September 11, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – International rights groups have called on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to strengthen the mandate of the independent expert on the human rights situation in Sudan to monitor and report publicly on serious violations.
Twenty international human rights organisations signed the letter, which was presented to the council at the opening of its 24th session in Geneva on Monday.
Rights groups say they are deeply concerned by the council’s persistent failure to respond effectively to the situation in Sudan, where gross and systematic violations of human rights continue unabated.
“We regret that previous resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council failed to condemn the widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Sudan and did not identify concrete priority areas of action to improve the protection of basic human rights”, the letter reads in part.
Rights groups say indiscriminate aerial bombardments and ground attacks in civilian areas carried out by the Sudanese military in the conflict-affected areas of Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states has resulted in widespread loss of civilian life, destruction of livelihoods and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people.
Under the current mandate, which was renewed last September, the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan is authorised to offer technical assistance and capacity-building support.
However, rights groups have urged the council to strengthen the mandate, giving the independent expert more powers to monitor and report on serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in all parts of Sudan.
In six key recommendations outlined in the letter, rights groups called for the establishment of an independent investigation into ongoing human rights violations in conflict-affected areas that would report back to the UNHRC at its next session.
They also urged the council to condemn on the government’s restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms, saying a tougher stance was needed to address the practice of arbitrary detention, torture, media censorship and the targeting of religious minorities in the country.
“Throughout the country, the Government of Sudan has increased restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly in what appears to be a concerted effort to shut down independent dialogue”, the letter said.
“These restrictions have severely undermined the activities of civil society and prevented meaningful public consultation in Sudan’s constitution-making process”, it adds.
In a report by the independent expert submitted to the UNHRC, Mashood Baderin acknowledges that while the overall human rights situation in Sudan remains unstable and the implementation of policies on the ground remains slow, he said the Sudanese government had made progress in institutional and legislative developments aimed at improving the human rights situation.
He said there was now improved awareness about human rights issues both in the government sector and among the general population.
However, despite positive steps, Baderin said Sudan continued to face enormous human rights challenges as a result of recurrent armed conflicts between government troops and rebel groups, as well as intra-tribal clashes and the operations of government security agencies, notably the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), which he says has impeded the enjoyment of basic civil and political rights.
“The security situation in the conflict-affected regions of the country has remained precarious and impunity for human rights violations remains a recurring problem”, the report said.
“The absence or sometimes weak presence of formal state institutions in remote parts of the country accounts for the difficult situation in those areas”, the report adds, saying women and children in rural areas remained particularly vulnerable.
The UNHRC’s 24th session continues until 27 September.
Amnesty International, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (JCJPS), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and REDRESS were among the signatories to the letter presented to the 47-member council.