Daily Archives: May 19, 2014

Africa: Remarks for South Africa’s National Day Ceremony

Remarks for South Africa’s National Day Ceremony


Heather Higginbottom
Deputy Secretary of State

Washington, DC
May 15, 2014

Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and the people of the United States, I extend heartfelt congratulations to you and all the citizens of the Republic of South Africa as you celebrate your National Day, your Freedom Day.

I appreciate the gracious invitation to be your Guest of Honor and thank you for welcoming me to your newly-renovated chancery.

My last visit here was in December. That visit was for a somber occasion – to sign the condolence book for South Africa’s beloved son, former President Nelson Mandela.

In fact, that was my first official act as Deputy Secretary of State and it was an honor to be able to pay my respects to such an extraordinary man with such a remarkable legacy. He was a leader, an inspiration, and the father of a great nation.

Madiba’s spirit lives on in the people of South Africa, who once again reminded the world of their commitment to democracy during last week’s elections. This was the fifth time the people of the Rainbow Nation have elected their leaders since the end of apartheid.

As we celebrate with you today, we are reminded of that historic election in 1994, one filled with tremendous hope, goodwill, and the promise of a better future. We reflect on South Africa’s tremendous transformation over the last 20 years – a transformation that is a testament to the power of reconciliation and of determination.

During a Freedom Day celebration in 1996, perhaps in a setting not unlike this one, President Mandela said: “A bright future beckons. The onus is on us, through hard work, honesty, and integrity to reach for the stars.”

It is with an eye to that future – a shared, bright future – that we work together as Americans and South Africans to strengthen the relationship between our governments and between our people. It is a relationship built on the shared values of democracy, justice, equality, and the fundamental rights of all people.

Our partnership is mature, broad, and strong. We share goals of expanding economic prosperity, enhancing peace and security, and strengthening democracy and opportunities for all.

South Africa continues to play a pivotal role in achieving and maintaining peace, stability, and security across Africa and beyond.

Recognizing the strength and the potential of our partnership, in 2010, the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue was launched. This dialogue is a signature element of our bilateral relationship and reflects the importance and depth of our cooperation in health, trade and investment, law enforcement, climate change, energy, and nuclear nonproliferation. The last Strategic Dialogue in Pretoria in August 2012 was tremendously productive and Secretary Kerry looks forward to continuing the conversation in Washington, DC later this year.

I am especially proud of our close and collaborative work on health issues, including under the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or PEPFAR. Through this partnership, we have invested more than $4.2 billion in South Africa’s HIV and TB response. This investment has allowed us to provide life-saving prevention and treatment services to millions of men, women, and children.

Of course, the success of the program ultimately lies in its sustainability. Already, South Africa has done important work to develop robust, sustainable health systems, and, through the new Country Health Partnership launched by Secretary Kerry last year, we will continue to support these efforts. By 2017, South Africa will be the first country in Africa to fully manage its care and treatment program under PEPFAR – a tremendous achievement.

We are also committed to strengthening the ties between our people, especially young people. We are thrilled that we will welcome young leaders from South Africa to Washington to meet President Obama this summer through the Young African Leaders Initiative. These leaders represent not just the future of South Africa, but also the future of the political, cultural, and economic ties between the U.S. and South Africa.

Our countries already enjoy a robust economic relationship, with billions of dollars in trade. More than 600 American companies operate in South Africa, employing thousands of people. But we all understand that we are just scratching the surface here: We must work to break down barriers to trade and investment, for the benefit of both of our nations. We can and will create more investment and more jobs in both of our countries. We owe that to our citizens.

Finally, this August we will hold the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first of its kind in the United States. The Summit is intended to not only spark new ideas and deliver results, but will also allow for a candid, open discussion between President Obama and his African counterparts. Leaders will discuss efforts to advance economic growth, trade, and investment; good governance and strong democratic institutions; inclusive development; youth engagement; and peace and security. These are big topics – and there are big challenges, but also valuable opportunities, and we look forward to working with South Africa to drive an agenda of forming productive partnerships. This Summit will be an historic event for Africa and for the United States.

Nelson Mandela said it best: a bright future beckons. It beckons for both of our nations. We are democracies, we are free, and we are partners. Together, we can deepen the U.S.-South Africa partnership and bring all of our people a little closer to the bright future he envisioned, one where prosperity and opportunity abound.

Mr. Ambassador, it is my great pleasure to convey Secretary Kerry’s congratulations to you on your celebration of Freedom Day.

Thank you very much for your invitation and allowing me to celebrate this very special day with you.

Sudan: UN rights experts condemn death sentence against pregnant mother for apostasy and adultery

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 19, 2014 – A group of UN human rights experts Monday expressed alarm after Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman pregnant with her second child, was sentenced to death and 100 lashes for marrying a Christian man and refusing to renounce her faith. Her trial did not comply with basic fair trial and due process guarantees, said the experts.

“This outrageous conviction must be overturned and Ms. Ibrahim must be immediately released,” urged the UN experts. They also called upon the Government of Sudan to repeal all legislation that discriminates on the grounds of gender or religion, to protect the religious identity of minority groups and to embark on a comprehensive reform of the justice system in compliance with international standards.

Ms. Ibrahim, 27, born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother, was arrested in 2013 on the grounds of adultery by the Sudanese authorities for being viewed as a Muslim woman cohabitating with a Christian man, whom she married in 2012.

The UN human rights experts pointed out that the right to marry and found a family is a fundamental human right of both women and men. Furthermore, prosecution for adultery is contrary to international law as “the criminalization of sexual relations between consenting adults is a violation of their right to privacy under international human rights law,” said the experts.

In February 2014, an additional charge was brought against her for the crime of apostasy, or publicly renouncing Islam – a faith she never professed. Ms. Ibrahim was given until her next hearing to convert to Islam. On 15 May 2014, the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum confirmed her death sentence for apostasy after she refused to renounce her faith.

Ms. Ibrahim is currently detained at Omdurman’s Women Prison near Khartoum in harsh conditions with her 20 month-old son and will give birth to her second child in the coming month.

The UN experts expressed serious concern that “Ms. Ibrahim was convicted for exercising her right to freedom of religion and belief.” They stated that “according to international law the death penalty may only be imposed for “the most serious crimes”, if at all. Choosing and/or changing one’s religion is not a crime at all; on the contrary, it is a basic human right.”

They further emphasized the right of every person to “adopt, change or retain a religion of one’s choice, and to manifest their religion in practice, observance and worship, as well as the right not to be subject to discrimination or coercion on religious grounds.”

Sudan’s population is predominantly Muslim, but there are Christian minority communities particularly in the southern region.

The experts also expressed serious concern that the capital punishment sentence did not comply with the most stringent due process and fair trial guarantees. They stressed that “the imposition and enforcement of the death penalty on pregnant women or recent mothers is inherently cruel and leads to a violation of the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The UN experts noted that capital or corporal punishment can never be justified in the name of religion and condemned “all forms of violence that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to renounce their religion or to convert.”

Given the ongoing discrimination and inequalities faced by women, including inferior roles attributed to them by patriarchal and traditional attitudes, and power imbalances in their relations with men, maintaining flogging as a form of punishment, even when it applies to both women and men, means in practice that women disproportionally face this cruel punishment, in violation of their human rights to dignity, privacy and equality.

“There is a pressing need to address the pattern of discrimination, abuse and torture as well as the subjugation and denigration of women in the country,” said the UN experts.

“We urge the Government of Sudan to put an end to these grave violations of women’s human rights,” they said.

(*) The experts: Ms. Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Mr. Mashood Baderin, UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan; Mr. Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms. Gabriela Knaul, UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms. Frances Raday, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice; Ms. Rita Izsák, UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues; Mr. Mads Andenas, Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

SOURCE: United Nations – Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Sudanese Chargé d’Affaires summoned to FCO over death sentence case

LONDON, United-Kingdom, May 19, 2014 — FCO Press Release: Sudanese Chargé d’Affaires summoned to FCO over death sentence case

Sudan urged to uphold international obligations on freedom of religion or belief following death sentence in apostasy case.

On 15 May Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a young pregnant Sudanese mother, was found guilty by a Sudanese court for allegedly changing her religious faith. At the request of the Foreign Secretary, the Chargé d’Affaires at the Sudanese Embassy in the UK, Mr Bukhari Afandi, was summoned to the Foreign Office today to meet Political Director Simon Gass. The Political Director expressed deep concern at the recent decision to sentence Meriam to death for apostasy and asked the Chargé to urge his government to uphold its international obligations on freedom of religion or belief, and to do all it can to get this decision overturned.

In a statement immediately following the court’s decision, the UK’s Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds MP described Meriam’s sentencing as barbaric, and urged the Sudanese Government to respect the right to religion or belief.

SOURCE: United Kingdom – Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Sudan: Continued suspension of activities has severe humanitarian impact

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 19, 2014 – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regrets that it has not been allowed to resume its work in Sudan. The suspension of its activities for more than three months is having severe consequences for the Sudanese population in areas affected by the armed conflict, which has intensified over the past months and caused massive displacement in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Last year, some 1.5 million people in the country received ICRC aid.

“We are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation in some parts of the country and are calling on the Sudanese authorities to lift the suspension – be it on a temporary basis while discussions take place – in order that the humanitarian needs of people benefiting from ICRC programmes can be addressed,” said Eric Marclay, the ICRC’s head of operations for East Africa, at the organization’s Geneva headquarters.

The ICRC’s activities in Sudan were suspended on 1 February at the order of the country’s Humanitarian Aid Commission, the government body in charge of relations with humanitarian organizations. The commission cited technical issues, while the Sudanese government asked the ICRC to review the legal agreement dating back to 1984 that sets out the organization’s legal and diplomatic status in the country.

The ICRC has always shown its readiness to renegotiate the agreement on its presence and humanitarian work in the country; after some weeks of constructive negotiations, delays occurred and little progress was achieved. “We remain ready to meet with the authorities to complete the negotiations and resume our activities,” said Mr Marclay. But now that its humanitarian activities have been suspended for 15 weeks, the ICRC has no alternative but to significantly downsize its delegation in Sudan. “We deeply regret having to lay off 195 of our 650 Sudanese staff, but we have no choice,” he added.

The ICRC has always worked with total transparency and in strict accordance with its mandate in Sudan. In order to protect and assist victims of armed conflict, it is imperative that the principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality be adhered to. This requires a dialogue with all parties to the conflict and impartial help to all people in need, both in areas controlled by the government and in areas controlled by armed opposition groups. The ICRC’s mandate is laid down in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, to which Sudan is party, along with 194 other States.

Over the past two years, the ICRC, in its role as a neutral intermediary, has facilitated the release of over 200 people, including South Sudanese prisoners of war, members of the Sudanese armed forces, and civilians – including Chinese and Turkish citizens – held by armed opposition groups.

Last year, more than 426,000 Sudanese living in areas affected by conflict received food aid from the ICRC, and over 325,000 received farming tools and seed. For nomadic communities in Darfur, whose livestock-based livelihoods have been affected by conflict, it supported vaccination campaigns for over a million animals.

In Darfur, a region where water is scarce, access to clean water was improved for over 708,000 people. More than 72,500 patients visited ICRC-supported health facilities last year and over 1,400 persons injured in armed clashes were treated with medical supplies provided by the ICRC. Throughout Sudan, over 6,100 physically disabled people, many of whom lost their limbs as a result of fighting, received services from ICRC-supported limb-fitting and physiotherapy centres.

SOURCE: International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)



WHO: Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

WHAT: High-level humanitarian pledging conference for South Sudan

WHEN: 20 May 2014

WHERE: Oslo, Norway

UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos is scheduled to co-chair a high-level humanitarian pledging conference for South Sudan, taking place in Oslo, Norway, on 20 May . Norway is hosting the conference in cooperation with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The other co-chair is the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Børge Brende.

More than four million people – out of a total population of 11.5 million – are facing acute food insecurity as people have not been able to cultivate their crops because of the conflict. Experts warn that some areas of South Sudan could risk famine unless adequate humanitarian assistance is delivered. Increased international support is urgently needed now to scale up humanitarian action.