(Geneva) - The United Nations Human Rights Council should reject the Sudanese government's request to terminate the mandate of the special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the council members today.
The special rapporteur, Sima Samar, will on June 16 deliver her latest report to the council, the UN's leading human rights body, in which she documents a range of serious human rights issues facing the whole country. Despite her conclusion that there has been little concrete improvement in the human rights situation in Sudan, the government and its allies are seeking to block the council from extending her mandate.
"Sudan is enduring a massive human rights crisis that affects millions of people," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "For the council to drop its special scrutiny of Sudan at this crucial time would be to duck its responsibility to monitor and address major human rights violations."
The special rapporteur has sought to play a constructive role in Sudan, working with both the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan to help them carry out their human rights obligations. Her report highlights critical issues, many of which have been documented by Human Rights Watch, including the Sudanese security forces' harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, and increasing censorship and restrictions on the media. Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that these restrictions will diminish the chances that elections currently slated for February 2010 will be free and fair.
The special rapporteur also addressed ongoing security concerns and the lack of mechanisms for civilian protection and the rule of law in Darfur and Southern Sudan. More than a thousand civilian deaths from armed conflict have been reported so far in 2009. Many thousands more are at risk following the government's expulsion of humanitarian organizations that provided 40 percent of the aid in Northern Sudan and the transitional areas.
The special rapporteur also highlighted the government's continuing failure to investigate and prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations in the past, including abuses during fighting between the northern Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and southern Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) at Abyei in May 2008.
Currently, the special rapporteur is the only UN or other independent international mechanism monitoring and publicly reporting on the situation in all of Sudan. The United Nations - African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has human rights officers, but they cover only Darfur, and both their ability to move throughout Darfur and to report publicly on the situation are limited. Similarly, human rights officers with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) focus on Southern Sudan and also have limited ability to report publicly.
Following the government's expulsion of international aid organizations in March, its closure of Sudanese organizations and the increasing repression of human rights activists and journalists, the special rapporteur's role, as mandated by the Human Rights Council, becomes increasingly critical.
"We are seeing an increasingly dangerous silence on the human rights situation in Sudan," de Rivero said. "Human Rights Council members should focus on supporting the victims in Sudan by extending the mandate of the special rapporteur."