The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights concluded its 77th Ordinary Session held in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania from 20 October to 9 November 2023. During the session, the Commission renewed its Bureau. It received solemn declarations from elected and re-elected members and launched several documents and newsletters, among others.
During the General Debate under Item 4, ISHR delivered a statement highlighting the human rights situations in four countries: Burkina Faso, Colombia, El Salvador, and Saudi Arabia. ISHR called on the HRC to create monitoring and reporting mechanisms on the human rights situations in these countries and to urge the governments of the countries concerned to ensure the rule of law and accountability, speak out in favour of the rights of human rights defenders to defend rights, and to cease arbitrary detention, torture, and other violations. Read ISHR’s statement below, and watch it in the below video:
We bring to the HRC a number of situations that merit attention based on objective criteria.
In Burkina Faso, the Collective against the impunity and stigmatization of communities (CISC) has documented since September 2022 hundreds of cases of torture and extrajudicial executions of civilians by government organised militia. These raids disproportionately target Peuhl community members. We call on the HRC to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Burkina Faso.
In Colombia, human rights defenders are being murdered. CCJ registered 212 cases in 2022 and 18 already in 2023 (to mid February). Each murder is devastating to a family, friends and community. Every murder also diminishes the country’s ability to build a peaceful, sustainable, dignified future for all. Colombia must address impunity for these murders, resource protection systems, and authorities at the highest levels must speak up for the right to defend rights.
In El Salvador, the rule of law is rapidly deteriorating, in a context of 11 months of a continuing state of emergency. Serious human rights violations are being committed by State officials, including high numbers of arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and deaths in State custody, and the criminalisation of defenders. We call on the Council to act now to prevent further violations and abuses.
According to ALQST’s 2022 annual report, the Saudi authorities continue patterns of abuse, including arbitrary arrests, severe jail sentences for peaceful, legitimate activity on social media, enforced disappearances, systemic gender discrimination, and harsh restrictions on prisoners of conscience released from prison, including travel bans, thus further deepening the climate of fear. We call on the HRC to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the ever-deteriorating human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.
Calls increase for Human Rights Council to address grave human rights violations in Saudi Arabia
During the Item 4 General Debate, and complementing ISHR’s statement, several States raised concerns about the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. Switzerland and Denmark called on Saudi Arabia to halt its use of the death penalty, and to ensure that it is only used for the most gravest crimes. Switzerland specifically called on Saudi Arabia to reinstate a moratorium and limit the use of the death penalty to the gravest crimes, not drug offenses, in conformity with international law. Iceland expressed its alarm at “the handing down of sentences for peaceful expression of opinion and a surge in executions for offenses that do not meet the threshold of the most serious crimes.” Similarly, Norway called on Saudi Arabia to fulfill its citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
NGOs also took up these calls in relation to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch discussed the worsening of the overall human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, citing increased executions, the use of abusive practices in detention centers, and the issuance of oppressive 30 to 45 year terms for criticising the government. They also highlighted the legalisation of discrimination against women under Saudi law, and called for the urgent attention of the Human Rights Council to the situation. Amnesty International similarly cited high numbers of executions and extreme sentences. Reprieve drew attention to Saudi Arabia’s “empty promises” to the international community, citing numerous cases of disproportionate death sentences, arbitrary detention, torture, and execution, such as that of Hussein Abo al-Kheir. They expressed concern that, because of the lack of transparency in Saudi Arabia, there is no way to know how many individuals are in danger, but they mentioned their concerns about the cases of child defendants Youssef al-Manasif, Abdullah al-Howaiti, Hassan Zaki al-Faraj and Abdullah al-Derazi, and those “individuals detained and at risk of the death penalty for simply exercising their freedom of expression, such as Hassan al-Maliki and Salman Alodah.”
Rights Livelihood, ALQST for Human Rights, and MENA Rights Group issued a joint statement about “the increased repression [of] human rights defenders and peaceful dissidents in Saudi Arabia.” Similar to ISHR’s statement, they mentioned lengthy prison sentences, inhumane prison conditions and torture, in response to peaceful, legitimate rights exercise, as well as travel bans, detention after expiry of sentences, and retrials and enforced disappearances, as in the cases of Mohammed al-Rabiah, Essa al-Nukheifi, and Mohammed al-Qahtani. They called “on the Council to urge Saudi Arabia to stop its persecution of peaceful activists, immediately provide information on the fate and whereabouts of forcibly disappeared activists and unconditionally release all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained.” Americans for Democracy and human rights in Bahrain called attention to Saudi Arabia’s use of anti-terrorism and cybercrime laws to repress activists, using long sentences, fines, and travel bans, such as in the cases of Salma Al-Shehab, Mahdia Marzouki, Noura Al Qahtani, Saad Almadi. They called for international pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the misuse of these laws and to release all those arbitrarily detained.Download as PDF
On 15 June 2022, the National Assembly of Niger passed a law on the rights and duties of human rights defenders. This makes Niger the fourth African country to adopt such a law. However, for the law to produce the desired effects, it must be widely known and understood by all stakeholders. The establishment of an independent and inclusive protection mechanism will ensure the full implementation of the law.
The adoption of the draft law approving the status of Non-Governmental Organisation in Angola by the National Assembly considerably limits in its provisions the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms and shrinks civic and democratic space. We are calling the Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders to help address this situation.