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Joint Letter: African States Should Act on Human Rights in Sudan

To: Permanent Representatives of African States to the UN Human Rights Council

12 September 2013

Call for Action by African States to Protect Human Rights in Sudan at UN Human Rights Council 24th Session (9-27 September 2013)


The undersigned African civil society organisations are writing to urge members of the African Group to ensure that serious and widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Sudan are adequately addressed by the UN Human Rights Council during its 24th session.

We are deeply concerned by the failure of the international and African human rights system to respond effectively to the situation in Sudan to date and call on the African Group to support stronger action by the Human Rights Council to ensure the protection of the human rights of all Sudanese.

The undersigned organisations remain gravely concerned about reports of continuing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law throughout the year in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and spread to Northern Kordofan. In Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, the evidence indicates that the Government of Sudan forces have carried out indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling in civilian areas in grave violation of international humanitarian law. Government forces and allied militias have also conducted ground attacks on civilian areas, deliberately killed civilians, detained and placed hundreds at risk of enforced disappearance, and destroyed and looted civilian property. {{1}} Aerial bombardment has disrupted the planting and harvesting of food crops in addition to food distribution in areas held by the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army – North rebels.{{2}} Meanwhile, the Government continues to obstruct humanitarian access to areas controlled by armed opposition groups, denying civilian populations of desperately needed humanitarian aid. In Darfur, ongoing conflict displaced over 300,000 people in the first five months of 2013 alone. The Government of Sudan has failed to protect civilians and additional evidence suggests that its forces may have participated directly in the fighting.{{3}}

[[1]]Human Rights Watch, “Under Siege: Indiscriminate Bombing and Abuses in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States,” December 2012,; Human Rights Watch, “Sudan: Blue Nile Civilians Describe Attacks, Abuses,” April 2012,[[1]]

[[2]]Sudan Consortium, “Local Communities Document Deliberate Targeting of Civilians through Aerial Bombardment in Southern Kordofan.” May 2013,[[2]]

[[3]]Amnesty International, “Darfur: Government forces involved in gold mine attacks”, 30 January 2013, and Human Rights Watch, “ICC Suspect at Scene of Fresh Crimes,” 3 June 2013,[[3]]

[[4]]See information available in submission on admissibility by the applicants in Communication 402/2011: INTERIGHTS, Human Rights Watch, Sudan Democracy First Group and REDRESS v Sudan, available at  (10 October 2012)[[4]]

Throughout the country, the Government of Sudan has increased restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly in what appears to be a concerted effort to shut down independent dialogue. The Government continues to use the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and other security forces to arbitrarily detain perceived opponents of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), censor media and shut down public forums and protests. There has also been a documented rise in restrictions on religious freedoms targeting Christian minorities.

These restrictions have severely undermined the activities of civil society and prevented meaningful public consultation in Sudan’s constitution-making process. Sudan is due to adopt a new permanent constitution, which the Government has declared will be based on Shari’a (Islamic law), and is preparing for national elections in 2015. We are particularly concerned the potential long term impact of restricting dialogue at a time when Sudan is preparing for these important processes that will play an important role in determining the future of the country.

African states and African institutions have already expressed serious concern about these issues. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has already adopted provisional measures in a case brought by several NGOs alleging violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law in Southern Kordofan, requesting Sudan to “intervene in the matter with a view to preventing irreparable harm being caused to the victims.”{{4}}  In addition, in 2012, the ACHPR considered Sudan’s 4th and 5th periodic reports on its compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission noted a number of serious areas of concern in its concluding observations and recommendations, including that Sudan should:

  • Take adequate measures to combat insecurity, violence, and police and law enforcement excesses, especially those of the NISS;
  • Repeal Article 52(3) of the National Security Act 2010 that provides members of the NISS and their associates with immunity from criminal and civil procedures;
  • Take urgent and concrete measures to abolish laws that allow corporal punishment including stoning, amputation, cross-amputation and whipping;
  • Ensure that the conditions of arrest, preliminary interrogation and detention of suspects comply with the principles of the Robben Island Guidelines;
  • Appoint an independent commission to investigate all extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and torture by the police and make public its findings.

The Commission previously ruled in 2009 on a case brought on behalf of victims of human rights violations in Darfur that Sudan had violated among others the right to life and the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and recommended that the State take all necessary and urgent measures to ensure protection of victims of human rights violations in Darfur. To date, Sudan has failed to implement these recommendations. We call on member states of the African Union to encourage Sudan to ensure the effective implementation of the Commission’s decisions and recommendations.

In addition, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council has also expressed “its grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states of Sudan, and reiterate[d] that there [was] no military solution to the conflict.”{{5}} The AU PSC has repeatedly called on the AU’s High Level Implementation Panel to lead Africa’s response to the crisis by facilitating negotiations and making proposals.

[[5]]Communiqué of the 353rd Peace and Security Council meeting at the level of Heads of State and Government Sudan-South Sudan,[[5]]

While African states have expressed concern about, and are working to respond to, the crisis in Sudan at the level of the AU, it is critical that members of the African Group also act to ensure that the United Nations plays its part. We regret that previous resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council have failed to condemn the widespread and systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Sudan and have not identified concrete priority areas of action, such as those identified by the African Commission, to improve the protection of basic human rights. Since 2011, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan has held an item 10 mandate to offer technical assistance and capacity-building support to Sudan, but widespread and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have continued unabated.

In light of the continuing, and indeed worsening, range of human rights and international humanitarian law violations documented by the undersigned organisations, we urge the African Group to support the full engagement of the Human Rights Council on Sudan.

The undersigned organisations therefore call on the African Group to support the following actions at the Human Rights Council:

  • condemn the violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, Northern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, as well as the government’s continued use of indiscriminate bombing in these states, attacks on civilians, and other violations by government forces and allied militia;
  • establish an independent investigation into ongoing human rights violations in Southern Kordofan, Northern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur, that would report back to the Human Rights Council at its next session;
  • urge Sudan to grant humanitarian agencies access to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, in compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law obligations;
  • express concern over the ongoing restrictions of basic civil and political rights, and the continued harassment of critics of the government, including through the practices of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly, preventing meaningful public dialogue on critical issues at a time when Sudan is preparing to adopt a new constitution and to hold national elections in 2015;
  • call on Sudan to reform its repressive National Security Act of 2010 and other laws granting immunity to officials, bringing them into conformity with Sudan’s international human rights obligations; seriously investigate allegations of human rights and international humanitarian law violations, and hold perpetrators to account;
  • renew and strengthen the special procedure mandate on Sudan for three years under Item 4, establishing a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Sudan with a mandate to monitor the situation and report twice a year to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in all parts of Sudan.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent issues. Please feel free to contact us to discuss this letter or for further information.

Yours sincerely,

    1. Action pour les Droits Humains et l’Amitié
    2. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies
    3. Arry Organisation for Human Rights
    4. Associação Mãos Livres
    5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
    6. Community Empowerment for Progress Organization
    7. Darfur Bar Association
    8. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
    9. Groupe d’étude, de recherche et d’action pour le développement
    10. Human Rights and Development Organisation
    11. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
    12. Human Rights Institute of South Africa
    13. Human Rights Network Uganda
    14. International Refugee Rights Initiative
    15. Kenya Human Rights Commission
    16. League for Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region
    17. National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya
    18. Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme
    19. Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project
    20. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network
    21. Spectrum Uganda Initiatives
    22. Union des Ressortissants Rwandais au Sénégal
    23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network
    24. West African Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons Network


Human Rights Defender of the month: Apollo Mukasa

Apollo Mukasa’s journey into activism is deeply rooted in his commitment to advocate for the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). As the Executive Director of Uganda National Action on Physical Disability (UNAPD), Apollo is a driving force behind initiatives aimed at combating discrimination among PWDs. UNAPD was established in 1998 as a platform for voicing concerns of persons with physical disabilities to realise a barrier free environment where they can enjoy their rights to the fullest.