Human Rights WatchGovernment Human Rights Commissions in Africa ContentsDownloadPrintOrderHRW Homepage

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






    According to information provided to Human Rights Watch by the Advisory Council for Human Rights, its major activities since 1994 have largely constituted responses to concerns raised by the international community rather than independent advocacy with other government branches for prevention and redress of human rights abuses. In particular, much of its work has consisted of facilitating the visits of, "cooperating with" and responding to the reports of the special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. In 1994, the Advisory Council cites as its major achievement: "providing additional information" the treaty body on the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 1995, it responded to a report by Amnesty International. In 1996, "receiving" the U.N. special rapporteur on religious intolerance when he visited Sudan. The Advisory Council "extended an invitation" to the U.N. Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery. It also prepared Sudan's country reports for the U.N. and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, and responded to concerns raised by Human Rights Watch. In 1997, the work of the Advisory Council for Human Rights included cooperating and providing information to the special rapporteur on religious intolerance. In 1998, for the first time, the Advisory Council for Human Rights also worked within the country contributing to a comprehensive bill of human rights for the 1998 constitution, conducting human rights trainings for judicial and law enforcement staff, and conducting seminars and workshops on human rights through the human rights education committees established by the Advisory Council.3

    According to rapporteur Dr. Ahmed El Mufti, the Advisory Council for Human Rights has also worked on the following issues:

182. Detention: it receives regular reports from internal security on how many people are detained, their status, the allegations against them. It has been able to raise concerns if people are unfairly detained.

183. Judicial review: It examines the security act to ensure that all detentions are within the law and if there are allegations of torture it brings pressure to bear on the government.

184. Prison visits: It has managed to get permission for prison visits for family members experiencing problems. Report writing for international fora.

    The nature of the Advisory Council for Human Rights' interventions and the complete absence of independent human rights organizations in the country make it impossible to confirm what, if any, impact these interventions have had. The Advisory Council for Human Rights regards as its weakness the lack of financial and technical resources.

    Since 1999, the Advisory Council on Human Rights has been working on the issue of "abduction and forced labor of women and children" (slavery), largely through the Ministry of Justice's department of human rights under Dr. El Mufti. In the past year, the government has been addressing the issue of abduction more systematically, particularly in comparison to other major human rights allegations that have been comparatively neglected.

    This interest is traceable to political changes at the international level. Formerly, the U.S. took the lead in speaking out strongly on Sudan's human rights record in U.N. forums, a role that was taken over in 1999 by the E.U.4 The E.U. approach has been much less confrontational than the U.S. According to some European diplomats, at the April 1999 U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting, the E.U. hoped that greater human rights results could be achieved using a more conciliatory approach. A consensus resolution was drafted with the Sudan government, thus securing the government's endorsement of critical language and its agreement to work to end the abuses. In doing this, the E.U. took a risk. But the government of Sudan appears to have taken up the E.U. offer, at least in part. Indeed, it seems to be working off a checklist derived from the consensus resolution, and at the same time, demanding international praise for each step of the many it must take.

    As a result, there have been some human rights steps taken in 1999. However, not all have been the work of the Advisory Council on Human Rights. Some have been simple one-time acts, such as the accession to the Chemical Warfare Convention in May 1999. The government also permitted two U.N. needs assessment missions to the rebel-held areas of the Nuba Mountains, something it had refused for a decade.

    The major work of the Advisory Council on Human Rights has recently been its focus, with the Ministry of Justice, on slavery or abduction. Prior to 1999, the government had steadfastly denied that slavery existed in Sudan, claiming that it was all tribal hostage taking. On May 15, 1999, Ali M.O. Yassin, in his capacity as justice minister, attorney general, and chair of the Advisory Council for Human Rights, promulgated a decree creating the Committee on the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC), with its head office in the Ministry of Justice, and the use of its office facilities and those of the secretariat of the Advisory Council for Human Rights.5

    With this decree, the government formally recognized that there was a serious problem in Sudan of abduction and forced labor of women and children. These practices, as they are carried out in the context of the war in Sudan, are slavery by any other name. Although the government continued to avoid the use of the word "slavery," it was without doubt beginning to address the human rights problem that had received most unfavorable international attention and condemnation. This was a major step in itself.

    The decision to do something about slavery (or abductions and forced labor) was part of the government effort to comply with the previously mentioned 1999 U.N. Commission on Human Rights' resolution on Sudan, which called on the government to investigate reports of the abduction of women and children taking place in the framework of the conflict in southern Sudan, bring to trial any persons suspected of supporting or participating in such activities, facilitate the safe return of affected children, and accept a multilateral investigation into the causes of the problem as well as ways eradicate the practice.6

    The members of the CEAWC in the decree include the members of the Advisory Council for Human Rights, including Advisory Council for Human Rights rapporteur Dr. Ahmed El Mufti as chair of the CEAWC. The bulk of the representatives on the CEAWC are government civil servants, with the significant exception of James Agware, an ethnic Dinka leader representing the Dinka Committee, which has been retrieving slaves for years.7
    The Dinka Committee's work of retrieval was incorporated into the CEAWC, because they were an indigenous group already doing the only work so far on retrieval8 and had a proven record. Initially there were difficulties. According to Dr. El Mufti, he and other government officials had to travel from Khartoum to Darfur after James Agware was arrested twice by the local authorities to assure them that the government backed the work of the Dinka Committee, now part of the CEAWC. According to Dr. El Mufti, since then there have been no problems, although this could not be verified.9

    In line with a commitment to cooperate with the international community, the CEAWC hosted a three-day workshop in Khartoum in late July 1999 which brought together various interested sectors, including local nongovernmental organizations, police, government supporters, tribal leaders from Kordofan and Darfur, Dinka leaders, and others. UNICEF funded and helped plan the workshop. Human Rights Watch participated as an observer, a fact significant in itself since Human Rights Watch had been denied entry to the country for four years. The workshop ended on a high note of resolution for the government and interested parties to move forward together to end abductions and forced labor, and reunite the women and children with their families.

    There have been several hundred retrievals for the CEAWC done by the Dinka Committee. The amount of social work involved in interviewing the former captives, tracing their families and providing shelter and services to them has been much greater than initially thought, so that the CEAWC effectively has placed a moratorium on further retrievals until the backlog is cleared up. Tracing work does not seem to have started in rebel areas through this program by the end of 1999. The bulk of the funds for this program have been provided by UNICEF and some funds have been provided by nongovernmental agencies such as Save the Children/U.K.10

    The focus of the work so far has been on retrieval and reunification. Although the mandate also includes prosecution or law enforcement,11 it appears that there has not been a single case brought by the CEAWC. The prevention of further slave taking or abduction is crucial, for if it is not achieved, the retrievals will become a revolving door. So far CEAWC has approached this topic gingerly, and hopes that placement of its offices in affected areas of Darfur and Kordofan12 will serve as a deterrent. The issue of prevention is tricky for CEAWC because many abductions take place during the course of joint tribal militia-army activity in the southern war zones. Indeed, at the July 1999 Khartoum workshop on eradication, the issue that drew most fire from the government and its allies was the suggestion that the military supply train had a role in facilitating abductions. Testimonies have long borne out the fact that the tribal militia who escort and "guard" the train through rebel territory to Wau, a garrison town, fan out from the train on horseback to loot, burn, and abduct Dinka villages along the way.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001

Africa: Current Events Focus Pages

The Latest News - Archive













Sierra Leone

South Africa







Copyright © 2001
Human Rights Watch