UN expert raises concerns over restrictions on civic space in Sudan
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights violations in Sudan, particularly on restrictions to civic space, remain a key concern for civil society. In May 2017, Aristide Nononsi, a UN-mandated independent expert on the human rights situation in Sudan, raised concern over the lack of democratic reforms as an obstacle to ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights across the country. Since his report was released in 2016, Nononsi has undertaken several fact-finding missions to Sudan to assess the implementation of human rights recommendations made to the Sudanese authorities. After concluding his most recent 10-day mission, Nononsi noted that despite international scrutiny and criticism, there has still been little progress on several human rights issues since his last visit in February 2017.
While acknowledging that some progress has been made by Sudanese authorities, Nononsi called upon the government to address the clear deficits in the promotion human rights. In a statement published on 22nd May 2017, Nononsi drew attention to the continued restrictions on civic space, and in particular, to a number of high-profile Sudanese activists who still languish behind bars. He declared that:
“I am aware of incidents of what appear to be harassment and arrests targeting representatives of civil society organisations...I urge the Sudanese authorities to release Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Idris, as I believe that they are being held solely for their legitimate work with UNAMID staff on protecting and promoting human rights in the Sudan”.
Nononsi also encouraged the government to consider amendments to the Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006, which regulates NGOs, and to align it with the Interim National Constitution and international human rights standards.
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights defenders Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and Hafiz Idris remain in detention. On 20th July 2017, both activists were denied bail at a court hearing. While their next court date is 16th August 2017, fears have grown over Mudawi's health after credible allegations of mistreatment during his detention emerged. In this context, and considering the spurious charges against the activists, international civic groups have continued to advocate for their unconditional release.
In a separate development, the 10th issue of the civil society report - Sudan Freedom of Association and Expression - released in July 2017 also reaffirmed that space for civil society in Sudan is under concerted attack. The report detailed 15 instances where freedom of association had been recently obstructed; in fact, the majority of cases recorded over the second quarter of the year referred to arbitrary measures imposed on civic groups. Office closures, arbitrary arrests, interrogations and spurious prosecutions accounted for 73 percent of the total violations reported. Other categories included the use of laws (13%) and extra-judicial harassment (14%), including threats, surveillance, physical or sexual assaults as well as destruction of property.
One of the reported cases include the suspension of activities of a group working to provide medical treatment in Kassala State. On 21st June 2017, Sharie Al-Hawadith, a grass-roots voluntary organisation, received a letter ordering the suspension of all activities, following a decision by the local authorities in Kassala state in eastern Sudan. The organisation has yet to receive a reason why they were forced to suspend activities.
Launched on 3rd May 2017 for World Press Freedom Day, an annual report on the situation for freedom of expression in Sudan highlighted the worrying pattern of authorities interfering in the operation of independent media outlets in Sudan. The Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) reported on the seizure of Sudanese press operations, documenting 66 instances over the past year when the authorities had suspended or prevented newspapers' distribution. One incident includes the confiscation of Akhir-Lahza newspaper for three consecutive days in June 2017. Authorities gave no explanation as to why the newspaper was taken out of circulation. JHR has noted with concern that:
"Security authorities in Sudan are confiscating newspapers that go beyond what they consider red lines as a retroactive punishment that affects the newspapers materially and morally".
JHR also reported 18 cases of arrest, detention and summoning of journalists for questioning, and four cases of alleged physical violence perpetrated by Sudanese security forces.