(New York) – Sudan’s human rights record deteriorated in 2011 with the eruption of new armed conflicts and crackdowns on students, rights advocates, and the media, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2012.
Despite the peaceful secession of South Sudan on July 9, 2011, new conflicts broke out in the disputed territory of Abyei in May, in Southern Kordofan state in June, and Blue Nile state in September. The two states lie north of the South Sudan border and have ethnic populations with historic links to the South. Fighting continued in the two states and the government renewed bombing in eastern Darfur as the year ended, even as world attention shifted to a surge in violence in neighboring South Sudan. Throughout the year, the government restricted basic freedoms of expression and assembly by breaking up public protests, arresting perceived opponents of the government, and censoring newspapers.
“The news from Sudan only gets worse, no matter how hard the government tries to keep out prying eyes,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to stop its unlawful attack on civilians, let aid groups in, and stop censoring the media and detaining people for their political opinions.”
In the 676-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including popular uprisings in the Arab world that few would have imagined. Given the violent forces resisting the “Arab Spring,” the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region, Human Rights Watch said in the report.
In Sudan, the fighting in Southern Kordofan in June broke out between government forces and an armed opposition group linked to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-North), an offshoot of the political party that now rules South Sudan. In the capital town of Kadugli, soldiers and militias shot civilians and arrested suspected opposition supporters during house-to-house searches and at checkpoints, and looted and burned churches and homes, Human Rights Watch research found.
The government persistently bombed civilian areas across the Nuba Mountains, forcing people to seek shelter in caves and on mountains, where they lacked food, shelter, and access to basic needs such as water and sanitation. Khartoum has refused to allow aid groups access to these areas. The government was still bombing the area at year’s end.
The fighting between the government and armed forces linked to SPLM-North spread to Blue Nile state in September. Heavy bombing by government forces caused tens of thousands of people to flee to neighboring Ethiopia and South Sudan. The government has blocked humanitarian groups from reaching needy people in both states and effectively cut off international monitoring when it declined to extend the UN’s peacekeeping mandate beyond July.
The government’s conflict with armed rebels in Darfur continued for an eighth year despite a peace agreement signed by the government and one rebel group. Government forces attacked displaced populations and villages, particularly those inhabited by ethnic Zaghawa, Human Rights Watch found. In November and December, renewed bombing in eastern Darfur destroyed several villages and killed civilians. On December 23, Dr. Khalil Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement, was killed.
“Darfur’s long-running war and the proliferation of conflicts in Sudan this year shows what happens when there is no accountability,” Bekele said. “Sudan’s conflicts will continue unless the government brings abusers to justice and shows respect for human rights.”
Sudan has refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, which has issued arrest warrants for three people, including President Omar al-Bashir, on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Sudan has made no move to carry out recommendations to improve the country’s justice system by the African Union’s High-Level Panel on Darfur in 2009.
Particularly at the beginning and again at the end of the year, security forces used excessive force to crack down on mass student protests. Political repression increased after the outbreak of conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, and in the face of economic challenges and political uncertainty brought on by the South’s secession.
In September, Sudan banned the SPLM-North, confiscated its property, and arrested its members. Security officials prevented reporting on the human rights situation in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile, denying journalists access to the areas and shutting down opposition newspapers there.
Two prominent human rights activists were detained for months by the government without being charged. Bushra Gammar, an ethnic Nuba human rights activist who was arrested in Kadugli on June 25, is in Kober prison under national security custody. Abdelmonim Rahama, a poet and former adviser in the Blue Nile state government, was arrested by national security officials in Damazin on September 2, and is detained incommunicado in an unknown location.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the risk of ill-treatment and torture of detainees in national security custody. Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) routinely uses its broad powers of arrest and detention to target government opponents and is known for ill-treatment and torture of detainees. In 2011, Human Rights Watch documented a pattern of torture of student protestersby the NISS, following a crackdown on mass pro-democracy demonstrations.
“Sudan’s armed conflict is no excuse to deny detainees their basic rights,” Bekele said. “The government should end incommunicado detention and release those not lawfully charged with a crime.”