Sudan: UN rights expert reports positive steps, but lack of progress in key areas
11 February - Despite positive steps by the Sudanese authorities towards human rights in the country's different regions, deficiencies persist in key areas, an independent United Nations expert said today.
“I have witnessed a number of positive developments, including the establishment of human rights forums,” Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Mohamed Chande Othman, told a news conference in Khartoum, at the end of his first mission since his appointment by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2009.
“However despite these encouraging achievements, I note a lack of progress in other human rights areas. I am particularly concerned that eight months after the Independent National Human Rights Commission Act was enacted, the Government of National Unity has not as yet appointed the commissioners. I encourage the Government to put in place a transparent process to nominate and select commissioners and to ensure that it becomes operational.”
Mr. Chande Othman noted that “the Government has taken some steps to implement the recommendations of the UN Group of Experts on Darfur, like the deployment of more police personnel in Darfur including women police, and the training of staff of law enforcement agencies on human rights awareness.”
However, he drew attention to the continued existence of certain provisions in the National Intelligence and Security Services Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, and the Public Order Act which infringe fundamental rights.
“During my visits in northern Sudan, including in Darfur, I heard of several cases of alleged violations of human rights including arbitrary arrests and detentions; most of these reports named the National Intelligence and Security Services as the main entity responsible,” he said.
Representatives of political parties taking part in elections scheduled for April 2010 complained to him of harassment, intimidation, and restrictions on their activities. “With the election date fast approaching it is essential that the Government creates a conducive environment for free and fair elections with firm guarantees of the fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the constitution,” he said.
The 2005 CPA ended two decades of war between the Government in the north and rebels in the south Sudan, where Mr. Chande Othman reported the increasing incidence of tribal violence and the attendant loss of lives, especially among women and children who are targeted. “In spite of the strong commitment of State authorities to protect human rights there, it appears to lack the capacity to ensure respect for the rule of law and the protection of rights,” he said.
“I was also appalled by the high levels of poverty and the lack of basic services in many areas and am concerned about the impact of this on the enjoyment of human rights,” he added. “Years of prolonged conflict have created a whole generation of youth with little or no education.”
Despite improvements in the security situation in Darfur, site of another deadly conflict between the Government and rebels, he voiced concerns at serious capacity and resource gaps in the administration of justice. “Access to justice continues to be a major challenge in light of the weak presence of law enforcement and rule of law institutions outside the main urban centres,” he said.
With regard to crimes committed in Darfur since 2003, when the fighting erupted, very few perpetrators have been brought to trial. “The Prosecutor General appointed by the Government to investigate those crimes informed me that investigations are continuing and that no one has been charged and tried as yet,” he said.
In Abyei in central Sudan, a source of contention between the north and south, no formal judicial structures have been put in place to deliver justice, despite the establishment of an Abyei administration. “The problem is compounded by the void created by the absence of the judiciary, which has been filled by traditional courts which handle criminal cases that ought to have been the subject to jurisdiction of formal courts,” Mr. Chande Othman said.