Human rights defenders deserve to be honoured for their courageous advocacy for the rights of others and willingness to risk their own personal safety to fight for justice for all, says the Director of the UNMISS Human Rights Division, Eugene Nindorera, ahead of International Human Rights Defenders Day.
This year’s celebration of International Human Rights Defenders Day marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the first UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as well as the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, two milestone documents in the fight for equality and human dignity worldwide.
“In South Sudan, there are countless women and men who courageously defend the most vulnerable in society,” said Eugene Nindorera. “Their work is recognized and appreciated by communities who benefit on a daily basis from activists’ technical expertise and contributions.”
While the names and faces of some defenders may be known to the general public due to their vocal stances, many others are ordinary individuals who serve the people of South Sudan away from the spotlight. They include students, lawyers, journalists, lawmakers, public servants, and community leaders.
“What unites them is that they are not afraid to speak up when they witness suffering and injustice,” said Eugene Nindorera. “Women human rights defenders, in particular, are at the forefront of challenging inequality embedded in existing social norms and cultural practices. Their work embodies the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Today also provides an opportunity to recognize the challenges, as well as the opportunities, that lie ahead, he said. The UNMISS Human Rights Division continues to receive reports of violations against human rights defenders. Activists have been arbitrarily detained, intimidated, beaten and threatened, simply for standing up for their rights and the rights of others. Denouncing corruption, conflict-related sexual violence or poor governance continues to come with great risk. Fearing for their safety, many human rights defenders have taken the painful decision to leave their beloved country and seek refuge elsewhere.
“They would have stayed had they been confident in the rule of law” said Eugene Nindorera. “Instead, human rights defenders are arbitrarily arrested and detained for prolonged periods of time, which may even put them at risk of enforced disappearance. All suspects should be immediately informed of the charges against them and brought before a competent judicial authority within a reasonable time or be released.”
In the current circumstances, effective civic participation, including human rights promotion, remains a challenge that must be acknowledged and addressed, especially at this crucial juncture in the history of South Sudan.
The recent signing of the revitalized peace agreement by most parties to the conflict, if fully implemented, will lead the country on a path of peace and prosperity.
“For years, the inspiring work of South Sudanese human rights defenders has been instrumental to the pursuit of peace and national reconciliation,” said Eugene Nindorera. “Peace will take root when ordinary citizens are free from violence and hunger and are able to re-build their futures through the resumption of educational, social and economic activities.
Simply put: when people in South Sudan fully enjoy their basic human rights.”
The role played by human rights defenders in working alongside all other parties to the conflict in the pursuit of durable peace is therefore invaluable. Many activists currently in the diaspora have already expressed their eagerness to return, provided that the environment is conducive to the full exercise of their human rights.
“We urge the government to expand the civic space and to safeguard open and inclusive debate, especially in the context of the ongoing reconciliation efforts, so that the work of human rights defenders can thrive and effectively support the implementation of the peace agreement,” said Eugene Nindorera. “The government should also prioritize efforts to protect activists, through concrete measures aiming at preventing and promptly responding to acts of intimidation and violence targeting human rights defenders. Additionally, those responsible for any violation against a human rights defender should be held accountable.”
As world leaders and activists hold a high-level event at the UN General Assembly on 18 December to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, let everyone in South Sudan join the global community in renewing our personal and collective commitments to promote human rights for all.
Read the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/Declaration.aspx Learn more about the Human Rights Defenders World Summit 2018: https://hrdworldsummit.org/