At the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union (EU) won a rare victory today when it succeeded, by one-vote, to secure the passage of its amendments to a draft resolution on Sudan. The primary purpose of these amendments was to maintain scrutiny of the human rights situation in that country, which the original text failed to do.
The Council had voted in September to extend the mandate of the UN expert on Sudan for a period of only six months rather than the full, customary one-year term. Human rights advocates feared this would be a stepping stone to the full elimination of independent scrutiny over Sudan’s rights record in this month’s session.
Indeed, the un-amended draft resolution, sponsored by Egypt for the African Group, praised Sudan’s “progress” and various “achievements,” while eliminating the mandate of a UN independent expert on the country, calling only for the government’s cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In its presentation of the resolution, Egypt said the draft was supported by all the African countries except Uganda. It explained that its purpose was to provide technical assistance to the government of Sudan in the protection of human rights. It also proposed an oral amendment to further water down the paragraph inviting the OHCHR to monitor the situation in Darfur, by adding “so as to inform the Human Rights Council about the human rights situation in Sudan as appropriate.”
Next to take the floor, Germany speaking for the EU, explained its amendments to the text, which call on Sudan to implement past Council resolutions and intensify efforts to achieve peace, and, most importantly, establish an independent expert for a period of one year to report on the country’s human rights situation, while also engaging with Sudanese national human rights institutions in this endeavor.
Notably, the EU made the decision to use the words “independent expert,” rather than the more prestigious title of Special Rapporteur, a UN term implying a grave situation requiring investigation. According to Geneva diplomats, the demotion was a compromise needed to win votes from countries that normally hesitate to criticize their peers. In practice, the independent expert will have very similar, if not the same, tasks as a Special Rapporteur. In fact, the amendments make reference to past Council resolutions laying out the mandate of the former Rapporteur on Sudan.
In its remarks, Germany said the “EU believes it is unacceptable to agree to discontinue the mandate as such a critical time.” It criticized the Egyptian text, saying, “The draft mentions mechanisms in which the human rights situation is being addressed, but maintains none of them that would be an adequate substitute to the mandate of the independent expert.”
Russia and Egypt issued comments on the amendments with both saying that the EU proposal failed to adequately consider the link between the Council and the situation in Sudan i.e. that there should be no independent scrutiny of the human rights situation there, outside the Council framework.
Sudan, as a concerned country said it was “excited” because there are a “large number of people interested in things in Sudan,” adding that it believes “we are human beings and my appeal of the last two weeks has been to find a way to get consensus on these matters.” It said, “As all States of the Council in this room agree, Sudan has demonstrated in this Council and at home on the ground and also in the former Commission, an exemplary spirit of cooperation.” It urged that the Council “not revert to practices of politically and selectively targeting a certain country” and said the “ending of the Special Rapporteur‘s mandate is now more relevant than anything.” Sudan concluded with the following statement: “I would like to tell you this: We don’t want to be a horse being pushed to drink water it doesn’t want to drink. The situation will improve under our own efforts with our genuine friends.”
A vote was called on the amendments. The result: 20 in favor to 19 against with 8 abstentions.
The breakdown was as follows:
Yes: EU 7 (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom), Argentina, Bosnia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, South Korea, Switzerland, Ukraine, Uruguay, Zambia
Abstain: Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, India, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Senegal
No: Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa
When the success of the amendments became clear, the Council was filled with clapping from EU supporters. The Council President felt in necessary to intervene to “request this process should not elicit clapping,” saying he would expect the same for the other group. “Votes are reflections of sober decisions and we have no winners and losers in the Council,” he said.
Egypt then called a vote on the amended resolution, asking member States to vote against it. Germany raised a point of order that Egypt, as a sponsor of the resolution, does not have the right to call for a vote. The President asked for clarification from Egypt who responded by declaring its withdrawal from the list of the resolution’s cosponsors. Once again there was clapping-this time from supporters of the African Group. The President intervened, pleading, “None of that, please!”
The vote on the final resolution was 20 in favor to 18 against with 9 abstentions. Most countries voted along the same lines as they had for the vote on the amendments. There were a few exceptions with countries switching between No and abstentions:
Switched from No to Abstain: Angola, Gabon, Madagascar
Switched from Abstain to No: Azerbaijan, Nigeria
In explaining why it sided with the EU, Zambia took the floor to say, “This is not time for the Council to abandon the people of Sudan… Zambia supports the appointment of an independent expert whose mandate should ensure the nexus with existing mechanisms.”
Later on, during the adoption of the final report on this session of the Council, Amnesty International was given the podium to say it “welcomes the discussion of the human rights situation in Sudan, but considers the mandate has been terminated with insufficient regard to the human rights situation,” adding that Amnesty pays “tribute to those countries that rose above politics to speak up for victims.”
Shockingly, Uganda asked to speak next to make a rare, courageous stand against Egypt. It said the “African Group positions were not represented accurately” in the discussion on Sudan. “From the Holocaust to the genocide in Rwanda, we are always reminded that never again should we allow these events to happen through inaction or political expediency,” it said. The Ugandan envoy praised the Council’s resolution on Sudan, saying it “reasserted the credibility of the Council.” He thanked Council members who “have acted with courage on their convictions.”
Egypt responded with fury, saying that if the Ugandan first secretary “bothered to attend African meetings on issues besides Sudan” he would have better information.
Sudan demanded the last word to chastise Uganda, stating “It is very disgusting to hear something like this from a member of the African Group.”