Near Verbatim Transcript Human Rights Commission Press Conference 30 Nov 2016, Juba, South Sudan - African Business Magazine
Near Verbatim Transcript Human Rights Commission Press Conference 30 Nov 2016, Juba, South Sudan

Near Verbatim Transcript Human Rights Commission Press Conference 30 Nov 2016, Juba, South Sudan

Media Briefing by Human Rights Commission

Juba, Republic of South Sudan

Shantal Persaud Acting Spokesperson:  Good morning ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this press briefing that is also being broadcast live on UN Radio Miraya. 

Joining us today, are members of the UN Human Rights Commission who are visiting South Sudan for the second time, and many of you as journalists in the room will recall  the Commission were here two months ago, and briefed us on  September 15. 

The Commission have been in country for the last 10 days and have done a fair bit of travelling to the regions, including Bentiu, Malakal (and Wau Shilluk), Torit, Wau, Aweil and Kuda

The Commission is mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation in South Sudan and make recommendations for its improvement to the Transitional Government of National Unity.

While in South Sudan, the team have held meetings and engaged in discussions with a number of stakeholders including the First Vice President CSO, religious leaders, International dip. Corp and other UN agencies  

Ms. Yasmin Sooka is Chairperson of the team a leading human rights lawyer, she is currently serving as Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, Mr. Kenneth Scott, a researcher on South Sudan with Amnesty International and, Mr. Godfrey M Musila a legal consultant for Avocats sans Frontieres.

Yasmin Sooka – Chairperson Human Rights Commission

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

I’d like to start by thanking all the victims of violations who spoke to us during this trip. Many had suffered unspeakable atrocities and yet somehow found it in themselves to recount their ordeals to us. I particularly want to thank several women gang raped in the violence in Juba in July who live in the Protection of Civilian camp number 3 who told us their stories even though they have yet to receive medical attention for the physical injuries they sustained, they’ve also yet to receive any kind of redress or legal access for the crimes that have been committed against them. It is completely unacceptable that South Sudanese mothers have to face rape daily to feed their hungry children but even worse that this huge international aid presence cannot reach these women afterwards and they are left feeling abandoned.  

Across the country the victims we met exhibited fatigue and frustration with the constant visits from members of the international community. They told us “people from human rights” keep on coming, then go away, there is no feedback, and nothing changes. One woman in the Malakal Protection of Civilian site asked me why I wasted money on the air ticket if I was unable to solve their problems. In Wau, an interviewee said, `We don’t need another report.   We need the international community to do something. All I could do is promise to speak out loudly about their plight and so did my colleagues in the areas that they visited as well.

I don’t need to tell a room full of journalists that there are unprecedented levels of violence and ethnic tension all over South Sudan. Any sense of national identity is crumbling and tribal identity taking over. Given this country is home to 64 tribes this offers a multitude of fault lines along with this nation can fracture. I repeatedly heard of the desire for revenge and a process of concentrating people from one tribe – the Dinka – in the army and civil service. Coupled with that is the fact that forced and child recruitment is being conducted by all parties to the conflict and has even involved NGO staff being swept up and taken to military barracks and then later released after showing their identity cards. This renewed recruitment is an indicator that all parties are preparing for conflict.

I and my colleagues visited Protection of Civilian sites in Juba, Malakal, Wau and Bentiu. I am concerned there is no secondary education in these camps which are like small towns – that means a whole generation will be lost as a result of the years of enforced displacement. Young men could be seen loitering on street corners, playing cards and gambling and getting drunk. “These are people who are not seeing a future,” is how one aid worker summed it up to me.

Many camp residents described a pervading sense of insecurity – they said the camps were like prisons. One person said, “You hear bullets all the time and it’s not animals being killed – it’s human beings all the time”.

Women in the camps recounted gruesome acts of sexual and gender based violence to us – describing being forcefully taken from their homes, dragged into bushes, and tied to trees and being raped in abandoned buildings.

On the day we visited Bentiu Protection of Civilian site we heard reports that three women had been raped outside the site that same day. We also met a woman from Leer raped by soldiers on the road to Bentiu some days before.

In Juba an elderly woman narrated her traumatic rape ordeal days after the cessation of fighting here in July. We heard how the woman had prevented her daughter from going out to search for food, believing her age meant she was not at risk of being raped. To her horror, she was ambushed, gang raped and left for dead and today cannot sit for long periods because of the untreated injuries.

Some women asked me why they are not invited to participate in the political process at a national level. One asked why the chairperson of JMEC doesn’t transport them all to take part in discussions – and it’s a good question.

Throughout the country there is a total breakdown of law and order with hardly any formal courts of law in operation and in Unity State for example, even the traditional village mediation system run by tribal chiefs has ceased to function.

As one woman put it to me, “In South Sudan there is no law. What is here is the law of the jungle. Whoever is the most powerful dominates”.

The central issue raised with us again and again is that of land grabbing, in a situation where very few members of the Dinka tribe are being displaced. The overriding sentiment across the country is that those displaced are now willing to fight to regain their land. Many expect intensified fighting now the dry season is setting in.

Many victims expressed a desire for the alleged perpetrators of violations to be held accountable in the proposed hybrid court or even in an international court. They said it was not necessary to wait for peace before setting up such a justice mechanism. As you know part of our mandate is to look at the chapter five of the Peace Agreement and transitional justice issues and we will be producing a report for the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva for March next year addressing some of these questions.

I should also like to take this opportunity to raise the issue of freedom of expression. Across the board all journalists we spoke to felt themselves in peril. Journalists should be able to exercise their right to freedom of expression, including interviewing opposition figures and critics of the Government – acts that in themselves do not amount to incitement or hate speech. If the Government feels a media outlet has broken the law it should take those responsible to court, not threaten and harm reporters and arbitrarily close down media outlets.

Apart from the bravery of journalists in this country I should also like to pay tribute to local human rights defenders. It’s easy for us to fly in and hold press conferences but these are the people who risk their lives on a daily basis. I’d also like to mention the doctors and staff of the tiny clinic in Wau Shilluk I visited who had been forced to flee Malakal Town but continue to work without salaries in order to serve their people, this is the same for teachers who have been transferred because they belong to the wrong ethnic group. That’s true public service.

Several people told me they wouldn’t be alive today without the efforts of the United Nations and humanitarian agencies. I am concerned that the government authorities have abnegated their responsibility to provide even the most basic services for their citizens. The UN and its humanitarian partners have stepped into the void. They now risk facing a dilemma about speaking out strongly over rights violations for fear it could jeopardize humanitarian access, with the result that hundreds of thousands of people could be denied food and medical care.

We have said the international community has a responsibility to prevent mass killings and mass atrocities – as you know the UN Special Rapporteur on Genocide has issued a warning.  As we see it, several of the indicators and enabling factors are there but that doesn’t of course mean it’s inevitable. There are several steps that should be taken NOW to avert catastrophe – these are sanctions, asset freezes, an arms embargo, the immediate deployment of the 4000 strong protection force in South Sudan which should not be restricted to the capital alone.

Long term I would urge those who work with victims who are losing hope to keep on documenting the violations, documenting is like your insurance policy, it may not be used now but in the future it can be used for accountability. If the crimes are not recorded that is the one sure way of ensuring those responsible get away with them. The figures of course for IDPs and refugees are startling, at this point South Sudan shares the privilege of being one in four countries that has more than one million outside of the country and of course it has more than three million people who have been displaced. That means in a country of twelve million people, almost one in four people are either refugees, or they are in displacement camps. From what we have heard, 9300 teachers have left the country, only one third has left. And figures suggest that about 60% of UN national staff have their families outside of the country.

These are not good figures, because what they speak to is a very disturbing indicator. You know at this point the economic instability in the country is a challenge; inflation has exceeded almost 900%. Usually when you have economic instability together with an indicator around dehumanization; the question of localized conflicts and the question of ‘normalization’ of serious crimes, the killings… these things don’t disturb us anymore because we hear them every day.

That kind of indifference is very dangerous and I would urge that both south Sudanese leadership, the international community including the African Union and IGAD really need to stop the war talk, the hate speech and they need to stop the violence in the country. People need to take away people’s arms and there needs to be an arms embargo, there needs to be targeted sanctions, and above all there needs to be accountability for the impunity which has become endemic in the country over the last few years.

Thank you.

Questions and Answers

CCTV- Many of the people from UN agencies who come to South Sudan visit almost the same places: Juba PoC, Wau sometimes, Bentiu, Malakal… but there are new challenges in terms of human rights violations, insecurity in other parts of the country; in Imatong for example, the former eastern Equatoria state, former western and even central Equatoria. Don’t you think that these visits, same kind of places is giving you a narrower understanding of the human rights situation in South Sudan?

Number two: This commission or committee is also supposed to advise the National Unity Government on transitional justice. Is there anything that you have done as far as this is concerned?

And perhaps the last question is that many of the reports that come out are more or less the same: human rights abuses and so forth. Is the UN doing anything to help build institutions for example… you say for example the justice system was broken down, the security… we know that our security sector needs reform, there is maybe a need for professionalising the armed forces. In most cases when these kinds of reports come out the reaction is withdrawal of support to the government by various international organisations and donors. In this case, South Sudan remains in a vicious cycle of problems like the judiciary is not empowered, the armed forces are not being professionalised and the problem continues. How is the world body helping in building institutions in South Sudan? Thank you.

Kenneth Scott – Commissioner – We have in fact engaged in extensive meetings and consultations with senior officials and other who were directly involved, or should be, or will be involved in that process on both of our visits… in September and during this visit we’ve met with the minister of justice, the deputy minister of justice, we’ve had extensive discussions with them about transitional justice and in particular the hybrid court. We have met with the First Vice President, Taban Deng, with the cabinet minister, with the foreign minister, with the chief justice, with the head of the SPLA military justice system, with civil society, with the transitional justice working group, and with people at the African Union in Addis. We are in fact engaged in a number of ongoing conversations to advocate for all the institutions contemplated by chapter five of the Peace Agreement, especially the hybrid court because as Yasmin said, we are in full agreement that one of the keys to eventually solving this very tragic and unfortunate conflict is accountability; to break the cycle of impunity and in order to do that we must have working judicial systems.

As we reported in September, it is unfortunate that we find the progress to be very slow. The African Union has not done as much as we would have liked by now, as you may know, the African Union bears the principle initial responsibility at least to establish the hybrid court. We have met with senior officials of the African Union in September and we will be meeting them again next week. We do understand that the African Union is about to begin consultations with the transitional government here in Juba and also undertake meetings with the United Nations. Some progress is beginning to be made; we hope that it will pick up very substantial speed in the very near future. We endorse the hybrid court, that’s one of the priorities that we want to see happen as soon as possible.

DPA News Agency- Can you inform us on the number of victims you found in Juba PoC, Malakal PoC and Bentiu? A week ago or two weeks ago there was a report released by Amnesty International and other human rights bodies about the violations. The question is: “what’s next as a commission?”

In addition to that you have said that the justice system in the country is not actually [inaudible] due to some issues, so what are your recommendation? Do you opt for an outside court like the ICC?

Godfrey Musila – Commissioner- It is true that until now most reports have focused on areas of the country that were thought to be hot spots but as a commission we decided… particularly after what happened in July… it appears that the violence has spread to the Equatorias and based on our visits and speaking to people, we have established that the situation is much more serious and more concerning than earlier thought. We visited eastern Equatoria; we were in Imatong, and we spoke to the governor, to civil society and the UN on the ground and we were able to visit Monti Orphanage which has been in the news for a variety of reasons, it seems to be caught between an SPLA checkpoint or camp and suspected IO and other fighters on the other side of the river. We also went to other parts in central Equatoria, we went to Kuda and we learned a number of things that have happened to people in that particular place; the fact that they have been displaced to different places.

As a commission, our mandate includes ‘monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the country’, we look at human rights in their totality, not just human rights that are related to personal integrity – murder, rape and so on – we also look at the socio-economic rights so we try to cover as much geographical ground as possible.

About the institutions and the justice system: South Sudan is in the middle of a conflict, serious violations are happening. The question one must ask is: “how can you conduct institutional reforms in the middle of a conflict?” We do have a peace agreement that appears to have stalled although we need some institutional reforms to make the transitional government work. The African Union conducted an inquiry in 2014 and in its report there is an entire chapter that focuses on institutional reforms. It proposes wide ranging reforms. One hopes that when things stabilise and the transitional government begins to work as it should, reforms will begin to be undertaken.

Accountability and particularly chapter five of the agreement is unlikely to work without some minimal reforms of the justice sector. As a commission we are concerned about the state of institutions. You will not be able to conduct investigations and present evidence without looking at the state of the prosecution authorities in the country. Our mandate also touches on assessing the technical needs of the country to deal with accountability. We are assessing the capacity to investigate, to document and ultimately the capacity to prosecute.

Kenneth Scott – Commissioner- In response to the geographical aspect I can also add that I was part of the small team that went into Bahr el Ghazal and I think it’s the first time that the commission ventured into the North West part of the country. We visited Wau and Aweil state; in Wau we met with the deputy governor in [inaudible] of the senior military security and law enforcement officials. In Aweil we met with the governor of the state, the prosecutors, the judges, the police commissioner, the security forces… so we have engaged in extensive meetings and conversations in these two other states. We are getting a bigger picture, fortunately for Wau and Aweil they are not Bentiu nor Leer or Yei but the concerning thing about those areas is that they have generally been considered relatively peaceful places compared to some of the others. The big difference now is that there is a dramatic increase in ethnic tensions and insecurity. That represents the evolution of the nature and the geographic expansion of the conflict beyond Greater Upper Nile, or Eastern Equatoria even into the Bahr el Ghazals and that’s concerning.

Yasmin Sooka – Chairperson Human Rights Commission- My team also went to Bentiu and Malakal but we also took a boat ride down to Wau Shilluk and the residence of Wau Shilluk and the PoC in Malakal have people who have been displaced from Malakal town. We also met with local authorities and the representatives of the governor as well as the police commissioner and raised many of the concerns that residents raised with us. I can only say that the displacement of people from their ancestral lands is certainly creating an enormous instability in the Upper Nile region and that coupled with food insecurity; the fact that people are not able to attend to their harvests is also creating huge challenges.

My colleagues also mentioned the fact that we weren’t only looking at the civil and political rights violations but also the question of socio-economic issues. One of the responsibilities we have is to look at chapter five of the Peace Agreement and the question of the transitional justice agenda. While chapter five talks about institutional mechanisms, the underlying philosophy of transitional justice is really looking at how you deal with violations, the rights of people to the truth, the rights of people to justice and the guarantee of non-recurrence. The guarantee of non-recurrence is really about institutional reform; it’s about how you ensure that the judiciary works, the question of security sector reform, the question of the civil service. One troubling issue is that people on the civil service payroll in Malakal town where in fact transferred by some kind of administrative decree which transferred them to a non-existent job and most of them are displaced in Wau Shilluk but continue to do their jobs without any kind of pay. You can imagine what kind of tensions these are causing. These are not healthy situations.

Radio Miraya – Thank you for this opportunity, based on your findings what can you say about the preservation of evidence these gross violations?

VOA – Madam you did say there is renewed recruitment probably I presume by the parties. Specifically where this recruitment and any figures on how many people have been recruited, are they children? and is it a case that is nationwide or just in some specific places . The last question is what is your message to South Sudanese citizens who say that the peace agreement no longer holds or the peace agreement is no longer working?

Kenneth Scott, Commissioner – the question about the collection and preservation of evidence is a very good question. It is absolutely essential that the process starts and again the commission as a whole and myself, and I say myself because this is what I’ve been advocating for at least two years. But the commission as a whole highly endorses the fact that we have to get some investigation element on the ground as soon as possible. It should’ve been there a long time ago. What’s happening now is there is no one unit or one organization charged with collecting and preserving evidence. Maybe one NGO collects a few documents or few witness statements, some villagers collect evidence but it is not being centralized; it is not being coordinated. It is not being preserved. When there are accountability proceedings someday, prosecutors will need evidence to go to court. If that evidence is not collected and preserved now, then there won’t be any evidence. I was a prosecutor for Yugoslavia tribune for 10 years. So I have prosecuted many war crime cases. I can’t go into the court room if I have no evidence to present; witnesses, documents, physical evidence. It is critical that this capacity be created as soon as possible. This is something we have been talking about, something we raised with the African Union. It does not need to wait for a full blown court to be set up- virtually all international tribunals and I have researched myself have been preceded by some other international investigative mechanism . In Bosnia, in Lebanon, in Cambodia, in Sierra Leone, they’ve always been interim or preliminary investigative mechanisms. That was needed in South Sudan, It is needed yesterday. So that’s one of the things that we are pushing for and again we don’t need a full court to be set up ; we can set up the investigative component first and build the rest of the court as we go if that is what it takes .

Yasmin Sooka – Chairperson Human Rights Commission – It is very difficult to give you figures on the question of recruitment and the question of forced conscription, but one is always confronted by the fact that is communities who feel that they are under siege and attack, they speak about voluntarily joining to fight and that the sons and husbands voluntarily join different forces. But in terms of the monitoring that is taking place both by the humanitarian community and of course the UN on the ground, there is no doubt that forced recruitment is up, certainly in the Upper Nile it is happening.

Godfrey Musila – Commissioner – In responding to the question posed by Mr. Wiki Simon,” What can we tell South Sudanese, those who say the peace agreement no longer holds?”

 Obviously the commission has been aware of what has been going around the peace agreement and its implementation. We met with JMEC which is established under the agreement of reconciliation, resolution of conflict in South Sudan, which is nominated under the agreement to monitor its implementation. And the detail,  the challenge that they are facing as an institution. if you take the view that the departure, under the circumstances we know, of one of the parties to the conflict, one signatory to the agreement and his replacement by First Vice President Deng Gai, if you see that as problematic and as fundamentally altering the circumstances, you will have a valid reason to suggest that the peace agreement does not exist or is dead. But if you take the view that his replacement has some credibility, then the question is really whether the government that is in place is legitimate. And we have spoken to people around the places we went who aren’t happy with the turn of events. We have learnt about the relative unpopularity of the First Vice President and the fact they feel that they are no longer part of the transitional government.

In the view of the commission, we think that of course as of now there is President in place and what happened has happened – the question is whether enough can be done to broaden the government in a manner that is consistent with the agreement. We have learned of a planned national dialogue, whose contours, objective and the form it will take are still clear and are being discussed formally within the government. We heard from the Chair of the Peace and Reconciliation commission which is an existing body that they proposed this national dialogue to the government and the government is running with it. They do not think , at least the Chair of the Peace and Reconciliation commission does not think that this national dialogue replaces the peace agreement because we have concerns that this may be the intention.

In our view as a commission and in the view of the international community as far as we understand, the framework for dealing with the situation in South Sudan is the agreement that was signed and one hopes that enough will be done to bring it back on the rails and implement it in a way that of course moves the process forward. From a human rights perspective the challenge is the peace agreement is facing, generating more violations every day. And it’s our wish that enough is done and the recommendations that we’ve made and in fact touched specifically to this particular aspect.  

Yasmin Sooka – Chairperson Human Rights Commission I think it is really important that particularly the African Union and the regional players in IGAD , there needs to be a discussion with all the parties who are taking up arms . The idea that there can be a military solution is a zero sum game. And it is really important to be able to get people to be genuinely committed to peace. If you speak to all the women around the country there are two words they use; ‘we need justice for the crime perpetrated against us’ and “we need peace.” And as said in my statement, the women in all the places we visited said, “Why don’t they take us? We are the ones on daily basis living with instability and the insecurity that war has brought. ’  . If one learns from an example of the region and other regions, in Sierra Leone, it was the Mano River women who actually began the first real discussion about peace and forced the political leadership to come to the table.  In Liberia the woman were initially excluded from the peace process; they bought their own plane tickets and they went to Accra and sat outside until they were called to the conference hall where the so called male leadership where discussing the war that they had created. I think there are a few words that I’d leave you with: one is legitimacy, there needs to be a legitimate process, it has to be seen to be credible, not a tick box approach where you tick the boxes but at the same time you are preparing for conflict.

And the third of course is inclusive. I think part of the problem here is it is almost being a binary conflict perceived to be between two groups. But really you need other players around the table. You need women, you need faith communities, you need young people who are the real victims of this conflict with women and they need to be brought to the table to discuss, “how do you end the conflict and how do you begin a political process to really bring peace to this country?’’.  In my view that’s the only way forward.

There is an enormous resilience in this country, despite the hardship and the deprivation the people have been going through. Nevertheless they continue to find joy in the little things that they do and as I said one of the most impressive things was actually watching in Wau shilluk how these doctors were displaced and medical health workers had actually created this hospital to serve the people without real resources and without any kind of pay . That’s still a belief in South Sudan and there’s a real need to say, what it actually means to be a South Sudanese first. I think that question of identity is really very important. I can’t really say enough about the people on the ground: the humanitarian workers, UN and Human rights division who continue to soldier on faithfully every single day. They don’t have to be here, they don’t have to do this kind of work, but they do it in circumstances which is extremely challenging . And I think we don’t pay enough attention and appreciation to their work. National staff working for the UN and for the Humanitarian workers, almost every day they are under siege. The number of national staff who were being picked up who were abducted, who were questioned, tortured, beaten – this is increasing and these are signals that things are not well.

Eye Radio – How would you assess the situation of the country in your current visit compared to your visit in September, given the fact that in September when it was just the aftermath of the July incident, and now you are visiting the country when the violence is spreading across the country, what is your assessment ?

Dawn Newspaper – Ms. Sooka you talked about sanctions and targeted sanctions on the parties, the parties have been so vocal against sanctions and targeted sanctions. What would be the way forward or are their other things you’d bring to put an end to the conflict?

Xinhua News Agency – During your first visit to South Sudan in September the team emphasized on the establishment of the Hybrid Court by the AU, and today also it is something you hinted, and it seems nothing is moving forward. I would like to know whether you are disappointed by the slow progress of the establishment of the Hybrid Court, thank you.

Kenneth Scott, Commissioner –It’s fair to say, I think we can say candidly but unfortunately we are disappointed with the pace of the hybrid court. There were many of us that were hopeful , that the progress would be much quicker , granted it would take time to set up an international court or hybrid court , it could be done much quicker . I will give you one specific example; the tribunal for Yugoslavia granted it was a different animal; it was a created by the UN Security Council under charter 7 powers. But from the date of the Security Council resolution to the date of the opening of the courts is one year, 12 months. If that same sort of progress would’ve been made concerning the hybrid court to South Sudan, that court would’ve opened its doors last August. And cases would be being processed right now. So we are disappointed. Having said that trying to be a bit optimistic, there seems to be some indication that they are putting up some speed , we know the African Union has been trying to put funding together to higher necessary experts and consultants . We know that they are about to be in the process of consultation with the South Sudanese government and the United Nations. So after sixteen moths perhaps, we are just beginning to see a little bit of progress.

Godfrey Musila – Commissioner – On the assessment of the Human Rights situation if you compare our visit in September to now, I think the chair has said to this point. I think the overall human rights situation has worsened. Obviously the geography has expanded to the Equatorias-it appears to be kind of low level but its effect is as serious as we’ve seen from much high profile incidents. The number of people leaving the country, if it’s an indicator at all appears to be growing. Internal displacements happening in the Equatorians-we learned for instance around Magbi (inaudible)County which is I think the most affected County in the Equatorial we had met newly arrived refugees in Uganda in September and it appears the situation here on the ground here has in fact worsened .Although it appears that the guns have gone silent in some parts of the country that previously were hotspots ,we still have low levels of violations, no less serious we’ve documented the Chair spoke of the rapes happening daily , the killings that have been recorded. So overall if you consider social economic rights as well: looting and burning of farms – what appears to be orchestrated displacement or at least conditions being created- lack of access to food, insecurities created by presence of armed elements that are forcing people off their land away from their own food .Overall the situation is in fact dire and I think that our report reflects the worsening humanitarian situation.

Yasmin Sooka – Chairperson Human Rights Commission -Somebody asked about sanctions. There are limited sanctions in place but really the international community is suggesting that those should be expanded and of course as yes individuals, we have assets sitting in other countries which quite frankly should be frozen and brought back to the country so that it can benefit people. The other thing of course is they have their children in schools and universities in other parts of the world but here people are starving they don’t go to school and in a sense it is an expatriate lifestyle because you have the money to be able to do so and the political powerful position.

I think the third question is banking accounts which sit in neighboring countries. There needs to be serious attention given to making sure that what belongs to the people of South Sudan should be brought back to South Sudan .People are not suggesting sanctions in isolation there is also a talk of arms embargo. Wherever you go in those places that we visited everybody has a gun and people are arming themselves you can imagine even if it is a localized conflict that turns into a major homicide incident. In Juba itself there was a domestic dispute and ended up with somebody having a hand grenade and that went off. What worries me is when we listen to those litany of horrors we can become so indifferent to it and I think that is when you reach dangerous point and so it’s really important to be able to say this is unacceptable and there needs to be some urgent action taken and that’s what people are saying: let’s stop talking about reports and words and let’s see action and that’s a challenge for the regional players for IGAD for the African Union and the International Community .This can’t go on anymore.

I think we’ve kind of reached the end of all time so I would like to express my appreciation to all of you for coming today

Acting Spokesperson Shantal Persaud – Thank you for your participation this brings us to the end of this the press briefing today with the human rights commission, thank you

Distributed by APO on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

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    • EuroFresh Exotics (Kenya) – The company produces and exports fresh fruits and vegetables using innovative farming techniques. They also organise capacity building trainings for smallholder farmers.
    • First Atlantic Semiconductors & Microelectronics (Nigeria) – This company has developed the “Zenvus”, an intelligent solution to collect soil data using a system of electronic sensors. Its mission is improve farming productivity.
    • Kimolo Super rice (Tanzania) – The company is specialized in processing and marketing branded rice and sunflower oil. The project is environmentally friendly since smallholder farmers produce paddy using water run-off from nearby hills.
    • Eco Act (Tanzania) – The company was established to address the challenges of urban waste management, plastic pollution, deforestation and climate change. They recycle and transform post-consumer waste plastic into durable and environmentally friendly plastic lumber.

    The AFIF Entrepreneurship Award 2017 aims to provide African-based innovative SMEs with support to grow their businesses. The six finalists will receive a free accreditation to join the AFIF 2017 full programme ( (conferences, trainings, B2B meetings and networking opportunities). The award winner will receive cash prize and one year of national and international media promotion.

    “We are delighted to announce the finalists for the AFIF Entrepreneurship Award 2017 after a really difficult selection process. The innovation and creativity of African-based SMEs makes our job more difficult every year. We look forward to welcoming these and many more entrepreneurs at the AFIF 2017 in Nairobi” says Inês Bastos, EMRC ( Senior Project Manager.

    “I am now internationally known,” says Lazaro Mwakipesile (Raphael Group, Tanzania), winner of the AFIF Entrepreneurship Award 2015. He adds: “I have travelled abroad four times this year to present our company. I expect to travel to the United States soon for a meeting with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation”.

    The new edition of the Africa Finance & Investment Forum (AFIF) will be held for the first time in the vibrant city of Nairobi, Kenya, hosted by the Strathmore University. In line with growing international trends, the AFIF will focus on entrepreneurship, innovation and access to finance in key sectors such as energy, water, ICT, health and agriculture. Delegates (SMEs managers, investors, entrepreneurs…) will come from across the world to participate in the AFIF 2017.

    Distributed by APO on behalf of EMRC.

    For further information about the AFIF Entrepreneurship Award 2017, visual material or interviews, please contact: 
    Aretha Francis 
    Media and Communications Manager  
    +32 2 626 1510

    Press Accreditation AFIF 2017:
    If you wish to cover the Africa Finance and Investment Forum 2017 (13-16 February 2017, Nairobi), please send the request to indicating Name, Country and Media Outlet by 23 January.

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    About EMRC:
    Established in 1992 in Brussels, EMRC ( is a non-governmental organisation composed of a network of entrepreneurs, financiers, consultants and officials based throughout the world. EMRC’s mission is to lead the private sector in Africa to sustainable economic development and to drive regional change via partnerships. 

    About AFIF:
    The Africa Finance & Investment Forum (AFIF) ( is an annual business event organized in the framework of EMRC International’s activities, aimed at strengthening the private sector in Africa, encouraging entrepreneurship and attracting investment to the African continent. AFIF has a double objective: to strengthen the financial capacities of Africa’s private sector and to promote the creation of new partnerships through the encouragement of joint projects and trade relations North-South & South-South.

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  • USAID Support to ISTEP Program Gets People with Disabilities into the Workplace

    Over the past three years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) supported the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) Association to help hundreds of people with disabilities to prepare for and enter the workforce. The Inclusive Training and Employment Program for and by persons with disabilities, also known as ISTEP, was designed to bolster Ethiopia’s efforts to support disability inclusive development.

    Because the inclusion of people with disabilities into the workforce is a relatively new concept in Ethiopia, ISTEP addressed the challenges faced by both the prospective employees and potential employers. To better prepare prospective employees with disabilities, ISTEP worked with 21 mainstream Technical Vocational Education and Training institutes (TVETs) and universities to improve their institutional capacity to provide skills development training for people with disabilities and trained approximately 750 instructors and support staff. Several of these institutions are now making campuses more accessible to people with disabilities. With support from ISTEP, nearly 300 people with disabilities were enrolled in TVETs and received skills training in areas including food preparation, making leather products, construction and metal works. ECDD also helped job seekers with disabilities to be stronger job candidates by helping them to prepare resumes and get ready for interviews.

    ISTEP also worked with the City Administrations in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, as well as the regional administrations in Tigray and SNNPR to create a more enabling environment for self and formal employment of people with disabilities. The program then worked with more than 70 companies to encourage them to take on people with disabilities for internships and paid positions and to train their human resources staff on best practices for integrating people with disabilities into their workplaces. So far, 88 TVET and university graduates with disabilities have secured formal jobs with employers like the Mosaic Hotel and Kedir Yasin Metal Work PLC, while another 168 have received valuable hands-on experience through internship placements in private and public sector workplaces. In addition, 93 TVET graduates with disabilities received support to start their own individual or joint businesses.

    “Before I began work, people did not want to even shake my hand, as if my blindness would pass on to them. But the situation changed after I got employed – there was a complete change of attitude. I feel my pride restored and feel respect in the community because of what I have achieved.’’ Lukas Zida, Counselor at Otana High School in Wolayta Sodo and an ISTEP beneficiary.

    Companies or organizations interested in partnering with ECDD can contact Mr. Retta Getachew, the Executive Director of ECDD at: ECDD, P.O Box, 1530 Code 1250, Addis Ababa, Tel: +251-11-4700014. Email:,

    Distributed by APO on behalf of U.S. Embassy Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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  • Latest News portal telling Africa’s story launches in Accra, Ghana

    A new pan-African news portal has been launched in Accra, Ghana.

    The portal will provide readers in Africa and beyond the latest and relevant news about Africa and the world in general.

    Readers of the site get at first hand, content on latest breaking news about Africa in all areas including entertainment, business and sports, with special focus on all the sub-regions on the continent.

    Founder and CEO of Africa Feeds Media, owners of the news portal, Isaac Kaledzi said the desire to tell the story of Africa the best way, motivated the establishment of the portal.

    He said in Accra that “I believe the story of Africa must be told and told better than we do currently. The African story must be told, not just the unfortunate happenings of war and hunger but the struggles and efforts by ordinary individuals to make this Continent great and that is exactly what we want to do with this news portal”.

    “African journalists work hard under challenging conditions and deserve an independent platform to share what they see and observe with the rest of the world in an unbiased and fair manner” Mr. Kaledzi added.

    Readers can access the portal via their mobile phones, tablets and desktops with 24/7 news services. An Africa feeds TV Channel is to be launched in the coming months to provide a 24/7 news TV content to Africans and the rest of the world at large.

    Mr. Kaledzi said “This is a huge project but we are confident that this is the way to go, we must provide a platform that enables the African to tell his or her own story and also for the African to know what is happening on his or her continent from the African perspective without perceived foreign influence”.

    AfricaFeeds(dot)com, a subsidiary of the Africa Feeds Media group is funded through commercial revenues and officially started operations on November 3, 2016.

    Distributed by APO on behalf of Africa Feeds.

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  • Infertility is Not a Stigma: Merck More than a Mother championed by Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari continues its quest to empower more infertile women; this time in Nigeria

    Merck More than a Mother campaign launched in Nigeria was championed by the country’s first lady, Her Excellency Mrs. Aisha Buhari. The launch held in Abuja, Nigeria is in partnership with Senate Commission on Health; Ministry of Health; Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and Future Assured organization.

    Merck More than a Mother continues its commitment to break stigma around infertility and empower infertile women by improving access to information, education, healthcare and change of culture and mind-set to de-stigmatize infertility.

    Her Excellency Mrs. Buhari pledged her support and the support of Nigerian Governors’ wives in the implementation of Merck More than a Mother’s activities in Nigeria focusing on eliminating infertility stigma and creating awareness and providing information and education on causes of infertility; facilitating access to healthcare; and economic and social empowerment of infertile women.

    The Nigerian women leaders also supported the empowering of infertile women who form a vulnerable part of the population. Infertile women in Nigeria and many other African countries who can no longer be treated have been empowered socially and economically to lead independent and happier lives through Empowering Berna initiative. Empowering Berna is part of Merck More than a Mother campaign.

    Helen Phillip, a Nigerian woman from the North shared her story of suffering from infertility stigma and expressed her gratitude to the support Merck more than a Mother provided her through establishing new business so that she can become an independent productive member in her community.

    Watch Nigeria’s infertile women sharing their stories of social suffering of infertility stigma and their transformation after the economic and social empowerment provided by Merck more than a Mother through Empowering Berna project:

    “In Nigeria we have been advocating for the end of harmful traditional practices including the stigmatization of women which is prevalent all over the country. Women have not been coming out openly because they are traumatized. With this campaign we will encourage them to speak out and we pledge our support and collaboration,” said Hon. Aisha Alhassan, Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development. 

    Merck More than a Mother campaign is a great initiative to break the stigma around infertility and to empower an unprivileged category of women in Africa, women who suffer infertility. Infertile women have been neglected, mistreated and discriminated because they cannot bear a child, yet 50% of infertility is due to male factors. We can together improve access to education, information, awareness, health care and change of mind-set and culture to stop these women’s suffering,” said Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare.

    Prof. Isaac Adewole Hon. Minister of Health emphasized: “We are responsible for policy at the Ministry level and this is where we can make a difference in improving access to fertility care in Nigeria. We will work through training institutions we are responsible for to strengthen fertility management by making it a sub-specialty. We will also as a Ministry work with private sector, the Senate and the National Assembly to improve governance and quality of care to provide standards to protect infertile men and women seeking treatment.”

    Merck More than a Mother was first implemented in Kenya in 2015 followed by Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire, Central African Republic and Nigeria.

    To read more about Merck More than a Mother, visit and

    Distributed by APO on behalf of For Africa Forever.

    Media Contact:
    Lucy Kaaya
    Chief Editor

    About the stigma of infertility in Africa:
    Jackeline Mwende, the recent victim of Infertility stigma tells us her story of suffering of Iterrible violence by her husband. Merck more than a Mother committed to work hard to ensure that no other woman would suffer the same way Jackeline did. Watch her story (

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