Khartoum, 24th June 2014
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you very much for attending this press briefing.
As I conclude my fifth mission to the Sudan from 15 to 24 June 2014, I would like to thank the Government of the Sudan for its continued cooperation with my mandate and for the support extended to facilitate my visit. I also thank the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator, the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), UN agencies in the Sudan, members of the diplomatic community, civil society organisations, leaders of opposition political parties and all other stakeholders for their engagement and support during my visit. On this occasion, I held meetings with different interlocutors here in Khartoum, in El-Fasher, North Darfur State, and in Ed-Damazine, Blue Nile State.
As you are aware, my mandate as the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan requires me to engage with the Government of the Sudan and relevant stakeholders, and verify the human rights situation in the country with the aim of determining the technical assistance needs that will further enable Sudan to fulfil its human rights obligations. This visit is a follow up on my visit of February, and it is conducted in preparation of the submission of my next report to the Human Rights Council in September. This press statement will therefore be brief to avoid pre-empting the final report.
In my pre-mission media advisory issued before this visit, I observed that since my visit in February, there have been some notable human rights issues in the country that have attracted considerable international concerns, and that I will be using the opportunity of this visit to engage with the Government of the Sudan and other stakeholders on those issues. Actually, those same issues have been the main matters raised by almost all the interlocutors I have engaged with in the past 10 days. They are: the governments report on the September 2013 fuel subsidy demonstrations; arrest and detention of political opponents and other activists in the last four months; the case of Meriem Ibrahim (aka Abrar Alhadi); restrictions on press freedom and media censorship in the last four months; escalation of conflicts and displacement of civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states in the last four months; and technical assistance and capacity building. My engagements with the different interlocutors on these issues will form the basis of my press statement for this visit. Some of the issues required me to raise difficult questions in my discussions with different Government representatives; I must therefore acknowledge the Government’s cooperation in engaging with me frankly on the issues.
1. The Government’s Report on the September 2013 Fuel Subsidy Demonstrations
In my press statement at the end of my visit in February, I expressed concern about the delay in the release of the Government’s report on the September 2013 fuel subsidy demonstrations. I also highlighted the international community’s expectation of a thorough investigation of the human rights violations that occurred during the demonstrations, and urged the Government to accelerate the release of its report on the incident. I am pleased to confirm that the Government has now presented me with a report on the September demonstrations. Also, the Government has presented me with a report listing the actions it has taken on the recommendations I made to the Government in my last report submitted to the Human Rights Council in September 2013. I thank the Government of the Sudan for responding to my call by submitting both reports. I will study these reports carefully and comment on them fully in my next report to the Human Rights Council in September.2
. Arrest and Detention of Political Opponents and other Activists in the last 4 Months
During my visit in February, I had expressed optimism in the Government’s proposition of a national dialogue as a promising peaceful means of addressing the political and human rights problems faced by the country. I noted, in February, that most of the leaders of the opposition political parties I met were also in support of the national dialogue but emphasised the need for an open and inclusive process in that regard. Regretfully, Mr. Sadiq Al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party, was arrested by security agents of the Government in May 2014, and Mr. Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, leader of the Sudanese Congress Party, was arrested in June 2014 for making certain public political statements. On 15 June, the first day of my visit, I raised concerns about these arrests in my engagements with the Government, noting the detrimental effect of the arrests of these two political leaders on the process of the national dialogue. I had assurances from the Government that Mr. Sadiq Al-Mahdi would be released, and I am pleased that he was indeed released later that day. While I join other voices in the international community in acknowledging the Government’s good gesture in releasing Mr Sadiq Al-Mahdi, I also urge the Government to order the release of Mr. Ibrahim Al-Sheikh, and all other political detainees to further demonstrate its good faith and genuine commitment to the national dialogue it has proposed.
I have also discussed the detention of three youth activists, namely Muhammad Salah, Taj Elsir Jaafar and Muammer Musa Muhamed with the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Based on reports I have received, I am concerned about the condition of these detained youths and was disappointed by NISS’s refusal of my request to visit Muhammad Salah to enable me to verify his condition of health. I urge NISS to either bring these youth detainees to trial before a competent court of law if there is evidence of any offence against them, or release them forthwith if there is none.
Owing to the general optimism for the national dialogue, I am compelled to highlight the need for the government to ensure the guarantee of essential civil liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention to ensure an enabling environment for a meaningful national dialogue.3. The Case of Meriem Ibrahim (aka Abrar Alhadi)
The case of Meriem Ibrahim (aka Abrar Alhadi), who was convicted on allegations of apostasy under Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Code (1991) in May 2014, attracted a lot of international attention. I raised concerns about this case with the Government and was pleased to be granted permission by the Government to visit Meriem on 21 June in Omdurman female prison where she was awaiting the decision on the appeal against her conviction. I thank the Government of the Sudan for facilitating the visit. I received assurances from the Government that the judicial consideration of Meriem’s appeal against her conviction would be expedited in the interest of justice. I am pleased to note that the conviction was overturned by a Court of Appeal in Khartoum yesterday afternoon, 23 June, and I understand that Meriem has since been released from prison. This decision of the Appeal Court is commendable in the interest of justice.
Both the Sudanese National Commission for Human Rights and the Sudan Bar Association rightly noted in their respective statements issued in May that Meriem’s case raises important legal questions about the right to freedom of religion and belief in the Sudan. I commend and support the Sudanese Bar Association’s proposal to organise judicial workshops and jurisprudential forums to discuss the scope of Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Act (1991) in the light of the provisions on freedom of religion and belief under the Sudanese Constitution and Sudan’s international human rights obligations in order to address the legal conflict on this matter. I strongly encourage national and international support for this proposal of the Sudanese Bar Association.
4. Restrictions on Press Freedom and Media Censorship in the last 4 months
I noted the need for the guarantee of press freedom and an end to media censorship in the country during my last visit. From information available to me during this visit, I am concerned that the situation of press freedom and media censorship still remains very worrisome. During this visit, I received information that one newspaper, “al-Sayha”, was suspended, and discussed this issue with the Government. I have just been informed this morning that this suspension was lifted yesterday. However, pre-publication and post-publication censorship continues and journalists are prohibited from writing or commenting on certain public matters considered as “red lines” that must not be crossed. I am obliged to reiterate that the guarantee of press freedom is an essential factor for meaningfully facilitating the national dialogue proposed by the Government. I must emphasise the importance of the national dialogue as a means for addressing the political and human rights problems of the Sudan peacefully, and I urge the Government to enable a conducive environment for the national dialogue, which include factors such as press freedom and freedom of expression.
5. Escalation of Conflict and Displacements in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile States
The escalation of conflict leading to further displacement of civilians in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states from February to May 2014 has also been a matter of significant concern, contributing to a deterioration of the humanitarian and human rights situation in those areas. The activities of rebel armed movements as well as government forces, particularly the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), have led to serious human rights violations in those States, including rampaging of villages, destruction of property, as well as sexual and gender-based violence. Also, I continue to receive reports of indiscriminate aerial bombings by government forces in the conflict areas and its consequential impact on civilians; the most recent one being the report of aerial bombing of a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the village of Farandalla in South Kordofan on 16 June. Such air strikes are a clear violation of the basic principles of the law of armed conflict and must stop. I also urge the armed movements to desist from indiscriminate attacks that result in human rights violations.
I am aware of the suspension of the activities of the ICRC in providing humanitarian assistance in these areas of conflict and have discussed the need for the Government to resolve this issue rapidly to enable the ICRC to resume its humanitarian services to the affected civilian population. I also use this opportunity to urge the Government to improve humanitarian access to civilian populations in need of assistance.6. Technical Assistance and Capacity Building
In my engagement with different interlocutors, the need for technical assistance and capacity building in different areas to facilitate the promotion and protection of human rights in the country was advocated. This is within the context of my mandate and I will make recommendations in that regard in my report to the Human Rights Council. The different issues and challenges that have been identified in my two visits to the Sudan this year will form the basis of proposing relevant areas of technical assistance and capacity building necessary to improve the human rights situation in the country, as required under my mandate. I urge and encourage the Government to continue to strengthen its effort to improve the situation of human rights in the Sudan to encourage the possibility of attracting the necessary technical assistance and capacity building required as is necessary.
Once again, I thank the Government of the Sudan for its positive engagement with me on all the above issues during this visit and look forward to its continued cooperation with my mandate in seeking ways for further improving the human rights situation in the Sudan. I must also thank all the international partners, and civil society organisations that have been contributing towards the improvement of the situation of human rights in the Sudan and I hope that they will continue to do so.