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Statement of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan

The independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mr. Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, issued the following statement following the conclusion of his second visit to the country from 6 to 13 March 2011

This is my second visit to the Sudan since my appointment as independent expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan in November 2009. I would like to thank the Government of the Sudan for inviting me and for the assistance and support they have extended to me. I am also grateful to UNAMID and UNMIS for facilitating my visit.

I visited Khartoum, Darfur, Juba in Southern Sudan and Abyei in the Transitional Area. I met a wide variety of interlocutors including the Minister of Justice, the Undersecretary for the Ministry of Justice and members of the Advisory Council on Human Rights. I also met with the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Sudan, the chairperson and members of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, civil society organizations in the Khartoum area and members of the diplomatic corps. In Juba, I held meetings with the Speaker of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly, the chairperson and members of the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission, the Chief of Staff of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), civil society organizations, human rights defenders and the UN Country Team. I also visited Abyei and met with leaders of the Dinka and Misseriya communities, the Abyei chief and deputy chief administrators and the Speaker of the Abyei legislature and his deputy. In Darfur, I met with the deputy Wali and high ranking officials of the police, the army, the judiciary and the National Security Service (NSS).

There have been some major developments in the Sudan since my last visit, the most prominent being the successful conduct of the historic Southern Sudan referendum.  I would like to take this opportunity to commend both the Government of the Sudan and Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) for their tremendous efforts in ensuring a peaceful and credible referendum process. The acceptance of the results by the Government of the Sudan is to be applauded. In spite of the few incidents of violence and deaths reported in the border regions during the voting period, the overall process was acknowledged by the international community as free and credible and a true reflection of the will of the people of Southern Sudan. I would also like to congratulate the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission and its chairperson who I met, for the efforts exerted in guaranteeing the success of the referendum.

With the referendum out of the way, the key issues confronting the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) will be the implementation of the remaining aspects of the 2005 agreement, in particular the Abyei referendum, border demarcation, citizenship, wealth and assets sharing, and meaningful popular consultations in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. In this context, I remain concerned about the continuing deterioration of the situation in the Abyei region. Tension in the region has been high due to the delayed referendum for Abyei and restrictions on the movement of Southerners who returned to cast their ballots in the Southern Sudan referendum.

Since the referendum, there have been five major incidents of violent clashes in Abyei between the local police and armed Misseriya tribesmen which have resulted in the death of civilians and massive displacements. A UN mediated agreement to disarm the feuding parties, allow returnees free movement including securing road access to Abyei as well as grant the nomadic Misseriya tribes grazing rights through Abyei, has failed to hold. Abyei still remains a flashpoint which could potentially derail the entire peace process. I urge the CPA parties to take immediate action to calm the tensions in the region and urgently reach an agreement on all outstanding issues. The authorities should also investigate all reports of killings and attacks on civilians and bring those responsible to justice.

In Southern Sudan, I am concerned about the increasing loss of lives, and displacements of civilians caused by criminality, cattle rustling, inter-communal violence, and fighting between the SPLA and militia groups. The lack of accountability and impunity associated with these incidents will continue to adversely impact on the peace, stability and security of the region. I have been informed that since the end of the referendum, there have been at least 16 incidents of violence in Southern Sudan, the latest being the fighting between the SPLA and forces loyal to the former SPLA commander, General George Athor in the state of Jonglei in which more than 200 people including women and children were reportedly killed, and up to 20,000 reportedly displaced. The Government of Southern Sudan has a primary responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians even as it embarks on measures to address the insecurity in the region. I call upon the GoSS and all groups involved in the fighting to respect the right of civilians, to refrain from actions that could violate these rights and to provide safe corridors for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  

In Northern Sudan, fundamental rights and freedoms including the freedoms of expression, assembly and association continue to be violated by law enforcement authorities, in particular the National Security Service (NSS). The Government continues to hold a number of opposition political leaders, students and civil society actors in detention without charging them with an offence or affording them the right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a court of law. I regret that my request to meet with the Director General of the NSS to discuss these concerns was not granted. Once again, I wish to draw attention to the guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrests and detention enshrined in Sudan’s national constitution and in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights which Sudan has ratified. In my last report to the Human Rights Council, I highlighted the need to further reform the national security apparatus and the current legal framework under which the NSS operates so that it fully encompasses human rights principles and the respect for the rule of law.  I call upon the Government to release all those detained, including political detainees or charge them with a recognizable offence and prosecute them in accordance with the law.  

Once again, I traveled to Darfur where the human rights situation remains of serious concern particularly as it affects civilians and internally displaced persons. Fighting between Government forces and the armed movements has intensified since December last year and the warring factions have failed to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. The continuing impact of these hostilities on civilians is totally unacceptable. I visited the Zamzam IDP camp near El Fasher where I saw first hand the plight of some of the people displaced by the fighting. Their situation is deplorable, to say the least. I am concerned that without immediate humanitarian assistance the situation of these people, many of whom have been displaced for a second or third time, could reach catastrophic levels. In the Shangil Tobaya area of North Darfur, the fighting has resulted in a state of insecurity in the IDP camps with incidents of shootings and intimidation, access restrictions and inter-ethnic violence. The situation has further been compounded by the increasing presence of weapons and armed elements in the camps. I met with a group of community leaders who complained of lack of protection and were critical of the assistance provided by the UN. UNAMID reported that it has maintained a robust presence and increased patrolling in the area to create a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Again on Darfur, I discussed the issue of impunity and accountability for Darfur crimes with the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice, who is also the Special Prosecutor for Darfur. He revealed that his office is currently undertaking investigations and that he intends to commence prosecutions into several incidents which occurred in Darfur including the attack on innocent civilians in Tabra village in North Darfur, the abduction of peacekeepers in the Zalingei area and a bank robbery incident in South Darfur. I am encouraged by the Government’s renewed efforts to address these issues. Nevertheless, it should be recalled that crimes committed in Darfur date back to the beginning of the conflict eight years ago. I am afraid that violations of human rights will continue to occur in Darfur if the issues of justice and accountability are not effectively addressed. The Tabra incident, like many alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law which have occurred in Darfur, should be promptly and transparently investigated. Again I urge the Government to make the findings of these investigations public and bring the perpetrators to justice to combat impunity and promote the rule of law.   

Finally, I wish to say a few words with regard to national mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights. It is unfortunate that during my visit I was unable to engage with the Human Rights Forums in the Sudan in furtherance of my mandate and as directed by the Human Rights Council. It is my understanding that the forums have not met in the past eight months. You will recall that these forums, co chaired by the Government’s Advisory Council on Human Rights, UNMIS and UNAMID, with the diplomatic community and non-governmental organizations participating as observers, have provided a platform for dialogue and mutual information exchange on human rights concerns. In accordance with my mandate, I attended several meetings of these forums during my last mission to the Sudan and took the opportunity to urge the international community to provide more support to the forums. I am informed that the Government of the Sudan is now evaluating these forums as a means of constructive dialogue and cooperation with the UN and other stakeholders. I strongly urge the Government to involve all the stakeholders in any evaluation of the effectiveness or otherwise of these forums.

In conclusion, I would like to underline the enormous challenges that still lie ahead to ensure a successful implementation of the CPA and the overall democratic transformation of the Sudan. Challenges still remain in terms of democratic deepening and creating an enabling environment for peace, security and the respect for human rights and the rule of law. The remaining four months in the interim period of the CPA will be extremely critical. I urge the CPA partners and all stakeholders to consolidate the gains made over the past five years by finding a mutually beneficial framework to resolve the remaining outstanding CPA issues.

While the focus of the world is on Southern Sudan, we must not forget Darfur where civilians continue to bear the brunt of the fighting between the armed groups and Government forces. In this regard, I call upon the international community to assist in finding a comprehensive solution to the conflict through an inclusive peace process which addresses the root causes of the conflict including the economic marginalization of the region.

The road ahead will be full of challenges but I am hopeful and confident that these challenges will be overcome by the Sudanese people.  

Thank you.