Sudan: One year after the September 2013 bloody repression victims still await truth and justice

By International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)

PARIS, France, September 22, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Tomorrow, 23 September 2014, will mark the one year anniversary of the outbreak of demonstrations in cities throughout Sudan. These were sparked by the lifting of fuel subsidies the day before, and were met by Sudanese authorities with excessive force, including live ammunition, leading to the deaths of at least 185 people. Hundreds of people were detained, many without any charges ever being brought, and numerous activists were tortured and otherwise ill-treated. FIDH and ACJPS reiterate their call upon regional and international human rights bodies to condemn abuses and ensure investigation and justice.

On the anniversary of the brutal suppression of last year's protests, the United Nations Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Sudan will present his annual report to the Human Rights Council. In his report made public in advance of the session, the UN expert confirmed that the Sudanese authorities have failed to provide him with any “evidence of a thorough and independent investigation of the human rights violations that occurred during the September demonstrations” and highlighted that it is “unacceptable both morally and legally” that the Sudanese authorities reported “it was difficult to locate any of those who shot and killed so many people in broad daylight”.

“One year on, the victims and families affected by Sudan's brutal suppression of protests are still denied truth and justice,” said Katherine Perks, Programme Director at the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS). “The UN Human Rights Council meeting this week must ensure it takes a strong position to condemn Sudan's repeated failure to ensure accountability and redress serious human rights violations including torture and extra-judicial killings; impunity cannot be accepted”.

Although human rights groups verified 185 deaths, Sudanese authorities acknowledged just 85. A majority of death certificates issued listed cause of death as “mysterious circumstances”, despite a majority of victims having been shot in the head or chest. The mandate, composition and findings of three state commissions of inquiry reportedly established have never been made public, and repeated attempts to access them have been unsuccessful. Out of at least 85 criminal complaints pursued by victims' families, only one has progressed to court, with the final decision pending.

FIDH and ACJPS have repeatedly called for the African regional human rights body, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), to send a fact-finding mission to investigate violations perpetrated in connection with the 2013 protests and call on the Government of Sudan to immediately stop further abuses. Such an inquiry could be organised in close coordination with the relevant UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council.

“Whilst Sudan bears the responsibility to stop its forces from committing abuses, deliver remedies and hold those responsible to account, international and regional human rights bodies must step up where Sudan has shown it clearly has no intention to do so,” declared Sheila Muwanga Nabachwa, FIDH Vice President and Deputy Executive Director at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI – Uganda). “Time has come to put an end to the culture of impunity which prevails in Sudan. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, also meeting next month, should deploy a fact-finding mission mandated to investigate the repression and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice”.

The September 2013 violent repression of protests and the impunity enjoyed by those responsible illustrates a broader context of serious human rights violations in Sudan, where human rights defenders, independent journalists and political opponents who criticise the government and its actions continue to face arbitrary arrests and detentions, acts of harassment and intimidation and in some cases acts of torture and ill-treatment. In such a context, the ACHPR and the UN Human Rights council must take concrete actions to ensure that victims of serious human rights violations in Sudan obtain justice and reparations.

Background information

On 4 November 2013, Sudanese Justice Minister, Mohamed Bushara Dosa, stated to the pro-government newspaper Al Rayaam that 84 individuals had been killed and that an investigation into the killings had been opened. The official death toll later reported by authorities to the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan increased to 85, including one security officer. The compositions and mandates of the three committees of investigation reportedly established have never been made public, and repeated attempts to access them have been unsuccessful. In May 2014 the Deputy Minister of Justice later announced that there was no committee established to investigate the events, and that the "riots" would be investigated by the Attorney General.

Out of at least 85 criminal complaints filed by victims' families, ACJPS is aware of only one that reached court. That concerned the killing of Dr. Sara Abdelbagi who was shot and killed outside her uncle's home in the Aldorashab neighbourhood of Khartoum Bahri on 25 September 2013. Dr Sara Abdelbagi had joined friends and family members outside the home after hearing that her 15 year old cousin, Soheib Mohamed Musa, had been shot and killed at a demonstration. Several eye-witnesses reported seeing an army officer dressed in civilian attire fire two gunshots, one of which hit Dr Sara Abdelbagi in the side of her body. One eye-witness reported seeing him then apologise and say he did not mean to shoot her. The death certificate originally issued for Dr Sara Abdelbagi stated she died of mysterious causes. It was later changed to state that she died of gunshot wounds after her family opened an official complaint into the circumstances of her death at the local police station in Aldorashab. The army officer was arrested on 15 December 2013 and charged with murder under article 130 of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. Court proceedings are ongoing. This is the only known case of immunity provisions in Sudanese law being lifted to allow for criminal proceedings against a state official accused of using excessive force during the 2013 protests.

The general human rights climate in Sudan continues to deteriorate amidst calls for a national dialogue; scores of activists, human rights defenders, and political opposition members have been arrested since January 2014, and dozens of newspapers, including traditionally pro-government newspapers, have been subjected to post-print censorship.