As I conclude my fourth visit to the country, in my capacity as Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, I feel honoured for the opportunity to present you my preliminary assessment of the situation of human rights in the Sudan. First of all, I would like to thank the Government of the Sudan for its invitation and cooperation during this visit. The Government granted me access to all places, persons and institutions that I requested access to. I would also like to thank the Office of the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Khartoum for supporting and facilitating my 11-day mission from 11 to 21 May 2017. I visited Khartoum and Blue Nile where I met with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Minerals and Secretary of the National Dialogue, the Under Secretary for the Ministry of Justice as well as specialized government units and agencies, the Legislative Committee of the National Assembly, the Attorney General, the Judiciary, the Sudan National Human Rights Commission, community leaders, academia, representatives of civil society, representatives of internally displaces persons, United Nations entities and the diplomatic community in Khartoum. The purpose of these meetings and field visits was to follow up on issues of concern that I identified during my mission in February 2017, and discuss the status of implementation of the recommendations contained in my report of September 2016 to the Human Rights Council.
Since my last visit in February 2017, I have noted some positive developments. In this regard, I welcome the decision of the President of The Sudan of 8 March 2017 to pardon 259 armed movement personnel who were captured during fighting with government forces in Darfur. This number included 66 fighters who had been sentenced to death. In addition, on 11 May 2017, two pastors who were sentenced to 12years imprisonment were released from custody after a Presidential pardon. I would also like to commend the Government for the efforts undertaken in order to facilitate access for delivery of humanitarian assistance to the conflict affected areas in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. These are welcome measures which I hope will help improve the political and social environment in the country.
Lastly, I was informed of the appointment on the 16th of May of the Chairperson of the Sudan National Human Rights Commission. I would like to reiterate the important role that can be played by an independent national human rights institution. I encourage the Sudanese authorities to fill the remaining vacant positions for the Commissioners in a transparent and representative manner, and to support this national human rights institution with necessary funding to enable it to function effectively. Moreover, I would like to emphasize the need for the national human rights institution to comply with the Paris principles relating to the status of national institutions in order to play a crucial role in monitoring and promoting the effective implementation of international human rights standards at the national level.
Despite these positive developments, I remain concerned about a number of human rights issues in the country which are still largely unaddressed. I am aware of incidents of what appear to be harassment and arrests targeting representatives of civil society organizations. In this context, I would urge the Sudanese authorities to release Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Idris, as I believe that they are being held solely for their legitimate work on protecting and promoting human rights in the Sudan.
Furthermore, I would encourage the Government of the Sudan to consider amendments to the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006, to bring it in line with the Interim National Constitution and international human rights standards. More specifically, I would urge the Sudanese authorities to consider abrogating all provisions in this law which negatively impact the work of civil society organizations, including Articles 7 to 14 of this Act. Civil society actors should be allowed to carry out their activities in an open, safe and secure environment.
I am also concerned by the case of Mr. Adam Ahmed Abdulbasheir Abdulbary who has been detained since his arrest on the 23rd of November 2016. I call on the Sudanese authorities to release him as it appears that he is being detained for his work with UNAMID.
Another area of concern that I have discussed with the relevant stakeholders includes the need to ensure the protection of the freedom of religion, with particular reference to the demolition of churches and places of worship by the national security services. The national security services have also been used to intimidate as well as arrest or detain Christian religious leaders. I have raised this issue in my discussions with government officials as a legitimate concern, which the Government of the Sudan needs to pay attention to, in view of the importance of the freedom of religion in a democratic society.
I would also like to express concern about ongoing censorship of newspapers, and increased restrictions on journalists from freely expressing their opinion. In this context, the suspension by the National Intelligence and Security Service of the Aljareeda newspaper in December 2016 contravenes the Interim National Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the Sudan is a State party. I have raised this case with the authorities, and I strongly recommend that the Sudanese authorities ensure that the appeal lodged by this newspaper is provided an independent judicial review, and I hope the decision of its suspension is lifted and adequate compensation is provided.
In my meeting with the Legislative Committee of the Sudan Parliament, I received assurances that the process for the amendment of the National Security Act and Criminal Act will be completed with a view to ensuring their compliance with international standards. I am of the view that bringing the powers of the National Intelligence and Security Service in line with international standards – a governmental body operating as an intelligence agency focused on information gathering, analysis and advice to the Government – will help improve the human rights environment in the Sudan.
I visited Damazine in Blue Nile State where I met with the State authorities, community leaders, representatives of UN agencies and civil society actors who shared with me updated information in relation to the security, humanitarian and human rights situation in the region. They also expressed the need to benefit from technical assistance in the field of human rights. I encourage the Government of the Sudan and the international community to provide adequate means and resources to these community leaders and civil society actors, in order to strengthen their capacity for the protection and promotion of human rights.
During my presence in Damazine, I had the opportunity to visit the Azaza camp which is reportedly hosting over 4.000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). I am concerned by the precarious conditions faced by these IDPs who expressed their willingness to return to their homeland if there is an improvement in the security situation. I call on the Government of the Sudan and the international community to increase their assistance to these IDPs, and to work towards creating the necessary conditions for their return to their homeland. Furthermore, I strongly urge all parties to the conflict to respect international human rights and international humanitarian law, and to facilitate access to the conflict affected areas for delivery of humanitarian assistance.
I was informed that State authorities and community leaders have established mechanisms and processes to facilitate reconciliation in the region. These initiatives are welcome, and I would encourage Sudanese authorities to work towards addressing the root causes of the conflict for a lasting peace in the region.
In Darfur, I note that the ceasefire is generally holding. Despite the cessation of hostilities between government forces and armed opposition movements, threats of violence and attacks against civilians have continued in other forms. These include inter-communal violence, sexual violence and abductions of civilians. I call on the Government of the Sudan to focus on the implementation of provisions of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) relating to disarmament and disbanding militias so that the protection concerns in the region may be addressed.
The establishment of an appropriate legal framework, institutional arrangements and democratic reforms are key steps to be undertaken by the Government of the Sudan to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. Some partners are already providing support to strengthen the capacity of the formal justice system (courts, judges, prosecutors, police, and correction) in order to promote accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws and effectively combat impunity. In this regard, I call on the international community to continue and increase its assistance to the Government of the Sudan, including by funding the joint rule of law and human rights programme for Darfur.
I also call on the Government to facilitate the deployment to the Sudan of the technical assessment mission of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in order to discuss potential areas for possible technical cooperation with the relevant Sudanese authorities and other stakeholders, including United Nations entities, civil society organizations and the diplomatic community.
In conclusion, I urge and encourage the Government to continue its efforts to address the challenges identified above. These challenges form the basis for identifying the relevant areas for technical assistance and capacity building necessary to improve the human rights situation in the country. I will be elaborating more in depth on this issue in my substantive report for consideration by the Human Rights Council at its 36st Session scheduled to take place in September 2017.
Thank you very much.