(Nairobi ) – New amendments to Sudan’s Armed Forces Act that allow prosecution of civilians in military courts are contrary to international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) said today.
President Omar al-Bashir should not sign the amendments into law but instead should return the measure to parliament to revise consistent with Sudan’s international legal obligations.
“Sudan needs to bolster its civilian justice system to improve respect for human rights,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Giving more judicial powers over civilians to the military will take Sudan in exactly the wrong direction.”
The amendments, passed by parliament on July 2, 2013, allow the government to prosecute in military courts “anyone who commits a crime against the state’s security.” This is defined broadly as: the formation of an armed group to wage war against the state, or incitement to do so; armed attacks on security forces or incitement to do so; and taking up arms to commit an act that threatens the stability and security of the country.”
The amendments also allow military courts to try civilians for various crimesunder Sudan’s 1991 criminal code. These include “undermining the constitutional system,” “leaking of classified information,” and “publication of false news.” These provisions are very broad and have been used by the authorities to target perceived opponents of the ruling National Congress Party and curb the right to free speech.
A prominent independent journalist, Faisal Mohamed Salih, was charged with the publication of false news and defamation in May 2011 after he published an article calling for an independent investigation into the alleged torture and rape of the activist Safia Ishag Mohamed by members of the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). The authorities have increasingly used this and other laws to prosecute journalists for writings considered to fall outside of “red lines” drawn by the ruling party.
Trials of civilians before military courts will invariably violate Sudan’s obligations under international law to provide fair trials, the two organizations said. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, has said that military courts “should not, in any circumstances whatsoever, have jurisdiction over civilians.”
The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is party, has stated that trials of civilians by military courts should occur only under extremely limited circumstances and when the regular civilian courts are unable to undertake the trials.
“The amendments to the Armed Forces Law undermine the due process protections in Sudanese criminal law, are ill-defined, and may be used to target perceived political opponents even more harshly,” said Osman Hummaida, executive director of ACJPS. “Bashir should immediately return the law to parliament for revisions to prohibit the trial of civilians before military courts, strengthen the right to a fair trial, and require that any civilians in military custody be immediately turned over to civilian authorities.”