Emergency Courts Violate Fair Trial Standards
Sudan's justice system is handing down barbaric punishments including death by stoning and amputations, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to Sudan's president condemning these punishments and strongly urging that the sentences not be carried out.
In recent months, a pregnant southern Sudanese woman, Abok Alfau Akok, was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, and at least six men have been sentenced to limb amputation for theft.
Human Rights Watch expressed particular concern about Sudan’s so-called “emergency courts,” where the amputation sentences have been issued. These emergency tribunals were established in 2001 under the state of emergency to deal summarily with crimes such as armed robbery, murder, and smuggling of weapons. Human Rights Watch said the tribunals do not meet basic fair trial standards, as they restrict legal representation and appeals.
“These recent sentences from the Sudan judicial system are nothing short of inhumane,” said Jemera Rone, Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Imposing the death penalty in Arabic on this young woman who does not understand Arabic well constitutes a denial of her most fundamental human rights, and the amputation of hands and feet is a brutal punishment that disables permanently.”
More background on these cases follows:
On December 8, 2001, a criminal court in Nyala, southern Darfur, sentenced to death by stoning eighteen-year-old Abok Alfau Akok, a Christian woman from the Dinka tribe, after finding her guilty of adultery. Ms. Akok was pregnant at the time of her conviction. She did not have legal representation during the trial. The trial was conducted in Arabic, which is not her language, and there was no translation of the proceedings to ensure that she understood fully the case against her. The man with whom she allegedly had sex was not tried, because the court lacked sufficient evidence to prosecute him. The case is now on appeal.
Article 6 (5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Sudan ratified in March 1986, strictly prohibits the imposition of capital punishment on a pregnant woman.
Human Rights Watch called upon the Sudanese government to protect Ms. Akok from the arbitrary and unacceptable punishment against her. “The fact that only the woman has been tried for the crime of adultery particularly suggests discriminatory application of this harsh law,” said Rone.
Since December 2001 at least six men in the states of Northern and Southern Darfur have been sentenced to limb amputations for crimes such as robbery and possession of weapons.
Background details on these cases:
- On December 12, 2001, an emergency tribunal in Nyala, Southern Darfur convicted Abdu Ismail Tong and Yousif Yaow Mombai of stealing three million Sudanese pounds (approximately U.S. $1160). They confessed while in police custody, but later denied the crime, raising serious concern about the possibility of confession under duress. They were not allowed to be represented by advocates during their trial, and the court sentenced them to amputation of the right hand.
- On December 25, 2001, an emergency tribunal in Alfahir City in Darfur sentenced Mohamed Adam Yahya and Ahmed Suleiman Mohamed to amputation of the right hand followed by death by hanging. They were convicted of armed robbery.
- On December 27, 2001, Adam Ibrahim Osman and Abd Allaha Ismail Ibrahim from the town of Um Kadada were sentenced to cross amputation, i.e., amputation of the right hand and left foot. The emergency court convicted them of banditry and possession of unlicensed weapons.
All of these sentences were issued by emergency courts composed of one civil judge and two military judges. The accused are not allowed legal representation and are allowed only a week to appeal to the district chief justice. In May 2001, these courts reportedly started to function in Southern and Northern Darfur states, where the six men described above were convicted and sentenced.
Human Rights Watch said the lack of legal representation for the accused, the summary nature of the proceedings, and the limited right of appeal (here only to the district judge in Darfur) directly contravenes international commitments that Sudan has adopted under the ICCPR.
“The emergency courts handing out these drastic penalties do not allow the accused to have a lawyer or advocate, even though so much is at stake,” said Rone. “Limb amputation mutilates the convicted person, and disables from most gainful employment.”
Human Rights Watch urged President Bashir to ensure that these cruel and inhuman sentences are not carried out and called on the Sudanese government to monitor all courts in Sudan to ensure accordance with international human rights law and the rule of law.