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NGO Panel Highlights Major Challenges to Human Rights in Sudan

(May 31, 2012) On the margins of the 51st ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which opened at the Kairaba Beach Hotel on 18 April, a group of human rights organizations (African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre (DRDC), International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHARDP)  and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)) on April 18, 2012 in Banjul organized a panel to highlight the challenges to human rights in Sudan. As the ACHPR prepared to consider the government of Sudan’s 4th and 5th periodic reports to the Commission, NGOs highlighted their concerns, including about ongoing conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the situation of human rights defenders and southerners who have been living in the north and are now labeled “foreigners.” In addition, NGOs warned of the potentially devastating consequences of a renewed full-scale war between north Sudan and South Sudan, unless the African and international community acts urgently.

The side event was chaired by Hannah Foster, Executive Director of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies and included Abdelbagi Jibril, of the DRDC, Osman Hummaida, of ACJPS, Hassan Shire, of the EHAHRDP, Zeinab Mohammed Blandia of Ru’ya and Daniel Bekele of Human Rights Watch.

Abdelbagi Jibril described the impact of conflict in Sudan:  “There is a terrible situation on the ground in Sudan; people are dying on a daily basis because of the conflict, which started more than four decades ago.” Jibril added that many people around the world expected that the splitting of South Sudan from Sudan would bring peace, but this has not been the case and fighting is intensifying.

Osman Hummaida of ACJPS expressed concern about evidence that Chinese-made weapons are used in the Sudan conflict. He also accused the Sudanese authorities of systematic use of rape as a weapon of war. According to him, when Sudan submitted its last periodic report, the African Commission expressed concern that Sudan has struggled with many political, social and ethnic challenges that have fueled human rights violations in Sudan. Severe violations of human rights by state actors are a daily reality in Sudan and the independent South Sudan, he added. He called on the international community, mainly the African Commission, the UN and its allies to intervene in the conflict, warning that failure to do so will definitely see the two countries go into full-scale war.

Hassan Shire, Executive Director of the EHAHRDP) highlighted the conditions that human rights defenders face in carrying out their work. He mentioned that the charges brought against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court sparked serious attacks on human rights defenders in Sudan. The conflict in the contested border regions between South Sudan and north Sudan has brought the two countries to the brink of war.

Zeinab Mohammad Blandia, a Sudanese human rights defender and the Executive Director of the organization Ru’ya (meaning vision in Arabic), denounced the bombing by the Sudan army of the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, which has compelled the civilian population to hide in caves to avoid being killed. She has expressed her concern on the situation of women and children on the ground. She called upon the African Commission and the UN to conduct a field mission to witness the ongoing massive human rights violations.

Daniel Bekele of the Human Rights Watch also spoke on the panel, focusing on citizenship rights. He highlighted the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese who find themselves stripped of their citizenship in northern Sudan, following a revision of the citizenship law after South Sudan seceded. Many of them were born in North and have never lived in the South. He recommended the Sudanese review of this Citizenship Law Act on nationality in order to ensure that those who need state protection have access to it and to ensure even those who do not choose to, or are not able to, access citizenship have their rights respected.

In conclusion, the panelists emphasized the need for the African Commission should urgently send a fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of international crimes and the humanitarian catastrophe in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.