Human Rights Developments
During 1991, the military government headed by Lieutenant General Omer al-Bashir strengthened its grip on Sudan. It increasingly institutionalized its authority and moved purposefully in the direction of creating its version of a fundamentalist Islamic state.
The centerpiece of the government's legislation was the promulgation in March of a new Islamic penal code, which contains a number of provisions that are contrary to international human rights standards. These include the withdrawal of full rights from women and non-Muslims; the prohibition of apostasy (renouncing Islam), which effectively criminalizes dissenting political views; and the introduction of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, such as amputation of limbs for theft. However, these measures have been implemented cautiously, and there have been only a few cases in which the extreme punishments have been carried out _ notably several cases of public hanging followed by crucifixion of convicted robbers in the Darfur region. There have been no prosecutions for apostasy to date. The government, which abrogated the independence of the judiciary following the June 1989 coup, is gradually installing politically loyal individuals throughout the judicial system.
Other examples of the institutionalization of the repressive machinery included continued attempts to create an illegitimate trade union organization, to replace the authentic unions dissolved at the time of the 1989 coup, and the reorganization of the higher education system to bring it under closer government control. A particularly insidious move was the creation of a government-sponsored "Sudan Human Rights Organization" which, using the name of a genuine organization banned in 1989, has defended the government's record. Similarly, a government-sponsored Sudan Bar Association has continued to defend the government's human rights record, and its secretary-general has denied publicly that torture occurs in Sudanese prisons and detention centers.
Political parties and other nonreligious organizations independent of the government remain prohibited. There is no freedom of assembly, and only a few government-controlled or government-sponsored newspapers are permitted to publish. Publications entering and leaving the country are carefully screened. Certain areas of the country have been subjected to prolonged and comprehensive news blackouts, usually because of counterinsurgency activities in the area. The treatment of political opponents has also been shrouded in increasing secrecy. In September and October, about seventy people accused of participating in an alleged coup attempt in August were said to be brought to trial, but the government failed to divulge the names of the defendants, the charges, the court, or the date of the proceedings.
The government continues to detain and torture suspected opponents. Detentions occurred at various times in 1991, notably after an alleged coup attempt in September. In April, the government announced an amnesty and released 240 political detainees; however, about sixty remained in prison, and numerous others were arrested in the following month. The unofficial detention centers, known as "ghost houses," in which torture is common, continue to function under the control of the government's security agencies. A number of detainees have been brought to trial before special tribunals or ordinary courts, but in no significant case has due process been respected.
Abdel Moniem Salem, a teacher who was arrested in February 1990, was kept at Shalla prison under poor conditions, at the insistence of the security forces, for six months after his transfer to a hospital was first requested, despite his deteriorating health and repeated interventions by doctors. When he was finally transferred, his condition deteriorated and in the new year of 1991, he died.
The main targets of government repression in 1991 were trade unionists, academics and students at the universities, and military officers. A series of disturbances at the universities of Khartoum and Gezira followed the government's arbitrary dismissal of lecturers and disputes over accommodations. Security forces entered the campuses on several occasions and used indiscriminate violence against students: at least one was shot dead. Strikes by railway workers also led to violence by government forces. In addition, a prominent British professor of political science was invited to the University of Khartoum in September, but on arriving at the airport was turned back by security forces.
In addition to the legal discrimination instituted in the March Penal Code, women are subject to discrimination in employment. In November, the government decreed that all women should henceforth wear a strict Islamic veil, concealing not only their hair but also the lower part of their face, contrary to Sudanese custom.
The famine, which was created largely by government actions in 1990, continued into 1991, although a better harvest and more appropriate government policies led to an improvement in the final months of the year. In early 1991, the government finally admitted the extent of the crisis and began to relax some of its conditions on allowing relief agencies to operate. However, considerable obstacles still remained, and the government continued to direct food to urban centers and away from camps for more needy displaced people. In the south, the government continued to obstruct relief efforts, notably by bombing distribution centers and refusing permission for relief flights to operate at certain times. In late May, as refugees returned from Ethiopia to southern Sudan (see the above chapter on Ethiopia), the Sudanese air force bombed the returnees on two occasions, killing over fifty civilians.
The war in the south, the principal conflict in Sudan, remained a major source of human rights abuse. Government forces were active, often in conjunction with militias, in Kordofan and Upper Nile. Although details are not available, there are credible reports of abuses against the civilian population including villages being burned and civilians killed.
The government was also engaged in intensifying counterinsurgency activities in western Sudan, in the Darfur and Kordofan regions, sometimes under the cover of operations against "bandits." There were reports of villages in Darfur being destroyed by aerial bombardment, and several incidents in which civilians of the Zaghawa and Fur ethnic groups were killed. In the Nuba mountains, there were two distinct patterns of abuse. One was attacks on rural villages, primarily by the Popular Defense Forces; dozens of villagers were killed by these raids during the year. The second was the detention and disappearance of Nuba community leaders and educated people at the hands of military intelligence. Between January and August, at least thirty-seven such people disappeared following their detention by military intelligence, and in October about one hundred people were reported to have been detained; many are feared to have subsequently disappeared.
The rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was also responsible for abuses, including violence against civilians and prisoners of war, and the conscription of children. These abuses, together with the detention of political dissidents within the SPLA and the debacle of the organization's support for the doomed regime of President Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia, contributed to an attempted coup in August, in which the military commanders of Upper Nile tried to overthrow the SPLA's leader, Colonel John Garang.
Several prominent SPLA dissidents remain in detention, including the veteran politician Joseph Oduhu. Reports of forcible conscription of soldiers have been received from several areas. Several tens of thousands of boys, most of them under fifteen years of age, were also in the SPLA forces, either as combatants, undergoing military training, or undergoing schooling prior to military training. In Ethiopia, the SPLA was responsible for numerous incidents of burning villages and looting food and cattle, and some instances of killing civilians. Following the split in the SPLA, there was intense fighting between the two factions during September and October, which displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
The Right to Monitor
Before the military coup of June 1989, which brought the current regime to power, Sudan had a strong and extremely active human rights community. The two most prominent organizations were the Sudan Bar Association and the Sudan Human Rights Organization. Smaller organizations included the Sudanese Amputees Union, the Sudan branch of Amnesty International and a number of independent human rights activists, including academics and journalists. In the last two years, human rights organizations have been banned and their assets confiscated, and virtually all activists have been detained, silenced or driven into exile.
In 1991, the government embarked on a policy of establishing new "human rights" organizations to defend its record. These include a government-appointed "Bar Association" and an officially sponsored "Sudan Human Rights Organization," neither of which is independent of the government. There are fears that the government-sponsored Sudan Human Rights Organization will be allocated the frozen assets of the legitimate organization, which were raised by public subscription and donations from individuals and international human rights organizations. In July, the new Sudan Human Rights Organization attacked Amnesty International as a "political arm" of western countries. The government also attacked Africa Watch in 1991 as a "tool" of the SPLA.
No international human rights organization was permitted by the government to enter the country to monitor human rights in 1991. Limited access to SPLA-controlled areas was possible, however, both before and after the split.
U.S. interest in Sudan was low in 1991. In March 1990, following the Sudanese government's failure to make any move toward restoring democracy after the June 1989 military coup, the U.S. government suspended all development assistance to Sudan under Section 513 of the Foreign Assistance Act, which mandates a cutoff in most U.S. aid to any nation where an elected government has been overthrown in a coup. However, food aid under P.L. 480 and humanitarian assistance are permitted to continue.
In 1991, that estrangement was deepened following the Sudanese government's support for Iraq during the Persian Gulf crisis, and its failure to reach agreement with the International Monetary Fund on the repayment of debts. As relations with Sudan worsened, the U.S. government became an outspoken critic of its human rights record.
The U.S. Agency for International Development was active in famine relief operations in Sudan. It contributed over 100,000 tons of emergency relief and pushed other western donors to overcome varying degrees of reluctance and do the same. The aid was distributed by voluntary agencies. The U.S. government also overcame past hesitancy and repeatedly criticized obstruction of relief efforts. In the south, where the relief operation is led by the United Nations, the United States contributed resources but did not play a major role in initiating programs.
The Work of Africa Watch
Africa Watch has continued to monitor human rights abuses in Sudan. Early in 1991, Africa Watch produced a newsletter containing detailed testimonies of torture and substandard prison conditions. Following the promulgation of the Islamic penal code, Africa Watch published a newsletter describing the provisions of the code and drawing international attention to those that are contrary to human rights standards. A report issued in April, Academic Freedom and Human Rights Abuses in Africa, included a substantial chapter on Sudan. Frequent protests were sent to the Sudanese authorities concerning detentions and trials without due process. An article was published in October in West Africa on women's rights in Sudan. In December, Africa Watch issued a newsletter drawing attention to the plight of the Nuba of southern Kordofan, to coincide with a publicity campaign by the London-based organization Survival International.
An Africa Watch report on war and famine in Ethiopia (see the above chapter on Ethiopia) included several sections criticizing the SPLA, which was active inside Ethiopian territory from 1983 to 1991. Abuses by the SPLA against Ethiopian civilians included looting, killing and enslavement.
Africa Watch nominated the original Sudan Bar Association (SBA) for the American Bar Association's first human rights award. The nomination was successful and Dr. Amin Mekki Medani of the SBA, who had himself been detained by the current regime, traveled to the United States in August to receive the award. In September and October, Africa Watch was active in promoting the relaunching of the Sudan Human Rights Organization (SHRO) in exile. We published a newsletter detailing the activities of the genuine SBA and SHRO, and contrasted their authenticity with the illegitimate clones set up by the government.