HRC: Council fails to fully respond to gravity of country situations in Somalia and Sudan

Summary: At its 21st session the Council held interactive dialogues with the Independent Experts on Somalia and on Sudan, and adopted resolutions on these country situations.

Somalia, following an twelve-year transitional period, has this year elected a new president, Mr Hassan Skeikh Mohamud. The country also has a new constitution as of 24 August. The country is however still unstable, and it was in the light of these developments that Mr Shamsul Bari, the Independent Expert on human rights in Somalia, gave his report to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 September 2012.

Mr Bari’s statement was highly optimistic. He described the new democratic steps as ‘a wonderful thing for any country’, and for Somalia, ‘a dream come true’. The transparency of the election would have been unimaginable a year ago, and the 30% female Parliament is a hard-won victory.

He described the new Parliament as significantly more representative than previous efforts, and praised the adoption of a prioritised work plan on human rights. The fact that the Somali diaspora is returning to participate in the new Somalia was also an encouraging sign.

There are, however, challenges to be overcome. The people of Somalia, said Mr Bari, have suffered too long under authorities working to their own agendas; he called for technical assistance in the development of a human rights ‘road map’ which would help the new Government to strengthen its own work plan, with the aim of winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people.

Mr Bari emphasised that the new Somalia should be built by Somalis; the UN and the international community must give greater ownership to the people.

The Independent Expert’s statement was echoed by the Somali Ambassador. While there is confidence in the changes, he acknowledged that the Government must work hard to make people believe that their welfare is a priority. He also stressed that ‘Somalia must fix Somalia’; too many initiatives are still UN-led, and only convince the people that the international community is serving its own political agenda in the country, although he did not comment further on what these agendas were.

State responses were mixed. While almost all countries congratulated Somalia on the achievement of its democratic aspirations, many also highlighted that there is still work to be done on many issues. The United Arab Emirates was optimistic about Somalia’s political will to effect change, but urged the UN to continue to provide technical assistance to strengthen the rule of law, as did Spain, Djibouti, the United Kingdom (UK), and Egypt.

Human rights violations on a massive scale continue to take place, however. The United States (US) voiced its concern over the continuing use of child soldiers, and urged Al-Shabaab to immediately cease the killing of civilians. Spain strongly articulated its worries over a number of issues, including violence against journalists, and the state of detention centres.

The often violent repression of the media was brought out by a number of States, including Switzerland, Norway, and Djibouti. All States stressed the importance of a free press in the consolidation of a new, democratic Somalia. This issue was also highly prevalent in the interventions of NGOs.

Thailand noted the on-going sexual violence against women and girls, as did Slovakia, although Slovenia was encouraged by the steps the new Government has made to outlaw female genital mutilation.

Morocco and Greece were particularly vocal in asking how the international community can best support Somalia at this critical point in its history. Mr Bari concluded that while Somalia’s democratic transition and the aspirations of the people must be led from within, the country continues to need international support, in terms of both financial and technical assistance in capacity building. Mr Bari urged that the UN-driven peace initiatives have not sufficiently taken into account the needs of the Somali people. The new authorities should build a clearer understanding of the experiences of their citizens to create a new Somalia.

The Council itself should facilitate the cooperation between special procedures and the Somali democratic process; fifty per cent of mandate holders have some relevance to the situation in Somalia, noted Mr Bari, and their expertise should be utilised to its fullest extent. The resolution on Somalia, adopted by consensus at this session, expresses serious concern at the human rights and humanitarian situation in the country and condemns grave and systematic human rights abuses perpetrated against the Somali population. It calls for all special procedures to engage fully and coordinate with the Independent Expert. It calls on the Independent Expert to work with a view to maximising the provision and flow and technical assistance to Somalia, and to support the efforts of the Government.

Despite the secession of South Sudan in 2011 and the appearance of greater cooperation between the new State and the Sudan, the human rights situation in Sudan remains troubling. On-going conflicts in the Blue Nile and Kordofan regions, as well as in Darfur, have highlighted continuing human rights abuses; the latest Independent Expert on the country, Mr Masood Baderin, presented his first report to the Human Rights Council (the Council) on 26 September

Mr Baderin was critical of Sudan’s human rights record. He urged the government to more fully implement initiatives to strengthen the rule of law, judicial due process, political participation, and freedom of the press. He also asked the Government to allow him greater access to the more troubled regions. Sudan is still in a transitional phase, Mr Baderin stated. Technical and financial capacity building and aid are still necessary to allow the country to progress. He also emphasised that civil society organisations must be given the full support of both the Government and the international community, considering the important role they play in enabling accountability and democratic processes.

The Sudanese delegate’s response highlighted that the Government has progressively implemented a large proportion of the recommendations made during Sudan’s 2011 Universal Periodic Review (UPR), with new policies so far in 14 of the 17 provinces. However, Sudan strongly criticised civil society organisations; too many, the delegate felt, pursue agendas which are 'separate from the greater good of Sudan'. He claimed that their ‘refusal to cooperate’ with the Government should not be used as an excuse by the international community at large to ‘tarnish Sudan’s reputation’ or the positive steps that are being made.

The debate which followed highlighted several main concerns. The first was that the independent Expert should be give further access to the country to verify his information on the troubled border regions. States from all groups, including Canada, Bahrain, Slovakia, the UK, and Thailand, called both for a renewal of Mr Baderin’s mandate and for increased access for information-gathering. China, on the other hand, called for continued technical assistance for the Sudanese Government, but emphasised that the on-going conflicts must not be used to justify unwarranted interference in Sudanese domestic affairs.

Another important concern raised by Switzerland and Australia, as well as numerous NGOs, was the continued intimidation and harassment of both human rights defenders and journalists. Switzerland in particular was emphatic on this point, stating that threats to human rights defenders would not be tolerated, and questioned Mr Baderin on how these situations could best be stopped. Switzerland also took a strong stance against other human rights violations, such as reports of stoning, and strongly recommended not only the renewal but also the strengthening of the Independent Expert’s mandate.

Greece expressed concern over reports of repression of freedom of expression in civil society and the press. Spain too emphasised that the involvement of civil society actors and other stakeholders was essential to the support of the rule of law and the continuation of other peace processes. 

There was appreciation from all regions for the cooperation of the Sudanese authorities with the UPR process; the US, Morocco, Norway, and Nigeria congratulated Sudan on positive steps. However, Croatia warned that the outbreaks of violence could not be ignored; the situation in Syria, the delegate claimed, has made the international community profoundly aware of how quickly conflicts can explode, and urged both international and domestic mechanisms to take a strong stance on violations.

Mr Baderin’s concluding comments highlighted three main areas to be addressed by the Sudanese authorities: to provide greater access by the Independent Expert to areas experiencing violations; to improve cooperation with civil society organisations; and to immediately cease repression of the media to enable a space for civil society to work.

The resolution on Sudan, adopted by consensus later in the session, does call for more access by Independent Expert to all regions of the country. However it remains to be seen whether the Sudanese Government will grant that access. Austria, speaking on behalf of the EU at the adoption of the resolution, called for Sudan to ensure that the Independent Expert could carry out his mandate effectively by allowing him to have full access to all parts of the country, and to engage freely with all relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations. Sudan stated that it felt it had cooperated with the Council until now, and that it would continue to act in the same manner. The resolution was adopted by consensus, as was the resolution on South Sudan which calls for OHCHR to provide technical support and training, and to report on progress.

The Council also adopted a resolution on South Sudan, which focuses primarily on technical assistance, but also asks OHCHR to submit a report on South Sudan in June 2013 (23rd session of the Council). 

All resolutions adopted by the Council will be available shortly from the OHCHR Web site.



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