Election observers must monitor human rights during Sudanese elections

International observers deployed to Sudan for the presidential and parliamentary elections in April must monitor human rights as a key part of their brief, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The organization said it fears an increase in harassment, arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture or other forms of ill-treatment carried out by the government’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), which have sweeping powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure, while enjoying immunity for any acts carried out as part of their work.

“We are concerned that these powers may be used to intimidate, arrest and detain opposition candidates, voters and human rights defenders before, during and after the elections,” said Veronique Aubert, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa programme.

Sudanese security forces violently suppressed political protests on 7 and 14 December 2009, arresting more than 200 people, including opposition leaders and human rights activists that had gathered in front of the parliament building in Khartoum.

In a 12-point briefing to election monitors, Amnesty International called on the delegates to assess whether candidates, their supporters and voters are protected from human rights violations.The organization called on election observers to beware of violence or threats carried out at polling stations against those presumed to be opposing party supporters and to ask the authorities to immediately act to stop any abuse.

“It is essential that election monitors, in addition to observing the election process itself, call on the authorities to put a stop to any human rights violations observed by or reported to them,” said Veronique Aubert.

Following reports of political party meetings and rallies being disrupted by the NISS, Amnesty International recommended that the observers monitor the conduct of the NISS and the police, to ensure that they do not commit human rights violations.”Pressure is mounting on Sudan to hold elections free from violence, insecurity and human rights abuse,” said Veronique Aubert. “At this crucial time the respect, protection and promotion of human rights by all those involved in the elections, including the government, candidates, and supporters, is of critical importance.”The ability to exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of movement is essential to ensure that people can participate in the election process without fear of intimidation or reprisals.”

The April elections will be the first national parliamentary and presidential elections in Sudan since 1986. Current president Omar Hassan Al Bashir took power during a coup d’état in 1989. Civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan prevented people in many constituencies in Southern Sudan and Blue Nile State from voting in elections in 2000, when Al Bashir was voted in as President.

The European Union has committed 130 election observers to monitor the elections and deployment began in late February this year. The Carter Center, an NGO founded by former US President Jimmy Carter, has also deployed 60 election observers and the League of Arab States (LAS) is planning to deploy 50 observers. The elections will also be monitored by Sudanese civil society groups.The elections are taking place amid continuing, widespread human rights abuses by the government and armed groups. President Bashir remains a fugitive from justice following the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.