Statement by Mr. Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
41st Human Rights Council session - Item 10
9 July 2019
At the outset, I would like to echo the Secretary-General by stating that we are encouraged by the agreement reached between the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Transitional Military Council on 5 July. We also congratulate the African Union and Ethiopia for their role in mediating the Sudanese-led talks and commend the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for its support to the process.
Last September, this Council requested the Government of Sudan and our Office to engage constructively to agree on the modalities and mandate for the establishment of an OHCHR country office no later than September 2019. We were asked to provide an oral update of the progress made towards the opening of such a country office during this session. I am here today to provide that update.
At the invitation of the Government, OHCHR deployed a technical mission to Sudan from 2 to 6 December 2018 to look into the options for the establishment of an OHCHR office. Our team met representatives of the various branches of Government – the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Interior – the Advisory Council for Human Rights, the Chief Justice office, the Chief Public Prosecution office, the Human Rights and Legislative committees of the National Legislative Council, the National Council for Child Welfare, the National Human Rights Commission and the Governmental Committee on Combatting Violence Against Women.
The team also met with the diplomatic community in Khartoum, the UN Country Team and the Resident Coordinator, international NGOs, the ICRC, human rights defenders and other civil society groups. The assessment team travelled to El-Fasher, north Darfur State, to meet with State and judicial authorities as well as with relevant sections of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
We wish to take this opportunity to thank the authorities for their full cooperation with our mission. After the visit, our Office was satisfied that there was a genuine openness to the idea of the establishment of an OHCHR Office.
On 21 January 2019, the High Commissioner submitted a proposal to the Government of Sudan for the establishment of a fully mandated OHCHR Country Office to undertake work in the areas of technical cooperation, advocacy, capacity building and human rights protection. The High Commissioner suggested that such an office could comprise a main office in Khartoum and smaller field offices in other parts of the country. The future presence would implement OHCHR’s mandate in accordance with GA resolution 48/141, including engaging with the Government, State institutions and other stakeholders in Sudan implementing recommendations from the UN’s human rights mechanisms.
On 15 February 2019, the Government of Sudan extended a second invitation to OHCHR to conduct a mission to Khartoum to discuss technical details of the proposal, share observations, and initiate negotiations towards the drafting of a host country agreement. OHCHR and the Government agreed that the mission could take place from 17 to 20 March.
However, the Sudan Permanent Mission in Geneva informed OHCHR on 7 March that the mission would be postponed due to the political and security developments in the country, resulting from the mass protests that had been taking place since December 2018.
Again, on 2 April, the Government of Sudan extended a new invitation for OHCHR to visit Sudan from 14 to 17 April to discuss technical details of the High Commissioner’s proposal. As we are all aware, developments of the ground superseded the invitation. On 11 April, President Al-Bashir and the serving Government were removed from office.
While new dates were agreed for the mission to take place from 18 to 22 May, the Sudan Permanent Mission in Geneva requested on 25 April that OHCHR postpone its mission, awaiting the establishment of a new Government. No new dates for the mission have been set.
The situation in Sudan has changed significantly since OHCHR deployed a technical mission in December 2018. Shortly after our visit, large-scale protests erupted in several cities in Sudan in response to the serious economic crisis affecting access to food and basic services. These protests eventually led to the removal of the Government.
On 14 January 2019, the High Commissioner wrote to the Foreign Minister of Sudan raising concerns at reports of excessive use of force against protestors and harassment against opposition activists and critics. She urged that those arbitrarily arrested be released. The High Commissioner welcomed the establishment of a national fact finding committee to investigate allegations of violations, and offered to deploy a team of three human rights officers to support the Government to abide by its human rights obligations in responding to the situation.
On 17 January, the High Commissioner issued a press statement warning that a repressive response to the protests would only worsen grievances. In her address to this Council on 6 March 2019, the High Commissioner noted that for several months, people protesting harsh economic conditions and poor governance had been violently dispersed by security forces, sometimes using live ammunition. She added that excessive use of force, including inside hospitals, mosques and universities, as well as arbitrary detention, torture and the state of emergency would have no effect on the very real underlying grievances, which the protestors were seeking to address. The High Commissioner encouraged swift and meaningful reforms to combat corruption, open civic space, and enable inclusive dialogue and greater participation by people in decision-making.
On 12 April, following the removal of President Al-Bashir from office, the High Commissioner underscored that the crisis in Sudan has its roots in human rights grievances – unfulfilled economic, social, civil and political rights – and that, therefore, the solution must also be grounded in human rights.
On 6 June, the High Commissioner, after receiving reports that more than 100 protestors were killed when security forces violently dispersed the peaceful sit-in of protestors in Khartoum, requested Sudan to allow the rapid deployment of a human rights monitoring team.
On 14 June, I briefed the Security Council in New York on the ripple effect of the country-wide protests and political developments in the Darfur region, which has seen a rise in documented human rights violations and violent repression of protests. Our Office, through UNAMID’s Human Rights Section, continues to monitor and report on the situation in Darfur while also working to reinforce the capacity of national institutions to protect and promote human rights through the State Liaison Functions.
Yesterday, a group of Special Procedures issued a press release urging the authorities to immediately restore Internet services. They noted that the Human Rights Council has unequivocally condemned measures that intentionally prevent or disrupt access to information online, and recommended all States to cease and refrain from such measures.
We encourage all parties in Sudan to continue to resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue. OHCHR welcomes that the agreement reached last week includes a commitment to conduct an independent investigation into the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters. More details have emerged about casualties during the mass protests that took place in towns and cities across Sudan on 30 June 2019. It is important that investigations contribute to justice and dignity for all victims of such violence.
We hope that the new agreement creates new momentum for the protection of human rights in Sudan and that, in the coming weeks, we will be able to travel to Sudan to continue discussions on the opening of a fully mandated office.
The UN Human Rights Office stands ready and looks forward to assisting Sudan to strengthen the protection of the human rights in a context of transition to civilian rule.