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Sudan: The hidden side of the Darfur conflict

Sudan: The hidden side of the Darfur conflict

Sudan: Incommunicado detentions, unfair trials, torture and ill-treatment - the hidden side of the Darfur conflict

While international attention has focussed on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the failure of the legal system which underpins the human rights crisis has gone largely unnoticed, Amnesty International said today in a memorandum to the Sudan Government and the recently-appointed Sudanese Commission of Inquiry.

The vast majority of detainees in Darfur and those arrested outside Darfur in connection with the conflict are not told the reasons for their arrest and are not allowed access to lawyers, families, and medical assistance. They are denied their right to be brought promptly before a judge or other judicial official; the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention and the right to be treated humanely. Torture is widespread.

"The failure of the justice system cannot be ignored. Injustice is not just a consequence of the conflict, it is one of its causes. These abuses, like the fighting, will worsen if immediate preventative measures aren't taken," Amnesty International warned.

"One reason the abuses have been so horrific and widespread in Darfur is that all members of the Janjawid militias who have killed, raped, looted and forcibly displaced people since April 2003 have benefited from complete impunity," Amnesty International said. "This lack of accountability for terrible crimes is a tragedy not only for the thousands who have suffered abuses but for the integrity of the whole Sudanese justice system."

"Members of the Janjawid suspected of serious human rights abuses go free while those suspected of sympathy with the armed opposition are held incommunicado without trial," Amnesty International said.

Those detained include lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and students; many are prisoners of conscience arrested solely for expressing their opinions without advocating or using violence.

Saleh Mahmoud Osman, a well-known human rights lawyer from Nyala has been in detention since 1 February 2004 mostly in Kober Prison without charge or trial. Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, director of a human rights organization with branches in Darfur went on hunger strike five weeks after his arrest in Khartoum on 28 December 2003 demanding to be brought to trial or released. He was then charged with nine offences including some carrying the death penalty. The "evidence" against him includes possessing public documents from Amnesty International. His trial is continuing.

"The detention of those who speak out, defend human rights or work for a solution to the crisis smothers free expression in Sudan and hinders any work towards a solution by Sudanese civil society," Amnesty International said.

Torture is frequently and increasingly reported. Dr Ali Ahmed Daoud, a veterinary surgeon and Ali Hussein Dossa, a member of the South Darfur State Assembly were arrested in Nyala on 15 March with 20 others from the Fur ethnic grouping during a meeting in Ali Dossa's house in which they were reportedly discussing lobbying against Janjawid attacks. Both men were so severely beaten with sticks and cables that a doctor was called in. They remain in detention in Kober Prison without charge or trial.

Most detainees are kept in security or intelligence detention centres often in very poor conditions. One detainee fromTina on the Chad border, was flown to the military intelligence centre in al-Fasher where he stayed for four months. He told Amnesty International that : "I was never charged with any crime and I never saw anyone, not my family, not a lawyer. I was frequently beaten. They also gave me electric shocks to make me tell things. We had only one cup of water a day and the food was little and very bad. I was kept with 25 others in one cell which did not have any toilets. Three persons died in the detention centre while I was there. . ."

Incommunicado detention in centres of different security services provides conditions which facilitate torture and "disappearance". Amnesty International's memorandum calls for the abolition of Articles 31 and 33 of the National Security Forces Act, which allow the security forces to detain people incommunicado without charge and give them immunity from prosecution.

"Whilst we recognise the need for governments to take action to protect its citizens against threats from armed groups, it must be done in such a way which is consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law," Amnesty International said.

"Those detained simply for voicing their opinions should be immediately and unconditionally released," the organization said.

All others detained should be brought promptly to trial on recognizable criminal charges before normal courts in conformity with international standards for fair trial without recourse to the death penalty. "If this is not done they too should be released."

On 8 May 2004 the Sudanese government set up a Commission of Inquiry under former Chief Justice Daf'allah al-Hajj Yusuf to investigate "alleged human rights violations by armed groups in Darfur", the causes of the violations and to establish the facts about the human and material damage.

"The Sudanese government should widen the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry to ensure that its remit includes the investigation of human rights violations by government authorities", Amnesty International said. "The Commission of Inquiry should also have the right to visit all detention centres and report publicly on any human rights violations it finds."


In 2001, the Sudanese government, faced with a growing security problem, including inter-ethnic attacks and a rise in banditry, set up Special Courts in North, South and West Darfur states, after declaring a state of emergency in the region. Trials in the Special Courts are deeply flawed. The presence of members of the security as judges calls into question the independence of the judiciary. Trials in these courts are summary and death sentences have been handed down after trials which lasted only an hour.

Conflict in Darfur has intensified since February 2003 when the SLA and later the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) took up arms against the government. They complained about lack of government protection for agricultural ethnic groups from attacks by nomad militias and the marginalisation and underdevelopment of the region. The Sudan government then gave free rein to the nomadic militias known as the Janjawid to attack the villages of the mainly agricultural ethnic groups, such as the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa. The Janjawid are now supported and funded by the government; they wear uniform and continue to attack, kill, rape and abduct civilians. About a million people have fled from their burnt villages and have taken refuge in towns in Darfur, while more than 120,000 have crossed the border into Chad.

Act now to end the human rights crisis in Darfur, visit

More information on the crisis in Sudan at

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