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Statement of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan

The Independent Expert of the Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, Mr. Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, issued the following statement following the conclusion of his first visit to the country from 23 January to 11 February 2010

As I conclude my visit to the Sudan as the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in the Sudan, I would like to thank the Government of Sudan for the assistance and support they have provided me during my stay and the assurances of full cooperation. I would also like to express my appreciation to UNMIS and UNAMID, particularly the human rights components for facilitating my mission.

During my stay in Sudan, I visited Khartoum, Southern Sudan, Darfur and Abyei in the Transitional Area.

In Khartoum, I met with senior government officials including, the Federal Minister of Health, a senior presidential advisor, the Undersecretaries for the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs, senior officials of the intelligence and security agencies, senior police and prison authorities, the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly, the chairpersons of the Election Commission, the Press Council and the Commission for the Rights of Non-Muslims in Khartoum, political parties representatives, civil society organizations and victims of human rights violations.  I also visited Kober prison and participated in a meeting of the UN/Government Human Rights Forum jointly organized by the Advisory Council on Human Rights and the Human Rights Section of UNMIS.

In South Sudan and Abyei, I held meetings with senior officials of the Government of Southern Sudan, including the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, State Governors, top military, police and prison authorities, political parties’ representatives and civil society.  In addition, I traveled to the three Darfur states where I met with the Walis and local authorities and interacted with prosecutors, lawyers and civil society. In North Darfur, I visited Shalla prison, Abou Shok IDP camp and attended a meeting of the Darfur Human Rights Forum. I visited the Nyala Central prison in South Darfur and presided over the opening of a new legal aid desk for the prisoners and pre-trial detainees. In West Darfur, I interacted with IDPs in Hassa Hisa camp in Zalingei, attended a meeting of the sub-group of the Darfur Human Rights Forum and visited a model village for returnees in Saraf Jidad.

This is my first visit to Sudan since my appointment as Independent Expert by the Council on 1 November 2009. During my visit, I have witnessed a number of positive developments including the establishment of Human Rights Forums. As mentioned earlier, I had the privilege to participate in meetings of these forums and was encouraged by the spirit of cooperation and the willingness to work in partnership on human rights issues.

I am encouraged by the considerable progress made in institutional and legislative reform in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Interim National Constitution. I welcome the passage of new laws such as the Child Act, the Press and Printed Materials Act, the Elections Commission Act, the National Human Rights Commission Act, the Southern Sudan Human Rights Commission Act, the Southern Sudan Referendum Act, the Popular Consultation for Blue Nile and South Kordofan States Act and the Abyei Referendum Act. In the case of Southern Sudan, it is encouraging to note that Human Rights Commissioners have been appointed and the Commission is fully functional.

I have also noted that the Government has taken some steps to implement the recommendations of the Group of Experts on Darfur. Among these is the deployment of more police personnel in Darfur including women police.  Furthermore, in collaboration with the UN and other international partners, the police, prosecutors, prison staff and other law enforcement agencies have received training and awareness raising on human rights and international humanitarian law through the assistance of a technical cooperation project funded by the Government of Switzerland.  I urge the Government to continue and intensify efforts to implement the remaining recommendations in accordance with the specified indicators.

In relation to children, I note that the Government has established specialized prosecutors for children and child and family units as part of law enforcement agencies in the three Darfur states.  

Notwithstanding these encouraging achievements, I note the lack of progress in other areas of human rights concern. 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. I encourage Government to put in place a transparent process to nominate and select Commissioners and to ensure that the Commission becomes operational. The Human Rights Commission is not only a bench mark of the CPA but also a key national institution for the promotion of human rights especially in countries emerging from conflict. 

I am also concerned about the continued existence of certain provisions in the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, and the Public Order Act which infringe fundamental rights.   During my visits in Northern Sudan including in Darfur, several cases of alleged violations of human rights including arbitrary arrests and detentions, were brought to my attention. Most of these reports named the National Intelligence and Security Services as the main entity responsible.  I encourage the Government to amend these laws and bring them in conformity with the CPA and the INC.

Sudan goes to the polls in April this year.  During my visit, members of political parties complained about harassments, intimidations, and restrictions in connection with electoral and political activities. With the date of election fast approaching it is essential that the Government provides a conducive environment for free and fair elections with firm guarantees of the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in accordance with the CPA and the Constitution.

In Darfur, in spite of the improvement in the security situation, I remain concerned about the serious capacity and resource gaps that continue to affect 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.

In relation to Darfur crimes, I note with concern that to date very few perpetrators have been brought to trial for crimes committed during the conflict.  During my visit, I met with the Prosecutor General appointed by the Government to investigate crimes committed in Darfur since 2003 and inquired about the status of his investigation and prosecution. He informed me that investigations are continuing and that no one has been charged and tried as yet.

Again in Darfur, I remain troubled by the continuing application of the Emergency and Public Safety Protection Act which grants the state Walis wide discretionary powers of arrest and detention without any effective judicial remedy. During my visit to North Darfur, I met a group of detainees who informed me that they have been in detention since 2 August last year without being charged with an offence or brought before a court of law to allow them the opportunity to defend themselves. 

In South Sudan, I am concerned about the increasing incidence of tribal violence 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 appears to weak capacity to ensure respect for the rule of law and the protection of rights. Serious deficiencies exist in the justice sector. Prison facilities are inadequate, courts are non-existent in some areas, and in areas where they exist, they are ill –equipped and under resourced. The police force remains poorly trained and ill equipped. This weak capacity has led to the SPLA assuming police powers in some areas. During my visit, I received allegations of abuses committed by the SPLA occasioned by their usurpation of police powers. I note however that significant efforts are being made by the Government in collaboration with international partners to address these problems.

During my visits in the South, 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. Years of prolonged conflict have created a whole generation of youth with little or no education. Food and water shortages continue to affect whole communities on a daily basis and many people have no access to basic health and sanitation facilities. I urge the Government of Southern Sudan in cooperation with the international partners to continue to address these concerns as a matter of urgency.    

In Abyei, in spite of the establishment of an Abyei administration in accordance with the Abyei road map, no formal judicial structures have been put in place to deliver justice. Compounding the problem is the fact that the void created by the absence of the judiciary has been filled by traditional courts which handle criminal cases that ought to have been the subject of the jurisdiction of the formal courts.

As I conclude my first visit to Sudan, I am mindful of my mandate which requires me to engage with the Government of Sudan and the various human rights mechanisms in order to effectively and sustainably realize the objective of promotion and protection of human rights in Sudan. In this regard, I look forward to continuing an open, constructive and continuous dialogue with the Government and all relevant parties.