For Immediate Release
Sudan: End Continuing Repression of Darfur Activists
Charge or Release Newly Arrested Rights Defenders
NEW YORK - The Sudanese government should charge or release Darfuri activists
arrested between October 30 and November 1, 2010, by national security
agents in Khartoum, Human Rights Watch said today. The arrests
underscore the government's continued use of repressive laws to target
human rights defenders from Darfur and to restrict information about the
ongoing abuses there, Human Rights Watch said.
Abderahman Gassim, a prominent Darfuri human rights lawyer and active
member of the Darfur Bar Association, was arrested in downtown
Khartoum. The same evening, security officials arrested at least eight
Darfuri male and female activists at other Khartoum locations, including
the office of the Human Rights and Advocacy Network for Democracy
(HAND), a coalition of Darfuri groups. Security officials have since
arrested another female member of the coalition in Khartoum, and closed
the HAND offices.
"The government appears to be targeting this group of people for
their important work on Darfur, not because they committed any crime,"
said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "It should
immediately charge these individuals or release them."
The exact number of those arrested is not known, nor has the
government revealed where they are being held. However, all those
arrested are Darfuri activists, and most are members of HAND, according
to information obtained by Human Rights Watch.
In recent months HAND has provided valuable reports to
international organizations and diplomats on the situation in Darfur.
Its members told Human Rights Watch they have come under increasing
scrutiny by national security officials and fear further arrests. In
August, security officials questioned members about the activities of
HAND and urged them to stop their work.
"These arrests are clearly part of a wider pattern of stifling
expression about ongoing human rights abuses in Darfur," Peligal said.
"The government continues to clash with rebels and attack civilians, in
violation of international humanitarian laws, and these activists are
among the very few speaking out about it."
Little public information about the ongoing conflict and human
rights concerns in Darfur has emerged from Darfur following the
International Criminal Court's issuance of an arrest warrant for
President Omar al-Bashir on March 4, 2009. Afterward, the government
expelled 13 international organizations from Sudan and closed down three
Sudanese human rights groups. The African Union/United Nations Hybrid
Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) does not report publicly about the human
rights situation in Darfur, and the UN office coordinating humanitarian
affairs stopped publishing weekly reports in November 2009.
"Information about what is going on in Darfur is especially
important now with international attention more focused on the Sudanese
referendum," said Peligal.
Sudan will hold a referendum on southern self-determination in
January, according to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a
22-year civil war in Sudan.
Sudanese authorities have long used national security powers to
arrest and detain political activists, often mistreating or torturing
them in detention, based on cases documented by Human Rights Watch,
Amnesty International, and many other groups over the years.
Human Rights Watch urged the government of Sudan to ensure that the
most recent detentions are properly recorded and that all due process
protections are afforded to the detainees, including access to counsel
and medical care. Gassim has a medical condition that requires special
International standards require that detained people be charged
promptly after their arrest and granted access to counsel and medical
care. However, the repressive National Security Act gives Sudanese
security officials broad powers of arrest and permits them to detain
individuals for up to four and a half months without judicial review, in
violation of international standards.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.