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Sudan: Widespread Abuses Bode Ill for Referendum

Hold Security Forces Accountable for Violations in April 2010 Elections


Both national and southern Sudanese authorities should investigate human rights abuses connected to its April 2010 elections and bring to justice those responsible, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Addressing the abuses is especially important as the country prepares for a referendum on self-determination in Southern Sudan, Human Rights Watch said.

The 32-page report, "Democracy on Hold: Rights Violations in the April 2010 Elections," documents numerous rights violations across Sudan by both northern and southern authorities in the period leading up to, during, and following the April elections. These abuses include restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, particularly in northern Sudan, and widespread intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and physical violence against monitors and opponents of the incumbent parties by Sudanese security forces across the country. The report is based on research carried out between November 2009 and April 2010 in Khartoum and Southern Sudan.

"The national elections were an important milestone of the 2005 peace agreement, which was meant to pave the way forward for Sudan," said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "But pushing the elections-related abuses under the rug would not bode well for the referendum coming up in January."

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended 22 years of civil war between northern and southern forces, called for Sudan to hold national elections and a referendum on southern self-determination. Southern Sudanese, including more than 1.5 million southerners living in Khartoum and northern states, will decide in the January 2011 vote whether to secede from the north.

Human Rights Watch called on the national unity government to enact genuine reforms called for in the peace agreement, including improvements to the national security apparatus. The national security law currently grants broad powers of search, seizure, and arrest, and allows for detention without judicial review for up to four and a half months, in violation of international law.

Human Rights Watch found that in the months leading up to the April elections the ruling National Congress Party suppressed peaceful assembly by opposition party members in the north and prevented free association and speech. During election week, there were fewer cases of such restrictions, but several cases of harassment, intimidation, and arrest of opposition members and elections observers.

In Southern Sudan, Human Rights Watch documented widespread intimidation, arbitrary arrest, detention, and mistreatment of opponents of the southern ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), as well as of election observers and voters, throughout the elections process in several southern states.

In addition to these rights violations, serious irregularities in the conduct of the election - such as multiple voting, ballot-stuffing, and other acts of fraud - undermined their legitimacy.

On April 26, the elections commission declared both ruling parties the winners in their regions following the vote-counting. Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, was re-elected president of the national unity government.

In the weeks following the April elections, Human Rights Watch documented a worsening human rights situation across Sudan, with renewed repression in the north, incidents of elections-related violence in the south, and ongoing conflict in Darfur.

Human Rights Watch also called on Sudan to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, as required under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1593.

"The elections were supposed to help expand democracy in Sudan, but they have had the opposite effect," Peligal said. "The electoral victory has essentially emboldened the ruling parties, particularly in the north, to crack down on opponents, activists, and journalists."

The post-election crackdown in Khartoum included the May 15 arrest and detention of the opposition figure Hassan al-Turabi and of journalists, the arrest of Darfuri students, and the resumption of pre-print censorship leading to the suspension of three newspapers.

In early June, security forces violently repressed a peaceful demonstration by Sudanese doctors striking for better wages and working conditions, and detained six doctors without charge until June 24, when the doctors called off the strike. Two of them were subjected to physical mistreatment by national security officials.

In Southern Sudan, simmering disputes over election results between the ruling party and independent candidates have led to clashes between armed forces. In Jonglei state, for example, forces loyal to General George Athor, who unsuccessfully ran for state governor, have clashed with the southern army on multiple occasions since the results were announced. Vote-rigging and intimidation during the elections have led to anger and frustration in the south.

In Darfur, where many communities boycotted the elections process, the Sudanese government continues to carry out armed attacks on rebel factions and civilians, using both aerial bombs and ground forces. In May, this violence caused the highest death tolls in two years.

"Democracy on Hold" also examines the reaction of the international community to the widespread abuses during the elections. The report highlights how political considerations related to efforts to carry out the 2005 agreement, in particular the referendum, have made many international actors reluctant to criticize Sudan's human rights record.

"Sudan's international partners have a critical role to play in urging Sudanese authorities to end impunity for abuses," Peligal said. "Timid silence on their part will both jeopardize the prospects for a peaceful and meaningful referendum and derail the democratic transformation envisioned by the peace agreement."

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.