Re: Renewal of the Mandate for the Independent Expert in Sudan

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch is writing to urge your government to support the renewal of the mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, during the current session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The independent expert will address the Human Rights Council on June 7, 2010 to present his first report since his appointment. The Human Rights Council created the mandate of the independent expert in June 2009 for a one-year period that is subject to renewal.

The upcoming months will be a critical period for Sudan, with the referendum on southern self-determination scheduled to take place in January 2011 along with a referendum on the status of the disputed territory of Abyei. We remain concerned about post-election violence in southern Sudan, increased oppression in northern states, increased armed conflict in Darfur, and an escalation of human rights violations in volatile parts of Sudan ahead of the referenda.

The extent and gravity of ongoing human rights violations in Sudan require the sustained engagement of the Human Rights Council. Through continued monitoring and reporting, in collaboration with the human rights components of the two UN peacekeeping missions, the independent expert's engagement will help the Sudanese authorities to implement their human rights obligations under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the benchmarks of the Group of Experts on Darfur from 2008.

In his initial statement following his first visit to Sudan, the independent expert noted the Sudanese government's progress passing some of the laws required under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and also touched on several areas of concern.[1] Human Rights Watch sets out our main concerns below.

Conflict and Impunity in Darfur

In Darfur, armed conflict is rising. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of inter-factional rebel fighting and government clashes with rebel groups, notably the Justice and Equality Movement. Yet the African Union-United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has been unable to reach the locus of the most serious fighting to determine the effect on civilians.

Information about humanitarian needs and human rights abuses is insufficient. Following the government's expulsion of international humanitarian organizations from Darfur in March 2009 and the shutdown of key Sudanese human rights groups operating there, Darfuris receive less assistance than ever, but there has been no truly independent assessment of their needs.

In Darfur, the independent expert has an especially critical reporting role, together with the human rights component of UNAMID. The independent expert also has a continuing role to monitor the implementation of recommendations put forth by the Group of Experts on Darfur in 2008. The ongoing conflict and lack of access to justice and impunity for crimes committed in Darfur underscores the need to implement those recommendations.

Arbitrary Arrest and Detention across Sudan

The independent expert highlighted his concern about flaws in the National Intelligence and Security Services Law, which retains broad powers of arrest and detention, and other criminal laws that fall short of international standards. These laws provide a legal basis for arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention without trial in northern states and in Darfur.

As Human Rights Watch has documented extensively, especially during the April election period, the use of arbitrary arrest and detention by northern and southern authorities alike is an ongoing problem across Sudan that requires continued focus and resolve to address.

Both northern and southern authorities targeted political opponents, journalists, and activists for arrest and detention before, during, and after elections. Following the elections, the ruling National Congress Party became even more restrictive, arresting high-profile opposition leaders and journalists and subjecting them to illegal detention and ill-treatment.[2]

Sudanese authorities have continued to arrest and detain Darfur student activists for prolonged periods without charge; at least four are being held in an unknown location, which amounts to an enforced disappearance. In Darfur, as the independent expert noted, the state of emergency has further undermined human rights by allowing local authorities to hold detainees for long periods without judicial oversight.

Civilian Protection and Rule of Law in Southern Sudan

Last year's increase in inter-ethnic violence in Southern Sudan underscored the inability of southern government authorities or the UN Mission in Sudan to protect civilians.

As the independent expert notes, a key aspect of this failure to protect relates to the near total absence of rule-of-law institutions in most of southern Sudan. Ill-trained and ill-equipped security forces are not able to protect civilians from most violence, and often the soldiers violate rights, particularly in the context of disarming civilians.[3] During the April elections, Human Rights Watch documented how security forces harassed and arbitrarily arrested scores of voters, elections observers, and political opponents of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement.[4]

The independent expert, together with the human rights section of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), has an important role in bringing more focus and attention to these serious abuses by the security sector forces. The independent expert can help promote changes in the security sector to improve the ability of southern authorities to protect and promote human rights.

Mandate of the Independent Expert

The independent expert remains the only UN or other independent mechanism with the mandate to monitor and publicly report on all human rights issues throughout Sudan and to engage with northern and southern Sudanese authorities to address them.

UNAMID covers only Darfur, and its ability to move freely is limited. Similarly, UNMIS human rights officers focus on Khartoum, southern Sudan, and the three transitional areas. Neither mission produces regular public reports.

Since the establishment of the mandate of the independent expert, millions of people in Sudan have been affected by grave human rights abuses committed by both government forces and non-state armed groups. The Human Rights Council should express its strong confidence and support for the work of the independent expert by renewing its mandate. Discontinuing it would tragically demonstrate that the Human Rights Council does not believe that the massive violations of rights in Sudan-ranging from civilians harmed by fighting in Darfur and southern Sudan, and by the brutal attacks of Lord's Resistance Army rebels, to government harassment of human rights defenders and journalists-are serious enough to justify the attention from the UN's primary human rights body.

We call on your government to express its support for the renewal of the mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, during the interactive dialogue that the Human Rights Council will have with the independent expert on June 7, 2010. We also urge your government to support the adoption of the council resolution renewing the independent expert's mandate.

Yours sincerely,

Peggy Hicks
Global Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch


[1] Statement of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan, February 11, 2010, http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9813&LangID=E.

[2] Human Rights Watch media release, "Sudan: End Post-Election Repression," May 24, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/24/sudan-end-post-election-repression.

[3] See Human Rights Watch, "There is No Protection," February 12, 2009, https://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/02/12/there-no-protection.

[4] Human Rights Watch media release, "Sudan: Flawed Elections Underscore Need for Justice," April 26, 2010, https://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/25/sudan-flawed-elections-underscore-need-justice.