(15 April 2016) On 6 April 2016 the Special Terrorism Court in Khartoum (Court 1), headed by Judge Abdien Hamad Ali, sentenced twenty-two South Sudanese nationals who were formerly members of the Darfuri rebel Justice and Equality Movement – Bakhiet Abdulkariem Dabajo wing (JEM – Dabajo) to death after convicting them of a number of offences, including crimes against the state that carry the death penalty. The group was convicted after they admitted to engaging in armed combat with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) on various dates between 2004 and 2013. Three other South Sudanese nationals were sentenced to life imprisonment after they admitted to serving as cooks and mechanics for the JEM – Dabajo wing.
Legal representatives have argued that the group is protected by an amnesty for members of the JEM-Dabajo wing issued by Presidential Decree on 6 April 2013, the same date that the rebel group signed the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DPDD). An appeal was submitted to the Terrorism Appeal Court on 12 April 2016 citing the 2013 Presidential amnesty as well as attempts made by the Embassy of South Sudan in Khartoum to transfer the group of 25 to South Sudan following a request for them to do so by Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in October 2014.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and calls on the Government of Sudan to impose an immediate moratorium on executions, commute all death sentences and reduce the number of crimes punishable by death with a view to total abolition of the death penalty. The death penalty in Sudan is implemented by hanging, including for a number of acts that don’t meet the threshold of “most serious crime”, and death penalty cases frequently raise fair trial concerns.
Convictions before Sudan’s Special Terrorism Courts, which have a mandate to hand down and confirm death sentences, raise serious concerns about the right to a fair trial and the admissibility of evidence obtained through ill-treatment or torture. Set up under the 2001 Terrorism Act, the Special Terrorism Courts afford a very limited right to appeal, and their rules of procedure restrict the right of defence lawyers to meet accused persons, permit trials in absentia, and empower courts to convict on the basis of confessions without investigating the circumstances under which confessions were made.
ACJPS is further concerned that the prosecution in the JEM-Dabajo case may be politically motivated in light of a renewed deterioration in the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan and on-going accusations between the two states regarding support to each other’s rebel groups. The death sentences came immediately after Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir ordered the closure of Sudan’s border with South Sudan at the end of March 2016, just three months after it had been ordered opened. Official rhetoric from Khartoum has also become increasingly hostile towards individuals with South Sudanese nationality or ethnic origin residing in Sudan in recent months. It was reported in March that the Government of Sudan would prosecute South Sudanese nationals residing in Sudan without identity cards or entry visas. There were also media reports in March that the residents of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps on the outskirts of Khartoum had been threatened with eviction by local authorities.
The group of 25 members of JEM-Dabajo had reportedly been identified as South Sudanese nationals during a Demobilisation, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) programme for JEM-Dabajo fighters which took place at a SAF military base in Jadid Alsil, nearby to El Fashir, North Darfur, in 2014. The Embassy of South Sudan in Khartoum reportedly received written notification on 28 October 2014 from the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign affairs that 25 South Sudanese nationals had been identified during the DDR process. The letter included a request for the South Sudanese authorities to make arrangements for the transfer of the group to South Sudan. A delegation of South Sudanese officials, including the Deputy Ambassador, Military Attaché, and Human Rights Officer subsequently travelled to El Fashir on 22 December 2014 to arrange for the transfer to South Sudan. However, just a few days later, the SAF reportedly detained the group and transferred them to a SAF detention facility in Khartoum before their transfer to South Sudan had been arranged. They were subsequently moved to the custody of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and on 22 February 2015, the NISS submitted a complaint to the Officer of the Prosecutor for Crimes Against the State. Charges were issued two days later, on 24 February.
The trial commenced on 8 September 2015 at the Special Terrorism Court in Khartoum, and concluded on 6 April 2016, when 22 men were convicted under articles 21 (joint acts in execution of criminal conspiracy), 50 (undermining the constitutional system), 51 (waging war against the state), 60 (wearing military dress by non-military persons) and 61 (illegal military training) of the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act, articles 5 (terrorist crimes) and 6 (criminal terrorist organisations) of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, and article 26 (licensing of arms) of the 1986 Weapons and Ammunition Act.
An appeal was filed by the group’s lawyer on 12 April 2016, setting out that the group is exempt from prosecution owing to the Presidential amnesty, and citing attempts made by the Government of South Sudan to repatriate its nationals.
The names of the 22 South Sudanese former JEM – Dabajo members sentenced to death are below.
- Abram Grange Dood Akok
- Kor Shomani Shole Dayoum
- Akon Shan Akon Goor
- Willum Dot Meyer Akon
- Lool More Mepeow Akiet
- Deng Ashoil Atyan Ashoil
- Anok Deng Anok Deng
- Sejen Arol Annie Arol
- Grange Atim Bajook Grange
- James Arol Annie Arole
- Arook Malitte Male Arook
- Joseph Malonge Ayaat Gig
- Simon Dansiewo Lado Tommy
- Abdalla Sherillo Otaba Tool
- William Wooer Deng Majak
- Santino Meyang Kiir Atim
- Pool Wool Mayong Deyang
- Deng Deng Deng Apop
- James Deng Majok Maraj
- Majok Grange Elyai Noange
- Peter Grange Lange Yaai
- Mekyang Grange Ashwile Metange
Three other men were sentenced to life imprisonment after having testified that they had not engaged in armed combat, but had provided support to JEM – Dabajo by working as cooks and mechanics.
- James Deng Majok Yang
- Simon Mattot Gals
- Male Akon Male Akon
Both Sudan and South Sudan have a long history of accusing each other of supporting their respective rebels. Most recently, Sudan reportedly accused South Sudan on 17 March 2016 of supporting rebels in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. In March 2016 Sudan closed the border between Sudan and South Sudan. The border had previously been closed in 2011, one month before South Sudan’s secession, before being re-opened again on 27 January 2016 by President Omar al Bashir. The border had originally been closed amidst accusations by Khartoum that South Sudan had been supporting members of the rebel Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement – North at the outbreak of the rebellion in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
Mossaad Mohamed Ali, Executive Director, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), email@example.com, + 46 764 419 336 (English and Arabic)
Katherine Perks, Programme Director, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), firstname.lastname@example.org, +256 775072136 (English)