Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you very much for attending this press briefing. I will be happy to take a few questions after my presentation.
Today, I am concluding my first mission to the Republic of the Sudan undertaken from 10th– 14th June 2012, pursuant to my mandate as Independent Expert on the Human Rights Situation in the Sudan, as renewed under Resolution 18/16 by the Human Rights Council in March 2012. The said Resolution entrusts the Independent Expert with an overall mandate for technical assistance and capacity building. This mission has enabled me to engage the Government of the Republic of the Sudan, its international partners and other relevant stakeholders including independent human rights, non-governmental civil society organisations and human rights defenders. The objective of these meetings was to identify the technical assistance and capacity building needs of the Sudan that will aid the Sudan to fulfil its human rights obligations. I would like to thank the Government of the Republic of the Sudan for facilitating this mission and UNAMID for providing necessary logistical support. The following is a summary of my preliminary thoughts based on my recent engagements. My discussions with the different sectors in all my meetings have been transparent, engaging, frank, mutual, constructive and understanding.
During these five days of my mission, I have had the opportunity to meet and engage in useful discussions with key government officials such as the Honourable Minister of Justice, the Under Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, the Under Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Deputy Commissioner General of Police in the Ministry of Interior and the Chairman of the Darfur Regional Authority. I have also deliberated with relevant government institutions such as the Advisory Council of Human Rights, the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly, the National Commission for Human Rights, the National Council for Child Welfare and the Unit for Combating Violence against Women & Children, amongst others. I have also met with relevant members of the international donor and diplomatic community, including the European Union (EU) Group, the Ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Qatar and the Head of the African Union (AU) Liaison Office in the Sudan, the Resident Representative of the UNDP and the Head of UNAMID. I have as well met and had discussions with some independent human rights, non-governmental civil society organisations and human rights defenders. I will be meeting with some members of the academic community later today.
While there have been references by the Government to the fact that my mandate relates specifically to providing technical assistance and capacity building to the Government, and expressing its desire for a restrictive interpretation of that mandate, I have emphasised the need to understand and interpret the scope of the mandate in the context of the general human rights situation in the country, to facilitate the proper and necessary assessment of the required technical assistance and capacity building. It is this contextual understanding that has enabled me to meet and have discussions with the other stakeholders apart from the Government during this mission.
I have, throughout these meetings, reiterated my commitment of independence, impartiality and transparency as required under the Code of Conduct for Special Procedure Mandate-Holders of the Human Rights Council, and sought cooperation from all relevant stakeholders in pursuing this mandate in a very positive manner. My ultimate aim is to find the best ways to improve the human rights situation in the Republic of the Sudan that would eventually be reflected positively in the lives of the ordinary individuals in the country. I would like to thank all the stakeholders for their helpful assistance, contribution and cooperation in that regard.
I have made clear in all the meetings that the starting point for the execution of my mandate would be the recommendations contained in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Republic of the Sudan conducted by the Human Rights Council at its eleventh session in 2011. In this regard, it is important to emphasise that my approach to implementing this mandate is not merely a report-oriented one, but result-oriented.
In all my meetings with the Government, I have received assurances of cooperation some demonstration of good intention through taking steps towards implementing the recommendations contained in the UPR. I have also been presented with a list of documents containing proposals for technical assistance and capacity building from the various governmental sectors and organs, which they believe will be helpful in contributing towards improving the human rights situation in the country. Of important interest to me is the Strategy Document of the Advisory Council on Human Rights outlining the government’s strategy for implementing the accepted recommendations of the UPR. I will be studying it in detail as the framework for analysing the different proposals for technical assistance and capacity building requests accompanying it. It is my aim to group the implementational strategy into short term, medium term and long term timelines, with specific performance indicators for assessment. The objective will be to ensure that the Government completes the long term implementation plans by 2016 when Sudan comes up for its next UPR.
My initial impression is that the Government of the Republic of the Sudan has begun to take necessary steps in response to the UPR recommendations. This view seems to be shared by some members of the diplomatic community I met during this mission. But we also agreed that further steps needs to be taken for an effective implementation of the Government’s human rights obligations.
One important demonstration of such initial steps, is the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights in January 2012. Many in the donor and diplomatic community believe that the Commission can be an important institution for moving the State in the right direction: towards ensuring the positive improvement in the human rights situation in the Republic of the Sudan, if it is properly empowered both in terms of necessary human and financial resources. I have already received assurances, in principle, from some quarters within the diplomatic community to support the work of the Commission, particularly in the areas of capacity building and technical assistance. But they have also expressed the need on the part of the Government to positively demonstrate its serious commitment by taking the lead role in providing the Commission with adequate, necessary operational and financial support in the first instance.
There is, to a large extent, some level of consensus amongst all relevant stakeholders of the need for capacity building in the form of relevant human rights training for members of the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the legislature, the police and non-governmental human rights organisations, amongst others. The need for public awareness and human rights empowerment initiatives were also identified. Technical assistance and capacity building initiatives are, however, capital-intensive and require high levels of funding, which must be sourced both internally from the Government itself and externally from different cooperating partners within the donor community and institutions. While I thankfully acknowledge the support of traditional big donor countries and institutions and hopeful of their continuous cooperation, I have also identified the need to encourage the Government to include the promotion of human rights amongst its priority funding considerations. There is also the need to attract the interest and expand the list of possible donor countries and partnering institutions to include regional partners to facilitate more confidence and trust between the Government and the international community.
I have emphasised in my engagement with the Government that the result-oriented approach I have adopted for this mandate can only be fully realised by the demonstration of positive political will on its part. This will require that the Government pay attention to the legitimate human rights concerns of the donor community and partners. I have emphasised the need for an understanding on the part of the Government in that regard. I believe that any needs assessment should take into consideration the human rights concerns expressed by stakeholders.
Some of the concerns that have been raised in my discussions relate to the need to ensure transparency, inclusiveness and participation of the independent civil society organisations in the current constitutional review exercise; and also the need to ensure that the fundamental human rights contained in the current Bill of Rights should be preserved. The Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly and the Advisory Council of Human Rights have also assured me that the national constitutional review exercise will be transparent, inclusive and participatory, involving all relevant stakeholders including civil society organisations.
Other areas of concern that have been raised in my discussions with relevant stakeholders include the need to ensure the protection of freedom of expression and the press, with particular reference being made to the use of national security laws to clamp-down on the press including closure of media houses, arrest of journalists and confiscation of newspapers and equipment. I have raised this issue in my discussions with Government officials as a legitimate concern, which the Government needs to pay attention to, in view of the importance of freedom of expression and of the press in the promotion and protection of human rights in a democratic society.
Other issues discussed during my mission include the need for law reform, particularly in the area of criminal law and procedure, the human rights situation in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile States, as well as the issue of citizenship of the South Sudanese. These are legitimate concerns which the State needs to pay attention to as a demonstration of its political will.
It is important that I comment on the human rights situation in Darfur, which I raised in my discussions with the Government. Although I have not visited Darfur during this mission, in spite of the assurances from the Government that the human rights situation in Darfur has relatively improved, I have received contrary representations from other stakeholders. I am not able to comment on the validity of these claims as I could not visit Darfur during this mission. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the fact that the signing of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur has resulted in the establishment of a number of institutions that are in need of capacity building. I can mention the Darfur Regional Authority, the Justice and Reconciliation Commission, the new Darfur Special Courts and even the new National Commission on Human Rights as few examples of institutions whose capacity need to be strengthened. In my discussion with the Chairman of the Darfur Regional Authority and the diplomatic community, we agreed on the need for serious commitment to the effective implementation of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), particularly its Chapter 1 on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Chapter 5 on Justice and Reconciliation.
In conclusion, I must also mention one important concern that has been consistently expressed at every level of my meetings with the Government, in the form of what it considers as the persistent negativity it is experiencing from the international community, without any acknowledgment of the positive steps already taken by the Government in its effort to improve the human rights situation in the country despite the difficult conflict that it has experienced for many years. This concern has created a situation of distrust on the part of the Government in its relationship with the international community, which needs to be equally addressed to facilitate the necessary trust and confidence-building that can provide the mutual engagement necessary for discussing the human rights concerns raised by the potential partners necessary for the realisation of this mandate in a result-oriented manner.
Despite the apparent difficulty and very challenging nature of this mandate, my discussions at the different levels with the Government and with relevant stakeholders in the past five days, gives me hope that this mandate can, nevertheless be realised positively through consistent, focused and positive engagement with the Government of the Republic of the Sudan within the framework of the UPR recommendations. I will be elaborating more in depth on this in my substantive report for consideration by the Human Rights Council at its 21st Session in September 2012.
Professor Mashood Adebayo Baderin was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the UN Independent Expert for the situation of human rights in the Sudan in March 2012. He is currently Professor of Law and Head of the School of Law at SOAS, University of London in the United Kingdom.