(New York) - Political repression and human rights abuses across Sudan - in addition to widespread logistical failures and technical irregularities - marred Sudan's first multi-party elections in more than 20 years, Human Rights Watch said today. Sudanese authorities should urgently investigate the human rights violations and bring those responsible to justice, Human Rights Watch said.
The re-election of President Omar al-Bashir, announced April 26, 2010, has no legal effect on the International Criminal Court charges pending against him, Human Rights Watch said. In March 2009, the court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in crimes committed in Darfur.
"Our concerns with these elections go beyond technical irregularities," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Political oppression and human rights violations undermined the freedom and fairness of the vote all over Sudan."
During the national elections, from April 11 through 15, international and domestic election observers reported widespread logistical and administrative problems, irregularities, and allegations of fraud, including multiple-voting and ballot-stuffing. The process was especially chaotic in the south, with serious irregularities reported in most states.
In northern states, Human Rights Watch found that the National Congress Party-dominated government continued to foster a restrictive environment during the voting period through harassment, intimidation, and arrests of activists, opposition members, and election observers.
Human Rights Watch documented fewer cases of restrictions of political rights than in preceding months, but police and security officers continued to commit rights violations. Repressive laws also remained in place, contrary to requirements under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war and brought the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, former southern rebels, into a national unity government.
In one example in Khartoum, undercover police and security officers arrested an 18-year old female activist on March 31, detained her overnight, and interrogated her for handing out fliers urging people to vote against the ruling National Congress Party.
"They put me in a dark room for many hours," she told Human Rights Watch. "They kept asking me who was supporting me and how much money I was getting."
Human Rights Watch also documented intimidation during the voting. In one example from South Darfur, soldiers expelled observers from a polling place, assaulting one of them, saying, "We will kill anyone who stands against Bashir."
In southern Sudan, Human Rights Watch found that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-dominated regional government committed repeated rights abuses and created an atmosphere of oppression as people were casting their votes.
Although violence was minimal during the voting period, Human Rights Watch documented numerous incidents of arbitrary arrests and intimidation of voters, opposition members, political party election observers, and domestic election observers by security forces in several southern states, including Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, and Jonglei.
For example, on April 14, security officers arrested 14 domestic observers from the civil society organization SuNDE (Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections) at three polling places in Juba, the southern capital.
"It was sometime in the afternoon when a man in plain clothes pulled me aside after noticing I was from SuNDE," a female observer told Human Rights Watch. "He accused me of being paid by agents to destroy the elections. He tried to pull me into a car and when I resisted he slapped me twice. "
Security officers later took the woman and other observers to a local police station, where they were detained for about an hour, then released without charge.
Human Rights Watch urged Sudanese authorities to immediately investigate human rights abuses and bring those responsible to justice. Human Rights Watch also urged international agencies and elections observers to monitor the post-elections environment closely, as tensions could rise over objections to local results, and to condemn human rights violations, intimidation, and violence. On April 23, clashes over results in Unity State reportedly killed two civilians.
Human Rights Watch also called on the Sudanese government to cooperate with the ICC, as required under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1593.
"Regardless of the outcome, al-Bashir belongs in The Hague responding to the serious charges against him, for which victims have still seen no accountability," Gagnon said.
The April elections were a milestone in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement's six-year interim period. The national elections were intended to be a step toward the country's transition to democracy and were meant to pave the way for the referendum on southern self-determination planned for early 2011.
However, the process has been politically contentious at every step - from the conduct of the fifth national census in 2008 to the formation of the National Elections Commission (NEC) and subsidiary bodies, demarcation of voter constituencies, voter registration, campaigning, polling, and counting.
In the pre-election period, international organizations including Human Rights Watch repeatedly warned that conditions in Sudan were not conducive to a free and fair vote because of flaws in the legal system, restrictions on political freedoms, continuing violence in Darfur, and the failure of the election commission to ensure a fair playing field.
In the first week of April, the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Juba Alliance, an umbrella of opposition parties, announced that they would boycott the elections, citing ongoing violence in Darfur, an unresolved census dispute, the failure to reform the security laws, the uneven playing field, and bias in the election commission.
After intense negotiations, and amid visits by the United States Special Envoy and other international actors to promote the elections, two major parties, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Popular Congress Party (PCP), re-entered the race. The international support for the elections under the circumstances was sharply criticized by opposition parties and civil society groups.
International elections observers included the Carter Center, European Union, African Union, the eastern African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Arab League, and diplomatic missions from many individual countries and donors to Sudan. The Carter Center and European Union issued preliminary statements on April 17 describing flaws in the process.
Sudanese civil society groups deployed thousands of domestic election observers during the voting and issued statements throughout the week. Following the elections, civil society groups and opposition political parties announced they would not recognize the results of the elections because they were marred by irregularities and fraud by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).
Repression and Arrests of Activists and Opposition Members in Northern States
While there were fewer instances of restrictions on assembly and expression in weeks ahead of the election than in prior months, authorities continued to target activists from girifna ("we are fed up"), a group that urged the public not to vote for the ruling party.
The arrest of an 18-year-old activist on March 31 was one example. Plainclothes policemen in the Haj Youssef area of Khartoum, the capital, arrested and detained her after she handed them a "girifna" flier. She told Human Rights Watch that the undercover police and security agents subjected her to hours of questioning and threatened to subject her to a medical examination to check her virginity if she did not tell the truth.
In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, authorities targeted people who supported the opposition boycott. For example, on April 8 security officials arrested and detained the head of the Communist Party and a member of the Umma Reform and Renewal Party in Nyala, South Darfur, for publishing fliers urging voters to boycott the elections.
"They made us sign a paper promising to report daily to their office and not to work ‘against Sudan' before releasing us," recalled Nur el Sadiq, the Communist Party member.
On April 8, the attorney general's office brought a case on behalf of national security authorities against the editor of Ajras al Huriya, an opposition newspaper, and a columnist, Alhaj Warrag, for an April 4 article in support of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement's presidential candidate, Yasser Arman, and the party's decision to boycott elections.
On April 9, national security officers arrested and briefly detained a group of five Communist Party members for distributing similar pamphlets in the Port Sudan market. Another eight party members were detained that day in Kosti for the same reason. On the night of April 11, the first day of voting, security agents in Managil, Jazeera, arrested another member of the Communist Party and detained him for four hours, also for distributing pamphlets in support of the boycott.
On April 11, police and security agents arrested groups of people who were protesting in two Khartoum suburbs. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that around midday police arrived in Haj Youssef in seven vans and shot tear gas into a crowd of people who had gathered in the market. Members of United Popular Front, a Darfur student group aligned with the rebel leader Abdel Wahid, had reportedly called the gathering and distributed fliers urging people not to vote. Police arrested and detained 10 people including two students, releasing them the next day.
Intimidation of Election Observers in Northern States
In the weeks ahead of the election, President al Bashir made highly inflammatory remarks in public speeches in Sennar and Jazirah states threatening to "cut off the noses" of international observers who proposed a delay in elections. These threats - which violated the Elections Act - followed demands by opposition parties in March to delay elections until November, and a March 17 report by the Carter Center suggesting that a delay might be needed to address administrative challenges facing the election commission.
In mid-March, government authorities ordered an international staff member of the Carter Center to leave the country, reportedly because of anti-government remarks he made during a training course. On March 28, two security officers detained and questioned Abdelmajeed Salih, a staff member of the Carter Center and a known human rights activist, accusing him of mobilizing Darfur students and working with foreigners.
"I tried to explain that I am just responsible for training but they were quoting parts of the report back to me," he said. "They showed a whole file on me, and said they are following me daily, and I am not allowed to travel, and that I should not talk to the media."
Police and security officials intimidated observers during voting week through threats, assaults, and arrests. In Khartoum, police expelled observers in one center on April 11 because they objected to elections staff helping voters fill out ballots. In a village near Hassahissa, in Jazirah state, on April 11, police briefly arrested two female candidates who are also Popular Congress Party (PCP) observers, because the polling authorities did not recognize their right to work as observers.
In a polling place in Kerenik, West Darfur, on April 12, police expelled a political party observer from the Democratic Unionist Party after he objected to staff allowing people who were not registered to cast ballots. In the April 14 episode in South Darfur in which soldiers said, "We will kill anyone who stands against Bashir," the soldiers expelled observers from a polling place in Adila and assaulted one PCP observer with a stick. An observer at a center in Tulus reported that security officials arrested him on April 12 and detained him for several hours after he objected to double-voting by ruling party supporters.
Violence in Darfur
Voting was limited in Darfur because of security problems and the large numbers of displaced persons who boycotted the process. Human Rights Watch found that violence and the threat of violence by security officials or other armed persons either prevented or interrupted some election activities.
In eastern Jebel Mara, where government clashes with rebel soldiers and attacks on civilians in February killed scores of civilians and destroyed villages, causing mass displacement, voting did not take place.
In South Darfur, armed clashes between ethnic groups in and around Kass in March and April limited access to polling places, and forced them to close early. Human Rights Watch received reports of numerous incidents of intimidation of observers in Nyala by security forces, military, and unidentified armed elements.
In West Darfur, civilians in Sirba told Human Rights Watch that Justice and Equality movement rebels, who opposed elections, threatened them, ordering them not to vote.
Beatings, Arbitrary Arrests, and Intimidation of Opposition Candidates and Party Members and Election Observers in Southern Sudan
During the voting period, security forces arbitrarily arrested numerous opposition election observers. Many of the arrests documented by Human Rights Watch were arbitrary as they were not in accordance with the law, and seemed to be an attempt to prevent the party representatives from observing the elections. Most were held a short time, then released.
Human Rights Watch documented several cases of arbitrary arrests of opposition members and party election observers in Western Equatoria and Central Equatoria. Human Rights Watch researchers also received similar reports from Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, Lakes, and Jonglei states.
In Terekeka County, Central Equatoria, security forces arrested several opposition party observers from NCP, the northern ruling party, the Southern Sudan Democratic Forum (SSDF), and the United Democratic Front (UDF) during the voting period. One candidate from the SSDF told Human Rights Watch:
At around 1 p.m. I was told that one of my polling agents had been arrested and that he was taken to a place called Kuda. They refused to release him and wouldn't tell me why they had arrested him. I decided to go to other polling stations to check on my agents and saw the security forces taking agents from the NCP and UDF and others from independent candidates and throwing them into cars.
Human Rights Watch received similar reports about arrests and intimidation in Terekeka County from the NCP and independent candidates as well as domestic election observers. For example, on April 12, security officers arrested five election observers for an independent candidate, Alfred Gore, a candidate for governor in Central Equatoria. The five were released on the following day without charge.
On April 13, security forces arrested nine opposition party election observers from a polling place in Juba. Five of the agents worked for Gore and the other four included agents from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) and the NCP. An SPLM-DC agent who was arrested on the same day told Human Rights Watch that the security officers entered polling places and demanded to see observers' accreditation. The security forces arrested all those who worked for an opposition party or an independent candidate.
In Yambio, Western Equatoria, soldiers from the southern military, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), engaged in numerous acts of intimidation, beatings, and harassment of opposition party members and their election observers. For example, on April 14, several soldiers beat an observer for an independent candidate for governor, Joseph Bakosoro. Two days earlier, soldiers beat and detained two other observers for the same candidate.
On April 11, SPLA soldiers beat and detained an SPLM-DC observer, Dr. Dominic Funda, and two others in Tore, Western Equatoria. The men were detained for two days in a military barrack called Rasolo.
"They took us to a small hut at the barracks and ordered us to enter one by one," Funda told Human Rights Watch. "As we stooped they started beating us with lashes. They were two guys, one lashing us on the back and one on the behind. They were telling us they would kill us."
Two of the SPLM-DC members showed Human Rights Watch researchers wounds and marks that appeared to be from lashings on their backs.
In Jonglei state, soldiers beat and detained an SSDF candidate on April 12, when she attempted to take pictures of soldiers confiscating registration slips from voters.
"I was imprisoned for a day and the soldiers confiscated my phone," she told Human Rights Watch. "They tied me up and threw me into a pick-up. While I was in the pick-up they were kicking me all over my body. I fell unconscious and when they saw that they rushed me to an MSF clinic."
Beatings, Intimidation, and Arbitrary Arrests of Domestic Observers in Southern States
Human Rights Watch documented a number of cases of arrests and intimidation of observer groups by security forces in Central Equatoria and Western Equatoria. Observers also reported arrests of domestic observers in Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity States.
Almost 2,000 observers from the civil society organization SuNDE and 772 from another civil society organization SuDEMOP (Sudan Domestic Election Monitoring and Observation Programme) were deployed around the country to observe the elections. Observers from both groups reported cases of arrest and intimidation. The observer groups reported incidents in which security forces ordered them out of polling places and in some cases confiscated their accreditation cards.
For example, on April 14, security officers forcibly removed 14 SuNDE observers from three polling places in Kator South Constituency in Central Equatoria. The observers were briefly questioned and detained at a nearby police station.
On April 16, security officers arrested and detained a SuNDE observer in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal. The security officers beat the observer, and warned him not to report on what he had observed in Wau, before releasing him on the following day. SuNDE observers reported similar cases of harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests in Maridi County, Western Equatoria, Terekeka, and Juba counties in Central Equatoria and Leer County in Unity State.
Widespread Irregularities and Allegations of Fraud during Voting
Domestic and international election observers throughout the country reported widespread logistical and administrative problems, such as lack of voting materials, faulty ballots, incorrect voter lists, late supply of voting materials, ballot papers being taken to the wrong locations, and inconsistent identification requirements at polling stations. Some of these problems led to suspension of voting or closing of polling places, and prompted the election commission to extend the voting by two days. The commission has announced that it intends to repeat the voting in 33 constituencies.
In northern states, observers also made allegations of fraud through multiple voting, voting by unregistered people, paying and busing voters into centers where they were not registered, including Khartoum's Kober prison, and mishandling ballots and ballot boxes. A widely-circulated internet video footage, allegedly of election commission staff filling ballot boxes at night in eastern Sudan, strongly suggests ballot-stuffing. The commission dismissed the video as fabricated.
Observers reported widespread fraudulent activities by government officials and security forces in a number of southern states. In Western Bahr el Ghazal, observers reported that soldiers from the SPLA engaged in widespread intimidation of voters and polling officials. In other states, soldiers forced their way into polling places and ordered domestic and party observers to leave. Observers also reported witnessing a number of incidents in which soldiers and other security officials forced voters to vote for the "star" - the symbol of the ruling southern party.
In some states, observers reported that county commissioners and security officers entered polling places, threatened voters and election commission officials, and took over the counting process. For example, in one county in Central Equatoria, on April 17, the commissioner and security officers entered a polling place and forcibly removed all observers. In another county, in the same state, a domestic observer was detained when he questioned the presence of security forces and other government officials in the polling place during counting.
In Western Equatoria, observers reported that the southern governing party and security officers took control of six polling places and expelled all domestic and other political party observers from the station. For example, in Maridi County, Western Equatoria, SPLA soldiers prevented political party observers from entering polling places and controlled the entire voting process. Observers reported that the commissioner of the county entered the polling places and told people how to vote. Observers also reported cases of opposition party observers intimidating and telling people how to vote in a number of states.