(NewYork, January 24, 2010) – Violations of civil and political rights bySudanese security forces throughout the country are seriouslyundermining prospects for free, fair, and credible elections in April2010, Human Rights Watch said today.
In the critical periodleading up to and including voter registration in November and December2009, both national and southern Sudanese authorities restricted basicrights, in violation of the Sudanese constitution and international law.
Innorthern Sudan, security forces arbitrarily arrested members andelection observers of opposition political parties and activists. Inone example from South Darfur, national security forces beat andarrested an election observer and detained him without charge for 25days. In Khartoum, the capital, armed national security forcesassaulted and arrested members of an activist group for distributingfliers with slogans opposing President Omar al-Bashir.
“TheKhartoum government is still using its security forces to harass andabuse those who speak out against the ruling National Congress Party,”said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “That isno environment for holding free, fair, and transparent elections.”
TheKhartoum government has also used excessive force to suppress peacefulassembly and has prevented free association and expression. On December7 and 14, police and national security forces violently dispersedmassive peaceful demonstrations in Khartoum and other towns, using teargas, rubber bullets, batons, and other weapons. In many locationsacross northern Sudan, authorities also interrupted or refusedpermission for public events, including training about the electionsprocess conducted by civil society organizations.
InSouthern Sudan, Human Rights Watch researchers who visited in Novemberand December found that southern soldiers and police arbitrarilyarrested, detained, and mistreated members of political parties opposedto the southern ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). TheSPLM and northern ruling National Congress Party (NCP) are the twosignatories to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended morethan 20 years of civil war in Sudan.
In Aweil, NorthernBahr el Ghazal, for example, authorities arrested Tong Lual Ayat, headof the United Democratic Party, on October 22, alleging that his partywas not properly registered, detained him in a safe house for twoweeks, and then transferred him to a military barracks. “I was placedunder a tree and chained to the tree, even at night,” Ayat told HumanRights Watch. He was held there for another 16 days.
HumanRights Watch also documented cases targeting members of SPLM-DC, abreakaway political party that Southern Sudan authorities have accusedof links with the northern ruling NCP.
“Authorities in SouthernSudan should immediately end their arrests of people simply for theirmembership in a political party,” said Gagnon.
Earlier inJanuary, the ruling party nominated al-Bashir, who is being sought bythe International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes againsthumanity in Darfur, as its presidential candidate to run for anotherterm.
Human Rights Watch called on stakeholders to theComprehensive Peace Agreement, the European Union, and the AfricanUnion to deploy international elections observers urgently. Currently,the Carter Center is the only international observation mission inSudan.
“With less than three months to elections and withcampaigning season starting in February, a robust internationalobserver presence is needed now,” Gagnon said. “Careful monitoring iseven more pressing considering that al-Bashir is wanted for war crimes.”
Afterseveral postponements, the Sudanese government announced it will holdnational elections in April. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement(CPA), which ended more than 20 years of civil war, calls for nationalelections, along with a series of democratic reforms designed to “makeunity attractive” before 2011, when southerners will vote in areferendum on self-determination.
To date, the government hasnot enacted the required democratic reforms and many other provisionsin the peace agreement. Following tense negotiations between the rulingNational Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s LiberationMovement (SPLM) in late December, parliament passed a new nationalsecurity law, one of the required reforms. However, the new law retains broad powersof search, seizure, arrest, and detention that fall short of theenvisioned changes and violate international standards for due process.
Thenational unity government and southern authorities are moving aheadwith election preparations. In November and December the NationalElections Commission (NEC) and the state-level commissions carried outvoter registration over a five-week period, ending December 7.
Restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Assembly in Northern Sudan
OnDecember 7 and 14, security forces in Khartoum and other northerncities violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations that the SPLM andother political parties had organized to protest the ruling NCP’sfailure to enact democratic reforms ahead of the elections.
Witnessestold Human Rights that on the morning of December 7, riot police andsecurity forces arrested more than 160 people, including politicalleaders and journalists, and injured more than 40 people whiledispersing crowds in Khartoum using tear gas, rubber bullets, batons,and other weapons.
In one episode that day, police blocked abridge in Omdurman, a suburb of Khartoum, prompting people to jump offthe sides, resulting in injuries. A 24-year old student who was on thebridge told Human Rights Watch that police attacked him with clubs andinflicted head injuries that required stitches.
On December 14,riot police and security forces again used excessive force to dispersecrowds and made scores of arrests. Hafiz Ibrahim Abdulgadir, a formerminister of local government in Al Gezira state, told Sudan RadioServices that national security officials forced him out of his car,beat him severely, and dropped him off in a nearby location in Omdurman.
Onboth days, national security forces and police also assaulted andarrested journalists, in some instances inside their newsrooms.
Thegovernment has also refused to grant permission for public rallies andother events, though groups made the required applications. On December16, a presidential adviser and former head of national security, SalahGhosh, announced that the government would not allow any publicdemonstrations, saying conditions were “not suitable for this form ofexpression.”
Prior to the December crackdowns, government authorities had already prevented or bannednumerous public gatherings and events related directly to elections. InNovember and December, the government either cancelled, deniedpermission for, or interrupted at least two training sessions onelection monitoring in Kassala, eastern Sudan; two public meetings inKosti, White Nile state; a public speech in support of an independentpresidential candidate in Khartoum; and dozens of public rallies.
Harassment of Activists and Elections Observers in Northern States
HumanRights Watch received credible reports from opposition politicalparties that police and national security officials restricted movementand speech of their election observers, particularly when theycomplained of actions by ruling NCP members and members of popularcommittees, groups of local leaders who certify residency.
OnNovember 8 at a Khartoum registration center, a police officer beat afemale student member of the Communist Party when she refused tosurrender her voter registration card to the popular committee. Twodays later, security forces detained an Umma Party observer whocomplained that ruling party members were misrepresenting themselves aselections officials, and had improperly collected voter registrationcards.
In South Darfur, authorities arrested and detained aCommunist Party observer, Tayfour Elamin Abdullah, for 25 days when hetold people at a voter registration center they should not give theirregistration cards to the ruling party. Abdullah told Human RightsWatch that security officials beat him in custody and told him to leavethe Communist Party.
More broadly, the Sudanesegovernment has harassed, assaulted, and arbitrarily arrested humanrights activists who speak out about elections, Darfur, or othersensitive topics.
On December 6, national security forcesassaulted two student activists for distributing fliers withanti-Bashir messages and to promote voter registration in a public parkin Khartoum. The security officers beat them and detained them forseveral hours. On November 22, security forces arrested an elderly manwhen he was at the hospital for diabetes treatment because he hadfliers from the same group.
In Darfur, authoritiescontinue to detain 16 leaders from displaced persons camps in ElFasher, North Darfur, under emergency laws that grant sweeping powersof detention to state authorities. Police arrested the group in earlyAugust while investigating a murder, but the prosecutor released themfor lack of evidence. Security officers re-arrested many of themwithout explanation.
Dozens of Darfuri student activists remainin detention. Abdelmajeed Salih, a well known Darfuri activist who hasspoken out about Darfur and international justice and who had been indetention without charge since August, was released January 16. He toldHuman Rights Watch that on August 28 a group of armed national securityofficers approached him and his friend in Khartoum, beat them with thebacks of their guns, then detained them.
“During thefirst five days they were very aggressive, hitting me with tubes andplanks of wood until I lost consciousness and they brought me to adoctor,” he said. “They were shouting in my face that I am a traitorand spying for foreign countries.”
At least four members of theUnited Popular Front, a student group affiliated with the Abdel Wahidfaction of the Sudan Liberation Army, which has publicly supported theICC arrest warrant for al-Bashir, have been held without charge sinceApril.
One member of the group, arrested in early October inHasahisa, al Gezira state, was held for 13 days and severally beatenbefore being released. On October 25, security forces arrested aDarfuri student leader at Khartoum University for organizing ademonstration protesting school fees. After subjecting him to intenseinterrogation and beating, they dropped him in a public park at 2 a.m.
Repression of Political Freedoms in Southern Sudan
HumanRights Watch found that Southern Sudan authorities arrested anddetained dozens of members of the northern ruling NCP and politicalparties seen to be in alliance with it, accusing them of variousirregularities without bringing charges.
In the episode inAweil, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Ayat, head of the newly formed UnitedDemocratic Party, reported to Human Rights Watch that state authoritiesordered his arrest on October 22, alleging his party was not properlyregistered. Southern police held him in a safe house in town for twoweeks, then transferred him to a military prison at Wunyiit.
“Iwas placed under a tree and chained to the tree, even at night,” hesaid. “The prison is one house surrounded by a fence. I spent 16 daysthere. The commander said he would not tell my family where I was, andthey denied me food and toilet.”
In Juba, the capital ofSouthern Sudan, security officials arrested and detained a member ofthe Communist Party, Ismail Suliman, but did not charge him with anycrime. He told Human Rights Watch that security officials approachedhim while he was hanging a party banner in Juba at 9 p.m. on December5, and took him to a military detention center and interrogated himabout his ethnicity and political party activities. They held him forthree days.
SPLM-DC, a party established in June byformer Sudanese foreign minister, Lam Akol, has reported dozens ofarrests and detentions of its members. Southern politicians havepublicly accused Akol, a candidate for president, of allegiance to theNCP and of fueling inter-ethnic fighting in Upper Nile state. In earlyNovember, the South Sudan government issued a letter ordering stategovernors to cooperate with all political parties except SPLM-DC.
InWestern Bahr el Ghazal, soldiers arrested 14 members of the party onSeptember 22, and took them to a military barracks, then interrogatedand beat them. Ten were released, but four remain in a militarydetention center without charge.
In Upper Nile state on October1, government soldiers arrested 22 members of the SPLM-DC in Renk,detained them in military barracks, interrogated them, beat them, andforced them to sign an agreement to stop their political activities, UNhuman rights staff said. They were held for three days. Party membershave also been detained in Yei, Rumbek, and other towns.
TheNCP also reported numerous arrests and detentions in towns acrossSouthern Sudan, often on accusations of improperly registering theirmembers. In Central Equatoria, a member in Morobo told Human RightsWatch that he was detained and beaten in early December for registeringmembers. Another member reported to Human Rights Watch that he had beenarrested with a group of 14 others in Yei town and detained onaccusations of paying people to register as NCP, a charge he denies.
Risk of Violence in Southern Sudan
Althoughvoter registration across Sudan was largely peaceful, inter-ethnicviolence interrupted or delayed registration in some remote locations.In at least one case, a dispute over the National ElectionsCommission’s constituency demarcations triggered violence in SouthernSudan.
On November 15, Samson Kwaje, minister ofagriculture in the Southern Sudan government, visited Wondoruba payam,an administrative area west of Juba town, to encourage voterregistration. During the visit armed members of the community shotKwaje, wounding him in his left arm, in protest over his perceivedattempts to move their payam to a neighboring county against theirwill. Kwaje had earlier successfully lodged a complaint to the NEC thatincluded their payam in the neighboring county’s electoral constituency.
Witnessestold Human Rights Watch that Southern Sudan security forces dispatchedto the scene rounded up suspects, including members of the policeforce, and beat them. At least five civilians remain in detention inJuba without charge. Assaults on civilians and the prolonged detentionof suspects without bringing charges point to systemic flaws in theadministration of justice that have been previously reported by Human Rights Watch.
Thecase also illustrates that the elections process can spark violence,and that conflicts between communities over land and other issuesshould be addressed before the elections.
Governmentauthorities and the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) have donelittle to prevent or prepare for likely security problems. As ofDecember, government authorities were just starting to plan to trainextra forces to provide security at polling places. The UN mission hasbeen training the nascent Southern Sudan police force, but has no plansto deploy its own forces to hot spots during elections.
HumanRights Watch has repeatedly called on the UN mission to make protectingcivilians a priority through increased presence and patrolling involatile areas, better information-gathering and analysis of localdynamics, and helping counterparts in the Southern Sudan government inpeace-building and protection efforts.
- TheNational Unity Government should ensure that government authorities atall levels respect the rights under the constitution and internationallaw to freedom of expression and association, and should stop usingexcessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrations.
- Boththe national and southern governments should stop arbitrarily arrestingand detaining people and mistreating them because of their politicalopinions; hold accountable police and security forces who violate humanrights; and allow for a robust international observer presence withfull freedom of movement in all parts of the country.
- The UN mission should increase its presence and patrolling in volatile areas, in line with its mandate to protect civilians.
- Internationaldonors and stakeholders should urgently deploy election observers intime to effectively monitor pre-elections conditions.
For more information, please contact:
In New York, Georgette Gagnon (English): +1-212-216-1223; or +1-917-535-0375 (mobile)
In San Francisco, Tiseke Kasambala (English): +1-646-920-6746
In Johannesburg, Sipho Mthathi (English, Xhosa): +27-11-484-2640; or +27-82-576-2990 (mobile)
In London, Tom Porteous (English): +44-207-713-2766; or +44-79-8398-4982 (mobile)