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Report Details Dire Human Rights Situation in Sudan

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Despite the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and an agreement on national reconciliation between the government and the opposition political coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance, widespread atrocities continue in that country. Government-sponsored violence, torture and arbitrary arrest, internal displacement, enforced destitution, attacks on human rights workers, and sexual violence remain a dangerous pattern in both Darfur and throughout the Sudan, according to a newly released report by the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT).

Above all, "despite the consistent abuse ... of human rights and international humanitarian law, measures to hold accountable members of government security forces and armed groups across Sudan, and [a] reform of the judiciary, have yet to be undertaken," the report states.

The report, titled "Annual Report on the Human Rights Situation in the Sudan, March 2005 - March 2006," goes on to charge the Khartoum government with fostering conditions of inhuman and discriminatory treatment of large sections of the population, denying medical care to refugee populations, and brutalizing displaced persons who seek housing or aid near the capital.

The report estimates that currently 1.5 million people have been internally displaced and are living in squalid conditions in refugee camps throughout the Darfur region, squatter settlements scattered across the country, and in impoverished areas in the outlying districts of Khartoum.

The report documents the conditions of one such camp near Khartoum known as the Mayo camp. Mayo currently houses 50,000 people from several southern-based tribal groups. Heavily armed government troops roam the camps freely. Refugees live in squalid conditions, including poor public restroom facilities, a dangerous open drainage system near where children play, lack of electricity, no publicly funded humanitarian aid, generally very poor sanitation conditions, and almost no transportation. This camp is considered among the most developed of all of Sudan's refugee camps, according to the report.

Politically, the government uses arrest and torture to silence political opponents and dramatically undermines rights to free expression and association. Government security forces have attacked peaceful demonstrators on many occasions. Journalists and humanitarian workers who seek to bring these crimes to the attention of the world are regularly harassed, arrested, threatened and prescribed.

Many political opponents of the government, especially those suspected of having ties to the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M), have been arrested and subjected to torture in order to extract confessions of sedition or other crimes by government security forces.

In early 2006, the ruling party of the Sudan government passed a law called the Organization of Humanitarian Voluntary Work Act. This law, ostensibly to encourage humanitarian work, actually provided the government with "sweeping powers ... to interfere in the work of human rights defenders, both foreign and local humanitarian and human rights organizations operating inside Sudan," the report observes.

SOAT concludes that once this law is fully enforced, rather than aiding humanitarian work, "NGOs and their members will be effectively controlled and criminalized." The law provides for surveillance of NGO activities, and critics of the government, as is now common practice, will be punished more efficiently.

In a poignant section that provides just a small hint of the extent of ongoing violence, the report lists dozens of cases of sexual- and
gender-based violence and violence against children, without identifying individuals by name. It documents numerous cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, hundreds of killings, and many hundreds of wounded by name and incident for which it found specific documentation. This small sampling probably only scratches the surface of the total number of people affected in the last year.

Recommendations for Reform and Justice

To remedy this ongoing humanitarian crisis, SOAT recommends five important reforms: imposing a cease-fire in Darfur, implementing the new Constitution, initiating legal reforms, reforming the security sector, and developing and refashioning the education system.

In Darfur, the report calls on both government forces and opposition forces to immediately implement a cease-fire and prioritize the protection of non-combatants. It calls for the government to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and bring perpetrators of violence to justice with fair legal proceedings.

The comprehensive peace agreement provided for the adoption of a new "Interim Constitution," which under the present government has not been fully implemented. This Constitution provides protections through a "Bill of Rights" for political and civil freedoms and equality. SOAT's report challenges the Sudan government to guarantee these rights and apply them equally to all people, including those in Darfur. Additionally, the report calls for full protection and access for international and local humanitarian and human rights workers to the affected areas.

Rather than promoting religious or ethnic divisions, the central government must guarantee the provisions and spirit of the Constitution "as regards the status of Khartoum as a symbol of national unity that reflects the diversity of Sudan, including ensuring the implementation of secular law, with particular reference to respect for various religions, beliefs and customs."

In the legal arena, torture and arbitrary arrest violate current Sudanese law, the report argues. A full review of the legal process should be undertaken, and judges and lawyers that reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of the country should oversee reforms and be placed permanently in all levels of the judicial system, recommends the report. In addition the recently established "Special Court for Darfur," universally characterized as a kangaroo court designed to prosecute political opponents of the government under the guise of justice for Darfur, is outside the bounds of existing law and must be replaced, in order to bring perpetrators of mass killings and other violence to justice who may not be meet the specific judicial criteria of the ICC.

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--Joel Wendland is editor of Political Affairs.
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