Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Human Rights Developments

During 1992, Sudan suffered an extraordinary range of human rights abuses committed on a huge scale. The military government headed by General Omer al Bashir remained firmly in power and resolutely committed to the transformation of Sudan into an Islamic state, by whatever means necessary. The policy has resulted in the suppression of all forms of civil society, the arrest, detention and torture of dissidents, a war in the south of extreme brutality, and the relocation and deprivation of hundreds of thousands of people. In the south, the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (spla) also has shown itself to be contemptuous of human rights.

Without doubt, the major cause of human rights abuse in Sudan has been the war in the south, now nine years old. In March, the government launched its largest offensive yet against the spla. Its aim was to break key lines of communication by seizing strategic garrison towns, and to cut off sources of relief supplies to civilians in spla-held areas. The offensive proved successful, and by July a string of important spla-held towns, mainly on the east bank of the Nile, had fallen to government attack. They included the towns of Bor, Torit and Kapoeta-key conduits for Operation Lifeline Sudan, the cross-border relief operation mounted from Kenya and Uganda, which was severely impaired. On capturing the town of Pochalla of March 29, a relief operation mounted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc) was also closed down. United Nations relief airlifts were progressively suspended from March to August, and only partially reinstated in September. At the end of November, only one town in the spla-controlled areas was receiving U.N. food relief.

The offensive produced numerous abuses of human rights, including arbitrary killing and looting of civilians. The town of Kapoeta was bombed on March 13, killing two. After new government garrisons were established in the towns of Rumbek and Yirol, Sudanese troops practiced scorched-earth policies, burning all villages within a 20 kilometer radius. Over 100,000 people were displaced by these atrocities.

The government offensive struck at a region already weakened by spla internecine strife and abuse of human rights. In August 1991, two leading commanders (the "Nasir faction") had split from the mainstream spla of Colonel John Garang (the "Torit faction"), accusing him of holding more than 40 political detainees, forcibly recruiting child soldiers, and ruling the organization in a highly authoritarian manner. These accusations were largely correct. Despite some attempts by Garang to improve his image in late 1991 and early 1992, no significant improvements in the front's human rights record were noted. Prisoners remained in captivity and, in August, several thousand refugee children were spirited away from a camp in northern Kenya, almost certainly to serve on Garang's front line.

The split in the spla led to some of the worst human rights abuses that the south has witnessed since the outbreak of war. Both sides were responsible. Between November 1991 and February 1992, a series of attacks by forces loyal to the Nasir faction left at least 5,000 civilians dead in the Bor-Kongor area. About 200,000 civilians were displaced, their cattle stolen and their villages burned. In the villages of Pagerau and Adermuoth and the cattle camp of Wun Rit on January 21-22 alone, 189 civilians were killed, including leprosy patients, 20 to 30 women and children were abducted, and 4,000 cattle were stolen. The immediate consequence was widespread hunger throughout the area.

The counteroffensive by Garang's forces also yielded widespread killings of civilians. For instance, over 80 were believed killed at the village of Baliet in April. Garang's forces also took punitive action against groups that supported thegovernment. For instance, in retaliation for the support to the army given by a Toposa militia, Garang's forces burned a number of Toposa villages, killed over 100 civilians, and drove much of the population from their land into Kapoeta town.

One of the Nasir faction's charges against Garang was that he favored his own ethnic group, the Bor Dinka, over all others. However, the Nasir faction also showed itself prone to ethnic favoritism. The great majority of its support was drawn from the Nuer. There is evidence that they discriminated against smaller groups in their territory, such as the displaced Uduk people, by denying them access to relief, looting their crops and fish, and not prosecuting Nuer who committed crimes against them. Ultimately the Uduk were forced to abandon their camp close to Nasir and cross into Ethiopia to register as refugees.

Attempts to heal the rift in the spla met with only moderate success. On September 28, the spla fractured further when Garang's senior commander, William Nyuon, broke away. Shortly afterward, a Norwegian journalist and three expatriate U.N. workers were murdered in unclear circumstances, causing the U.N. to suspend relief flights to much of southern Sudan. Africa Watch repeatedly condemned both the government and the spla for their abuses of human rights and obstruction of relief.

The most severe human rights abuses in the south occurred in the southern capital, Juba. In reaction to military reverses elsewhere in the south and his endangered position within the spla, Garang launched an all-out attack on Juba on June 6. The offensive was repulsed, but Garang attacked again on July 7, and this time his forces remained entrenched in and around the city. At least 30 civilians were killed and 200 injured in the cross fire. However, the most severe atrocities started with the army's reaction. Several quarters of the city were leveled by the army in an attempt to create a free-fire zone. Over 100,000 residents were forcibly displaced and crowded into the northwest part of town, where they had minimal sanitation and shelter, and were wholly reliant on international airlifts of food. The spla repeatedly shelled the airport and said that relief flights landed at their own risk. Following an incident in which a plane with U.N. insignia was used by the government to fly in arms and ammunition, the spla also threatened to shoot at relief planes. The airlift continued intermittently nonetheless, but by late September the majority of children in the city were reported to be seriously malnourished.

The army undertook repeated sweeps through the city, picking up civilians it suspected of sympathizing with the spla. Suspected spla soldiers were shot on sight, including wounded soldiers hiding in houses. The civilians who allegedly sheltered them were also often executed on the spot. Hundreds were arrested, and many were tortured, some fatally. Methods of torture included beatings, electric shocks, pulling nails, crushing testicles, throwing victims into very hot water, and having hot irons pressed against their body. About 300 people are believed to have been summarily executed by the army, including 30 army officers. One of those executed was Andrew Tombe, a Sudanese employee of the U.S. Agencyfor International Development (usaid), who was accused of treason for allegedly using his radio to direct the shelling of the city by the spla. He was killed on about September 15, and his death announced one week later. It is unclear whether he was tried, but if he was, it was before a military tribunal, with no right of counsel or right of appeal. The U.S. government strongly protested his execution, and the reported execution of another usaid employee around the same time.

The spla persistently shelled the city of Juba. Its shells were aimed primarily at military installations, but also fell on civilian areas nearby.

In late October, the Nasir faction of the spla, together with forces loyal to the Nuer prophet Wurnyang, captured the city of Malakal. The spla had given no thought to the supply of provisions for the 180,000 inhabitants. Many civilians fled for the town of Waat, where severe starvation was reported. Others were too weak or frightened to leave. In mid-November, the army retook the city. Mass arrests, torture and executions reportedly followed.

The cumulative effect of the war and human rights abuses in southern Sudan has been to bring the region, once again, to the brink of a major humanitarian disaster. In 1988, a belatedly publicized famine is estimated to have killed up to 250,000 people before Operation Lifeline Sudan was launched to feed civilians on both sides. Operation Lifeline was coordinated by the U.N. and depended on government permission for all its deliveries. The government has consistently used this control over the operation, exercised in the name of national sovereignty, to obstruct the operation. Permission for relief flights is granted only on a monthly basis, and the government always waits until the last moment before announcing which, if any, flights may proceed. As a result, medium-term planning has been impossible.

The events of 1992 have brought the program to an effective end. Throughout the year, junior U.N. staff in Khartoum and Nairobi, and their counterparts in the voluntary sector, struggled to keep open the small trickle of aid. In September, U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Eliasson visited Sudan and made a short trip to Juba. He obtained permission for greater U.N. access, initially to assess needs. However, this initiative immediately foundered because of government obstruction, the execution of Tombe, and the killing of the four expatriates by the spla. Eliasson and the U.N. declined publicly to condemn either side for its famine-creating actions.

With the demise of Operation Lifeline and the massive displacement and disruption caused in 1992, several areas in the south are rapidly descending into a famine on the scale of 1988. The areas most affected are Juba, the vicinity of Bor and Kongor and the areas to which the people displaced from these towns have gone, and parts of Bahr el Ghazal region that have been subjected to scorched-earth policies by the Sudanese army. The plight of civilians in and around Malakal is of serious concern, and it is likely that 1993 will see a large flow of refugees to Ethiopia.

The Nuba Mountains lie in southern Kordofan, which is part of northern Sudan. The Nuba themselves are non-Arab people, numbering about one million, who practice a mixture of traditional religion, Christianity and Islam. They are well-known for body-painting, wrestling, music and dance. However, the very qualities that have attracted Western anthropologists to the Nuba have drawn the concern of a succession of conservative Arab-oriented Islamic governments in Khartoum. The Nubas' anomalous position-non-Arabs in the north-has made them a target for discrimination in jobs, education and building permits.

In 1987, the spla sent a battalion to the Nuba Mountains to try to open a new front in the war. This move has sparked such abuses by the spla as forcible conscription, the stealing of food, and the killing of village chiefs who have advocated staying out of the war. However, the response of successive governments in Khartoum has been far more destructive. Military operations in the Nuba Mountains have led to killings of hundreds of civilians, and perhaps more, and destruction of their property. In addition, the government has armed the local Arabs, traditional rivals of the Nuba, and formed a local Popular Defense Force (pdf). The pdf has been responsible for many of the worst abuses, such as the massacre of 150 Nuba civilians at the town of Lagowa in October 1989. Many members of the pdf seek to expropriate Nuba land for themselves.

In 1991, evidence emerged of a stepped-up campaign against the Nuba, including the systematic "disappearance" of educated Nuba men. Africa Watch obtained evidence of more than 40 such men who had disappeared.

In 1992, the campaign against the Nuba reached a new height. In early January, the governor of Kordofan declared a "Jihad" or Holy War in the Nuba Mountains, while the military commander vowed to "cleanse" every area "sullied by the outlaws." The size of the military forces assembled suggested that the government had planned an action that was far beyond what was required to combat the small spla forces alone. Killings and burnings mounted. In June, the government began the forcible relocation of the Nuba. Nuba civilians were first herded into camps close to the regional capital, Kadugli, or other towns. Only pro-government Islamic relief agencies were permitted to operate in these camps. From there, some were relocated to "peace villages" within the Nuba Mountains; these are essentially work camps attached to newly established mechanized farms owned by the Khartoum elite, on land previously farmed by Nuba villagers. Others were relocated outside the Nuba Mountains altogether. Starting in June, "Peace Convoys" with military guards began transporting tens of thousands of Nuba northwards, dispersing them in small towns in northern Kordofan. Many are reported to have died from disease and starvation. By early September, more than 40,000 had been moved.

Africa Watch received reports that the authorities planned to segregate men and women, sending the men to work as laborers on "production sites" and the women and children to work in the households of wealthy northern families. If carried through, this policy would lead directly to the complete eradication oftraditional Nuba culture, language and society, as well as the death and suffering of many Nuba.

Another large-scale abuse perpetrated by the Sudanese government was a systematic attempt to relocate the population of squatters and displaced people that over the previous decade had grown up around the national capital, Khartoum, as a result of repeated drought, chronic war and the concentration of services and economic development in Khartoum. The problem had become severe because of a lack of town planning, so that between one and two million people were living in "unplanned" areas. These areas ranged from wholly undeveloped sectors to semi-planned suburban sites equipped with services. Most of the "squatters" originated from western Sudan, most of the "displaced" from the south or the Nuba Mountains. The government regarded these settlements not only as a blot on the landscape but also as a threat to the Arab-Islamic identity of Sudan's capital city.

Attempts to regularize or relocate the squatters and displaced had been made for some years. In 1991, the military government introduced an amendment to the Civil Transactions Act that forbad legal actions on behalf of the squatters and provided that the government had an absolute right to dispose as it wished of the land they occupied. In the last months of 1991, on the basis of this extraordinary piece of legislation, the government began the latest and most systematic round of forced relocations.

In a typical operation, the residents of a certain area are given warning of a day or so before the army moves in to bulldoze and burn the area. Residents are forced onto trucks with what possessions they can salvage and removed to new sites. On December 21-22, 1991, the army opened fire on residents of Kurmuta, south Khartoum, who tried to resist the demolitions, killing 21. Since that display of force, residents offered no systematic resistance, although the army reportedly still occasionally killed or wounded those to be displaced. By the middle of 1992, the program had become more systematic, with houses to be demolished marked well in advance, and residents given some warning that they were to be relocated.

No compensation is paid to those whose houses have been destroyed. The land is reallocated to long-time residents of Khartoum and others. In one demolished site, Mayo, UNICEF had formerly maintained a large project providing water to the residents; this will now benefit the new owners. Schools and clinics have been closed and demolished.

The displaced are relocated to transit camps at some distance from the city. The government has said that it plans to relocate them a second time, to "production sites," where they will presumably be reduced to the status of wage laborers on mechanized farms. The squatters are removed to "Peace Cities" outside the city. For much of 1992, the conditions in the transit camps and Peace Cities were appalling, with inadequate water, no shelter, no services and little food. In the early months of 1992, the relocated people were forced to dig holes in the sand to provide a minimum of protection from the cold for their children; there weresome deaths from exposure. Those relocated there could only continue with their employment in Khartoum by spending most of their income on public transportation to and from the city. Soldiers and guards kept the people in their new homes with electric cattle prods, whips and guns. The government strictly limited outside access to the new camps, permitting only certain Islamic relief agencies to supply services. Many of those relocated, particularly the large Christian minority, saw these restrictions on outside access as an attempt to encourage Islamic proselytization. Toward the middle of 1992, material conditions in the camps were improving.

By September, the government had relocated about 750,000 people, and was implementing a "replanning" program for further areas of the city that would lead to the destruction of the homes of about 500,000 more. The government succeeded in outmaneuvering the U.N. by repeatedly promising to slow down the relocations and to improve humanitarian access to the camps. The U.N. responded by undertaking a series of general investigations into the program and the problem of urban replanning, finally recommending a small pilot program of voluntary relocation in May. However, while these negotiations and prevarications went on, the demolitions and relocations proceeded. By the time the U.N. realized that it had managed to achieve nothing, the majority of the program was a fait accompli. On his visit to Sudan in September, Under-Secretary General Eliasson privately condemned the relocations, but failed to make any public statement-in effect continuing the failed policy of "quiet diplomacy."

Despite an amnesty declared in April 1991, in which 299 political prisoners were released, detention and torture remain routine in Khartoum and the other major cities of northern Sudan. The Sudanese government has changed its strategy of detention. Rather than holding a certain number of well known political opponents and trade union activists in regular prisons for long periods, it is implementing a program of "rolling detention"-a form of harassment. Suspected dissidents are required to present themselves regularly (often daily) at the headquarters of the security service, where they are kept waiting all day and told to report back the next day. Sometimes they are questioned. This arbitrary treatment keeps people in a state of vigilance and fear, and prevents them from earning an income.

Suspected opponents are also arrested and taken not to regular prisons but to unofficial detention centers known as "ghost houses," four of which exist in Khartoum. Occasionally they are subjected to torture, but in general the regime inside the ghost houses appears to be an attempt to demoralize and degrade the detainees. Inmates are under continual surveillance, and their sleep is regularly interrupted. Every day they are required to perform strenuous and humiliating drills, such as standing on one leg with arms outstretched for a long period, or placing one finger of the right hand on the ground and spinning around it very fast. The detainees are also subjected to degrading verbal abuse,including threats of sexual assault. The only respite allowed is during prayer.

Several hundred detainees are kept in ghost houses. Their families are not informed of their whereabouts-indeed, the government denies their very existence-and they receive no visitors. When they are released they are also subjected to surveillance.

Though less dramatic in scale than the atrocities in the south, human rights abuses against Sudan's civil and political elite have continued unabated. The actions taken when the junta seized power against all elements of civil society-trade unions, political parties, the press, the judiciary and the university-still stand.

In 1991, the government introduced a new penal code allegedly founded upon Islamic principles. Most of the prescribed hudud punishments, such as amputation or stoning to death, have not been implemented to date. The exception is flogging, which has been regularly practiced since 1983. However, other significant sections of the code that relate to treason and other offenses against the state, and which reduce non-Muslims to second-class citizens, have been implemented.

Nineteen ninety-two saw several trials of political opponents. Brigadier Nasur Hassan Bashir Nasur was condemned to death for treason for allegedly plotting a coup following a trial in a military tribunal. Sid Ahmed el Hussein, a prominent politician in the former parliamentary regime and a close associate of U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was tried for the same offense in September 1992 but eventually acquitted following a high-profile campaign in the Arab world.

Provisions in the penal code that discriminate against non-Muslims reflect an increasing campaign against Sudan's Coptic community that is designed to compel them to leave the country. Coptic Christians have lived in Sudan for over a century, usually in urban areas as traders and administrators. Although most Coptic families originate from Egypt, they have become Sudanese citizens over the generations. Under the current government, they have been subjected to harassment-denied employment in government, refused trading licenses, and confronted by threats against their churches. Thousands have left the country, although violence by radical Islamists against Copts in Egypt-their obvious refuge-is also growing.

Of the institutions of civil society most threatened by the government in 1992, Sudan's universities rank high. Sudan's three main universities-Khartoum, Juba and Gezira-were once among the most liberal in the Arab world. The current government has embarked upon a program intended to transform them into centers of exclusively Islamic learning, following the doctrines of the Muslim Brothers.

The Right to Monitor

The Sudan Human Rights Organization remains banned in Sudan, its place taken by a government-created body of the same name, whosesole function appears to be to defend the government from criticism of its human rights record. The genuine Sudan Human Rights Organization is now active abroad. Africa Watch has been helping the Organization with office space and technical assistance, until it becomes financially self-sufficient. The Sudan Bar Association is similarly banned, and its place taken by a government-sponsored organization that is eager to defend the government's record. Strict censorship of all newspapers prevails, and the media plays no role in monitoring human rights abuses. However, a few courageous individuals, who must necessarily remain anonymous, continue to monitor human rights abuses clandestinely.

In the south, there is little open expression of dissent. A rare exception is Bishop Paride Taban of Torit, who has been an outspoken advocate for the release of political detainees, as well as for peace and reconciliation between the two factions of the spla.

U.S. Policy

The United States has had an extremely cool relationship with Sudan over the past three years. The Sudanese government has supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and remained friendly with Libya; it has also provided bases for radical Palestinian groups such as Abu Nidal, and has worked closely with the Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria and Egypt. For these reasons, the U.S. has been unwilling to upgrade relations with Sudan, despite repeated attempts by the latter (most recently manifest in hiring a Washington, D.C., public relations firm to lobby on its behalf).

Sudan is prohibited from receiving economic or military aid by the Brooke Amendment, which prohibits countries in arrears on loan payments to the U.S. from receiving economic assistance, and Section 513 of the Foreign Assistance Act, which imposes the same prohibition on military rulers who have overthrown an elected government. The U.S. routinely opposes development assistance to Sudan through the World Bank, and the State Department is hostile to Sudan's readmission to full membership in the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. administration has been quick to condemn human rights abuses in Sudan, such as the forced relocations from Khartoum and the execution of the usaid employee, Andrew Tombe. It has been particularly vocal in its criticism of obstruction of humanitarian relief. It has also been ready to condemn the spla for its abuses. At the same time, the U.S. has continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people through voluntary agencies working on both sides of the conflict.

In late October, James Kunder, the director of the State Department's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, made a particularly important contribution by pressing the Sudanese government to admit more relief personnel to the besieged southern capital of Juba. He also requested and received permission to visit Juba himself, which he did in late October. Kunder had requested permission to visit the Nuba mountain area as well but was denied access.

In October, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution on humanitarian relief and human rights in Sudan, calling upon the administration to raise the crises in Sudan at the U.N. Security Council. It remains to be seen whether this will be done; however, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen has reportedly spoken in very strong terms to Minister of Finance Abdel Rahim Hamdi, and U.S. Ambassador Watson in Khartoum has condemned the Sudan government's human rights record in extremely strong language.

The Work of Africa Watch

Africa Watch issued newsletters on the Nuba mountains, the forced relocations from Khartoum, conditions in the "ghost houses," academic freedom and the Coptic community, as well as press releases and appeals concerning the south.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page