Latest Update: 31 December 2013
The human rights situation in Sudan remained serious between October and December 2013. The deteriorating security situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states and Darfur, and reports of continued detention of dozens of civilians arrested during the September protests are a cause for concern.
Fighting has continued between the government of Sudan and the rebel forces in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported increasing levels of violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile as the dry season (autumn) offensives began. In early December, OCHA reported some 5,600 people had fled their homes in Blue Nile since mid-November as a result of fighting and food insecurity.
Despite high level advocacy and lobbying (including through the UN Security Council), the UN’s attempts to broker an agreement between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (North) (SPLM(N)) and the government, to include SPLM (N) controlled areas of South Kordofan and Blue Nile States in Sudan’s national polio vaccination campaign that took place in November, failed. Renewed efforts are planned for the New Year. It will be imperative that this and other humanitarian interventions are not linked to progress on political talks.
The security situation in Darfur continued to deteriorate with ongoing clashes between rebel forces and the government of Sudan and increasing inter-tribal violence. The UN estimates that over 450,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of the conflict in 2013.
Political freedom came under increasing pressure. In October there were credible reports that the final number of arrests by Sudanese security forces following the September protests exceeded 800. This included activists, journalists and members of opposition parties. Many were held incommunicado without access to their families or legal representation. By November, over 600 of these detainees were reported to have been released. Among them were political activists Najlaa Mohammed Ali and Amin Senada, arrested in November on charges of indecent behaviour, and Adam Sharief, who was detained for one month without charge, after he featured on a local radio station in Darfur criticising the Governor of South Darfur and the use of live ammunition by government forces during the protests in September. In November Human Rights Watch reported that dozens remained in custody.
The clampdown on the media that occurred during the September demonstrations has partially been lifted, though there continues to be confiscation of newspapers after print and self-censorship. Four newspapers were closed down entirely. Faisal Mohammed Salih, who faced imprisonment or a fine for writing an article calling for the investigation of security forces for a case of gang rape, was acquitted on 22 December 2013. Others are still facing trial.
Dr Attiyat Mustafa, Director of the Unit for Combating Violence Against Women, launched the campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign in November, and called for a change in approach in addressing gender violence issues in Sudan. Around the same time, the Nobel Women’s Initiative published a report “Survivors Speak Out: Sexual Violence in Sudan” which outlined reports of sexual violence in conflict areas across the country. In December, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court described reports of these abuses in Darfur as “disturbing” when addressing the UN Security Council.
In November human rights groups confirmed charges of disturbing public order against women’s rights activist Amira Osman Hamed for not wearing a headscarf when ordered to by a policeman. More positively, on 3 December the Head of the Advisory Council for Human Rights, Muaz Tango, confirmed that the competent court had lifted the punishment of a woman sentenced to death by stoning for adultery following an appeal lodged by the Council.
On 1 December, National Intelligence Security Service officers reportedly arrested and detained a Christian priest. He was allowed only brief family visits while detained before having his Sudanese nationality revoked and being deported from the country.
Update: 30 September 2013
The human rights situation in Sudan deteriorated between July and September 2013. The worsening of tribal conflict and lawlessness in Darfur, and violent demonstrations in Khartoum and several other cities at the end of September, were significant causes for concern.
Fighting has continued between the government of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reporting new fighting in North and South Kordofan between 23 and 28 July. The intensity of fighting has reduced since then with the onset of the rainy season.
A one-month unilateral ceasefire was declared by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–North (a banned militant organisation) from 1 September. However, in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile there were further credible reports of aerial bombardment of rebel-held areas by the Sudanese Armed Forces, with civilian casualties. There were also reports of at least 12 civilian deaths due to unexploded ordinance in South Kordofan. Human rights groups have reported that the government of Sudan continues to detain without charge civilians suspected to be members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in the government-held areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Most are still under detention, but several detainees have now been charged and convicted, and 18 female detainees were released on 20 July.
OCHA assess that the number of those affected or displaced by conflict in the two border states is over one million, although it is impossible to verify these figures without independent access to the areas. OCHA figures state that 225,000 Sudanese have taken refuge in South Sudan and Ethiopia after fleeing the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. OCHA also report that out of 63,000 people displaced by attacks by the SRF in late April, 21,000 had returned to their homes by the end of July. The government of Sudan and the SRF have yet to agree on technical preparations to administer polio vaccines to 165,000 children under five in rebel-held areas, which would include the need for a two-week ceasefire to allow vaccination to take place.
The security situation in Darfur continues to deteriorate, with reports of looting and armed robbery affecting both aid workers and Darfur residents. Seven UNAMID (African Union – United Nations Mission in Darfur) peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in South Darfur on 13 July. Armed men attacked and robbed the offices of the American Refugee Committee on 24 August and the International Committee of the Red Cross on 26 August. Inter-tribal fighting has also increased, with over 100 people from the Salamat and Misseriya tribes killed in fighting in Central Darfur on 22-25 July, and nearly three hundred from the Misseriya, Ma’aliya and Reizegat tribes killed in East Darfur on 10-12 August. OCHA reports 134,000 people were newly displaced as a result of this fighting, and remain unreachable due to government restrictions on humanitarian access to many areas in Darfur.
Political freedom deteriorated significantly towards the end of the period. Following the lifting of fuel subsidies at the end of September, there were a number of protests in Khartoum, Wad Medani and other cities around Sudan. There were credible reports that over 100 protesters and police were killed, and hundreds more injured, with live ammunition being used by security forces on protesters. Over 600 political activists and protestors were detained by the authorities.
Newspapers continued to be subject to censorship: around ten editions of newspapers were confiscated for publishing material the authorities disapproved of between July and mid-September. During the protests in late September, security services issued a directive against negative articles on the lifting of subsidies. Up to three Sudanese newspapers were banned from publishing for indefinite periods. The Khartoum bureaux of Sky News and Al Arabiya were closed down by the authorities. Up to 400 journalists are reported to have gone on strike as a result of the directives. Up to four newspapers have chosen not to publish.
On 2 July, the Sudanese Parliament adopted an amendment to the Armed Forces Act that could allow civilians to be tried in military courts. In August, President Bashir announced that International NGOs would not be allowed to work on human rights. The effects of both acts remain to be seen. A Christian international aid worker was forced to leave Sudan in August after security forces alleged he was engaged in proselytisation work. A positive development was the 8 September release of a political prisoner from the Popular Congress Party, after almost 12 years in prison.
There were several cases of concern in the courts in this period. A police officer from Darfur who wrote a report on corruption was sentenced to four years in prison on 23 August on charges of discrediting the police and creating false information. A woman from Khartoum is being tried for public indecency after refusing to cover her head in a government office in Jebel Aulia, and could face flogging. Sudanese lawyers also report continued harassment of Darfuri students by the police and security forces, including beatings, arbitrary arrest, and mistreatment while in detention.
Religious freedoms in Sudan continue to be an issue of concern; FCO officials continue to raise this issue with senior interlocutors in the government of Sudan.
Update: 30 June 2013
The human rights situation in Sudan deteriorated significantly between April and June 2013 largely due to escalating conflict and insecurity.
Fighting between the government of Sudan and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) intensified with a major attack by the SRF at the end of April on the towns of Umm Rawaba in North Kordofan and Abu Karshola in South Kordofan. According to OCHA figures, 63,000 people were displaced in this fighting. There are reports from local human rights groups that SRF soldiers looted the towns and killed an unknown number of civilians. In June, SRF forces shelled the state capital of Kadugli on a number of occasions hitting a UN compound and killing a UN peacekeeper and also hitting a local football stadium that was hosting a regional tournament. FCO Minister Simmonds made a statement condemning the attack.
Meanwhile, Sudan Armed Forces continued their campaign of aerial bombardment in South Kordofan and Blue Nile with credible reports that civilian settlements were affected. Human rights groups have also reported that the government of Sudan continues to detain without charge civilians suspected to be members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in the government-held areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
OCHA now assess that the number of those affected or displaced by conflict in the two borderstates may be as high as 907,000 in South Kordofan and 158,000 in Blue Nile, although it is impossible to verify these figures without independent access to the areas. OCHA also report that there are now 223,000 Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and Ethiopia who fled the conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
In Abyei, on May 4, the Paramount Chief of Dinka Ngok, Kuol Deng Majok, and a United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) peacekeeper were killed when armed men attacked their convoy in the area of Baloom. FCO Minister Simmonds issued a statement expressing deep concern and urging restraint on all sides.
In Darfur, worsening insecurity led to massive displacements with OCHA estimating that there have been over 300,000 new IDPs since the beginning of the year, including 27,000 refugees who fled to Chad and 3,500 who have fled to the Central African Republic. This was driven by a number of factors, including inter-communal fighting over resources and clashes between government and armed movement forces, particularly in parts of Northern, Southern and Central Darfur. Access to people affected by conflict in Darfur remains constrained due to the government of Sudan’s new Directives for Humanitarian Work issued in March, under which access by international humanitarian organisations and their staff to conflict areas is fully restricted.
There were no real improvements on political and civil rights in this reporting period. On 1 April, President Bashir made a positive speech calling for national dialogue with all opposition forces and ordering the release of some political detainees. But there has been no further progress on implementation of this new approach. Furthermore, Vice-President Taha issued a directive to lift pre-publication censorship on newspapers. However, since his directive, security services have temporarily suspended at least three newspapers due to their reporting.
A further concerning development was the case of three men sentenced to amputations of the hand for theft in a court in El Fasher, North Darfur, in June. The sentences have not yet been carried out. Human rights organisations also report that in June, a female student was fined for wearing trousers by a public order court in Khartoum.
Religious freedoms have come under threat with evidence of a trend towards religious intolerance. Since September 2012, at least 215 foreign Christians have been expelled from Sudan with some having their assets in-country confiscated by security services. There are also many examples of Sudanese and South Sudanese Christians being harassed and sometimes detained by security services and some church premises closed down or demolished. FCO officials have raised strong concerns about this trend with senior interlocutors in the government of Sudan.
The UN Independent Expert on Human Rights in Sudan, Professor Mashood Baderin, visited the country from 16th – 19th June. The government of Sudan offered cooperation during his visit and he travelled to the state capitals in South Darfur and Blue Nile and to parts of North Kordofan. British Embassy officials met the Independent Expert during his visit to feed in views ahead of his report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2013.
Update: 31 March 2013
The first three months of 2013 have shown no signs of progress on the human rights situation in Sudan. Internal conflicts show little sign of abating, and numerous restrictions on freedom of expression remain in place.
The Government of Sudan and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North (SPLM-N) have yet to begin talks aimed at ending the conflict and allowing access for humanitarian purposes in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, despite calls for them to do so from the African Union, supported by the UNSC. Latest figures from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) suggest that more than one million people from both states have now been displaced or severely affected, while full access for humanitarian purposes continues to be blocked by the government. It is not possible to make a complete and accurate needs assessment in the absence of such access, but we judge that high levels of food insecurity persist in both states. We urge parties to the conflict to commit to talks without preconditions, aimed at an immediate cessation of hostilities and agreement to full and independent humanitarian access.
In Darfur, 10 years after the outbreak of conflict, there has been a recent further upsurge in violence. This is adding to the already substantial humanitarian need in an area where 1,430,000 internally displaced people in camps rely on food aid. We have pressed the Government of Sudan to meet their obligations under the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur to draw this conflict to a close, as well as allowing unrestricted access for humanitarian and security groups.
Since the start of the year we have been told of cases of international Christian institutions and individuals being harassed by the Sudanese security forces, including the detention of individuals without charge and the confiscation of scriptural books and travel documents. We believe that over 150 non-Sudanese Christians have left Sudan following harassment from the security services. We have raised our concerns for the treatment of Christians jointly with other international partners.
Political expression during this period has been an area of equal concern. In the last three months the Sudanese Authorities have arrested and detained signatories to the New Dawn Charter, a political manifesto calling for change in Sudan. Those detained have included a British dual national, to whom we have requested consular access without success. We are concerned about the welfare of those detained. We, along with EU partners, continue to raise these cases with the Government of Sudan.
In this period we have also been told of a case of amputation as punishment for theft. While provided for by Sudan’s Penal Code, there has been a de facto moratorium on this punishment since 1984, with the exception of a case in 2001, and this latest application is a deeply worrying development. Claims that judges could be trained to perform the amputations should medical professionals refuse to carry them out are also of great concern to the international community. The EU formally raised our serious concerns about this incident with the Sudanese Ambassador in Brussels on 7 March.
It is welcome news that the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Professor Mashood Adebayo Baderin, visited Sudan for the second time in February 2013, and was able to visit Darfur. His statement upon completion of his visit highlights the growing number of humanitarian concerns within Sudan and underlines our call for the government to fully cooperate with him as he performs his duties in accordance with the mandate from the UN Human Rights Council.