49th Session of the Human Rights Council
28 February - 1st April 2022
ITEM 2 - Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
7 March 2022
By Amie Sillito / GICJ
The 13th and 14th meeting of the 49th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council considered the High Commissioner’s oral update during an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Sudan following the military takeover, as mandated in resolution S-32/1.
The session concerned the High Commissioner’s oral update which highlighted the human rights violations that have transpired since the beginning of the military takeover in Sudan. The High Commissioner highlighted the ongoing violence targeting Sudanese citizens at the hands of military personnel and other human rights violations since the beginning of the coup d'état. The ongoing state of emergency was discussed at length with the High Commissioner providing suggestions to Sudan’s authorities to cease all violence and reverse the state of emergency for the benefit of Sudan and its people. Reports of sexual violence were also discussed during the interactive dialogue and within the High Commissioner’s oral update. Concern was raised over the increasing levels of rape and sexual violence perpetrated against both men and women since the beginning of the coup.
Numerous delegations commended the United Nations Council on their mandate as well as the UN expert’s work within Sudan to uncover the human rights violations perpetrated by military officials and government personnel. The Chinese delegate however condemned international intervention in the country, instead advocating for the Sudanese people’s right to self-determination and an African based solution to the problem. NGOs criticised militia groups for the ongoing violence in Sudan, labelling them the sole cause of the political instability within the country. The numerous attacks on medical personnel and the media reporting on human rights violations were highlighted during the interactive dialogue and questions were posed to the High Commissioner as to what could be done to protect the rights of human rights defenders, medical personnel and innocent bystanders.
The United Nations expert completed the first visit to Sudan following the Human Rights Council’s Mandate set out in resolution S-32/1. The findings of the investigation were communicated to the United Nations Human Rights Council members via the interactive dialogue to update Council Members on the deteriorating human rights situation in Sudan.
Historically, Sudan's human rights record has been exceptionally poor up until the ousting of former President Omar al-Bashir. Conflicts between the government and militia groups have resulted in mass rapes, torture and killings. Sudan has also faced the threat of ethnic cleansing, with militia carrying out systematic massacres of tribal groups. However, the country has made progress with regards to women’s rights, including the repeal of the Public Order Act which created a legislative bar to gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women. The Sudanese government also removed legislation restricting women's freedom of movement, dress, work and study, thus enhancing the right to freedom of expression.
The country is still plagued by one of the worst child soldier crises in the world, serving as human mine detectors, performing combat roles and participating in suicide missions. Human Rights defenders campaigning against the use of child soldiers and for the safeguarding of basic human rights have been arrested on numerous occasions. Recent reports suggest that the right to freedom of association and freedom of information remains restricted by the government, with many journalists being criticised and arrested based on the work they perform on reporting human rights violations. Therefore, the oral update delivered by the High Commissioner sought to address the ongoing human rights violations in Sudan and update the Council on any changes in the country since the beginning of the coup.
Oral statement of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet delivered her opening remarks to the Council, vocalising her concerns over the stark reversal of human rights achievements in Sudan following the military coup in October 2021. Ms Bachelet emphasised that the coup had plunged the country into a crisis following two years of progress in institutional and legal reform. The High Commissioner thanked Mr Adama Dieng, the expert on human rights in Sudan, for monitoring the human rights situation in the country since the beginning of the coup. Ms Bachelet revealed that mass protests have taken place in Sudan to protest the human rights violations which have taken place. The High Commissioner went on to state that live machinery including machine guns and tear gas have been used directly against protesters in response to the protests. She further emphasised that the use of such force in Sudan was a clear violation of international law.
The High Commissioner revealed that credible medical sources reported the killing of 85 people including one woman and eleven children, as a consequence of disproportionate use of force by security officials. She condemned the attacks on hospitals, medical facilities and assaults targeting security personnel. In one incident in particular, security forces fired tear gas into an emergency ward and in others they blocked people from accessing ambulances and medical facilities. Ambulance drivers have also been harassed whilst transporting injured protestors. The High Commissioner condemned the arbitrary arrests and detentions of Sudanese citizens alongside the disregard for basic human rights. Ms Bachelet voiced her concern over Sudanese security forces and the general intelligence service being granted law enforcement powers and temporary immunity from prosecution. Following the declaration of the state of emergency in October 2021 security forces continued to arbitrarily arrest Sudanese citizens including the Prime Minister and six of his ministers. High profile arrests and detentions also took place in the first two weeks of February including a minister from the transitional government and five members from the dismantling committee whose role was to investigate corruption during the previous regime.
The Joint Human Rights Office reported over 1000 arrests were made in connection to protests against the coup over the period of 25 October 2021 and 3 March 2022. Such figures include 144 women and 148 children who were subjected to ill treatment in detention centres. The pattern of targeted arbitrary arrests in the country as well as the detention of prominent protestors and demonstrators in both their homes and hospitals were also mentioned as a subject of concern. Ms Bachelet stated that she was disturbed by the high levels of human rights violations concerning children in the recent demonstrations. At the end of February 2022, the United Nations collated verifiable information documenting over 200 violations including those against children. The High Commissioner went on to reveal that 25 allegations of rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, girls and men had come to light in recent investigations following the coup. Such attacks were aimed to dissuade protestors from objecting to the coup and despite the establishment of a committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations, little progress was made. Ms Bachelet stated that inaction within the committee raised questions as to the genuineness of the authorities' express will to properly address the human rights violations occurring within the country.
Additionally, attacks against journalists and human rights defenders have increased, posing a risk to civic space, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The Joint Human Rights Office reported at least 50 incidents of violations against journalists and media institutions since the start of the coup. At least 22 arrests were made, and trade unionists, lawyers and activists continue to be targeted by government and military personnel. Ms Bachelet concluded her oral statement by urging the Sudanese authorities to ensure all investigations into violations are conducted quickly and independently and publish the results on a public platform. The High Commissioner urged the Sudanese authorities to define the time span of the current state of emergency as it was not enforced with an end date. Ms Bachelet encouraged the reviewing of the state of emergency in line with international human rights law including with respect to the extensive law enforcement powers and temporary immunity from prosecution which were granted to security forces. The High Commissioner urged the Sudanese authorities to cease excessive force and live ammunition used against protestors, respect due process and release all arbitrarily detained persons.
Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Statement
Geneva, 7 March 2022 - At the 13th and 14th meeting of the 49th Regular session of the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights held an interactive dialogue regarding human rights abuses in Sudan following the military takeover under Item 2 of the Agenda.
The President of the United Nations Human Rights Council opened the 13th meeting by introducing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet and inviting her to deliver her oral update on the human rights situation in Sudan. Following the deliverance of Ms Bachelet’s statement, the President of the Human Rights Council proceeded with the interactive dialogue and opened the floor to interested delegations.
The first speaker, Mr Alaaeldin Awad Mohamed Nogoud, Member of the Sudanese Medical Consultants Committee and a founding member of the Sudanese Unified Doctors Office, stated that since the beginning of the coup, the country has experienced a regression in the standard of human rights. Mr Nogoud revealed that the country has lost 86 civilians since the beginning of the coup with many protestors being killed by live ammunition, tear gas and military vehicles. He stated that the majority of victims were shot in the head and neck which are vital and deadly areas of the body. More than 2500 people were injured in protests at the hands of military personnel since October 2021, and medical personnel have been arrested for treating protestors at hospitals. Mr Nogoud underscored that sexual atrocities had become commonplace in Sudan and that many NGOs had sent letters to the Attorney General concerning this issue however nothing was done to remedy such violations. He concluded his statement by requesting the international community institute economic sanctions targeting military leaders and civilians who supported the coup.
The representative for the European Union (EU), Ms Marleen Steenbrugghe, expressed the EU’s strong condemnation for the military coup which took place in 2021. The representative encouraged the restoration of a civilian led government driving the transition towards credible free and fair elections. She condemned the campaign of intimidation and stated that such action was inconsistent with the military’s stated commitment to resolve the political crisis in Sudan. Ms Steenbrugghe emphasised that the military remains responsible for the political instability within the country and called for thorough investigations into human rights violations, to regain confidence in Sudan’s government. The representative encouraged Sudan’s acting authorities to cooperate with the International Criminal Court and that lifting the state of emergency was a vital step to create a conducive environment for peace and democracy. Ms Steenbrugghe concluded her statement by reminding Sudan’s military authorities of their obligation to respect human rights and prevent and redress all human rights violations including sexual and gender-based violence. The representative posed a question to the High Commissioner on how the office of the High Commissioner could contribute to the protection of rights of those arbitrarily detained.
Germany aligned itself with the statement provided by the EU and strongly condemned the military takeover in Sudan. The representative for Germany, Mr Hans-Peter Jugel denounced support for violence, loss of life and human rights violations occurring in Sudan and urged the security forces inciting violence to exercise restraint. The representative called on Sudan’s military authorities to respect the freedom of the press, stating that the media play an important role in supporting political discourse and freedom of expression. Mr Jugel expressed Germany’s gratitude towards Mr Adama Dieng, the expert on human rights in Sudan, for his work in Sudan and stated that Germany would continue to support the monitoring of the human rights situation in the country. The representative concluded his statement by conveying Germany’s support for the people of Sudan and the establishment of peace and democracy in the country.
The representative for Sierra Leone thanked the High Commissioner for her oral update and stated that they had been closely monitoring the political situation in Sudan. The representative, Mr Samuel Saffa expressed the country’s solidarity with the people of Sudan and called for an investigation into the civilian-led transitional authority. The representative called upon the Sudanese military to release all political detainees, cease arbitrary arrests and grant the fundamental freedom of all Sudanese citizens. Mr Saffa encouraged all stakeholders to engage in inclusive and meaningful political dialogue with the objective to restore stability and uphold constitutional processes including free, fair and credible elections. The representative welcomed the first official visit to the country by UN experts and called for continued cooperation with experts from the United Nations.
The Vice President of the Human Rights Council concluded the 13th meeting and declared the 14th meeting open to continue the interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Sudan.
The Chinese representative delivered the opening remarks for the 14th meeting, stating that China supports the Sudanese people in their pursuit for a future of their own choosing and that China opposed any foreign interference or pressure tactics.
Contrastingly, the representative for Ireland championed the United Nations mandate in Sudan and continuing efforts to uphold human rights in the country. The representative went on to state that Ireland was alarmed at the ongoing human rights abuses in Sudan particularly in conflict affected areas and the shocking reports of sexual violence against women. The representative concluded her statement by urging the military to cease its campaign of violence and uphold citizens’ rights.
NGOs then provided statements in response to the High Commissioner’s Oral update on the human rights situation in Sudan. Numerous echoed statements made by the EU and Germany, calling for the Sudanese government to be held accountable for the ongoing violations in the country. The African Union was called upon to refrain from endorsing Sudan’s candidacy for a second term as a council member and the international community was encouraged not to vote for the country. During the meeting, one NGO in particular focused on women’s rights in Sudan, highlighting the continued violence women protestors have faced since the beginning of the coup. The NGO went on the emphasise the increasing rates of sexual violence and absence of investigations carried out following such incidents. It was stated that many female protestors have faced sexual harassment and attacks by militia in an attempt to deter women from voicing their concerns over the military takeover. The international community was encouraged to apply pressure to the Sudanese military to implement Sudan’s commitments under international human rights and humanitarian law including its recent pledges in the Universal Periodic Review.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
The military coup which took place in Sudan in October 2021 remains a concern of Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) including the numerous human rights violations which have taken place since the state of emergency was declared in Sudan. Capital punishment must be outlawed and the right to life preserved through legislative mechanisms and a state built upon democratic principles. We hereby call upon the government to release all political detainees and conduct thorough investigations into the human rights violations occurring in Sudan, with special emphasis on sexual violence against women and children.
We are pleased to see the ratification of the United Nations 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women (CEDAW) in Sudan. However, we urge Sudan’s Ministers Council to endorse the equality of men and women in both social and political contexts including equal rights in marriage, divorce and parenting. Women’s participation in both political and social society is paramount for any functioning democracy and must be encouraged in Sudan.
The abolition and criminalisation of Female Genital Mutilation is a step in the right direction for women's rights in Sudan and the government of Sudan is urged to implement further legislation to enhance women's rights and their position in society. We recommend the government implement education programmes on women's rights and gender inequality to better combat this issue and educate the younger generation to become progressive thinkers and leaders of the future.
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