs. Currently, all 125 seats in the national assembly were in the hands of the ruling party – the Cambodian People’s Party. There was a tendency to over legislate with laws of a draconian kind. He said a current concern was the law on a single internet gateway, which could turn the tap on and off arbitrarily for internet traffic with ominous implications for freedom of expression. Other issues included the overcrowding situation in prisons, funding for economic, social and cultural rights, domestic violence, online education, and the rights of indigenous peoples. He called for a suspension of draconian laws and to end the detention of those who disagreed with the authorities. He also called for the restoration of political rights to members of the political opposition, and to propel reconciliation.
Statement by Country Concerned
Cambodia said a surge of hate speech, slander, disinformation and incitement disguised under the freedom of expression was polarising people and attacking the essence of human rights norms in Cambodia. Sadly, the Special Rapporteur and human rights advocates were utterly silent on this worrying trend, including dangerous populist rhetoric of a former extreme opposition leader, Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia had not invoked the state of emergency, but opted for a more flexible legislation with a set of health, administrative and legal actions. The COVID-19 Prevention Law, which aimed to save lives, adhered to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. The Special Rapporteu’s report did not stress that its maximum sanction was handed solely to the breakers with intent and organised crime to cause community transmission. Cambodia was heartened by the wide recognition heard from the majority of States as regarding its national efforts and progress, as well as encouragement for its constructive ways forward.
Cambodia challenged “the indictment of a shrinking civil and political space”. The number of newly registered non-governmental organizations kept rising, bringing the total number to nearly 6,000. Grievances came from a handful of heavily politicised and foreign-funded non-governmental organization who demanded transparency, but refused to be transparent themselves. On political space, steps were being taken to enable the former opposition politicians to return to politics. Twenty-six of them had had their political rights reinstated with many having formed an additional six political parties to challenge the ruling party in the coming elections. The former President of a now defunct party enjoyed total mobility, humanitarian activities and hosting of his national and foreign colleagues, within the country, except overseas trips and political doing. Cambodia’s tragic history and its people’s resilience were known to all delegations and the challenges faced were not the policy of the government, but the capacity gap, which would be addressed.
Some speakers remained concerned over restrictions on political rights in Cambodia and called on the Government respect the right to freedom of expression for all individuals. All opposition political parties should be allowed to be involved in the forthcoming elections without restriction. Speakers expressed concern over the right to peaceful assembly in the country. Some speakers commended Cambodia for giving reliable signs that it was cooperating with the Office of the High Commissioner. The Government had been striving to ensure human rights and steps being taken to contain the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 in the country were welcomed. One speaker said that mutually respected cooperation was key. Some speakers expressed concern about the mass convictions of opposition political leaders. All political parties should be able to participate equally. Some speakers expressed concerns over the regression in economic and social rights in Cambodia, as well as the regression of civil space, as the country moved towards its elections. The safe participation in activists should not be restricted.
Some speakers said the Cambodian Government was encouraged to continue its progress while a number of speakers stood ready to lend their support to Cambodia, which was serious in its human rights efforts. Other speakers reiterated concern about the long-term regression of democratic space and civil and political rights and freedoms, interlinked with monopolisation of power. The ruling authorities had steadily consolidated their political and economic influence. This vortex of power deprived Cambodians of their right to political participation, which, in turn, was essential to ensure the exercise of their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. The concentration of executive power had given rise to the adoption by the one-party parliament of vague and over-broad laws and decrees, routinely deployed for judicial or administrative harassment of dissenters. Some speakers were concerned about the harassment of human rights defenders, civil society organizations, independent media, and opposition politicians. Power accumulation was at the root of Cambodia’s failure to ensure the independence and integrity of judges and lawyers, and equal access to effective legal representation and remedies. The international community was urged to strengthen programmes to implement human rights, and promote transparent fairness in the upcoming commune and national elections in Cambodia.
Cambodia was pleased to hear the delegations which encouraged Cambodia to move forward. Twenty-six political opponents would now be able to re-enter political space before the next elections - a fact recognized by the Cambodian opposition but denied by Western countries. Cambodia defended the measures taken to ensure national stability and asserted that membership in a political party or non-governmental organization could not justify breaking the law. Human rights were not absolute but contingent
VITIT MUNTARBHORN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, strongly urged Cambodia to review its hate speech laws to ensure that they met objective, not subjective criteria. The Special Rapporteur warned against any political instrumentalisation of hate speech. He pointed to the overuse of criminal laws, especially with regards to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression should be governed by civil law, not criminal law. On civil and political rights, the Special Rapporteur urged the Government to suspend draconian laws and encouraged transparency. In anticipation of the next elections, the Special Rapporteur recommended to close the investigations against political opponents and to create free and transparent electoral commissions. Finally, he said the law on activities in cyberspace must take into account existing conventions. He urged the Government to suspend the single gateway law and to ensure pluralism and democracy, as envisioned in the 1991 peace agreement.
Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the High Commissioner on Sudan
NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the report covered the period of October 2020 to 30 June 2021. A draft of the report was shared in advance with the Government of the Sudan, but no written response was received. She welcomed the commitment of Sudan to put in place important economic reforms and strengthen social protections, which could lead to improvements in the lives of the Sudanese people and their access to key economic, social and cultural rights. Reforms must be based on human rights principles so that they benefitted all populations and left no one behind. She welcomed Sudan’s ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and its accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. These were landmark steps towards the promotion and protection of human rights in Sudan. She encouraged the Government to continue its efforts to accede to the international human rights instruments to which the Sudan was not yet a party.
Ms. Al-Nashif commended Sudan for the establishment of a permanent National Human Rights Reporting and Follow-Up Mechanism and the Government had been encouraged to continue its cooperation with a view to establishing other important bodies, such as the Legislative Council and the Independent Thematic Commissions, to reforming the National Human Rights Commission in accordance with the Paris Principles, ensuring wider public consultations to guide the formation and effective operationalisation of the Transitional Justice Commission.
Darfur continued to experience multifaceted human rights challenges since the withdrawal of the Hybrid United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur. These included harassment, intimidation, extortion of civilians and sexual violence against women and girls by armed groups, as well as intercommunal violence, resulting in civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects. The cycle of intercommunal violence was linked to competition over access to water resources and pastoral land that had been exacerbated by the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. Delays in the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians, as well as challenges in the implementation of the Juba Peace Agreement, had left civilians more vulnerable.
VOLKER PERTHES, Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Sudan, said it had been one year since the historic signing of the Juba Peace Agreement, a significant achievement for those committed to peace, justice and stability in Sudan. Its implementation remained paramount, but challenges persisted. The attempted coup d’état of 21 September – which the United Nations and international partners strongly condemned - was a stark reminder of the challenges. He was encouraged by the strong cooperation between the Transitional Government of Sudan and the United Nations, including with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as illustrated by the signature of the Host Country Agreement in 2019 and the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights country office. The ratification of two key international human rights conventions was an important step for the advancement of human rights in Sudan. However, the ratification of international human rights instruments must be accompanied by legal and institutional reforms as well as awareness-raising and capacity building to ensure effective implementation.
The Government of Sudan should accelerate the establishment of key independent commissions envisaged in the Constitutional Document, including commissions on transitional justice, land, women and gender equality, legal reform, anti-corruption, elections, civil service and constitution-making. The establishment of a new National Human Rights Commission in line with international standards and norms also remained outstanding. One of the most consistent demands in Sudan had been the call to end impunity and deliver justice for victims. These calls ranged from the demand for accountability for the grave human rights violations and abuses committed by the past regime and others in Darfur, to accountability for ongoing gender-based violence and accountability for human rights violations committed against protestors - including those killed during the 3 June 2019 protests.
While the reforms undertaken by the Government were commendable, more progress was urgently needed in delivering justice and accountability and implementing the transitional justice mechanisms foreseen in the Juba Peace Agreement, including the establishment of the special court for crimes committed in Darfur. The establishment of a High Judicial Council, reactivation of the Constitutional Court, and the effective functioning of the Attorney General’s Office and the Supreme Court were critical to advance justice reforms and were necessary for closing the current vacuum, where Sudanese people had nowhere to turn for justice. Despite the willingness of the Government to advance reforms, the recent resurgence of intercommunal violence posed new threats to the protection of civilians. Just in Darfur, violence had claimed the lives of 500 civilians and displaced more than 175,000 since the beginning of this year. Between January and August this year, about 418,000 people were newly displaced as a result of conflicts and armed attacks across Sudan, mainly in Darfur, parts of Kordofan and Blue Nile. The United Nations in Sudan had developed an integrated strategy on the protection of civilians, which also engaged non-state actors, including civil society, including non-governmental organizations. This strategy would guide support to the Government in prioritising, developing and implementing a civilian protection work plan.
ILHAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED AHMED, Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan, said all knew why it had been necessary to keep Sudan on the agenda of the Council for so long, given the wide-spread violations committed by the previous regime. The same reason had caused the Sudanese people to revolt against oppression and injustice to demand freedom and to call for justice. Sudan had studied the report of the High Commissioner as this was the first report after Sudan had exited the Special Procedures clause. Although the report attested to several developments in Sudan, the report was not comprehensive enough in its analysis. This included the huge efforts made by the Transitional Government to promote and protect human rights in Sudan, despite the extremely complex circumstances facing it, foremost of which were the economic challenges. Also, the report negatively reflected some cases that the judiciary had decided upon, and others that were still in the process of litigation.
The Transitional Government, nearly two years after it had been formed, was keen to move forward in implementing the tasks of the transitional period, especially with regard to intensifying efforts to reach a comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement in the country that accommodated everyone and addressed all the reasons that led some of the people to revolt. The Transitional Government had committed itself to carrying out legal reforms by amending and issuing new legislation and harmonising it with the ratified international conventions by rebuilding and developing the human rights and justice system and ensuring the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law. These included in particular, the laws that violated the rights of women and children and freedom of religion and belief.
The laws on apostasy and the death penalty for minors had been rescinded, and female genital mutilation had now been prohibited. Sudan sought to establish a country where the rule of law prevailed. There was an aborted coup two weeks ago. Sudan disagreed with the attempts of some to link the violence in Darfur with the departure of the United Nations Mission. Sudan had shown remarkable cooperation with the International Criminal Court regarding the accountability of Sudanese citizens who had been charged. It had signed in February 2021 a memorandum of understanding with the Criminal Court. In conclusion, Ms. Ahmed renewed the Government’s full commitment to promoting the rights and dignity of citizens in Sudan, as well as its commitment to cooperate with the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all regional and international human rights mechanisms.