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The Human Rights Council should support systemic human rights reforms in Sudan

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, Geneva, Switzerland 

 

9 September 2020

 

Excellencies, 

Ahead of the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council, and at a critical juncture for Sudan, we, the undersigned civil society organisations, write to highlight the need for your dele­ga­tion to support the Coun­cil’s ongoing contribution to systemic human rights reforms in the country. As Su­dan’s political transition re­mains fragile, the Council has a responsibility to both support na­tio­­nal authorities and actors and maintain the monitoring and public reporting ca­pacity of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  

The work conducted by the Independent Expert (IE), who is due to present his report to the Council at its 45th session (14 September-6 October 2020), provides critical oversight over the situation in Sudan. The OHCHR, which in September 2019 signed a milestone agreement with the Sudanese Government regarding the opening of a country office, also provides valuable updates to the Council. On 16 July 2020, during the Council’s 44th ses­sion, OHCHR indicated that its country office in Khartoum was ope­rational. Ade­quate resourcing of its regional field offices will allow the High Commissioner to de­clare her Office to be fully opera­tio­nal in the country. 

The last Council resolution on Sudan, resolution 42/35, welcomed “the exem­plary, non-violent and inspi­ring popular uprising of the Sudanese people, in particular the wide participation of women and youth, calling for freedom, peace and justice, which led to a fundamental change in the political situ­ation. . .” After years of tense relationships, the 42nd session witnessed a marked improvement in the negotiation process around the Sudan resolution, including the openness of the Sudanese Perma­nent Mis­sion in Geneva to regular meetings with independent civil society organisations, active engagement with delegations, and agreement on the inclusion of progressive language on human rights defenders (HRDs), civil society, and civil and political rights in the resolution. These changes have en­hanced ownership and mutual trust. 

The last 20 months have brought about significant changes for the Sudanese people and Su­dan’s rela­tionship with independent human rights actors. Some of these changes have the potential for beco­ming systemic, if they are sustained and complemented with wide-ranging institutional, legislative, and po­licy reforms. Progress registered so far includes the adop­tion of a Constitutional Document, the for­ma­tion of a Sovereign Council, and the appointment of a Civilian-Led Transitional Government. 

Regar­ding the ongoing peace process, Juba-hosted talks led to the signing of a power-sharing agreement bet­ween the Su­da­nese Government, the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, and the Sudan Liberation Move­ment (Minni Minnawi faction), and to a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the  Sudan Revolutionary Front, an alliance of nine political and armed groups from different parts of the country, including Blue Nile, Darfur, South Kordofan, Northern, and Eastern Sudan, which was signed on 31 August 2020.

Res­pect for women’s and girls’ rights has also improved with the repeal of the Public Order Law, the imposition of a ban on fe­male ge­ni­tal mutilation (FGM), and the fact that women no longer need per­mission from a male relative to travel with their children. Legal reform, including criminal justice re­form, is underway. In July 2020, authorities scrapped the apostasy law. They have also scrapped public flogging for non-hudud offenses. Prosecutions, including that of former President Omar Al-Bashir for economic crimes, have been launched. Authorities have told media they now have contact with the In­ter­national Criminal Court (ICC), although it remains unclear how they will cooperate. Far more legal reform is needed, including the repeal or amendments of key problematic provisions in the Criminal Act 1991, the Emergency and Protection of Public Safety Act 1997, and other laws.

The Transitional Government announced a “full cooperation” policy towards the United Nations, which includes cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms, as well as ratifications, namely of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Con­ven­tion ag­ainst Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Govern­ment committed to reviewing legis­lation to bring it fully in line with inter­na­tional human rights stan­dards and the Constitutional Do­cument. 

The civic and democratic space has opened, with Sudanese citizens, including HRDs and civil so­cie­ty, enjoying greater respect for their rights to freedom of opinion and expres­sion (including freedom of the media and access to information), freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of mo­ve­ment. Several of the signatory organisations have been able to visit the country since the for­mation of a Transitional Government. They have witnessed first-hand an over­whelming sense of pride that the Sudanese people reclaimed their space and rights and now have a Government that works for all citizens and is responsible before them.

However, as Sudan faces a multi-faceted crisis with economic, social and human rights di­men­sions, and as the Covid-19 pandemic is taking its toll, its political transition remains fragile. A history of com­prehensive sanctions, the United States admi­nistration’s continued listing of Sudan as a “Sta­te spon­sor of ter­ro­rism,” and endemic cor­rup­tion and mismanagement have added to these challenges by negatively affecting livelihoods and reco­very. 

The humanitarian situation, including internal displacement, remains serious. The last few weeks have witnessed an increase in violence against civilians in Darfur and intercommunal conflicts in the Eastern part of the country. The abuses committed, inclu­ding sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and deliberate attacks against civilians and internally displaced persons (IDPs), have all the hallmarks of RSF/ex-Janjaweed violence. As the African Union/UN Mis­sion in Darfur (UNAMID) is drawing down and will likely leave a gap for protection and human rights monitoring, urgent action is needed to protect civilians.

Significant steps are yet to be taken to address systemic human rights issues and achieve meaningful, sustainable progress. Justice and accountability remain elusive for the egregious violations and abuses committed under the 30-year Al-Bashir dictatorship, including violations that may amount to crimes under international law, especially in Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, and the 3 June 2019 massacre. The na­tional committee of inquiry has not yet completed its work. Al-Bashir and other ICC indictees are yet to be trans­ferred to The Hague to face justice, despite the re­cent surrender of Ali Kushayb to au­tho­rities in the Central African Repu­blic (CAR) and his subsequent trans­fer to the ICC. 

Protests are ongoing across the country over the slow pace of reforms and lack of justice and acc­oun­tability for abuses; some of these have been met with violence, including lethal force. Regional imba­lan­ces remain, which per­pe­tuate the social, economic and political marginalisation of communities living in the peripheries, in particular conflict and former conflict areas of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. In Khartoum and elsewhere, imbalances of power remain obvious between the civilian and military sides of the executive branch. A network of State-owned companies controlled by the military and security appa­ratus still operate and may even fuel crimes against civilians.

At the institutional level, the government has done too little to ensure gender equality; despite their role at the forefront of the Revolution, women remain largely excluded from positions of authority. A legis­la­tive council is yet to be formed and a comprehensive, human rights-based security sector reform of the army, the paramilitary RSF, former national security agency and other security forces, has yet to be launched. Commissions on human rights, law reform, and transitional justice also need to be esta­bli­shed. 

As Sudan attempts to strengthen gains of its Revolution and prevent setbacks, the Human Rights Council has a role to play. It has both a responsibility to keep Sudan high on its list of priorities and an opportunity to contribute to meaningful progress in the country. 

The Council’s 45th session will take place as Sudan is a Council member and a new chapter is opening for the relationship between the UN human rights system and the country. In this context, all avenues should be explored. “[An OHCHR] country office and ongoing consideration by the Council are not mutually exclusive. They are rather mutually reinforcing, as Council action provides political back up to expert work, while OHCHR work places expertise at the centre of political interventions.” OH­CHR could serve as a catalyst for engagement with, and support to, Sudan, including by highlighting priority technical assistance and capacity-building areas, raising attention to key human rights issues, and following up on all UN recommenda­tions made to Sudan.

The Council should throw its full weight behind Sudan’s political transition, core imperatives of the Constitutional Document, and the Transitional Government. However, it is the Council’s respon­sibi­lity to continue monitoring the human rights situation, discussing it publicly, and ensuring indepen­dent investigations into instances and patterns of grave violations and abuses. The Council should stand ready to help establish the facts and circumstances of such violations, provide vic­tims, survivors and their families with justice, and ad­vance accountability – including by setting up an inde­pen­dent inquiry should domestic processes and institutions fail to deliver accountability, justice, repa­rations, and guarantees of non-repetition. 

At its 45th session, the Council should adopt a resolution extending technical assistance and ca­pa­city-building to the Sudanese Government and human rights actors in the country, while en­su­ring regular monitoring of, and reporting to the Council on, the human rights situation and the work of the OHCHR country office. 

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.

 

Sincerely, 

1.     Activists for Human Rights – Canada

2.     African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)

3.     Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE)

4.     Arab Program for Human Rights Activists – Egypt

5.     Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

6.     CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

7.     DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

8.     Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

9.     Human Rights Watch

10.  Huqooq (Sudanese Human Rights Group) Organization

11.  International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

12.  International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)

13.  Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) – Sudan

14.  Justice Africa Sudan

15.  Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

16.  REDRESS

17.  Regional Centre for Training and Development of Civil Society (RCDCS)

18.  The Sentry

19.  Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)

20.  Sudanese Lawyers and Legal Practitioners’ Association in the UK

21.  Sudanese Lawyers for Justice

22.  Sudanese Organization for Research and Development

23.  Sudan Human Rights Monitor (SHRM)

 

 

 

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