The Government of Sudan should end its campaign of harassment against human rights defenders and other civil society actors, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) said today. The closures of several NGOs in late December 2012 follow an escalated crackdown on Sudanese activists in recent months. EHAHRDP also calls on African Heads of State to take the opportunity of the AU Summit to be held on 21st-28th January 2013 to urge Sudan to respect the human rights of its population and end restrictions on the work of civil society.
On 31st December 2012, a delegation from the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) delivered a letter to the director of the Al Khatim Adlam Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE) in Khartoum cancelling the organisation’s registration and announcing the removal of its name from the general record of the voluntary organizations authorized to work in Sudan. No reason was given in the letter for the decision. The HAC delegation carried out an inventory, before evacuating the office and taking possession of the keys to the property. The closure “was not a surprise” according to KACE’s press release, considering the increased repression of freedom of expression in the country over recent months. KACE, a non-governmental organisation working to establish the conditions for long-term peace and stability in Sudan, was among the groups targeted in a smear campaign by pro-government newspapers since August 2012.
Arry Organisation for Human Rights, which documents and reports on human rights violations in the Nuba Mountains, has been the subject of repeated acts of intimidation and harassment. On 18th December, National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) searched the houses of four Arry staff members and issued warrants to report to NISS offices the following day on threat of harm to their families. The staff members were interrogated on their work at NISS offices and informed that their work was prohibited in Sudan as they were receiving funds from abroad to work against the Sudanese government in the international human rights venues. Having been ordered to report daily, they were informed on 30th December by NISS officers that the Ministry of Culture had cancelled Arry’s registration.
Arry’s staff members and members of their families have also faced reprisals a result of their advocacy activities at the UN Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Reprisals against Sudanese HRDs engaging in international advocacy are common, and have been reported by the UN Secretary-General in his annual report on cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights. Even in exile, Sudanese human rights activists continue to risk attacks and intimidation. EHAHRDP has received reports of houses broken into and searched, kidnapping attempts, threatening phone calls and enquiries from persons of Sudanese origin about their whereabouts.
The Sudanese Studies Centre (SSC) received a letter on 24th December 2012 from the Minister of Culture closing the centre for one year on grounds that it had been undermining national security and acting contrary to its mandate. SSC’s activities promote dialogue on culture and democracy in Sudan.
On 30th December 2012, prior to the KACE closure, the Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organisations attempted to submit a petition against restrictions on NGOs to the National Human Rights Commission in Khartoum, but were stopped by police and security services. A journalist was reportedly beaten during the protest. Members of the Commission were also prevented from leaving the building to receive the document. In an unprecedented move, the NHRC condemned the security forces’ actions “a flagrant violation of the Interim Constitution of 2005 and the National Human Rights Commission Act of 2009,” and “an attack on the integrity of the Commission and its immunity”.
The most recent closures of NGOs are part of the escalating repression of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Media censorship continues with both pre- and post-print censorship of newspapers, while journalists, such as Somia Ismail Ibrahim Hendusa in November 2012, have been arrested, tortured and ill-treated.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested and detained during the wave of demonstrations from June to August 2012 that called for regime change, peace and justice. Many were held for weeks or months without being charged with any criminal offense. Security forces have cracked down heavily on other protests since then. In December 2012, four students were found dead in an irrigation channel after a student meeting at Al Jazeera University in Wad Medani was violently dispersed by the ruling party’s student militia, NISS and police.
While all detainees arrested in conjunction with the summer protests are believed to have been released, other activists remain in detention, such as Jalila Koko Khamis, a female activist from the Nuba Mountains, who was arrested in March 2012. A member of the banned SPLM-N opposition party, Ms Khamis had provided humanitarian support to displaced people in Southern Kordofan and in a 2011 YouTube video had spoken out against the conflict in that area, calling for a ceasefire. Ms Khamis is now facing charges of “calling for opposition to public authority by use of violence or criminal force” and “provoking hatred against or between sects”, the original charges carrying the death penalty having been dropped. A ruling on the case is expected on 20th January 2013. EHAHRDP calls for Ms Khamis to be unconditionally and immediately released and all remaining charges dropped.
“Sudan’s government is targeting all independent voices in the country – human rights defenders, journalists, students and opposition politicians,” said Hassan Shire, executive director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. “It is even preventing the National Human Rights Commission from carrying out its work. This crackdown must end now.”
The African Union has played an important role in attempting to resolve the conflicts in Sudan and to ensure humanitarian access. At its upcoming meeting on 25th January the AU Peace and Security Council should ensure that a greater emphasis is placed on the issue of democratization as a priority activity in the mandate of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. The vital role played by civil society actors in the process of democratization should be clearly stated and Sudan urged to respect the human rights of its population and end restrictions on the work of civil society. African Heads of State gathering next week in Addis Ababa for the AU Summit should also reiterate their commitment to these principles. Such steps are also envisaged in the Grand Bay Declaration and Plan of Action (1999) that calls upon African Union Member States to implement the UN Declaration on HRDs in Africa.
On 21st December 2012, fifteen non-governmental organisations wrote to urge the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to address the serious human rights violations being committed in Sudan. The organisations called on the ACHPR to publicly condemn government violent suppression of peaceful protests and arbitrary arrests and detention of protesters, as well as the increasing repression of critics of the government.
“The AU has demonstrated its commitment to bringing peace in Sudan,” said Hassan Shire. “It must act now to protect human rights defenders who are also seeking peace.”
For more information, please contact:
Mr Hassan Shire, Executive Director on [email protected] or +256 772 753 753
Ms Rachel Nicholson, Advocacy Officer on [email protected] or +256 778 921 274