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Open Letter to UNHRC on The Human Rights Situation in Sudan

A Joint Open Letter produced by NGOs from around the world to the 18th Human Rights Council

To Permanent Representatives of all member states of the UN Human Rights Council

Sudan/South Sudan: Addressing the situation of human rights in Sudan and South Sudan at the 18th session of the UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, 14 September 2011,

Excellency,

The undersigned organizations are writing to urge your government to address serious and widespread human rights abuses which continue to occur in Sudan, and the precarious human rights situation in South Sudan. Given the extent of ongoing human rights violations, we also call on your Government at the 18th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in September 2011 to support the full engagement of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in monitoring human rights both in Sudan and in South Sudan.

We believe that the Human Rights Council should renew the existing mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan and establish, under item 10, an independent expert mandate on South Sudan. The Council should ensure that both mandates pay attention to pending human rights issues related to the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Council should also call on the experts to monitor the human rights situations in border areas, including in Abyei, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.

In spite of significant political developments, with the independence of South Sudan on 9 July 2011 and the adoption of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur in July 2011, major human rights issues remain unsolved in both countries. The Human Rights Council should not look away from continuing violations in Sudan and the enormous challenges facing the new government of South Sudan.

2011-2012: A Critical Year for Sudan and South Sudan

The 18th session of the Human Rights Council will take place at a critical moment for both Sudan and South Sudan.

New armed conflicts in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and continuing insecurity in Darfur have all resulted in serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction of homes and properties, and indiscriminate aerial bombing, which have resulted in the mass displacements of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

In Khartoum and other main towns, the government has intensified political repression through violent crackdowns on peaceful youth movements, continuing harassment of human rights defenders, arbitrary arrests and detention of opponents of the ruling National Congress Party, and the well-documented use of torture as a means of repression. As stressed by the Independent Expert, “the threats to civilians remain substantial and are likely to increase”.[2]
Meanwhile, following the formal secession of South Sudan, the new Republic of South Sudan faces enormous state-building and human rights challenges, as already recognized by the Independent Expert.[1]

These challenges require sustained attention by the HRC in both countries under two separate mandates.

1) The Council should monitor the human rights situation in Sudan
The HRC should renew the mandate of the Independent Expert to monitor the human rights situation across Sudan. With the termination of the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in July 2011, the UN no longer has human rights officers working in Khartoum or the bordering transitional areas. Thus, the Independent Expert would be the only UN mechanism to monitor the human rights situation across the country. This continued monitoring function is all the more required after Sudan suspended the Khartoum and Darfur human rights forums, which had been established as means for engagement with the UN on human rights concerns.

The mandate should also cover Darfur, notwithstanding the presence of the human rights component of the African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur. The Independent Expert should continue to monitor the implementation of the human rights chapter of the Doha framework document, and the numerous recommendations of the Group of Experts on Darfur which remained unimplemented, as recalled recently by the Independent Expert[3].

In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, the Independent Expert should monitor violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and recommend appropriate international responses.

Across the country, the Independent Expert should continue to monitor and promote the respect for freedom of expression, and the rights of journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, members of peaceful youth movements and any other member of the Sudanese society.

In this context, we urge your government to pay particular attention to the lack of protection of civilians from armed conflict and human rights abuses; the culture of impunity for violations committed in areas affected by conflicts and violence particularly in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur; and restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile: Eruption of conflict leading to serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law

Since early June, civilians have borne the brunt of clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and armed opposition now known as the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N) in both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.

Violence broke out in Kadugli and other towns in Southern Kordofan on 5 June 2011, following disputed gubernatorial elections and in the context of heightened tensions between the ruling National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement over the implementation of security arrangements under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which calls on both parties to downsize and withdraw forces.

Fighting spread quickly and included ground clashes, shelling and indiscriminate aerial bombardments. Our organizations documented serious abuses during the conflict, such as summary and extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions with concerns that detainees may be subjected to acts of torture and other inhumane and degrading treatments, house-to-house searches, enforced disappearances, looting and destruction of churches and property. Our organizations have also documented the government’s ongoing indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas in areas under the control of armed opposition forces and areas where displaced people have fled.

This information has been corroborated by the report released in August, by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), based on monitoring by UNMIS human rights officers, and documenting serious abuses committed against civilians by the Sudanese security forces and allied militias[4] The report also included allegations of mass graves and the use of landmines.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) estimated that 200,000 people were “displaced or seriously affected” by the violence as of mid-August. Rather than facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance as is required under international humanitarian law, the government of Sudan has impeded humanitarian access and tried to coerce the displaced to return.

The UN, the African Union, concerned governments, and our organizations have all called on the parties to the conflict to urgently allow humanitarian organizations access to all affected populations. In addition, the Independent Expert has recommended that the HRC order “an independent and credible investigation (…) with a view to holding perpetrators to account.”[5] The High Commissioner has also called for an independent investigation, and declared that these serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law “could amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes.”[6]

In Blue Nile, violence erupted on September 1 when Sudanese government forces reportedly attacked a convoy of SPLM officials near Damazin and the residence of the governor, Malik Agar, who is also the leader of SPLM-North, the successor party to the SPLM in Sudan. On September 2, President al-Bashir announced the suspension of the interim Constitution in Blue Nile and a state of emergency. On September 3, the government effectively banned the SPLM-North and since that date, government security forces have arrested scores of SPLM-North members in Damazin and other towns across Sudan including in Darfur. Government aircraft have also bombed Kurmuk and other areas reportedly under SPLM-North control. As a result of the violence and bombing, an estimated 50,000 people have fled their homes, many into Ethiopia.

Since the violence broke out in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, Sudanese authorities have also cracked down on media, closing newspapers and arresting journalists reporting on the conflicts.

The violence, the humanitarian situation and human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law occurring in these volatile transitional states require the full engagement of the Human Rights Council. The HRC should ensure an independent investigation on recent violence and a careful monitoring of the situation.

Darfur: Continuing insecurity and human rights violations

Violence and human rights abuses in Darfur have continued. In December 2010, clashes between Sudanese government forces and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) resumed when the government broke ties with Mini Minawi, an ethnic Zaghawa armed opposition leader who had previously joined the government as part of the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement.

Our organizations documented how government forces attacked ethnic Zaghawa communities presumed to support the SLA in North and South Darfur, arbitrarily arresting many community leaders. Government forces and allied militia were also responsible for widespread destruction and looting of civilian property, resulting in mass displacements of tens of thousands of people to displaced persons camps and other towns.

Sexual violence also persists in Darfur. According to credible reports collected by our organizations, some 21 women and girls were raped in ShangilTobaya in North Darfur in December.

The armed clashes between government and rebel forces in December also continued in Jebel Mara, the predominantly ethnic Fur opposition stronghold in central Darfur. The government has continued to use aerial bombardments against populated areas throughout Darfur as part of its ongoing counter-insurgency.

The HRC should ensure close monitoring of the human rights situation in Darfur especially in view of resumption of clashes between government and armed opposition forces in December and ongoing clashes and the government’s aerial bombing in 2011.

In addition, the HRC should assess the government and armed opposition groups’ implementation of the human rights provisions in the Doha framework agreement and the Group of Experts and take further action to focus on ways to combat the culture of impunity in Darfur.

Repression at the Centre: Silencing Dissenting Voices

Sudan continues to violate national, regional and international obligations with regard to many civil and political rights. Those who voice dissent are subjected to harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention or acts of torture.

In January 2011, in reaction to spikes in the prices of food, petrol and other commodities and inspired by the events of the Arab Spring in Egypt and elsewhere, a coalition of youth movement groups such as Girifna, Youth for Change, Change Now and Sharara planned and carried out demonstrations in Khartoum, El Obeid, Wad Medaniand other towns on 30 January 2011 and on several subsequent dates.

In the late January and early February demonstrations, Sudanese security forces including riot police and national security officers brutally suppressed the protesters, using excessive force to disperse the demonstrations and round up protesters for arrest and detention. Our organizations documented more than 100 arrests on the first day of demonstrations in Khartoum and numerous cases of severe beatings. Subsequent demonstrations were also violently dispersed. Since the beginning of the year throughout the country, more than 150 students have been arrested and remained in detention without being charged.

Sudanese security forces tortured many of the detainees. Our organizations documented how security officials employed electric shocks, severe beating with water pipes and sleep deprivation. In some cases, detainees were raped.

The space for independent reporting is also under threat. In recent months, numerous journalists have been subjected to threats and intimidation, sometimes arrested and detained for several days, and several newspapers have been confiscated for their reports on the situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.

2) The Council should help South Sudan to promote and protect human rights

A second mandate, under item 10, should be created to assist the authorities of South Sudan in meeting the numerous challenges the new country is facing. This includes promoting accountability for human rights violations by soldiers, police, and other security forces. South Sudan’s weak justice system in particular continues to give rise to serious violations in the administration of justice, from arbitrary arrests to illtreatment of detainees.

In the past three months, South Sudan has seen a sharp increase in inter-ethnic fighting particularly in Jonglei state. More than 600 people were reportedly killed in this fighting. To date, the newly mandated UN Mission in South Sudan has yet to document the full impact of the fighting on civilians or the state’s response.

Although the arrest in July of the head of South Sudanese Police Service’s Public Security branch for alleged human rights abuses demonstrates the government’s willingness to combat impunity, human rights abuses in the administration of justice remain a pressing concern in South Sudan. Police abuses, including illegal use of force and arbitrary arrests, are widespread. In August, police assaulted the head of the UNMISS human rights component in Juba, underscoring the need for better training and accountability.

As stated by the Independent Expert, South Sudan will have to “address impunity”[7] and will face major challenges in the coming months, including the resolution of the outstanding issues with regard to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and institution-building issues.

The new mandate should among other things help the government to “ensure that adequate means and resources are provided to institutions responsible for the administration of justice and rule of law”[8] and that a human rights-based approach is adopted to resolve the outstanding issues with regard to the transition.

By supporting these two mandates in Sudan and South Sudan, the Human Rights Council would demonstrate its sustained engagement in addressing the fragile situation of human rights in this region, at a critical historic moment for both countries.

Excellency,

We urge your Government to respond to the human rights challenges facing both the Sudan and the new state of South Sudan by strongly supporting the renewal of the mandate on Sudan and the creation of a mandate on South Sudan during the 18th session of the Human Rights Council.

Sincerely yours,

1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
2. African Democracy Forum (ADF)
3. Agency for Independent Media, South Sudan
4. Amnesty International
5. Andalus Center for Tolerance and Non-Violence Studies, Egypt
6. Arab Foundation for Civil Society and Human Rights Support, Egypt
7. Arab Organization for Human Rights, Syria
8. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
9. Asian Legal Resource Centre
10. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt
11. Association for Media Development in South Sudan
12. Bahrain Center for Human Rights
13. Bahrain Youth Society For Human Rights
14. Care for Children and Old Age In South Sudan (CCOSS)
15. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
16. Committees for the Defense of Democracy Freedom and Human Rights, Syria
17. Commonwealth human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
18. Community Empowerment for Progress organization
19. Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre
20. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
21. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
22. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
23. Equatoria Women Association for Peace
24. Generation Agency for Development and Transformation-Pentagon (GADET-Pentagon), South Sudan
25. Human Rights Concern - Eritrea
26. Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
27. Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda
28. Human Rights Organization in Syria – MAF
29. Human Rights Watch
30. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
31. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
32. Kurdish Committee for Human Rights in Syria al-Rased
33. Kurdish Organization for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria
34. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders of Kenya
35. National Organization for Human Right in Syria
36. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)
37. Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF), Yemen
38. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Forum
39. South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA
40. West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
41. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

----------

Notes:
[1] A/HRC/18/40, §43.
[2] A/HRC/18/40, §10.
[3] Report on the status of implementation of the recommendations compiled by the Group of Experts
to the Government of the Sudan, A/HRC/18/40/Add.1, 22 August 2011.
[4] 13th periodic report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human
rights in Sudan, Preliminary report on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in
Southern Kordofan from 5 to 30 June 2011 (August 2011).
[5] Report of the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan A/HRC/18/40,
22 August 2011, §83.
[6] Cf. note 1, §57 and §58; OHCHR Press Release, 15 August 2011, “Sudan: UN human rights office
says crimes against humanity and war crimes may have been committed in Southern Kordofan”.
[7] Report of the Independent Expert, 22 August 2011, A/HRC/18/40, §68.
[8] Report of the Independent Expert, 22 August 2011, A/HRC/18/40, §69.

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