Burundi + 2 more

Human Rights Council holds dialogues with Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and Commission on human rights in South Sudan, starts dialogue with fact-finding mission on Venezuela

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The Human Rights Council this morning held separate interactive dialogues with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi and the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, and started an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Speaking on Burundi were the European Union, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, France, Australia, China, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Venezuela, Luxembourg, Croatia, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, South Sudan, Myanmar, United Republic of Tanzania, Belarus, Iran, Egypt, Kenya, Ireland and Venezuela.

Burundi spoke as a concerned country. Belarus spoke in a point of order.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), Institute for NGO Research, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and International-Lawyers.Org.

The Council then held an enhanced interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan.

Speaking on South Sudan were the European Union, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Germany, France, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Australia, Morocco, China, Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Russian Federation, Sudan, Albania, Ireland, United Kingdom, Egypt, Kenya and Burundi.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : United Towns Agency for North-South Cooperation, Lutheran World Federation, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Next Century Foundation, and Amnesty International.

The Council then began an interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Venezuela spoke as a concerned country.

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-fifth regular session can be found here.

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Council will resume the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, which started on Tuesday, 22 September. It will then continue, time permitting, the interactive dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, followed by the annual half-day panel discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi

Presentation of Report

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, presenting the report, said the Commission had documented cases of summary executions, numerous arbitrary arrests and detentions, cases of torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, as well as numerous violations of key civil liberties that were indispensable for free, credible and transparent elections. The ruling party, CNDD-FDD (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie – Forces de défense de la démocratie), and the Burundian authorities had put in place a strategy founded on violence and human rights violations to ensure their victory in all the elections. The first component of the strategy was to weaken the political opposition, especially the CNL (Conseil national de la liberté). The second component of this strategy was to muzzle the independent observers such as the media and the civil society to prevent them from reporting on what was happening in the country. The third and final component of this strategy was to exercise tight control on the general public before, during and after the elections. Other human rights violations – that were not directly linked to the electoral process – were documented, namely against repatriated Burundians who were continuously confronted with a widespread climate of hostility and suspicion.

Statement by Concerned Country

Burundi, speaking as a concerned country, said this report was so strongly worded, defamatory and insulting that it deserved to be rejected. It left behind many questions, the main one being whether the Human Rights Council had changed its main mission to become a subsidiary body for the politicization of human rights in the world instead of promoting and protecting them. This Commission did not hide its sympathy for the opposition and was consumed with anger and disappointment at the defeat of the CNL (Conseil national de la liberté) party in the 2020 elections. This unease revealed a barely veiled attitude of hatred and vengeance against the CNDD-FDD (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie – Forces de défense de la démocratie) party. Burundi once again asked the Council to objectively recognize that the situation had clearly improved and that there were major positive signs coming from the Government, and finally to agree to put an end to this four-year-old Commission whose reports only violated the human rights of the Burundian people.

Discussion

Speakers said the elections and the new President provided a real opportunity for Burundi to embark on the path of reform, particularly with regard to the rule of law and human rights. Calling on the Government to implement confidence-building measures, such as releasing political prisoners, speakers said the reopening of the office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would be a positive signal. Some speakers congratulated Burundi on the results of the elections, and called on the Council to provide the country with technical aid with the consent of the Government. Pointing out that there was a trend towards stabilization in Burundi, other speakers said they trusted that political actors would refrain from fanning the flames of conflict. Speakers said several persons whom the Commission had identified as perpetrators of human rights violations held high-level positions within Ndayishimiye’s Government, or had been promoted within the security and defence forces since his election.

Concluding Remarks

FRANÇOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, regretted that there seemed to be no change in the attitude of the Government of Burundi with regards to cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry. While there had been good words issued by the President on impunity, he had promoted three persons in his Government who were subject to sanctions by the international community.

DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said the main issue in Burundi was the international community’s resilience in promoting and protecting human rights. The crisis in Burundi had been going on for some time ; there was a culture of violence that was now anchored in the country’s political life.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan

Opening Statements

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that, since the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity on 22 February 2020, there had been positive developments in relation to the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, particularly the appointment of 9 of the 10 State Governors. However, the pace of implementation had been slow. She encouraged the Government to implement the Revitalised Peace Agreement in full and particularly the stipulated 35 per cent participation of women in the Executive, the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms, and the finalisation of the transitional security arrangements for combatants. She remained concerned about the increase in intercommunal violence between January and July 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019, particularly in Jonglei, Lakes, Warrap, Unity and Western Bahr el Ghazal. She strongly encouraged the Government to work closely with local leaders to attain peaceful resolutions to localized conflicts, and call to account high-ranking politicians and commanders, from both the national army and the opposition.

YASMIN SOOKA, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said South Sudan was a country where lives were being destroyed by financial corruption on an epic scale. Looting and pillage were not just offshoots of war – they were arguably the main drivers of the conflict. At one end of the spectrum, South Sudan’s political elites were fighting for control of the country’s oil and mineral resources, in the process stealing their people’s future. At the other, the soldiers in this conflict over resources were offered the chance to abduct and rape women in lieu of salaries. The eight-year-old girl gang raped in front of her parents was the collateral damage. The Commission had uncovered brazen embezzlement by senior politicians and Government officials, together with a number of entities linked to the Government. It could reveal the misappropriation of a staggering $36 million since 2016. It was worth noting that this was just what the Commission had been able to trace and may not reflect the whole picture.

RUBEN MADOL AROL, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of the Republic of South Sudan, said that, despite the improvement in the overall security situation in the country, some of South Sudan’s citizens were still living as refugees in neighbouring countries and the Government was exerting its efforts for their voluntary return. Human rights abuses and violations committed against civilians had significantly diminished because the Government had set up structures such as the Joint Emergency Court, the General Court Martial, and National Security Service Tribunals to try organised forces personnel who had committed such horrific crimes and violations against civilian populations. Despite the downfall of the global economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the global recession, the Government had kept its commitment to the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan and made it a priority. The Government, with the support of its development partners, had put in place strict measures to reduce gender-based violence and other harmful practices.

YAKDHAN EL HABIB, Minister Counsellor, Political and Legal Affairs, Permanent Delegation of the African Union in Geneva, said that the African Union had established an office in Juba, South Sudan, providing technical assistance to the Government of South Sudan in different areas. It supported democratic transformation, and humanitarian and human rights development in collaboration with the relevant government ministries and institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission in South Sudan. The African Union also had human rights experts as observers in South Sudan observing and reporting to it regularly, as well as a High-level Panel made up of five Member States to support South Sudan in its efforts to end the armed conflicts and promote and protect human rights. Remaining challenges included the continuous violations of the ceasefire agreement in some parts of the country resulting in killings, abductions and rape, as well as hindrance to humanitarian access, ongoing instability and insecurity, and rampant poverty.

Discussion

Recalling that the full, effective and meaningful participation of women and youth in this process was essential, speakers said they remained gravely concerned by ongoing human rights violations and abuses in South Sudan, including killings, abductions and sexual- and gender-based violence. The Government should communicate clear public orders to end the recruitment of child soldiers. Speakers urged the full implementation of the 2018 Revitalised Agreement, and expressed concerns about recent attacks on humanitarian convoys. Other speakers expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Government, and called for the mandate of the Commission to be terminated as soon as possible. There were 6.5 million people affected by food insecurity, and the South Sudanese continued to demonize the United Nations mission in the country. Noting that real or perceived government critics were at high risk of arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention, speakers asked the panellists if they supported the growing calls for the Hybrid Court for South Sudan to be established by the African Union unilaterally.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanking all the delegations for their continued support, said the Office of the High Commissioner continued to support the Commission as per the Human Rights Council mandate. It also continued to investigate, document and verify allegations of violations, working closely with security forces.

ANDREW CLAPHAM, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said the South Sudanese Government must sign a memorandum of understanding and introduce the related legislation to create the Hybrid Court. The taking in for questioning of human rights defenders and journalists was particularly concerning.

BARNEY AFAKO, Member of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, said it was important for South Sudanese leaders to live up to the commitments they had made regarding economic institutional reforms and the rebuilding of the army. It was crucial to inject greater vigour into the political process and establish key institutions, including the Hybrid Court.

YASMIN SOOKA, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, stressed the need to meet the milestone of the Revitalised Agreement. Action must be taken without delay by the Government to establish the Hybrid Court, failing which the African Union had an obligation to establish it.

RUBEN MADOL AROL, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of the Republic of South Sudan, said the Government was very much aware of the need to implement the Revitalised Agreement and was committed to enhancing the processes that may lead to the formation of the transitional justice system. The Government needed the support of regional and international bodies and was open to engage with said bodies.

YAKDHAN EL HABIB, Minister Counsellor, Political and Legal Affairs, Permanent Delegation of the African Union in Geneva, welcomed the openness to cooperate expressed by South Sudan as the country concerned. It was important to support African initiatives to try and resolve the issues at hand.

Interactive Dialogue with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela

Presentation of Report

MARTA VALIÑAS, Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said the Commission had adopted a rigorous methodology - detailed in the report - that included the collection of direct information from victims and witnesses, judicial records and other documents, audio-visual material duly analyzed and verified, and information provided by members of the State's security forces and intelligence services, as well as by members of judicial bodies. The Commission had concluded that serious human rights violations had occurred in Venezuela during the period under review and that they were directly perpetrated by members of the State security forces and civilian and military intelligence services. These violations included extrajudicial executions committed in the context of security operations, arbitrary deprivation of life of persons participating in demonstrations, arbitrary detentions, and acts of torture and other cruel treatment, including acts of sexual violence, against persons who expressed their disagreement with the Government, as well as forced disappearances, among which the case of five men who were still missing following the military operation in Barlovento should be highlighted. It was imperative to investigate and judge those responsible for the violations committed, to monitor and prevent their recurrence, and above all to provide justice for the victims.

Statement by Concerned Country

Venezuela, speaking as a concerned country, said this Council should ensure universality, objectivity and non-selectivity. The Central Intelligence Agency and other United States bodies had poured millions into commissions like this one, using non-governmental organizations that had turned human rights into a profit-making activity. No members of the democratic opposition of Venezuela had been consulted by the Commission, which was a Lima Group mission. The Council had two options, the first one being to keep the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights country office in Venezuela. Progress had been made with that office, as the High Commissioner had acknowledged. The other option was to keep the Lima Group mission, which was in step with President Trump’s interventionist plans. The Lima Group mission was sabotaging the work of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

For use of the information media; not an official record