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Protectors or Pretenders? - Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa, HRW Report 2001




International Standards: The Paris Principles

Important Factors

Examining the Record in Africa

Innovative and Positive Contributions by Commissions

Regional Iniatives

The Role Of The International Community





Origin and Mandate

    The ruling National Islamic Front government seized power in a 1989 military coup that overthrew an elected government. The government continues to exert control by limiting free assembly, association, and speech of independent civil society, including human rights monitoring organizations, and by silencing its critics through a variety of means including politically motivated charges that often carry the death penalty. A civil war in the southern part of the country for more than sixteen years has resulted in government and rebel abuses against civilians including militia and army looting of food supplies, killing and injuring civilians (and, by government forces and militia, kidnaping of civilians for slavery purposes), burning of homes, and disruption of relief efforts, causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands and creating major famine. For the last ten years, war has been waged against Nuba rebels and civilians by the government in the central Nuba Mountains with significant killing, forced displacement, burning, looting, and until 1999 a blanket prohibition on all relief going to the rebel areas of the Nuba Mountains. The eastern front was opened in 1995 against the government by a group including Muslims and Arabs who opposed the government's repression and intolerance.

    Given the hostile climate to human rights, it is no surprise that the government of Sudan is subject to concerted international pressure to address its egregious human rights record. Among the many international fora where Sudan has come under scrutiny for human rights violations include the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the International Labor Organization, the U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the U.N. General Assembly, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, and others which have passed periodic resolutions calling on the government and the opposition forces to cease abusing human rights. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights has assigned a special rapporteur to investigate human rights in Sudan yearly since 1993. Other special rapporteurs and investigators have visited Sudan and reported on abuses found there within the scope of their mandates, including the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the U.N. Secretary General's Representative on the Internally Displaced, the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples' Rights, and many others, including all major nongovernmental human rights organizations and many single-issue groups, particularly those addressing slavery.

    With all this critical international attention paid to human rights abuses in Sudan, it was inevitable that the government would create a human rights entity to mitigate the negative publicity, as well as to coordinate the submissions due to the various U.N. agencies and to host a variety of human rights investigators whose visits could not be refused, usually those from U.N. agencies. Permission for nongovernmental human rights organizations has been granted infrequently and grudgingly, and credit taken for this "openness" at every turn.

    The Advisory Council for Human Rights, created by presidential decree in 1994, is advisory in nature but nevertheless responsible for all human rights activities in the country, according to its rapporteur Dr. Ahmed el Mufti. The work of the Advisory Council for Human Rights was previously part of the foreign ministry until 1992, when a small coordination committee was established to coordinate all activities pertaining to human rights in Sudan. In 1994 President Omar El Bashir issued a presidential decree replacing the coordination committee with the Advisory Council for Human Rights. The presidential decree states that the Advisory Council for Human Rights, in coordination with the competent state agencies, shall have the following functions and powers:

177. provide advice and consultancy on human rights to the State;

178. conduct the necessary human rights research and studies and reply to such queries as may be addressed to the State;

179. require the necessary information and data from any State or other agency; participate in relevant local, regional, and international conferences and committees;

180. organize and prepare for visits by individuals and organizations related to human rights in Sudan; and

181. make international regulations necessary to regulate the business of the Advisory Council for Human Rights.

    The Advisory Council for Human Rights in 1998 saw its role as follows: To insure that the government meets its regional and international reporting requirements and to participate in the drafting of the country reports; to respond when allegations against the government are raised and to provide information to the international community about human rights concerns; and to follow up with cases of persons detained by the security forces to press for release or for charges to be brought.2

    The Advisory Council for Human Rights is divided into eight thematic subcommittees: (1) detention; (2) women's rights; (3) children's rights; (4) religious tolerance; (5) slavery/disappearances; (6) peaceful assembly; (7) judicial review; and (8) freedom of speech. Meetings are called at the discretion of the chair of each subcommittee and they are all to report back to the full council when it meets, theoretically once a month. There are said to be twenty-six affiliated human rights committees in the twenty-six states of the county. There is one representative for about three states.

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