(Geneva- 19 September, 2011) Today, human rights defenders from throughout the Arab region converged on the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (the Council), during its 18th Session, to respond to an unprecedented number of UN reports addressing grave rights violations throughout the Arab region.
According to Ms. Laila Matar, UN Advocacy Representative of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, “Today marks a milestone at the UN, and a chance for rights defenders and citizens from the Arab region to let their voices be heard and demand their struggle for freedom be acknowledged. Never has the human rights situation in the Arab region been in the spotlight at the UN as strongly as now.” High-level reports and investigations on the human rights situations in Libya, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, are all scheduled to be delivered in succession throughout the day.
In response to a UN report that investigated the current crack-down on protests in Syria, prominent Syrian human rights lawyer Mr. Haitham Maleh said before the Council: “Today I ask you as a citizen…how many innocent women, children and men must be murdered in the streets, how many tortured and mutilated, before we decide words are not enough?” Mr. Maleh went on to ask those states which have not yet supported a referral of Syrian crimes to the International Criminal Court to do now, saying “Don’t let those who have died and suffered have done so in vain. The time for words is over- it is time to act.”
Ms. Amal Basha from Yemen, Director of the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, is also in attendance with other Yemen rights defenders. They are calling on the Council to pass a resolution to endorse the recommendations in a report created by a recent UN mission to Yemen to investigate rights violations in the context of protests occurring there. The report recommends the international community to establish “international, independent and impartial investigations” into grave rights violations that appear to be occurring throughout the country in response to peaceful protests.
According to Ms. Basha, “The UN report has concluded that grave rights violations are being carried out throughout Yemen, and that the government is unable or unwilling to provide justice to the victims of these violations. It is now incumbent on the Council to establish an investigative process that has the potential to deliver justice and provide protection to the Yemen people during their struggle for freedom. Unless the Council does so this report may prove a dead end.”
A group of human rights defenders from Sudan have come to lobby the African Group and others to renew the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sudan, and to push for the establishment of a second Independent Expert to monitor the situation in the newly created state of South Sudan. In his report to the Council this session the expert on Sudan concluded that grave rights violations continue to be carried out in North and South Sudan and has called for continued monitoring by the Council, including the creation of “an independent and credible investigation into alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law during the hostilities in Southern Kordofan with a view to holding perpetrators to account.” A UN report that was recently released accused security forces of committing potential crimes against humanity in Kordofan.
“Now is not the time for the international community to turn away from the situation in North or South Sudan. The recent atrocities in Kordafan prove that the human rights situation is still dire. The Council must work to ensure the governments of both North and South Sudan begin a real process of reform that can lead to lasting peace”, said Dr. Albaqir Alafif, Director of the Al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment and Human Development.
Libyan human rights defenders are also in attendance to listen the report of the Commission of Inquiry into rights violations committed in Libya established by the Council earlier this year.
Ms Elham Saudi, Director of the Lawyers for Justice-Libya, remarked “I am here not only to monitor the response of the Council to the report on Libya, but to also call on the international community to respond to accusations of crimes against humanity committed in Syria and elsewhere with the same seriousness they demonstrated in the case of Libya.”
The 18th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council is being held from 12-30th September. According to Mr. Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, “Unless resolutions at this session of the Council to ensure continued monitoring on the grave rights violations in Sudan and Yemen the victims of crimes in these countries will cease to have a voice within the workings of the UN. This can not be allowed to occur at this critical time in the history of these nations.”
This post is also available in: Arabic