Sudan: UN rights expert voices concern at alleged torture, censorship

4 June 2009

In spite of some positive steps made by the Sudanese Government, reports of arbitrary arrests, torture and press censorship, along with the situation in the war-ravaged Darfur region, are cause for concern, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today.

In spite of some positive steps made by the Sudanese Government, reports of arbitrary arrests, torture and press censorship, along with the situation in the war-ravaged Darfur region, are cause for concern, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today.

Sima Samar, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, wrapped up an 11-day visit to the country today. She noted such positive developments as Sudan’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the passing of the Human Rights Commission Act.

One of the “most notable” developments in Sudan has been the creation of Human Rights Forums for Darfur and other areas, she said. The Forums’ co-chairs include the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and the hybrid UN-African Union force in Darfur (UNAMID).

But despite these strides, “I remain concerned about a number of human rights issues in the country,” Ms. Samar said, such as cases of arbitrary arrests, detention, and allegations of ill-treatment and torture by security forces, including the National Intelligence Security Service (NISS).

The National Security Forces Act, which gives the NISS its powers of arrest and detention, are also cause for concern, she noted, calling on the Government to improve and facilitate the access of human rights officers from both UNMIS and UNIMID to detention centres across Sudan.

Reports of ill treatment and torture of human rights defenders are also extremely worrying, as is the ongoing newspaper censorship and restrictions on freedom of expression for journalists and the political opposition, the expert stressed.

“In view of the upcoming elections in February 2010, it is imperative that restrictions on freedom of expression and association be removed to create a conducive environment for free and fair elections,” she said.

On Darfur, Ms. Samar pointed out, the “fluid and unpredictable” security situation is having a “direct bearing” on the human rights situation in the region, which remains a “zone of conflict.”

During her visit to the Kalma camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), she heard the uprooted voice concern over the expulsion of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Immediately after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir in March for alleged crimes committed in Darfur, Sudan expelled 13 aid groups, who were aiding nearly 5 million people, from the region.

The Government and the UN have tried to fill the humanitarian gap left in the wake of the NGO expulsions, but the Rapporteur, who last visited Sudan last March, said that they alone do not have the required capacity.

Both the humanitarian and human rights situation in Southern Sudan is also a cause for worry, she stressed, with several hundred civilians having been killed in clashes among tribes in Jonglei state.

“The size and scale of inter-tribal clashes over cattle rustling has been unprecedented, with the use of sophisticated firearms and targeting of women and children in villages,” Ms. Samar said. Although UNMIS forces are trying to stem such attacks, “the sustainable solution to this problem will involve a proactive deployment of state security forces in areas of potential conflict, and a well-designed and peaceful civilian disarmament campaign.”

 

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