Why monitoring human rights in Sudan still matters

By Khairunissa Dhala, Researcher on Sudan/South Sudan team at Amnesty International

Does the human rights situation in Sudan still require a UN-mandated Independent Expert to monitor and report back on developments?

That is among the issues to be discussed as the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) opens today in Geneva.

Given Sudan’s dire human rights situation – ongoing armed conflicts in three different states, restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly, including arbitrary arrest and torture of human rights defenders and activists – it is hard to imagine that there is even a question on whether this is needed.

But we’ve been here before.  

Two years ago, I attended the HRC’s 18th session where members of the Council reached a “compromise” on human rights monitoring in Sudan. It was a “compromise” because, while the Independent Expert’s mandate was renewed, it solely focused on providing technical assistance and capacity-building support to the national authorities.

In other words, the Independent Expert would no longer be asked to monitor the human rights situation in Sudan.

That HRC decision came the same year that South Sudan gained independence – one of the outstanding issues that was part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Some commentators suggested that the international community was looking for ways to “reward” Sudan for adhering to the Agreement.

It was also the year that the UN Mission in Sudan, the main international organization with a human rights monitoring component, which had not been banned from working in Sudan, had its mandate terminated.

And the year that conflict broke out in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, and the Sudanese governments’ armed forces carried out indiscriminate aerial bombardments and blocked humanitarian access to the two states.

Compromising on the Independent Expert’s mandate was seen as a concession to Sudan by the international community. A concession given to a country where widespread and systematic violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law are taking place.

But there should be no compromise on human rights.

Since then, the Independent Expert’s mandate has successively been renewed to provide technical assistance, while the awful human rights situation in Sudan calls for a clear need for monitoring..

Conflict remains ongoing in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, to the detriment of the civilian population. Over the past two years I have interviewed numerous men, women and children from these two states. They have shared harrowing accounts of how their loved ones were killed when bombs dropped by Antonov aircrafts, from high altitudes, by the Sudanese Armed Forces, landed on their homes.

Coupled with ground attacks by Sudanese forces and the armed opposition group the SPLA-N, this conflict has led to more than 200,000 people fleeing to refugee camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia, in addition to the tens of thousands of internally displaced people in the two areas. The Sudanese authorities are still denying unhindered humanitarian access to all affected areas.

Meanwhile, in Sudan’s Darfur state, a decade after the start of the armed conflict, the crisis is ongoing and violence has again intensified. This year alone, more than 300,000 people were forced to leave their homes behind, fleeing violent clashes between predominantly ethnic Arab groups.

Across Sudan, freedom of expression, association and assembly also remain restricted. Journalists and activists face constant harassment, arbitrary arrests, as well as torture and other forms of ill-treatment by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service.

Given the critical human rights situation, any compromise on the Independent Expert’s mandate is an abdication of the Human Right Council’s duty to promote and protect human rights in Sudan.

Amnesty International and a number of international and Sudanese human rights organizations are calling for HRC member states not only to renew for three years, but also to strengthen, the special procedure mandate on Sudan.

The Independent Expert should have their mandate strengthened to monitor Sudan’s human rights situation under item 4 (Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention) and report twice a year to the Council and the UN General Assembly on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law taking place anywhere in the country.

Read more:

Sudan: Letter to the UNHRC regarding the renewal and strengthening of the special procedure mandate on the situation of human rights in Sudan (Letter, 9 September 2013)Sudan: Human rights situation in Sudan (Public statement, 29 August 2013)
Sudan: New evidence of scorched earth tactics against civilians in Blue Nile  (News story/report, 11 June 2013)
Sudan: Indiscriminate bombing exacerbates humanitarian crisis in Southern Kordofan (News story/report, 17 April 2013)