(New York) - The European Union Election Observation Mission to Sudan should consider the impact of ongoing human rights abuses and insecurity on the elections process, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the mission on March 2, 2010. Human Rights Watch also urged observers to insist that President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, appear in The Hague to respond to the charges against him.

Sudan is scheduled to hold national elections in April. The EU mission will be in Sudan during March and April. Its task is to observe the Sudan elections process and assess its compliance with international standards relating to freedoms of expression, association, movement, and freedom from discrimination, and the right to an effective remedy.

"EU observers should look at entire human rights situation and how it is affecting the elections environment," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "They need to look at the overall picture to do the job right."

In the letter, Human Rights Watch described patterns of human rights abuses in the pre-elections period that researchers documented in November and December 2009. During the voter registration period and afterward, security forces in northern Sudan violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations and restricted public rallies, political party gatherings, and other events.

Authorities harassed, assaulted, and arbitrarily arrested political party observers and human rights activists, including Darfuri students who have spoken out about elections and other sensitive topics such as the role of international justice in Darfur. Southern Sudanese authorities were also responsible for human rights violations, arbitrarily arresting and detaining members of the northern ruling National Congress Party and political parties seen to be in alliance with it.

The letter also stressed that ongoing armed clashes between government and rebel forces in Darfur, and increasing inter-ethnic violence in Southern Sudan, could impair freedom of movement for people to reach polling places.

"A complete and thorough assessment means looking at the whole context, not just technical elections issues," Gagnon said.

The letter highlighted the International Criminal Court's outstanding warrant against al-Bashir on the grounds of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. The EU should refrain from direct contact with him in view of the pending arrest warrant, Human Rights Watch said.

"Al-Bashir is a wanted man who needs to answer to charges of heinous crimes at the ICC," Gagnon said. "EU silence on this issue risks tacitly endorsing Khartoum's total obstruction of justice for atrocities against Darfuris."