Human Rights Developments
In the north, prospects for the Sudanese people to exercise their right to change their government peacefully remained curtailed as the government continued to hold opposition activists in administrative detention. Draconian emergency laws, instituted after the toppling of the previous democratically-elected government in 1989, ban political parties and independent unions and deny freedom of expression and assembly.
Thirteen years of civil war have shattered the civilian population of southern Sudan. Sudanese continued to flee the war-torn south and to seek relative safety in neighboring countries; by mid-1995, some 553,000 were refugees, and 650,000 internally displaced lived a marginal existence in the north.
As in previous years, both the government of Sudan and the rebel factions continued to commit abuses against civilians in the war zone. War resumed in the south in August after four months of a cease-fire negotiated by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The government forces captured Kaya, a key town on the Ugandan border. In September, government planes bombed Mundri, Badiet, Ombasi, and Chukudum among other localities, causing dozens of civilian casualties. An SPLA force attacked thirty-five villages in the Nuer area of Ganyliel of Upper Nile on July 30, killing over 210 persons, more than half of whom were children. These clashes, between the SPLA's main force and splinter-factions drawn on largely ethnic lines served as reminders of the deeper divides that underlie the political and strategic divisions among the rebel groups.
All parties to the conflict took actions that hampered Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), the U.N.-led relief operation that seeks to extend much needed assistance to the war-affected population. The Sudan government continued to issue permits for relief flights to land only selectively. Flights are the only means of emergency food deliveries to a number of southern locations. The barge operation on the White Nile, one of the vital routes of OLS food and relief supplies deliveries, was repeatedly delayed and interrupted after incidents of attacks, hostage-taking, and looting, all of which involved human rights abuses, violations of the rules of war, and violations of the ground rules between the OLS and the rebels. On May 7, a Nuer militia, probably aligned with the government, held two World Food Programme (WFP) workers as hostages as it diverted a barge to off lift supplies. Before the end of this attack, soldiers from the rebel faction led by Lam Akol intervened and took the barge under their own control. Remaining WFP workers were taken hostage, as the soldiers looted the barge and stole the hostages' personal belongings. In May, the government captured two doctors, one Italian, one Sudanese, working for the Italian NGO Comitato Collaborazione Medica (CCM) in Pariang, an SPLA area in Upper Nile. To pressure for their release, the SPLA took hostage three U.N. relief workers, two government officials, and a WFP pilot who came to Pariang in late May to pick up the doctors. The government released the doctors in June 18, and the SPLA set its hostages free the next day.
Civilians had no respite from human rights abuses in the Nuba Mountains. The government continued to forbid any U.N. or nongovernmental assistance or visits to thousands of needy civilians living in rebel areas of the Nuba Mountains, pursuant to its abusive counterinsurgency policy of "draining the sea."
New evidence brought to public attention during 1995 demonstrated that the government was methodically and cruelly starving the Nuba people into government straight-jacket. The government bombed the village of Regifi on June 21 and July 9, killing six villagers and wounding thirteen, mostly children. Hundreds of mostly non-Muslim children were sent to traditional Koranic schools in northern Kordofan. Further north, Nuba children, as well as children displaced from the south, remained prime targets for "collection campaigns" in which unaccompanied children are swept from streets of northern cities and towns into government camps, where children are held without notifying their families and are given Islamic education regardless of their religion.
The government adopted a military strategy of integrating pre-existing tribal militia into its forces to stem the rebel gains in the south and the north. Arabized nomadic tribes were integrated into the Popular Defense Force (PDF), a government paramilitary force created in 1989. These militia were responsible for indiscriminate killings of civilians, abduction, and sometimes enslavement of women and children and looting of cattle and other property.
Increasing economic difficulties in Sudan resulting in severe power failures and interruptions in water supplies led to demonstrations in various neighborhoods in the capital and other cities in April. Government security forces arrested demonstrators by the hundreds and then released some of them in small groups. Pro-government mass organizations, such as the Popular Committees for Surveillance and Services operating at the neighborhood level, pro-government unions in workplaces, and NIF-dominated student unions helped security agents identify supposed agitators, who were detained for longer periods, up to five months in some cases, without charge or trial and without access to family or lawyers.
In March, the government closed down the so-called Citibank ghost house (also known as "the Oasis"), one of the best known unacknowledged detention centers called ghost houses, where ill-treatment and torture of administrative detainees was widely practiced. About sixty security detainees were moved from Citibank ghost house to a specially-constructed security wing in Kober Prison. However, the fact that these detainees remained under the authority of the Sudan Security Service and not of the Prisons Department of the Ministry of Interior meant that they did not benefit from legal guarantees and protections that prison regulations provide for political prisoners.
Ex-Prime Minister Sadiq Al Mahdi, leader of the banned Umma Party, whose democratically elected government was deposed in the military coup of 1989, was arrested in May following a public sermon he gave in which he listed government weaknesses and called on his followers to undertake peaceful political opposition to the government. At least 200 members of his party were detained, some for a few weeks, others for several months. The government failed to charge him with any crime in the three-and-a-half-months during which he was held in incommunicado detention.
In August, officials announced the release of "all political detainees and prisoners" in a general amnesty, and invited exiled opposition leaders to return to the country and engage in legal opposition, although the controls over political life were not lifted. A committee of appeal was established to review petitions from thousands of people dismissed from their jobs in the public sector since 1989.
A total of thirty-two detainees and eighteen convicted political prisoners were released in late August. Authorities also released some 200 old, sick and disabled prisoners from Kober Prison in Khartoum in August. This followed the reported release of all women imprisoned for minor offenses and mothers of young children. The releases may also have been motivated by deteriorating conditions in prisons: Sudan's director-general of prisons said prisons suffered from diminishing budgets, leading to situations of hunger among inmates or even cases of death from lack of medical care. In July, he said there were 1,000 sick women in jail and 300 children imprisoned with their mothers.
Students of the University of Khartoum protesting the September 2 detention of three colleagues took to the streets starting September 9. This triggered three days of violent demonstrations as others joined the protest, with clashes between demonstrators and riot police, security forces, and others. At least five demonstrators were reportedly killed, although unofficial sources reported up to forty casualties. Riot police and security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse crowds. Dozens were wounded and hundreds detained. Security agents detained alleged "trouble makers" for longer periods, typically people with a history of detentions under this government. They were sent to "ghost houses" which re-opened and were kept busy during September, October, and November. Among those detained were leaders of the banned political parties, trade union and labor movement, lawyers, student activists, and professionals.
The most alarming development during the demonstrations was the appearance of plain-clothed young men at road blocks, checking identities and intimidating crowds into dispersing by threatening them with their automatic hand weapons. The young men were apparently private_but government sanctioned_NIF party militia.
Freedom of the press and freedom of expression remained severely restricted since the 1989 coup. In March 1995, the government-appointed Press and Publications Council withdrew the licenses of two independent newspapers, Zilal (Shadows) and Dar Fur al Jadidah (New Darfur), following the publication of critical articles. Zilal was authorized to resume publication in September.
In a bid to prevent the free flow of information in and out of the country and to prevent free expression, security agents in July searched, without warrant, the offices and homes of private businessmen, looking for fax and telex machines, which they confiscated. New strict licensing measures that require Security's prior approval for the installation of faxes and the purchase of photocopiers were put into effect. A security censorship office remained in charge of inspecting incoming regional and international newspapers, magazines, and books. Any independent publications carrying reporting deemed critical of the government were confiscated. The same censorship office also inspected incoming and outgoing mail.
The Right to Monitor
The government issued entry visas to Human Rights Watch/Africa, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists, and a delegation of the European Parliament to conduct human rights missions to Sudan during 1995. The government, however, continued to deny the U.N. Human Rights Commission's special rapporteur on Sudan, Dr. Gaspar Biro, entry to the country, accusing him of being an "enemy of Islam" because of critical reports. It addressed the same accusation to Amnesty International following the start of its 1995 campaign about Sudan's human rights record.
The Role of the International Community
The European Union
The European Parliament condemned the human rights record of the government of Sudan on July 13, and called on member states of the European Union to exert pressure on the U.N. for sanctions, particularly the imposition of an arms embargo. The aim of such sanctions would be to "bring pressure to bear on the Sudanese government to stop the massacre of its southern population and respect human rights throughout the entire country." In mid-September, the European Union presidency welcomed the releases of political prisoners and detainees in Sudan as an important step towards respect for human rights and democracy in Sudan.
In a welcome move, the U.S. rejected the nomination of al-Fatih Erwa as ambassador of Sudan to Washington. It was widely assumed that a principal reason for this rejection was his presence as a senior official in Juba in 1992 after an aborted SPLA attack on the town, when the government summarily executed or made "disappear" hundreds of alleged rebel supporters, including four employees of U.S. Agency for International Development. Although the government promised an investigation of these events, three years have passed with no report.
In March, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum ruled out any recognition of the local elections of state councils on the grounds that they were not free. In mid-August, the Embassy condemned the SPLA for the massacre of some 200 civilians and the displacement of thousands of other people in Ganyliel, Upper Nile. It called upon the rebel group to investigate the massacre and take appropriate measures. Following the government releases of political detainees and prisoners in September, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum described the gesture as "encouraging."
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa
One of the outcomes of this visit was the publication of a report with the organization's Children's Rights Project in September 1995, Children of Sudan: Slaves, Street Children, and Child Soldiers, detailing the human rights violations to which children and their families were subjected by all parties.
Human Rights Watch also responded to the main human rights developments in the country. When Khartoum authorities released political detainees in September, Human Rights Watch/Africa inquired about the fate of those detained or imprisoned on political grounds whose names failed to appear among those released. Human Rights Watch/Africa called on President Al Bashir to halt the use of the NIF security apparatus to suppress student demonstrations that occurred in September 1995 and to stop mobilizing NIF popular organizations to confront the demonstrators. Human Rights Watch urged the government to either charge the hundreds of student and other detainees with a crime in a regular criminal court, or free them immediately and to prosecute, with full due process, all those government and other agents responsible for injuries or deaths. In October, Human Rights Watch/Africa addressed letters to the SPLA concerning the attack on Ganyliel in Upper Nile in July 1995, and about the disappearance of Dr. Karlo Madut in Uganda in 1994, both being crimes in which the SPLA was implicated.