A displaced woman sits on a bed next to the remnants of her burnt house in Khor Abeche, March 2014 (Unamid)
Freedoms of expression, association, and assembly were severely curtailed last year, with crackdowns on the media, public dialogue, and demonstrations, Amnesty International (AI) says in its annual State of the World’s Human Rights Report on 2014, released on Wednesday.
In its chapter on Sudan, the human rights organisation furthermore states that the armed conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states continued to cause mass displacement and civilian casualties.
On 27 January last year, President Omar Al Bashir announced plans to achieve peace in Sudan, and protect constitutional rights through a “national dialogue”, open to participation by all parties, including the armed movements. In April, he promised to release all political detainees. Restrictions on freedoms prevailed, however, hindering meaningful attempts at a national dialogue.
The national dialogue process suffered a serious setback, following the detention of El Sadig El Mahdi, leader of the National Umma Party (NUP) by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) on 17 May, in response to his public statements about the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), commanded by the NISS, whom he accused of committing crimes against civilians. El Mahdi was released, without trial, on 15 June.
Another opposition leader, Ibrahim El Sheikh, chairman of the Sudanese Congress Party, was held by security agents in En Nahud, West Kordofan, on 8 June. He was charged with undermining the constitutional order and opposing military actions. According to the NISS, he had humiliated the paramilitary RSF militia at a symposium, by calling them “Janjaweed with no religion or ethics”. El Sheikh was released on 15 September, allegedly following mediation by Thabo Mbeki, head of the AU mediation team.
On 8 August, the NUP and the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF, an alliance of the main rebel movements) signed the Paris Declaration, a joint statement calling for widespread reform in Sudan. The two parties declared that they would boycott future general elections unless a transitional government was first put in place to “provide public freedoms” and end the ongoing conflicts in Sudan’s Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.
The ruling National Congress Party rejected the Paris Declaration. NUP Deputy Head, Maryam El Sadig El Mahdi, who co-arranged the meeting in the French capital, was detained upon her return to Khartoum on 12 August. She was released again, without charges, on 9 September. NUP leader El Sadig El Mahdi remains abroad until now.
The Sudan Appeal, signed by the NUP, the SRF, the National Consensus Forces (NCF, a coalition of 17 opposition parties), and the Civil Society Initiative (CSI) in Addis Ababa on 6 December, could be added to the list.
In this political communiqué, the united opposition forces call for an end to the civil wars in the country, the dismantling of the one-party system, and the rebuilding of Sudan based on democratic principles and equal citizenship. The signatories agree that if a peaceful regime change cannot be achieved by a broad national dialogue, it should be enforced by a popular uprising.
Faroug Abu Eisa, head of the NCF, and Dr Amin Mekki Madani, chairman of the CSI, were detained by security officers in Khartoum on 6 December, a day after their return from the Ethiopian capital. They were held incommunicado until the 22nd of that month, after which they were transferred to Kober Prison in Khartoum North.
Both opposition leaders are charged with undermining of the constitutional order and instigating war against the state, offences that carry the death penalty or life imprisonment. Last Monday, the first trial session took place.
Freedom of expression
The authorities increased restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly throughout the country, in what appeared to be a concerted effort to shut down independent dialogue. The government continued to use the NISS and other security forces to arbitrarily detain perceived opponents of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), to censor media and to shut down public forums and protests,” AI reports.
The arbitrary detention of activists, human rights defenders and political opposition figures continued unabated. These restrictions severely undermined the activities of civil society and prevented meaningful public consultation on Sudan’s new Constitution, which the government declared would be based on Shari’a law.”
Newspapers continued to be subject to closure and censorship for printing material perceived as being critical of the NCP. Journalists received threats from the NISS, which also seized entire print-runs, causing large financial losses for newspapers. Eighteen newspapers repeatedly had their editions confiscated between January and September.
By the end of the year, AI states, the authorities had confiscated newspapers 52 times. El Jareeda newspaper, an independent daily, was arbitrarily confiscated by the NISS on 24 September. The newspaper had been suspended by the NISS 11 times by the end of the year. El Saiha, another newspaper, was suspended indefinitely by the NISS on 6 June.
The government also lifted the ban on three newspapers. On 29 January, the government lifted a two-year ban on Ray al-Shaab newspaper, affiliated to the Popular Congress Party, led by Dr Hassan El Turabi. A two-year suspension against El Tayar newspaper was lifted on 5 March. The suspension of the Sudanese Communist Party’s El Midan newspaper on 3 May 2012, was lifted on 6 March 2014.
Widespread human rights abuses continued throughout Darfur, AI states. Civilians were displaced in large numbers as a result of violence between warring communities and attacks by government-allied militias and armed opposition groups.
Late February, the government deployed the RSF in Darfur. The RSF drew many of its recruits from the former Janjaweed militias that in previous years were responsible for serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings and rape. The RSF destroyed scores of villages, causing a significant increase in displacement and civilian deaths.
Between January and July an estimated 388,000 people were displaced in Darfur, in addition to the two million displaced since the conflict began in 2003. Many of those displaced were living in remote areas, where they received little or no humanitarian assistance, and were vulnerable to attacks, abduction and sexual violence. On 22 March, the Khor Abeche camp for the displaced in South Darfur was attacked by a group of armed men who looted, and burned the camp to the ground.
The government continued to restrict access to areas of Darfur affected by conflict to the AU, Unamid) and humanitarian organisations. In February, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ main activities were suspended, while other organisations, such as the French development organisation Agence d’Aide à la Coopération Technique et au Développement (ACTED), had their offices shut down.
On 2 July, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a review of investigations and reviews into Unamid performance that had been carried out over the previous two years. This review, concluded in October, was announced in response to allegations that Unamid staff had covered up human rights abuses in Darfur. The review did not find any evidence to support the allegations. However, it found that Unamid had a tendency to under-report and maintained media silence in incidents involving human rights violations.
The mass rape of Tabit in North Darfur is not listed by AI. On 2 November, Dabanga reported that army soldiers raided the village, and raped more than 200 women and girls during the two last days of October. The soldiers said they were searching for a missing colleague, and had been ordered to assault the women.
Human Right Watch confirmed the Tabit mass rape in an elaborate report, on 11 February this year, confirming that 221 women and girls had been sexually molested.
South Kordofan and Blue Nile
In the two war-torn southern states, indiscriminate attacks on civilians by both government forces and troops of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North) continued in 2014. Sudan continued to obstruct humanitarian access to areas controlled by the SPLA-North. Both parties to the conflict failed to meet their obligation to facilitate humanitarian access, according to AI.
“On 14 April, the government publicly launched its “Decisive Summer” military operation to “end all rebellion” in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur,” the report reads.
“From the onset of the operation, the Sudanese Armed Forces carried out sustained aerial bombardments in and around Kauda, a major town in Heiban County, as well as aerial bombardments and shelling in Um Dorein and Delami counties, destroying schools, clinics, hospitals and other civilian buildings, and forcing people to flee their homes.
Sudanese forces employed indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling on civilian villages. They also employed proxy forces in ground assaults, including the RSF. These proxy forces also perpetrated human rights abuses.
Many of the more than one million people displaced in the three-year conflict remained in Sudan. More than 200,000 were living in refugee camps in South Sudan or Ethiopia.
Freedom of assembly
Sudan continued to restrict legitimate activities of opposition political parties and civil society. On 8 March, NISS prevented some 30 civil society organisations from celebrating International Women’s Day in Khartoum.
Three days later, economics student Ali Abakar Musa Idris died from gunshot wounds sustained when security services opened fire during a demonstration at the University of Khartoum. The demonstration took place immediately after the conclusion of a public forum organised by the Darfur Students’ Association concerning escalating violence against civilians in South Darfur. Students marched to the main university gate, where they were met by the police, NISS, and student militias. The security services fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition at the students.
On 15 March, the authorities banned the NCF from holding a public event in Khartoum North and deployed hundreds of security agents to cancel the event. On 1 May, the Political Parties Affairs Council rejected the Republican Party application for registration, as the Republican Party is considered heretical for its progressive views on Islam. The founder of the party, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, was executed for apostasy in 1985.
On 29 May, 13 June, and 17 August, the authorities refused to allow political and civil society activists to submit memorandums highlighting human rights violations by the government to the Sudan National Human Rights Commission office in Khartoum.
On 28 August, security forces forcibly prevented demonstrators from demanding the release of women political prisoners in front of Omdurman women's prison. The security services arrested 16 women activists. and used tear gas and batons to disperse the protesters.
In an attempt to stop a series of events organised to commemorate the deaths of protesters in September 2013, the NISS pre-emptively arrested over 70 political activists between 17 and 23 September, invoking its powers of “preventive detention”. Those arrested were released without charge in early October.
Former detainees reported they were tortured and otherwise ill-treated while in detention.
Freedom of association
On 23 June, the Ministry of Justice cancelled the registration licence of the Salmmah Women's Resource Centre, a leading Sudanese women's rights organisation, and confiscated their assets, AI reports.
The closure by the NISS on 21 December of the Khartoum office of the Sudan Human Rights Monitor (SHRM), founded by Dr Amin Mekki Madani, can be added to the list.
In January this year, the Ministry of Culture cancelled the registration of the Mahmoud Mohamed Taha Centre in Omdurman, the National Civil Forum, and the Sudanese Writers Union (SWU), without citing reasons or relevant legislation.