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Detentions, civil society closures, media restrictions on eve of Sudan elections

You can view the Arabic version of this press release here.

Sudan lacks conducive environment for the conduct of free and fair elections  

(12 April 2015) Sudan’s national general elections will begin on 13 April 2015. For the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), “there is no prospect of open, transparent free or fair elections in Sudan whilst independent civil society groups, human rights defenders, political activists and journalists are at such a high risk of arbitrary detention for voicing dissenting views and whilst conflict rages in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states”.

The electoral process has been rejected by nearly all mainstream political opposition parties on the basis that it is not genuine, inclusive or aimed at reaching a national consensus. Instead, in the run-up to elections, brutal repression against dissenting voices has considerably increased: political opponents, journalists, and human rights defenders are being targeted by the regime more than ever. In the conflict areas of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, mass atrocities continue to be perpetrated against civilians.  Additionally, the electoral process has been marred by a number of procedural irregularities and will take place amidst a fragile political environment.

In the months leading up to the elections, ACJPS and FIDH have documented a series of violations, apparently aimed at restricting the ability of independent groups and activists to voice dissenting political views from those of the ruling party.  Activists and political opposition party members affiliated with Irhal (Go!), a campaign established by the opposition coalition, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), calling on supporters to boycott the elections, have been subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment by security forces.

On 7 February, Communist Party member Yousef Babiker was detained by the National Intelligence and Security Forces (NISS) in Kassala, eastern Sudan. He was interrogated about a message he distributed to friends via WhatsApp in support of the election boycott and was forced to give the names of friends who had received his message. He was held in solitary confinement on the first night and released without charge after three days on 10 February. On 12 February, seven political opposition party members were arrested by the NISS in Sennar state and interrogated about their links to the Irhal Campaign. They included two members of the Umma Party, three members of the Sudanese Communist Party and two members of the Democratic Front student alliance.  Later the same week at 1am on 15 February three youth activists were arrested by the NISS in Al Damazin, Blue Nile state, and interrogated about their relationship to the Irhal campaign. They were released the following day. On 2 Mar police forces, armed with batons and firing tear gas, raided a political forum for the launch of the Irhal campaign at the Umma Party headquarters in Dongola town. Three people sustained injuries. On 19 March militias known as the “popular security” escorting the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) candidate in Port Sudan, Mahmoud Saleh, to a campaign speech, punched bystanders and beat them with water pipes after they refused to join the campaign. Public anger resulting from the incident forced Mr. Saleh to cancel his campaign. On 27 March eight members of the Sudanese Communist Party were arrested by the NISS shortly after they left the party headquarters in Khartoum Bahri. The group was held in a windowless room measuring 3 x 3 metres. Six were released the same day but two, Yahya Mudalal and Muhasin Abdulnabi Abdul Rahim were held overnight, interrogated on the Irhal campaign, denied sleep and beaten with water pipes. On 28 March the NISS of Atbara ordered the removal of graffiti launching the Irhal campaign on the walls of the Sudanese Communist Party’s headquarters in Atbara, River Nile state. A senior member of the Communist Party was summoned to the NISS’ offices and released on bail after being charged under articles 66 (publication of false news) and 69 (disturbance of the public peace) of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. Our organisations have also documented the arbitrary arrests and harassment of other individuals suspected of opposing the elections in Al Gadarif, Kosti and Port Sudan.

Outside of the Irhal campaign, space for independent civil society is shrinking dramatically.

Since early 2015, ACJPS has documented the confiscation of at least 33 entire print runs of 15 newspapers.  In the lead up to the elections, at least three independent civil society groups have had their registration permits withdrawn, including the Mahmoud Mohammed Taha Cultural Center, the National Civic Forum, and the Sudanese Writers’ Union. In December, the premises of the Sudanese Human Rights Monitors’ were raided. Its senior management have also been harassed and interrogated. Most recently, on 26 March officers from the NISS, armed with guns, raided the organisation TRACKS for Training and Human Development whilst it was hosting a workshop on social responsibility. Participants were accused of discussing the boycott of the elections.  Property was seized, including four lap top computers and the central computer server. Two staff members were summoned on two days, 30 and 31 March, and interrogated about the activities of TRACKS. On 5 April the NISS summoned an independent filmmaker who had filmed the workshop and whose laptop had been confiscated. He was ordered to return the following day with his laptop charger. When he returned on 6 April he was ordered to provide the password to his laptop.  

Several legal and procedural standards in place have undermined the possibility of a free campaigning environment. The controversial 2008 national census is still in place, and the elections regulatory body, the National Elections Commission, is appointed by the ruling party. Amendments made to the National Elections Act (2008) in 2014 have been criticised as paving the way for voting irregularities. A number of controversial amendments to the Interim National Constitution of 2005 were passed in January 2015 without any public consultation and in breach of the procedure set out in that Constitution. These amendments have elevated the status of the NISS to that of regular forces and provided them a constitutional mandate for the creation of their own courts.

In light of the current political and security environment, it is clear that the obligations contained in the regional and international instruments ratified by Sudan – including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which provide for the protection of human rights, the establishment of democracy and the rule of law, and the guarantee of citizen’s rights to participate freely in elections – will be near impossible to meet.

Our organisations urge the Government of Sudan to adhere to the principles it committed to in these instruments and other international human rights and humanitarian law obligations. Our organisations further call for strengthened regional and international pressure on Sudan to ensure that civilians are effectively protected from human rights abuses and international crimes throughout the country. The African Union (AU), Arab League and International-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which have all decided to deploy electoral observers to Sudan, must speak out strongly to condemn the on-going human rights and humanitarian law violations perpetrated in the country. The three institutions must further document and publicly condemn any elections – related violations; in particular, the AU, which has an important role to play as mediator between all stakeholders in resolving Sudan’s conflicts.

Background

The European Union (EU) and the Troika of the UK, US and Norway have issued statements that an environment conducive to participatory and credible elections does not exist. Only the AU, Arab League, and IGAD will observe the elections. The pre-assessment mission sent by the AU to Sudan in March also reportedly found that the environment was not conducive for credible elections to take place.

The elections have been boycotted by all mainstream political opposition parties, except for the Democratic Unionist Party. In February the Sudan Call forces set out their position on a preparatory meeting for the Government of Sudan’s National Dialogue process to be organized by the AU African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). The preparatory meeting was indefinitely suspended in early April by the AU after the Government of Sudan refused to send a delegation to Addis.

On 9 April prominent human rights defender Amin Mekki Medani, chairperson of the NCF Farouq Abu Eissa, and political activist Farah Ibrahim Alagar were released after being held a little over four months, including 15 days incommunicado. They were released under article 58 of the 1991 Criminal Procedures Act allowing the Ministry of Justice discretionary powers to drop cases. The men had been detained since 6 and 7 December after attending the Sudan Call negotiations in Addis Ababa between the NCF and rebel coalition, the Sudanese Revolutionary Forces (SRF) in Addis Ababa. The Sudan Call is a political declaration calling for an end to the conflicts in Sudan and the establishment of a democratic state. Dr. Medani and Mr. Abu Eissa were facing capital charges.

Violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Sudan’s conflict regions of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile have continued to escalate in 2015. Civilians in these areas will not be able to participate in the electoral process in any meaningful or inclusive way. The hibernation of the International Criminal Court’s Darfur case has only emboldened Bashir and three other co-indictees from the government of Sudan. In December 2014, the Government of Sudan announced the continuation of the “Decisive Summer Campaign”. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the Sudanese authorities have continued to conduct aerial bombings and ground force attacks on civilian areas. This has included the deliberate targeting of hospitals, destruction of houses, other civilian property and infrastructure. In these regions, thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes and lack access to adequate water, food, vaccines, and medicine. Over 1,500 bombs and shells were reportedly dropped on South Kordofan through December 2014 and January 2015.

In Darfur, there are estimates of over 100,000 newly displaced in 2015 so far. On 30 March 2015 the Darfur Bar Association documented the killing of Idriss Ahmed, (m), a community leader in Autash IDP camp in South Darfur, by an unknown group of men reportedly wearing government uniforms. It was reported that Mr. Ahmed had previously received death threats for advocating for an election boycott amongst IDPs.  

Contact:

Arthur Manet for FIDH (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (in Paris) – Email : presse@fidh.org.

Katherine Perks for ACJPS (English) – Tel: +256 775072136 (in Kampala) – Email: info@acjps.org.

Mohamed Badawi for ACJPS (Arabic) – Tel: +256 783 693 689 (in Kampaal) – Email: info@acjps.org.

This post is also available in: Arabic

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