(New York) - The Obama administration's new Sudan policy, announced this morning, represents a positive step toward improving human rights and securing justice in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said today. The policy aims to end conflict in Darfur and ensure implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It recognizes the need to apply continued and increased pressure on Sudan to obtain progress on human rights and justice for atrocities committed in Darfur to ensure lasting peace in Sudan.
Human Rights Watch said that the US could strengthen its policy by publicly articulating clear benchmarks that would effectively measure progress on ending human rights violations and ensuring accountability for war crimes in Darfur, and enacting national human rights reforms envisioned in the 2005 agreement. These include reforming the repressive national security apparatus and ending censorship and harassment of civil society throughout Sudan.
"The US should use its package of sanctions and incentives to press for real progress in ending human rights abuses across Sudan, and ensuring accountability in Darfur," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This should be an open and rigorous process on all fronts."
Although Sudan is scheduled to hold national elections in April 2010, the country currently lacks conditions for free and fair elections. The armed conflict in Darfur is ongoing. In addition, over the last year the National Congress Party-led government has stepped up repressive tactics against civil society throughout the northern states with arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as censorship and harassment of activists and journalists. Human Rights Watch documented these trends in its October 2009 report, "The Way Forward: Ending Human Rights Abuses and Repression across Sudan."
Human Rights Watch has also documented multiple security problems in Southern Sudan, including escalating inter-ethnic violence that has left 1,200 dead this year alone. The security problems in the south could interrupt the elections process there.
"The United States should not support an election process that is unlikely to be free and fair just so they can check it off their list," Gagnon said. "The US should make it absolutely clear that Sudan needs to improve human rights now, ahead of elections."
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating and prosecuting serious international crimes committed in Darfur. The court has to date initiated cases against four individuals - including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir - for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. Human Rights Watch said the US should press Khartoum to cooperate with the ICC and make clear that accountability cannot be compromised in pursuit of other policy goals.