GENEVA / KHARTOUM (11 February 2010) - The Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mohamed Chande Othman, expressed today his concerns about a number of fundamental human rights issues, despite positive steps by the Sudanese authorities in the country’s different regions.
“I have witnessed a number of positive developments, including the establishment of Human Rights Forums,” Mr. Chande Othman said at a press conference in Khartoum*, at the end of his first mission to Sudan since his appointment by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2009. “However, despite these encouraging achievements, I note a lack of progress in other human rights areas.”
“I am particularly concerned that eight months after the Independent National Human Rights Commission Act was enacted, the Government of National Unity has not as yet appointed the Commissioners,” the UN Independent Expert said. “I encourage the Government to put in place a transparent process to nominate and select Commissioners and to ensure that it becomes operational.”
Mr. Chande Othman noted that “the Government has taken some steps to implement the recommendations of the UN Group of Experts on Darfur, like the deployment of more police personnel in Darfur including women police, and the training of staff of law enforcement agencies on human rights awareness.”
However, he drew attention to the continued existence of certain provisions in the National Intelligence and Security Services Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, and the Public Order Act which infringe fundamental rights.
“During my visits in Northern Sudan including in Darfur,” the UN Independent Expert said, “I heard of several cases of alleged violations of human rights including arbitrary arrests and detentions; most of these reports named the National Intelligence and Security Services as the main entity responsible.”
The UN Human Rights Council envoy also met with representatives of political parties taking part in elections scheduled for April 2010, who complained about harassment, intimidation, and restrictions in connection with electoral and political activities.
“With the election date fast approaching it is essential that the Government creates a conducive environment for free and fair elections with firm guarantees of the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Constitution.”
In Darfur, in spite of the improvement in the security situation, Mr. Chande Othman expressed concerns about “the serious capacity and resource gaps that continue to affect the administration of justice. Access to justice continues to be a major challenge in light of the weak presence of law enforcement and rule of law institutions outside the main urban centers.”
The UN Independent Expert also noted, in relation to crimes committed in Darfur since 2003, that very few perpetrators have been brought to trial for crimes committed during the conflict. “The Prosecutor General appointed by the Government to investigate those crimes informed me that investigations are continuing and that no one has been charged and tried as yet,” he said.
Mr. Chande Othman pointed out the increasing incidence of tribal violence in South Sudan, and the attendant loss of lives especially among women and children who are targeted: “In spite of the strong commitment of state authorities to protect human rights there, it appears to lack the capacity to ensure respect for the rule of law and the protection of rights.”
“I was also appalled by the high levels of poverty and the lack of basic services in many areas and am concerned about the impact of this on the enjoyment of human rights,” the UN expert said. “Years of prolonged conflict have created a whole generation of youth with little or no education.”
The UN Human Rights Council envoy noted that, in Abyei (central Sudan), no formal judicial structures have been put in place to deliver justice, in spite of the establishment of an Abyei administration. “The problem is compounded by the void created by the absence of the judiciary, which has been filled by traditional courts which handle criminal cases that ought to have been the subject to jurisdiction of formal courts.”
Justice Mohamed Chande Othman was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2009. As Independent Expert, he serves in his individual capacity, independently from any government or organization. The Independent Expert, is currently a Justice in the Court of Appeal of Tanzania, and formerly worked as Prosecutor-General in East Timor. He was also a member of the High Level Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon and Chief of Prosecutions at the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
(*) Full end-of-mission statement by the Independent Expert: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9813&LangID=e