Press Statement of the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan, Mr. Aristide Nononsi
Khartoum, 28 April 2016
As I conclude my second visit as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, I would like to first thank all of you for attending this press briefing. I would also like to express my appreciation to the Government of Sudan for its invitation and cooperation with the mandate I represent, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Khartoum, and UNAMID for their kind support to facilitate my visit from 14 to 28 April 2015.
During my visit to Khartoum, I met with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, the State Minister of Justice, the State Minister of Defence, the State Minister of Finance, the Chief Justice and representatives of the judiciary, the Advisory Council for Human Rights, the National Commission for Human Rights, Parliamentarians, the Commissioner-General of the Humanitarian Aid Commission, the National Commission for Human Rights, various specialized units of different ministries, the Director in charge of training and capacity building of the National Intelligence and Security Service, the Khartoum Bar Association, members of political parties, academia, civil society, and the diplomatic community. I also had the opportunity to travel to Southern Kordofan where I met with the regional authorities. In addition, I travelled to two Darfur States, including visits to Zam Zam IDP camp and to the model village of Thabit in North Darfur, as well as to Khor Omer camp in East Darfur. I also met with the Walis of North and East Darfur States, respective state officials, the Head of the Darfur Regional Authority, UN country team, UNAMID and civil society actors.
I note some positive developments, and welcome the signing by the Government of Sudan of an Action Plan with the United Nations to prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Sudan Government security forces. I also commend the Government’s commitment to appoint a High-level focal point to coordinate the implementation of this Action Plan with the United Nations and to monitor its implementation. I also note some efforts in the field of rule of law, including the appointment and deployment of police officers, prosecutors and judges to some remote areas, in particular in Darfur. In this regard, I recommend that the newly established police stations and courts be provided with adequate resources in order to carry out their duties in an efficient manner. I also visited the model village in Thabit, a project funded by the Qatar Government and aimed at providing basic services, including health, education and drinking water to the local population.
Despite these positive developments, I remain concerned about a number of human rights issues in the country. I continue to hear about cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as allegations of ill-treatment and travel ban on human rights defenders and political activists by security forces, including the National Intelligence Security Service. In this regard, I remain deeply concerned about the National Security Service Act which provides powers of arrest and detention to NISS, and procedural immunity for acts that should be subjected to criminal liability.
I welcome the decision of Sudanese authorities to return the passports of civil society activists who were prevented from attending the pre-briefing session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. I would like to emphasize the important role played by Human Rights Defenders, and stress the need for the Government to allow them to carry out their activities in an open, safe and secure environment. Nonetheless, I remain concerned about specific cases of arbitrary arrest and detention without charges of four pastors in Khartoum since mid-December 2015 as well as those of students from the University of Khartoum since 13 April 2016. I have raised these concerns with the relevant authorities, and I was informed that the first case was transferred to judicial authorities who have charged the four pastors with criminal offenses. I was also informed that the case of the students will be shortly handed over to the relevant judicial authorities for prosecutions. I call on Sudanese authorities to ensure that the right to a fair trial and due process is guaranteed to these individuals.
I would also like to express concern about ongoing censorship of newspapers, and increased restrictions on journalists from freely expressing their opinion. In view of the ongoing political dialogue, it is imperative that restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association be removed in order to create a conducive environment for a free and inclusive national dialogue. In this context, the suspension by NISS of the Al-Tayar newspaper since mid-December 2015 is of concern. I have raised this case with the authorities, and I strongly recommend that the appeal of Al-Tayar newspaper against NISS’ decision to suspend its operations is guaranteed an independent judicial review along with provision of adequate compensation.
As a follow up to my last visit and report, I also raised the case of victims and families of victims of the oil-subsidy demonstrations of September 2013 with the authorities. While I welcome the ongoing compensation process of victims and families of victims by the Government, I would encourage the authorities to consider additional action, including impartial investigation and prosecution of those responsible for these incidents. Impunity for human rights violations would send the wrong message to victims, perpetrators, and the wider public, and undermine the rule of law.
In Darfur, the security situation remains fluid and unpredictable. This has had a direct impact on the human rights and humanitarian situation. I am concerned by the conflict in Jebel Marra which has resulted on new displacements especially in Sortoni, Tawilla, and Kabkabiya. I am also concerned by the detrimental effects of the conflict on civilians in light of allegations of human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate killings, destruction and burning of villages, abductions and sexual violence against women. I call on the authorities of Sudan, who bear the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights in Darfur, and all other parties to the conflict, to respect the rights of the civilian population. I also call on the Government to allow humanitarian agencies and UNAMID unfettered access for delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in need.
I commend efforts being made by UNAMID, the African Union, the Government of Qatar and other partners to promote political dialogue between the Government of Sudan and armed opposition movements under the framework of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD). I welcome the signing by the Government in Addis Ababa in March 2016 of the road map aimed at ending the conflicts in Darfur and the Two Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. I urge the armed movements to put the people of Sudan’s interest first, and to sign the road map of Addis Ababa in order to bring peace and stability in the country.
During my visit to Zam Zam IDP camp in North Darfur, people expressed concern over the shortages of food and limitation of opportunities to acquire skills to help improve life chances, including income generating activities for women. In particular, the security situation outside the camp remains a matter of concern. The IDPs live in a state of insecurity due to the presence of various armed elements and criminality that occur within the region. In recent weeks, 9 incidents of rape of women from the camp were reported. According to information received, these incidents happened when the women went outside the camp to engage in livelihood activities. I call upon the Government and UNAMID to fulfil their obligation in creating a safe and secure environment for these displaced communities and ensure that once created these secure environments are kept as such.
The humanitarian and human rights situation in East Darfur remains a matter of concern with killings, and displacement of civilians caused by inter-tribal clashes. The size and scale of inter-tribal clashes over cattle rustling and control of natural resources in East Darfur has been unprecedented with the use of sophisticated firearms by combatants. I am of the view that a sustainable solution to this problem will involve proactive remedial measures to address impunity in the region and a well-designed and peaceful civilian disarmament campaign. I call on the Government to take pertinent measures to strengthen accountability for human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law in East Darfur State and other parts of Darfur.
I welcome the decision by Sudanese authorities to receive South Sudanese refugees in the country. Nonetheless, I remain concerned about the precarious living conditions faced by these people. During my visit to Khor Omer camp in El-Daein, I noted the lack of appropriate shelters for the refugees, and was briefed on other challenges, including shortage of water, food and medicine. I call on the Government of Sudan and the international community to increase their humanitarian assistance to these refugees.
I have also noted the need for technical assistance expressed by the local authorities in South Kordofan and Al- Jazeera State, and I would encourage the Government and the international community to provide adequate means and resources to these institutions in order to strengthen their capacity in the field of human rights.
With respect to my mandate to assess the human rights situation and make recommendations for technical assistance and capacity building to the Government and civil society organizations, there is, to a large extent, consensus amongst all relevant stakeholders of the need for capacity building in the form of relevant human rights training for members of the judiciary, the National Human Rights Institution, the police and security forces and non-governmental human rights organisations, amongst others.
I am aware of the fact that some funding to key Government bodies have been released by some donor States, and that technical assistance and capacity building activities provided by various UN agencies and UNAMID will continue. I strongly believe that a spirit of cooperation is essential between the Government, donor States, and the UN to improve the human rights situation in the country. I therefore encourage the Government to facilitate the unrestricted operation and mobility of UNAMID and UN agencies in Sudan, including timely provision of visas to their staff and release of their shipments from the port. I believe that the presence and effective operation of these agencies would stand to make a meaningful difference in Sudan.
I conclude this visit to the Sudan with a sense of hope for the future inspite of the many human rights challenges that the Government and its people continue to face. I strongly urge the Government to build on its positive efforts, and for these efforts to be directed towards concrete change on the ground, including through implementation of a number of recommendations in my previous report and those of my predecessors. The UN system and donor States stand ready to provide support to improve the human rights situation in the country.