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Blog post: Reflection on Achievements and Hurdles at the Human Rights Council’s 29th session

By Hassan Shire

Earlier this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council concluded its 29th session discussing steps towards strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe including addressing human rights violations. As part of our advocacy at the international fora, my organization, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) actively took part at this session including supporting courageous human rights defenders to access the Council and voice the challenges and setbacks hindering their crucial work of defending the rights of others while seeking for the international community to pay attention to the human rights situations in this part of the region. Amongst them was the only human rights defender from South Sudan to attend this session and express the critical human rights situation on the ground.

Following the conclusion of the session on 3rd July, I welcome the progressive resolutions adopted by the Council particularly resolution 29/13 on establishing a mission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor, report and make recommendations on the alleged human rights violations in South Sudan. Although a stronger mechanism is ideal to address the serious human rights violations in the young nation plunged into civil war over the last 19 months, this is the strongest resolution adopted by the Council on the situation and my hope is that it will go an extra mile in finding solutions to end the man-made war and bring peace to the United Nations youngest member.

Over the last few years, EHAHRDP has been closely monitoring the situation in Eritrea and advocated strongly for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate and report to the Council on its findings. At this session, the COI released its report finding gross, systematic and widespread violations being committed against the Eritrean people under the impunity of Eritrea’s government.

Following the report of the COI, my organization in an oral statement delivered, appreciated the Commission’s findings whilst expressing concern at the violations reported and calling upon Eritrea to be mindful of its international obligations. The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea presented her report during this session that concurred with the findings of the COI. EHAHRDP delivered a statement during this interactive dialogue focusing on the massive flight of Eritreans fleeing from the violations and the inhumane prison conditions. We recommended renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

Hassan Shire delivers oral statement during interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea

I was further pleased with the Council’s decision to extend both mandates of the COI and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, to ensure full accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity. However, Eritrea’s lack of cooperation with UN mechanisms continues to be a hindrance to their work. The Council must continue to push for its cooperation and should think of alternatives in the event that Eritrea fails to give these mechanisms access to the country.

With increased international pressure on Eritrea, I continue to watch the situation closely hoping that Eritrea will give in to the pressure including protecting its citizens and respecting its human rights obligations under international law.

My team and I continued our advocacy initiatives through delivering oral interventions on situations or issues that are of concern within the sub-region we operate that require the Council’s attention. In our statement, I pointed out the critical situation in South Sudan, Egypt and Burundi calling on the Council and its member states to; support the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on South Sudan, to monitor and publicly report; take urgent action on the deteriorating human rights situation in Burundi that has forced over hundred thousand Burundians to flee the country; and bring public attention to the worsening situation for human rights defenders and civil society organizations in Egypt.

Together with our partners, we organized successful parallel events most prominent being the event on misuse of anti-terrorism legislation to criminalize the legitimate work of human rights defenders. The panelists included human rights defenders from Kenya and Ethiopia that have suffered the brunt of these laws. The event was very well attended featuring expert speakers. We continued to call on states not to criminalise the work of human rights defenders through restrictive legislation.

ATL sidevent

Left to right: David Kaye, Tor Hordenfield, Rachel Nicholson, Mesfin Negash, Hassan Shire, Leslie Lekfow, Gabriel Dolan and John Foley at the side event on misuse of anti terrorism legislation in Africa

The session closed on 3rd July but our advocacy to bring change to this part of the world continues. EHAHRDP will continue to be part of the process advocating for human rights change in East and Horn of Africa and I look forward to the upcoming sessions.