For Immediate Release
Sudan: Protect Rights Ahead of Referendum
High-Level UN Meeting Should Promote Conditions for Free, Fair Vote
NEW YORK - States convening at the United Nations for a high-level meeting on
Sudan on September 24, 2010, should press Sudanese authorities to ensure
that the forthcoming referendum on southern independence is free of the
human rights violations that marred the April elections, Human Rights
Watch said today.
More than 30 nations and international organizations are expected to
attend the meeting, convened by the UN secretary-general to coincide
with the annual General Assembly meetings. Delegates are expected to
express their support for the January 2011 referendum, which will
determine whether Southern Sudan remains part of Sudan or secedes and
becomes an independent nation.
"The delegates at the Sudan meeting should do more than confirm that
the referendum will happen on time," said Rona Peligal, Africa director
at Human Rights Watch. "This is also a prime opportunity for them to
insist on better human rights conditions in Sudan."
The April elections and the upcoming referendum for southern
independence are milestones in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement,
which ended 22 years of civil war in which an estimated 2 million people
lost their lives.
Human Rights Watch remains concerned about impunity for human rights
violations by security forces across Sudan, restrictions on civil and
political rights, and the treatment of minority groups throughout Sudan.
The two parties to the peace agreement - the ruling National Congress
Party (NCP) and the southern ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement
(SPLM) - should state publicly that they will not expel each other's
minorities in the event of secession, Human Rights Watch said.
The delegates to the September 24 UN meeting should also address the deteriorating situation in Darfur.
"Focus on the southern referendum should not shift attention away
from the ongoing crises in Darfur," Peligal said. "The nations concerned
about the situation in Sudan need to press Khartoum now to end impunity
for ongoing human rights violations in Darfur."
As Human Rights Watch has extensively documented, the national elections in April 2010
were deeply flawed. They were marred by human rights violations,
including restrictions on free speech and assembly, particularly in
northern Sudan. The elections also occasioned widespread intimidation,
arbitrary arrests, and physical violence against election monitors and
opponents of the ruling parties by Sudanese security forces across the
In the period following the elections, the human rights situation
deteriorated further as the ruling party, using the National
Intelligence and Security Services, cracked down on opponents,
activists, and journalists in Khartoum and northern states. Human Rights
Watch documented additional cases of arbitrary arrests of activists in
August and September.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on the Sudanese national
government to enact key human rights reforms required under the peace
agreement, such as reforming the repressive national security apparatus.
In Southern Sudan, election-related disputes sparked clashes between
the southern government army, the SPLM, and aggrieved candidates and
other opponents of the southern ruling party. In Jonglei state, for
example, General George Athor, who unsuccessfully ran for governor,
clashed with the southern army on multiple occasions. As of September,
large numbers of the southern army's soldiers were still deployed in
northern Jonglei state where civilians continue to report rape and other
abuses. Soldiers have also conducted violent operations against armed
groups aligned to opponents of the southern ruling party in Upper Nile
state, resulting in human rights violations there.
Both national and Southern Sudanese authorities should hold their
security forces accountable for human rights violations that occurred
during and after the elections, Human Rights Watch said.
Civil and Political Rights Threatened
Although the head of the national security service in early August
lifted pre-print censorship, other restrictions on political expression
remain in place. During research in Sudan in August, Human Rights Watch
found that both in the northern states, where authorities support the
continued unity of Sudan, and in Southern Sudan, where authorities
support southern secession, journalists and civil society are not free
to speak openly about any opposition to the prevailing sentiment.
Human Rights Watch also found increased anxiety over the citizenship
rights of southerners living in Khartoum and elsewhere in northern
states. Southerners living throughout Sudan will be eligible to vote in
the referendum. The vast majority of them live in Southern Sudan, but an
estimated 1.5 million live in Khartoum and other northern towns, many
in settlements for displaced persons.
In recent months, officials in the northern ruling party have
publicly threatened that southerners may not be able to stay in the
north in the event of a secession vote. Both southerners in the north
and northerners living in Southern Sudan told Human Rights Watch that
they feared retaliation, even expulsion, if secession were approved.
International standards protect people from arbitrary or
discriminatory removal or deprivation of their nationality. The Sudanese
authorities should publicly pledge that no one will be at risk of
statelessness, or risk losing enjoyment of other basic rights, as a
result of the outcome of the referendum.
"The UN meeting provides a perfect opportunity for the parties to
declare there will be no expulsions of southerners from the north, or
northerners from the south," Peligal said.
Impasse at Abyei
Delegates at the UN meeting this week should also press the two parties
to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to make it an urgent priority to
resolve the political impasse over Abyei, the oil-rich area along the
north-south border where northern and southern forces clashed in 2008. The issue remains a key flashpoint for further conflict and human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
"The situation in Abyei could easily deteriorate and lead to more
conflict without a concerted effort to protect civilians and defuse
tensions on the ground," Peligal said.
Under the peace agreement, the area is to hold its own parallel
referendum in January 2011 to decide whether it will belong to the north
or south, but the parties have made no progress in agreeing on the
arrangements for this vote or in taking steps to resolve differences
between local populations and protect their rights, as Human Rights
Watch documented in August.
The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), which has a mandate to
protect civilians, should increase its patrols throughout Abyei and
other key volatile areas along the north-south border, and Sudanese
authorities should ensure peacekeepers' access to these areas, Human
Rights Watch said.
Abuses by Soldiers in Southern Sudan
The Sudanese government and international supporters should not ignore
human rights violations by security forces in Southern Sudan, where
election-related grievances have provoked human rights violations by the
southern government's soldiers in the months following the April vote,
Human Rights Watch said.
In northern Jonglei and Upper Nile states, for example, Human Rights
Watch documented killings and rapes committed by these soldiers in June
and July. The soldiers targeted civilians whom they accused of
supporting "renegade" commanders and local militia groups who opposed
the southern ruling party.
In Upper Nile state, the governing party's troops conducted
particularly violent operations against a militia group allegedly linked
to SPLM-DC, a breakaway political party led by Lam Akol. In one
village, a 60-year-old woman told Human Rights Watch that soldiers had
rounded up her son and three friends, tied their hands behind their
backs, and shot them dead.
"These incidents underscore the urgent need for the southern
government to instruct soldiers on their human rights obligations and to
hold them accountable for all violations," Peligal said.
Human Rights Watch also urged human rights personnel for the UN
mission to monitor and report on these abuses and to press the southern
armed force to strengthen its accountability mechanisms before the
referendum. International donors engaged in reforming the security
sector in Southern Sudan should include accountability and human rights
in their programs.
The Government of Southern Sudan has, appropriately, put the southern
police forces in charge of referendum security, rather than soldiers
who have been responsible for abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
Protect Civilians and Insist on Justice for Crimes in Darfur
Human Rights Watch also urged the international delegates to ensure
stronger protection of civilians from ongoing violence and rights abuses
in Darfur, Human Rights Watch said.
The delegates should insist that those wanted by the International
Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and
genocide allegedly committed in Darfur appear in The Hague to face the
charges against them. President Omar al-Bashir; Ahmed Haroun, the
country's former minister for humanitarian affairs and current governor
of Southern Kordofan state; and Ali Kosheib, a "Janjaweed" militia
leader whose real name is Ali Mohammed Ali, are all subject to arrest
warrants by the ICC.
The situation in Darfur has deteriorated in recent months, and the Sudanese government continues to carry out armed attacks on rebel factions and civilians.
In early September, for example, armed militias (some wearing
military uniforms) on camels and horses and in vehicles mounted with
guns killed 37 people in an attack on a market in North Darfur. The
UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which is
charged with protecting civilians and has a base 15 kilometers away at
Tawila, turned back in its first effort to reach the site on the advice
of a pro-government armed group and did not reach the market until
nearly a week after the attack.
The incident underscores the need for the peacekeeping operations to
interpret its protection mandate robustly and to insist on immediate
access to areas where violations occur, Human Rights Watch said.
Violence has also increased inside camps for people who have been
displaced by the conflict. At Kalma camp in South Darfur and at Hamadiya
camp in West Darfur, tensions in July between supporters and opponents
of peace talks, known as the Doha peace process, led to violence,
killing 11 people.
The impact of the fighting between armed groups in Darfur and of
government attacks on civilians has not been fully documented, in part
because the government and rebels have repeatedly denied peacekeepers
and humanitarian aid groups access to affected areas. Following violence
in Kalma camp, for example, the Sudanese government blocked
humanitarian organizations from the camp for several weeks.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged leaders of the peacekeeping
operation to increase human rights monitoring and public reporting and,
where necessary, issue statements pressing Sudanese authorities to end
In September, the Sudanese government endorsed a new security and
development strategy for Darfur, which the peacekeepers have publicly
supported. The plan envisions the return of displaced people to their
homes, but it does not contain clear measures to ensure their returns
are voluntary, or that militias are disarmed and soldiers held
accountable, Human Rights Watch said.
"Darfur cannot be developed unless there is real security," Peligal
said. "The international actors need to press the Sudanese government to
immediately end attacks on civilians, let humanitarian groups and
peacekeepers operate effectively, and send people home only when they
want. The government also needs to bring to justice those who have
committed abuses in Darfur, including by cooperating with the
International Criminal Court."
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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.