Sudan sentences another 10 people to death

Ten men face imminent execution in Sudan after they were sentenced to death by a special court on 15 April. The alleged members of the Darfuri armed opposition group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), were found guilty of involvement in an attack against the Sudanese government in Khartoum on 10 May 2008 that is reported to have killed over 220 people.

The death sentences were announced two days after the Sudanese government executed nine men on 13 April, who may have been innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. The men were convicted for the murder of newspaper editor Mohamed Taha in 2006. Their confessions were extracted under torture.

“Amnesty International remains appalled that the Sudanese authorities continue to apply the death penalty after grossly unfair legal procedures and calls upon the government to abolish the death penalty immediately,” said Piers Bannister of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Team.

United Nations (UN) human rights experts have reportedly condemned the executions, contesting the validity of confessions the men made and later retracted.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of arbitrary detention, issued a legal opinion in November 2008 in which it raised serious questions about the fairness of the trial.

The sentencing on 15 April brings the members of armed groups condemned to death to more than 60. Should the court of appeal uphold the convictions, the men could be immediately executed following President Al Bashir’s signature of the death warrants.

The sentences came despite a goodwill agreement reached between JEM and the Government of Sudan in Doha in February, which saw some JEM prisoners released.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for war crimes against President Al Bashir on 4 March. JEM threatened to arrest the President and deliver him to the ICC. The President now seems to be using the post-warrant climate to issue new death sentences.

“Sudan currently suffers from high levels of violence and the government should not add to this problem by imposing state sanctioned killings via the judicial process,” said Piers Bannister. “Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally in all situations as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.”

The attack on Khartoum was the first time the Darfur conflict reached the capital of Sudan. Since it started in 2003, the conflict has seen more than 300,000 killed, thousands raped, and millions forcibly displaced.

In the weeks following the JEM’s attack on Khartoum, hundreds of individuals were arrested by Sudanese police and security forces. During the months that followed, Amnesty International received reports of extra-judicial executions, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detentions, and widespread torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Many individuals arrested in the aftermath of the attack have disappeared.

Anti-Terrorism Special Courts were established on 29 May 2008 to try individuals accused of taking part in the attack in Khartoum. Between July and August, 50 alleged members of the JEM were sentenced to death in trials that failed to meet international standards of fairness.