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To: Members of the UN Security Council

Dear Ambassador,

We write in advance of your trip to Africa to highlight key human rights concerns we hope you will be in a position to address while in Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

Sudan (Khartoum)
As the Doha peace talks wind up and the international actors pledge support for a Darfur-based Political Process (DPP), the Sudanese government continues to wage an anti-insurgency war using aerial bombardment and ground attacks on civilians, targeting communities that are ethnically associated with the rebel movements and causing more mass civilian displacements in recent months.

Moreover Sudan has failed to take any meaningful steps to ensure justice for horrific crimes committed in Darfur. The government has not implemented the justice recommendations in the October 2009 omnibus report of the African Union High-Level Panel on Darfur, and continues to fail to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC). In 2005 the UN Security Council made a historic referral of the situation in Darfur to the ICC under resolution 1593, which obligates Sudan to cooperate with the court. On June 16, 2008, the Security Council reaffirmed this commitment in a unanimous presidential statement calling on the government of Sudan and parties to the conflict to cooperate with the ICC.

Since January this year, Sudanese security forces have arrested and detained hundreds of protesters in efforts to suppress student-led demonstrations across northern Sudan, including Darfur. The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), using its broad powers of arrest and detention, have held scores of protesters for weeks and months without charges and subjected them to ill-treatment and torture.

We urge the Security Council to:

  • Insist that Sudan end indiscriminate attacks and other human rights violations in Darfur and take other long overdue steps to create an enabling environment for any future talks.
  • Insist that the Sudanese government implement the AU High-Level Panel on Darfur justice recommendations and cooperate fully with the ICC pursuant to resolution 1593.
  • Express grave concern and call for an end to Sudan's increased use of arbitrary detentions, torture, and other forms of ill-treatment and excessive force to repress basic civil and political rights of expression and assembly across northern Sudan.

Sudan (Juba)
In Juba, the council will have the opportunity to discuss the post-independence peacekeeping presence in the South.

In the lead-up to independence on July 9, Southern Sudan remains extremely fragile with numerous and overlapping security threats. A rise in military insurgencies against the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which has increased in the wake of the January 2011 independence referendum, has brought new violence and human rights abuses to Southern Sudan. Attempts to broker peace and reintegrate the rebels into the SPLA have not gone smoothly, with attacks on civilians and armed clashes killing hundreds of civilians this year.

Unresolved aspects of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, such as the status of Abyei and demarcation of the north-south border, present another source of violence and large-scale human rights abuses. Clashes between northern and southern security forces in Abyei since the beginning of 2011 have killed more than 150 people. Across Southern Sudan, localized conflicts over natural resources and boundaries, often along ethnic lines, still define everyday life for many communities, and the proliferation of weapons-the legacy of a long civil war and porous borders-has made this fighting more lethal.

We urge the Security Council to:

  • Ensure the successor mission to UNMIS prioritizes the protection of civilians. It requires a clear Chapter VII mandate, a flexible structure that allows rapid response over vast terrain, and sufficient resources and assets to make the mandate achievable. Such a mandate is required in the context of Southern Sudan, where the government clearly lacks capacity to effectively protect civilians on its own. The Southern Sudan Police Service (SSPS) is under-equipped, ill-trained, largely illiterate, and insufficiently deployed. To fill the policing void, the SPLA often carries out operations, but the heavy-handedness of its troops often leads to abuses against civilians, including indiscriminate killings, beatings, and lootings, particularly in civilian disarmament operations.
  • Ensure a robust human rights component in the new mission. In addition to serious human rights violations in the context of law enforcement operations, the SPLA and other southern security forces have also been responsible for brutally cracking down on communities supposed to be linked to political opponents of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), particularly after the April 2010 elections and in the current climate of insurgencies. Human Rights Watch has documented many such cases against the minority Shilluk population, for example, because of its ethnic links to an opposition political party. We have also received reports of harassment and arrests of journalists and other opponents of the ruling party.

Two decades after Somalis started to flee the brutal conflict in their country, Kenya is now home to just under 400,000 registered Somali refugees and probably an equal number who have not registered. Since January this year, around 10,000 refugees have arrived every month. Eighty percent of the refugees are women and children.

Just under 350,000 Somali refugees now live in the world's largest refugee settlement, made up of three overcrowded refugee camps near the town of Dadaab in north-east Kenya, originally designed to shelter 90,000 people. Although a new camp, Ifo II, is ready to receive up to 80,000 refugees from the other three camps, the Kenyan authorities refuse to allow the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to transfer refugees to help ease overcrowding, citing national security reasons. Since early 2007 hundreds of thousands of Somalis are likely to have made their way to Kenya's capital of Nairobi, where less than 50,000 have been able to register as refugees due to the limited capacity of the government and UNHCR.

In June 2010, Human Rights Watch documented widespread police abuses perpetrated against Somali asylum seekers as they cross from Somalia into Kenya and between the border and the town of Garissa, 180 kilometers away. Police intercept asylum seekers as they try to travel from the border to the camps, and often use violence, unlawful detention in appallingly overcrowded conditions, and threats of deportation to extort money from them. Some police officers rape women asylum seekers near the border with impunity. Kenyan authorities increasingly use anti-Somali political rhetoric, particularly after a Somali Islamist group's threat to attack the capital of Nairobi, which has helped justify the police's abusive behavior against Somalis.

Human Rights Watch also found that criminals intercept, rob, and rape asylum seekers as they try to reach the camps.

Throughout 2010 and the first few months of 2011, hundreds, if not thousands, of Somali asylum seekers unable to pay police bribes were unlawfully sent back to Somalia.

The systematic and widespread nature of the extortion racket and related abuses by police officers, as well as criminals attacking asylum seekers between the border and the camps, are a direct result of Kenya's four-year-old border closure and the related closure of a refugee transit centre in the Kenyan town of Liboi, 15 kilometers from the border. The transit centre previously served as a safe place where the vast majority of Somalis fleeing their country first sought refuge in Kenya and from where UNHCR transported them to the camps.

Kenya currently unlawfully confines refugees to the camps, denying them their freedom of movement and choice of residence, in contravention of human rights law and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Under this policy, police arrest registered refugees travelling without (and at times with) permission, extort money, and sometimes take them to court. Some are fined or sent to prison pending trial on charges of "unlawful presence" in Kenya. Many asylum seekers and refugees have no alternative but to pay their way out of the abuse and intimidation. 

In the chronically overcrowded camps, police responsible for protecting refugees sometimes detain, assault, and extort money from them. Police have also failed to investigate cases of sexual violence between refugees, leading to a climate of impunity for those responsible.

Kenya's international and regional human rights commitments oblige the authorities to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish violence against all women-including refugee women-in Kenya. There has been important progress in the police's response to sexual violence during the camps' nearly two-decade-long existence. Sexual and gender-based violence cases can be prosecuted in a mobile court in Dadaab town every month and the Dagahaley and Ifo police stations have gender desks to handle these cases. Another gender desk is planned for Hagadera camp. However, the government has not put in place the required police numbers, training, and supervision. Police informed Human Rights Watch on a recent visit that there is only one female police officer working in each camp. Consequently, justice for sexual violence survivors in the camps remains the exception and impunity for perpetrators the rule.

We urge the Security Council to:

  • Raise the abuses committed against Somali refugees and asylum seekers with the Kenyan authorities and call on them to put an immediate end to these practices.
  • Call on the Kenyan authorities to respect their international obligations to ensure that all asylum seekers can access Kenyan territory to claim asylum and end Kenya's continued practice of forcibly returning Somali nationals to their country (refoulement).
  • Call on the Kenyan authorities to open a new refugee screening centre in Liboi to ensure the orderly registration and safe onward transport of all newly arrived asylum seekers crossing at or near the HarHar border point between Dhobley and Liboi.
  • Encourage UNHCR to raise with the police, publicly when necessary, any abuses UNHCR and other agencies document in the Liboi, Dadaab, and Garissa police stations.
  • Support the Kenyan authorities in ensuring that any new police stationed in the camps are trained and instructed to effectively prevent and respond to cases of sexual and gender-based violence.
  • Call on the authorities and UNHCR to ensure that newly-deployed police in the camps are specifically tasked with improving the police's prevention of, and response to, sexual violence in the camps.
  • Call on the authorities to urgently allow UNHCR to transfer refugees into the new Ifo II camp and to respond to UNHCR's requests for additional land for more camps.
  • Call on donors to fund UNHCR and the Refugee Consortium of Kenya to strengthen their recently introduced protection monitoring system aimed at collecting information on police abuses and other rights violations in the camps and border areas.

The AU Peace and Security Council
The AU Peace and Security Council has a responsibility to address crucial human rights concerns in its considerations and resolutions on peace and security matters.

However, despite a few exceptions, such as the consideration of human rights abuses in Guinea, the AU Peace and Security Council has often failed to properly address core human rights issues, for example in Somalia, Sudan, or Côte d'Ivoire.

In its meetings with the AU Peace and Security Council, we urge the Security Council to:

  • Recommend a full integration of human rights concerns into the work of the AU Peace and Security Council, including the prompt investigation of serious human rights violations that often accompany political instability in many African countries.
  • Urge the creation of a human rights monitoring, investigation, and reporting division to support the work of the AU Peace and Security Council in effectively addressing human rights concerns.

We are available to answer any questions or requests you may have. We wish you a successful trip.

With kind regards,

Daniel Bekele
Executive Director, Africa Division                                       

Philippe Bolopion
United Nations Director

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