Can South Sudan Qualify for a Seat at UN Human Rights Council 2013?

By Beny Gideon Mabor

November 9, 2013 (SSNA) — The United Nations Human Rights Council in New York refers herein as the Council has periodical elections to its Human Rights Council every quarterly. This year elections are scheduled for 12 November 2013. The Council is comprised of 47 seats contested openly by all member states of the United Nations. The Council is a subsidiary body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. It primarily helps all member states to meet their human rights obligations under the country’s constitution and the law through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance.

By procedure, members to the Council are usually elected by the UN General Assembly through individual and direct votes by absolute majority votes by secret ballots.  A divisible formula of membership of the Council this year is based on equitable geographical distribution, and seats have been distributed into group of African States with 13 seats; group of Asia-Pacific States with 13 seats; group of Eastern European States with 6 seats; group of Latin American and Caribbean States with 8 seats and finally group of Western European and other States with 7 seats respectively.

Conditionally, it is not a free game that any member state can easily enjoy, but there attached very strict eligibility requirements in order to qualify for a seat at the Council in any of the categories explained. In Africa, there are 4 seats earmarked for group of African States and will be contested by five countries where only one country will be a loser. The Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Algeria, Morocco, Namibia, South Africa and South Sudan have been nominated to contest these four seats amongst themselves with one unfortunate state missing the most wanted membership to the Council. At a serious note, there are terms and conditions applicable to countries considered for election into the global human rights body.  

For the case of South Sudan, the questions immediately come as to what are requirements to get a seat at the Council. First, the world youngest state’s human rights record will be put under serious scrutiny whether to qualify for a seat or not. During voting in particular, all member states will take into account what South Sudan has done so far to promote and protect human rights in South Sudan and beyond during its two years of independence. Otherwise failure of tangible achievement in the field of human rights and related matters may unfortunately disqualify South Sudan to secure a seat at such continental competitions. In other words, South Sudan before election date must now voluntarily commit to several urgent and important improvements, including ensuring the South Sudan Human Rights Commission is fully funded and independently operational.

Second, South Sudan must have media legislation and Advocate Bill sign into law to ensure press freedom and regulation of private legal profession. The ratification of some international human rights treaties and conventions; operationalization of Political Parties’ Council in registration of political parties to ensure democratic and political space in South Sudan; prolong pre-trial detention and absence of due process of law particularly on legal representation and access to justice for all are top litmus test for South Sudan whether to get a seat at the Council or otherwise.

On the same note, the accusation frequently leveled against South Sudan by humanitarian agencies for alleged killings of South Sudanese civilians by security forces in Jonglei State and other areas will also top the debate on the same line of eligibility requirements. In my opinion, I think there is little progress made by the political leadership represented by the President to grant general amnesty to all army dissidents and called them to abandon rebellions but rather join hand for nation building. This is a true search of peace and security stability as primary duty of all levels of government under Article 36 (3) of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011. Indeed, majority renegade commanders positively responded presidential pardons and came to Juba and now pending screening and reassignments for peaceful coexistence.  

According to background information of my colleague Sky Wheeler of the Human Rights Watch, she said South Sudan if elected as a member, would be expected to play an important role assessing the human rights records of other countries, and working to improve human rights world-wide and the performance of individual states through what is called a “Universal Periodic Review,” where the Council assesses the situation of human rights in all 193 UN member states.

The second function of the Council also looks at specific country situations or thematic issues, for example refugee rights and abolition of death penalty which was discussed two weeks ago in Juba by distinguish members of legal fraternity in South Sudan. Although I have had an honor to be amongst three legal architects namely Justice John Luk Jok, Dr. Richard K. Mulla and Advocate Lawrence Korbandy, yet, the debate was so imbalance being myself as only abolitionist among them, notwithstanding the audience overwhelmingly supported my call for abolition of death penalty in South Sudan.

At the material time, South Sudan did not ratify some human rights instruments at regional and international levels including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR, 1966. The ICCPR 1966 has two optional protocols with first  one that recognize the competence of the Human Rights Committee to consider complaints directly from individuals whose their rights  being violated and the second optional protocol for abolition of death penalty respectively. The bigger worry is how will South Sudan secure a seat at the Council without ratification of these key legal instruments? Will South Sudan strongly undertake to ratify them sooner after election?

Last but not least, one must argue with confidence that South Sudan is relatively young; the heroic struggle by South Sudanese for justice, equality, democracy and prosperity for all has been dragging on for years and finally achieved its objectives to gain independence two years ago. In reality, a search for constitutional democracy has been effected in South Sudan by excellent nature of the Bill of Rights under Articles 9 (1) that says “the Bill of Rights is a covenant amongst the people of South Sudan and between them and their government at every level and a commitment to respect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution; it is the cornerstone of social justice, equality and democracy; while Article 9 (4) says “ the Bill of Rights shall be upheld by the supreme court and other competent courts and monitored by Human Rights Commission’.

As a gesture of good will, South Sudan so far ratified seven fundamental International Labour Organisation refers as ILO seven Labour Conventions namely the Forced Labour Convention of 1930; the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Agreement, 1949; the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951; the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957; the Discrimination in Employment and Occupation Convention of 1958; the Minimum Age Convention, 1973, and; the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 respectively. All these are human rights related legal instruments. What next is left that South Sudan cannot be seen on positive move to meet human rights expectation under domestic and international law obligations.

In conclusion, South Sudan is rapidly on stage to fulfill international obligations of a responsible member state to enjoy credibility in order to access benefit of international representation such as Human Rights Council. The National Council of Ministers in its Resolution No: 72/2013 dated 24 May, 2013 has approved seven regional and international legal instruments namely International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ICCPR,1966; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ICESCR,1966; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights ACHPR, 1981 which is ratified on 21 October 2013; the Convention on the elimination of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW 1981;  the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC 1989 and finally  the Torture Convention 1984.

These entire legal instruments are now before South Sudan National Legislature at different reading stages for enactment into enabling legislation and ratification by the Republic of South Sudan. Once these Bills are sign into law, they will be added to the Geneva Conventions ratified last year 2012.  I rest my case with no doubt in mind that South Sudan is qualified to get a seat at UN Human Rights Council this year and can lead by exemplary in the promotion and protection of human rights, considering its historical account to arrive at an independent Republic of South Sudan.

About the Author:

Beny Gideon Mabor is a Human Rights Activist and work for South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA) as a Senior Project Officer.  SSHURSA is a national Human Rights civil society organization with vision geared towards building an enlightened human rights abiding South Sudan. Prior to joining SSHURSA, the author has worked for South Sudan Ministry of Justice, and a columnist. His research interests include governance, human rights and social accountability. This opinion does not represent SSHURSA position but of the author. He can be reached at [email protected]


2. South Sudan Ministry of Justice, Juba
3. Beny Gideon Mabor (2012) Human Rights in the Administration of Justice: Challenges and Recommendations
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