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Sudan: End Rights Abuses, Repression

Envoys, UN, AU Should Press Ruling Party for Nationwide Reforms


The Sudanese government should end attacks by its armed forces on
civilians in Darfur and make the major human rights reforms envisioned
in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Human Rights Watch
said in a report issued today. Special Envoys to Sudan, concerned
governments, and United Nations and African Union officials meeting in
Moscow today should press Sudan's government to make these legal and
policy changes a matter of urgent priority, Human Rights Watch said.

The 25-page report, "The Way Forward: Ending Human Rights Abuses and Repression across Sudan"
documents human rights violations and repression in Khartoum and
northern states, ongoing violence in Darfur, and the fighting that
threatens civilians in Southern Sudan. It is based on field research in
eastern Chad and Southern Sudan in July and August.

"Sudan is at a crossroads," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director
at Human Rights Watch. "It can either make good on its promises or
allow the situation to deteriorate further with its repressive

Today's meeting of concerned governments and intergovernmental
bodies in Moscow including the UN, AU and League of Arab States comes
at a critical time in Sudan. The National Congress Party (NCP)-led
Government of National Unity (GNU) is facing an interlocking mosaic of
human rights and political challenges in the coming months.

Darfur peace talks, which have faltered in recent months, are set to
resume this month in Doha. Under the terms of the 2005 CPA, national
elections are scheduled for April 2010 and a southern referendum on
independence for January 2011. Sudan's failure in any of these
processes can undermine its overall progress.

"Those who care about the Sudanese people should put human rights
first, through strong, comprehensive and coordinated pressure on the
governing party to change its ways in the South, on Darfur and in
Khartoum," said Gagnon.

The government should immediately end attacks on civilians in
Darfur, charge or release people it has arrested arbitrarily, and end
harassment of civil society activists, said Human Rights Watch. It
should prioritize provisions of the CPA that have clear human rights
and security implications, Human Rights Watch said. These include
genuine reform of its national security apparatus, North-South border
demarcation, and security agreements to withdraw and downsize troops
and integrate former militias.

Arbitrary Arrests

Sudanese national security officials, acting under the sweeping
powers of the National Security Forces Act (NSFA), have been arresting
and detaining civil society activists, opposition leaders, and
suspected rebels in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Kassala, Darfur and
elsewhere, often for prolonged periods and without access to family or
lawyers, Human Rights Watch research indicated. For example, at least
seven Darfuri students who are members of the United Popular Front
(UPF) have been in detention since April 2009. Their group held events
at several Sudanese universities supporting the International Criminal
Court (ICC), which on March 4 issued an indictment against Sudan's
president, Omar al-Bashir.

On October 1, security officers arrested two more members of the
student group in Gazeera state following a university debate on Darfur.
Government security forces have also harassed and arrested activists
from Kassala in eastern Sudan and political opposition party members in
Khartoum and Southern Kordofan.

On August 28, security officers arrested another Darfuri activist,
Abdelmajeed Saleh Abaker Haroun, in downtown Khartoum and they continue
to detain him without charge.

"The Sudanese government should end its practice of arbitrary
arrests, release or charge people it has detained without legal basis,
and it should genuinely reform national security laws," said Gagnon.

Harassment of Civil Society and Suppression of Information

The full extent of human rights violations in the northern states
and in Darfur is unknown because of government censorship of the media.
Its closure of three Sudanese human rights organizations following the
ICC indictment further restricted the flow of information about human
rights across Sudan. The expulsion of 13 international humanitarian
organizations from Darfur around the same time has also restricted the
flow of information about humanitarian needs.

The policy of pre-print censorship, which Human Rights Watch has documented,
continued with security officers operating under the Security Forces
Act censoring and suspending newspapers and blocking civil society
activities, particularly on elections, while preparations are beginning
for the April 2010 elections.

Human Rights Watch has found that on at least six occasions in the
last four months, security and humanitarian authorities interrupted or
prevented civil society groups and political parties from holding talks
about elections in Khartoum, Port Sudan, Medani and elsewhere in
northern states and Darfur. In one case, security officials detained
and questioned members of the Communist party for distributing leaflets
in Khartoum.

"By repressing civil society groups and political parties, the
Sudanese government is restricting fundamental political freedoms at
the time they are most important," Gagnon said.

Between January and June, security officials prevented publication
of newspapers on at least 10 occasions through heavy censorship,
harassed or arrested journalists and the author of a book on Darfur,
and shut down an organization that was training and supporting
journalists. In September, government censorship caused suspension of
at least two major papers.

President Bashir announced on September 29 that his government
would stop pre-print censorship, but also warned journalists not to
exceed established "red lines." It remains to be seen whether this
statement will translate into greater freedom of expression on critical
matters of public interest.

Ongoing Clashes in Darfur

In Darfur, recent clashes between the governing party-led Sudan
Armed Forces and rebels in September and the use of indiscriminate
bombings demonstrate that the war is not over. Government air and
ground attacks on villages around Korma North Darfur on September 17
and 18 reportedly killed 16 civilians, including women, and burned
several villages.

Witnesses from the North Darfur town of Um Baru told Human Rights
Watch that government bombing in May hit water pumps and killed and
injured scores of civilians.

"They were dropping 12 bombs a day," one witness told Human Rights Watch. "They dropped in all the areas around the town."

Clashes between government and JEM rebels at Muhajariya, South
Darfur, in February included an intensive government bombing campaign
that killed scores of civilians and displaced 40,000. An estimated 2.7
million people in displaced persons camps in Darfur and 200,000 in Chad
are unable to return to their villages for fear of the attacks and
violence, including sexual violence, by government soldiers and
government-allied militia.

Insecurity in Southern Sudan

In Abyei and other flashpoints along the North-South border, the
GNU's failure to implement the peace agreement provisions on border
demarcation and troop withdrawal and downsizing threatens to expose
civilians to further abuse and danger. Both armies have failed to
downsize and to integrate former militias fully, as required by the
security arrangements in the peace agreement.

During the February clashes in Malakal
between the northern government forces and the southern Sudan People's
Liberation Army soldiers, former militias whom the armed forces failed
to integrate instigated violence and human rights violations. The
presidency has still not taken sufficient action to remove NCP-backed
former militias from the area and reduce the threat of further violence.

Elsewhere in Southern Sudan, intense inter-ethnic fighting
killed at least 1,200 civilians in the first half of 2009. The Sudan
People's Liberation Movement-led Government of Southern Sudan has so
far been unable to protect civilians from the civilian-on-civilian
fighting, or from a steady stream of attacks by the rebel Lord's
Resistance Army operating in Central and Western Equatoria since
September 2008.

"The people of Southern Sudan have borne the brunt of the intense
inter-ethnic fighting, rebel attacks and clashes between the northern
and southern armies," Gagnon said.

Both the southern government and the national government need to do
more to prevent the violence and protect civilians, Human Rights Watch
said. The United Nations Mission in Sudan peacekeeping mission should
also increase efforts to prevent violence and protect civilians, Human
Rights Watch said.

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.