Home | Reports    Friday 18 July 2003


Sudan - 2003 Report

Covering events from January - December 2002



Head of state and government: Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Death penalty: retentionist

International Criminal Court: signed

War-related human rights abuses were committed on a large scale until a cease-fire signed in October. Government forces, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and militias allied to both sides killed, abducted and raped civilians, destroyed houses, livestock and crops and restricted humanitarian aid. In Darfur, western Sudan, civilians were killed or injured throughout 2002 in attacks on villages by armed groups. Tens of thousands of Sudanese were displaced and faced hunger as relief supplies were frequently cut or disrupted. In government-controlled territories, the security forces detained and harassed human rights defenders and political opponents. Most of those detained were held in prolonged incommunicado detention without charge or trial and several were tortured. At least 40 people were reported to have been executed and more than 120 death sentences were imposed. Scores of Sudanese were sentenced to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments involving flogging or amputation. Trials were frequently summary and grossly unfair. In the Darfur region, special courts continued to impose death sentences after summary trials.


Moves towards peace continued. The Sudanese government and the SPLA agreed to four tests of their commitment to peace proposed by the US Special Envoy for Peace. As a result, an internationally monitored cease-fire in the Nuba Mountains was agreed in January and renewed in July. In March the government and the SPLA signed a commitment, to be verified by an international team, not to attack civilian targets. An international commission was set up to investigate slavery in Sudan and released a report in May. In addition, both sides agreed to allow humanitarian organizations to carry out medical programs in "zones of tranquillity". However, these agreements were not always respected. Attacks on civilians and breaches of international humanitarian law continued.

Fighting continued in oil-rich areas between government forces and militias on one side, and on the other, the SPLA and the Sudan People’s Democratic Front/Defence Force of Riek Machar, who allied with the SPLA in January.

In eastern Sudan, armed opposition to the government was led by the National Democratic Alliance, a force led by eight northern political parties in alliance with the SPLA. Eritrean armed forces were also reported to have clashed with Sudanese government forces.

On 20 July, the government and the SPLA signed a peace protocol under the auspices of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (a regional grouping under the African Union) and international mediators in Machakos, Kenya. The peace process halted when the SPLA captured Torit in Equatoria on 1 September, and the government banned relief flights to Equatoria. The peace process restarted after the government recaptured the town in October. On 17 October both parties signed a cease-fire and on 26 October both parties agreed to unimpeded access for international humanitarian aid. In November a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the government and the SPLA.

Civil society organizations protested at being excluded from the peace talks. Despite mention of human rights in the Machakos protocol, both parties to the talks continued to abuse or restrict them. In December the government renewed the state of emergency.

In April the UN Commission on Human Rights renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Sudan, and in October the Special Rapporteur visited Sudan. In September the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considered Sudan’s second periodic report.

Unlawful killings

Both government forces and armed opposition groups indiscriminately and directly targeted civilians and reportedly carried out extrajudicial executions in the context of the civil war. At least 85 incidents of aerial bombing or shelling of civilian targets by government Antonov planes and helicopter gunships were reported. More than 470 civilians were reportedly killed in May by the Lord’s Resistance Army (see Uganda entry).

In December, the first investigation set up under the terms of the March agreement not to kill civilians concluded that the government had not deliberately targeted civilians in an attack in September in which 12 civilians died. The report also stated that the SPLA had deployed weapons near civilian areas.

- On 21 February, a government helicopter gunship killed 24 civilians in Bieh, injured many others and disrupted a World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution operation. The attack occurred despite the fact that the government had agreed to WFP operations in Bieh that day, under the framework of Operation Lifeline Sudan, the umbrella organization providing relief to civilians in southern Sudan. The government announced an investigation but no results were made public by the end of 2002.
- SPLA forces were reported to have summarily executed a number of captured government soldiers after taking control of Torit in early September.
- Armed men from nomadic groups attacked scores of villages in Darfur, killing and wounding scores of civilians, mainly from the Fur ethnic group, and destroying homes and livestock with virtual impunity. In April an armed group attacked Shoba village, killing 17 people. At least eight villagers, including some who protested to the authorities about the attack, were arrested. They were held for up to seven months in detention without charge before being released.

Internal displacement

Attacks on civilians and destruction of homes, herds and crops led to the flight and displacement of tens of thousands of people. Forcibly displaced people were destitute and relief agencies could not reach many of them because of insecurity or government restrictions on aid flights.
- In August, humanitarian agencies reported that an estimated 127,000 people displaced by fighting in western Upper Nile had fled to the districts of Gogrial and Twic in northern Bahr al-Ghazal state. Their arrival added further pressure on an already precarious food situation.

Cases of torture by members of the security forces continued to be reported.
- Fourteen students from Bahr al-Ghazal University, Khartoum, who were arrested after violent demonstrations in October, were reportedly beaten with hoses and had their facial hair shaved while in custody. The arrests apparently followed an earlier violent clash between students and two security officers on the campus which was suppressed by police using tear gas and rubber bullets.
- Yaser Mohamed el-Hassan Osman, Assistant Registrar of the Khartoum University Medical School, was arrested on 26 October and held for two days. During his detention, members of the security forces reportedly stood upon his chest and bladder and beat him unconscious with an iron bar. He required intensive care at Khartoum Hospital following his release. He had been arrested with scores of students after violent clashes on 22 and 23 October between students from the University of Khartoum and riot police armed with sticks and rubber bullets.
Death penalty

At least 40 people were reported to have been executed and more than 120 were sentenced to death. More than 90 death sentences were passed after unfair trials by Special Courts in the Darfur region. These courts, created in 2001 by presidential decree to try offences related to "armed banditry", imposed death sentences and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments after summary trials under military judges where the accused were frequently denied lawyers.
- On 17 July, 88 people were sentenced to death on charges including murder, armed robbery and public disturbance by a Special Court in Nyala, southern Darfur. According to reports, they included two children, Gadim Hamdoum Hamid and Kabashi Alayan, both 14 years old. Thirty-six of some 130 defendants, mostly from the Rizeigat ethnic group, alleged that in June they were beaten with gun-butts and hoses in pre-trial detention. Their lawyers withdrew when the court refused to allow a medical examination. An appeal was pending.
- In November the final appeal of Mohamed Ibrahim, Sadul Adam Abdelrahman, Abdullah Rabhi, Mohamed Hamid Ahmed and Mohamed Issa Tiue, sentenced to cross-amputation followed by hanging, was rejected. They had been convicted of armed robbery in 1999 after an unfair trial in Nyala, Darfur, where they were reportedly denied legal representation.
- The death sentence by stoning imposed by a criminal court in Nyala on Abok Alfa Akok, a non-Muslim from the Dinka ethnic group, was reduced on appeal in February to a sentence of 75 lashes. The punishment was carried out immediately.
Women’s rights

Women continued to be raped and abducted in the context of the civil war. Suspected perpetrators of sexual violence were not brought to justice. In government areas women were also singled out for cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments for adultery, in circumstances where men involved normally remained unpunished. Women in the north continued to be harassed and ill-treated by police enforcing the Public Order Law which restricts women’s freedom of movement, behaviour and dress.
- In November, at least 14 women from the village of Munwashi, near Nyala in Darfur, were convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes of the whip each. Three other women from the same area were also detained for adultery but were not reported to have been brought to court by the end of 2002.

Incommunicado detention without charge

Dozens of suspected political opponents of the government were arrested by the security forces. Many were held in prolonged incommunicado detention without charge or trial.
- In October, nine Dinka civil servants, including Garang Wek Atheny and Gabriel Akol Akol Kuc, and Ahmad Labuo, a merchant, were arrested by military intelligence officers in Aweil, the capital of Bahr al-Ghazal state. They were released on 12 December after 53 days’ incommunicado detention.
- Hassan al-Turabi, former Speaker and leader of the Popular National Congress (PNC), remained in detention throughout 2002. In August the Constitutional Court ruled that his continued detention was unconstitutional, but a Presidential Emergency Decree immediately extended his detention for another year. More than 30 other members of the PNC, arrested between May and September, remained in prison without charge or trial at the end of 2002.
Abductions and slavery

A US-led international commission of eminent persons, set up in December 2001 to investigate slavery, abduction and forced servitude, issued a report in May. The international commission found that some exploitative relationships met the definition of slavery in international conventions and made a number of recommendations to end the practice. The government continued to deny the existence of slavery.

The Committee for the Eradication of Abductions of Women and Children (CEAWC), set up by the government in 1999, was placed directly under the President. CEAWC stated that it had succeeded in freeing 150 abducted persons. However, no suspected perpetrator of abductions was known to have been brought to justice.

Restrictions on freedom of expression and association

Despite some relaxation of restrictions on political activities and a government announcement in December 2001 that censorship on the media was lifted, the government and the security forces continued to limit freedom of expression and association. The authorities used restrictive or vague articles in the Penal Code and the 1999 Press Act to arrest journalists and editors and to confiscate, fine or suspend newspapers. Sanctions were imposed for writing or publishing articles critical of the government or for commenting on a wide range of areas including AIDS and female circumcision.
- In February, the Republican Brothers, recently registered under the government’s Political Associations Act, were refused permission by the security services to hold a meeting in Khartoum. They had planned to mark the anniversary of the execution of their spiritual leader, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, in 1985.
- In September, Osman Mirghani, a columnist for the Khartoum-based daily Al-Ra’y al-’Am, was detained by the security forces following an interview on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station in which he had criticized the Sudanese government for walking out of the peace negotiations. He was detained for questioning for two days then released without charge.

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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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