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BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Sudan; (2) Tribute To Christof Heyns

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado

Location: Geneva

Date: 9 April 2021

Subjects: (1) Sudan

(2) Tribute to Christof Heyns

1) Sudan

We are appalled by the latest resurgence of violence between Masalit and Arab tribes in West Darfur, in Sudan, that left at least 87 people dead, more than 191 injured and forced thousands to flee their homes. We are also disturbed by the slow progress in ensuring accountability for this and previous violence, despite repeated calls by victims and their families.

The latest bout of violence erupted on 3 April in Al Geneina town when unknown assailants shot at a group of men from the Masalit tribe, killing two and injuring one. In response, armed elements from Masalit and Arab tribes mobilized, leading to clashes between them.

By the evening of 5 April, the streets of Al Geneina were STROON with dozens of bodies, including those of women and children. These scenes recalled those seen in West Darfur following previous clashes, in late 2019 and, most recently, in mid-January 2021.

During the violence last weekend, public and private property was destroyed or damaged, including a hospital, and a UN compound. At least one ambulance was attacked and health personnel injured.

Similar to previous situations of violence in Al Geneina, the authorities failed to stop the clashes despite a robust security force presence in the town. We urge the authorities to fully uphold their role to protect the population without discrimination. In this regard, we call on the Government of Sudan to accelerate the implementation of the National Plan for the Protection of Civilians.

All tribes responsible for violence in Darfur must be disarmed and the State must be able to maintain order and ensure the rule of law, including by preventing armed civilians from taking the law into their own hands.

We acknowledge that, after the latest clashes, the authorities have taken steps to contain the situation in the area. We also welcome the Government’s commitment to addressing the root causes of the violence, especially disputes over land, pasture and water resources - disputes that are at the heart of the entrenched tribal divisions. These commitments need to result in concrete actions.

Independent, impartial and thorough investigations into these acts of violence must be initiated without delay. Effective accountability processes must be established to pave the way for genuine reconciliation and lasting peace.

We note that the Sudanese Attorney General has announced that 15 prosecutors have been sent to West Darfur to investigate the recent violence. We also welcome the decision to refer 33 alleged perpetrators for trial over the clashes in January 2021, as well as the establishment of the committee set up to investigate a similar incident in December 2019.

We urge the Government to ensure prompt, transparent and effective follow-up to these investigations. All those responsible for human rights abuses must be held accountable. Grievances from both sides must be tackled after decades-long ethnic disputes stoked by the previous regime.

Our Office in Sudan stands ready to assist the Government of Sudan towards achieving accountably and justice.

2) Tribute to Christof Heyns

We would like to take this opportunity to pay a heartfelt tribute to Christof Heyns, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in his home country, South Africa, on 28 March. He was just 62 years old.

Professor Heyns, whom many of you have reported on and interviewed over the past decade in his various roles with the UN, was one of the giants in the world of human rights. He was also an extremely warm and generous man, greatly liked and admired by all those of us at OHCHR who knew or worked with him.

In his most recent role, as a member of the Human Rights Committee from 2017 to 2020, Christof Heyns led the drafting of the widely acclaimed General Comment No. 37 on the right of peaceful assembly, which was published last July. He also led the team that drafted the UN Human Rights Guidance on Less-Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, launched two months earlier in May 2020. These two documents provide important analysis and guidance on the international law and UN standards relating to peaceful and not-so-peaceful assembly, and their significance and relevance will long outlive their principal creator.

Prior to serving on the Human Rights Committee, Professor Heyns was UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from 2010 to 2016. His many important achievements in that role included a ground-breaking report on Lethal Autonomous Robotics and the right to life. He also played a key role in helping update the Minnesota Protocol On The Investigation Of Potentially Unlawful Death, published in 2016, and in the same year chaired the UN Independent Investigation on Burundi in 2016.

His tireless efforts in educating several generations of students to become accomplished human rights lawyers will be an important part of his legacy, including the establishment of the Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition, about which he was especially passionate.

Until his passing, Christof Heyns was Professor of human rights law and Co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria. In addition to his work with the UN, he played a major role in advancing human rights in Africa, serving as a technical adviser on human rights to the African Union and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

As the High Commissioner said in a message to all OHCHR staff after hearing the sad news of his death, “In addition to all his professional achievements, we remember Christof Heyns as a delightful person. He was invariably wise, gentle and pleasant. His warmth, optimism and generosity equalled his expertise. He cared for all people – those he worked with and those he worked to support and protect. He was the friend and colleague of many of us, and will be missed terribly.”

An event to commemorate the life of Christof Heyns will be held tomorrow, 10 April. It will be livestreamed and details can be found on a special memorial page on Facebook. See: https://www.facebook.com/christofheyns/

This page also contains moving tributes from human rights defenders, colleagues, students, and provides a glimpse of just how many people have been inspired by the life and works of Christof Heyns and, like us, mourn his passing.

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