Fact-finding Mission Needed Into Deaths, Detention of Protesters

Published: 16 Nov 2013

Dear Commissioners,
Urgent Fact-Finding Mission needed to investigate killings and detention by security
forces in Sudan
The undersigned organisations are writing to you to express our deep concern at the lack of
action or public comments made by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
(ACHPR) and the African Union (AU) concerning recent events in Sudan, including the
deaths of at least 170 protestors and the detention of over 800 others, and restrictions on the
media. The gravity of the situation requires a swift and concerted response from the ACHPR.
As the premier human rights institution on the continent, the ACHPR should urgently
condemn the excessive and disproportionate use of force against protestors, and restrictions
on basic civil and political rights in Sudan.
The ACHPR should also send a Fact Finding Mission to investigate these violations and call
on the Government of Sudan to immediately stop further abuses. Such an inquiry could be
organised in close coordination with the African Union High Level Implementation Panel and
relevant UN bodies.
We call on the ACHPR to act swiftly to protect human and peoples’ rights in Sudan, which is
a state party to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The African Charter
contains guarantees relating to the rights to liberty, freedom of expression, information,
association and assembly under Articles 6, 9, 10 and 11. The Sudanese government
response to the protests has violated these obligations. It has shown no signs of responding
to calls for an urgent, independent and impartial investigation into incidents surrounding the
recent protests.
The findings of any inquiry should include recommendations to the AU as to take up their
responsibilities as set out in the AU Constitutive Act to promote peace, security, and stability
in Sudan; promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good
governance; and promote and protect human and peoples’ rights.
Government response to demonstrations
Demonstrations taking place throughout the country that began on 23 September have been
met with excessive use of force by the Sudanese authorities. Many of the protests turned
violent as protesters vandalized and set fire to gas stations and police stations, and threw
stones at police and security forces. Government security forces, including the National
Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and the Central Reserve Police forces, have fired
live ammunition at protestors, beaten them with rubber batons, and fired tear gas to disperse
The initial demonstrations were sparked by a government announcement on 22 September
that subsidies on fuel and other commodities would be lifted. As the demonstrations spread
to cities and towns, the death toll and numbers of people in detention rose.
Whilst the exact death toll linked to these events is not known, Sudanese human rights
groups have documented at least 170 deaths. The Sudanese Doctors’ Union has placed the
figure at 210. According to witnesses, the majority of deaths resulted from gun-shots to the
upper parts of the body and head and strongly suggests the disproportionate use of force
against scores of protestors.
Since the demonstrations began, the Sudanese authorities have shut down national and
international media outlets, ordered journalists not to write about these incidents and issued
strict instructions to newspaper editors on what information can be published about the
On 25 September the Medical Director of Omdurman Hospital was summoned by the NISS
after he spoke publicly on BBC Arabic about the numbers of casualties admitted to his
hospital. The Chairman of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union was also detained for a few hours
on 5 October after he reported publicly that at least 210 people had been killed according to
data from his Union.
At least 800 people have been detained by the police and the NISS since the
demonstrations began on 23 September 2013, according to the African Centre for Justice
and Peace Studies. Those in custody include scores of political activists and human rights
defenders as well as journalists, lawyers, and youth activists, who have been arrested at
their homes and places of work.
Authorities have used Sudan’s repressive National Security Act of 2010 to detain people
who have spoken out or sought to document the abuses. Under the act, detainees can be
held for four and a half months without charge or trial, and are usually held incommunicado
and without access to their families or lawyers for prolonged periods in violation of
international law, giving rise to a risk of torture or ill-treatment in detention. There are serious
concerns for the safety of the dozens still in national security detention, many of who are
without access to their families and lawyers.
At least 50 people who participated in the protests have been arrested, charged with public
order offences and subject to summary trials that do not meet international law standards
and fail to guarantee procedural rights. Some of those convicted have been sentenced to
lashing. On 24 September 2013, for example, the Omdurman Central Criminal Court
summarily tried and convicted eight protestors arrested from a demonstration the night
before in the Al Abassia area of Omdurman for disturbance of public peace (article 67 of the
1991 Penal Code) and public nuisance (article 77), sentencing them each to twenty lashes
and a fine of 200 Sudanese pounds. The group had no legal representation during the
proceedings and the lashing penalty was carried out immediately.
The leadership role of the ACHPR
The human rights violations that have taken place in Sudan in connection with the
demonstrations reflect a broader governance and human rights crisis in the country that
requires concerted and swift action by the ACHPR and AU. We recall that the ACHPR in its
2012 Concluding Observations and Recommendations on the 4th and 5th Periodic Report
submitted by Sudan recommended that Sudan “appoint an independent commission to
investigate all extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, and torture by the police
and make public its findings.”
The recent tragic events cannot be addressed in isolation from serious and widespread
violations of human rights and humanitarian law taking place on a daily basis throughout
Sudan, including armed attacks against civilians in Sudan’s armed conflict zones of Darfur,
South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The ACHPR’s request for provisional measures in the
case of South Kordofan in November 2011 remains unimplemented by the Government of
Sudan, in violation of Rule 98 of the ACHPR’s Rules of Procedure to “adopt Provisional
Measures to prevent irreparable harm to the victim[s].”
Over the past twenty years, the ACHPR has issued several resolutions demonstrating
commitment to peace and security, justice and accountability, and respect for fundamental
human rights in Sudan and Africa as a whole. It has shown leadership on Sudan’s human
rights crises. For example, in 2004, the ACHPR undertook an investigative mission to Darfur,
which drew the attention of the AU to the crisis and has demonstrated the potential positive
impact of the ACHPR.
The ACHPR has a clear mandate to conduct fact-finding investigations. Under Article 45 of
the African Charter, the ACHPR is empowered to conduct research into human rights
practices and to give its views and recommendations to governments, as well as to cooperate
with other African and international institutions concerned with the promotion and
protection of human and peoples’ rights. Article 46 of the Charter gives the ACHPR the right
to use “any appropriate method of investigation.”
In June 2013, the ACHPR carried out a fact-finding mission in the Republic of Mali, having
been requested by the AU Executive Council to open an investigation into the human rights
situation in the North of Mali and to provide concrete recommendations on measures to be
Recalling the mandate of the Commission, we urge you to take urgent action to establish
and send a fact-finding mission to investigate the death and injury of protesters and mass
detentions in towns across Sudan, in violation of international human rights law.
Yours sincerely,
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies
Amman Centre for Human Rights Studies
Arry Organisation for Human Rights and Development
Conscience International Sierra Leone
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders’ Project
Human Rights Institute of South Africa
Human Rights Watch
International Refugee Rights Initiative
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project
Sudan Consortium

Regions: North and Horn of Africa, Sudan
Type: Advocacy