October 2, 2013 (GENEVA) – The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last Friday agreed to renew the mandate of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan for a further 12 months.
The resolution was passed at the final meeting of the council’s 24th regular session in Geneva, Switzerland.
Under the mandate the independent expert is responsible for providing technical assistance to Sudan.
The council acknowledged that the Sudanese government had set up numerous institutions in line with recommendations it accepted from a universal periodic review, as was also mentioned in the independent expert’s report to the UNHRC.
In its report, the council said Sudan remained in a post-conflict setting and urged concerned parties to work together to apply pressure to armed groups to join the peace process.
Last month, international rights groups called on the 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 a letter, which was presented to the council at the opening of its 24th session in Geneva on 16 September.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the UNHRC for failing to condemn widespread human rights violations in Sudan, including recent anti-government protests which left scores of demonstrators dead.
In a statement, HRW said the UNHRC continued to turn a blind eye to indiscriminate attacks, including aerial bombardments, committed by the Sudan military in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Darfur, as well as the stifling of dissent, arbitrary detentions, torture and restrictions on freedoms of association, assembly and expression.
In a resolution adopted last Friday on the situation of human rights in Sudan, the UNHRC stopped short of condemning the human rights situation in the country.
“The Human Rights Council once more remained silent on Sudan’s dire human rights record. The death of dozens of protesters in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan since [last] Monday should prompt member states to question the council member’s approach on Sudan”, HRW said in the statement.
“The Council failed the victims of human rights abuse in Sudan by wrongly focusing on technical assistance and government’s empty promises while civilians are killed and freedoms repressed”, the statement adds.
Protests broke out across Sudan last week after the government’s decision to lift subsidies on fuel and other basic necessities.
The resulting price hikes are the latest in a series of measures that have negatively affected already harsh living conditions across the country.
The recent wave of demonstrations began in Wad Medani on 23 September – a day after president Omer al-Bashir made the announcement, later spreading to Khartoum, Omdurman, Port Sudan, El Obeid, and other towns.
HRW says there is credible evidence that police and national security forces used live ammunition to disperse crowds, with authorities also accused of orchestrating media bans and internet blackouts across the country.
HRW says security agents are also responsible for detaining numerous protesters and opposition party members.
Authorities say 33 people have died in the protests – the worst in the history of Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir’s two-decade rule. However, activists and human rights groups say at least 50 people have been gunned down, most of them in the Khartoum and Omdurman areas, although the true death toll remains difficult to determine and may be as high as 200.
HRW has condemned the killing of protesters, saying the government’s response will only exacerbate the country’s political and economic problems.
“Sudan’s authorities need to rein in the security forces and make it clear that using excessive force is not allowed”, said HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele.
“Lethal force is only permitted where strictly necessary to protect life. Authorities should make sure that police and security forces know the legal limits on the use of force and hold accountable any who exceed those limits”, he added.
CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
Speaking to reporters in Geneva last Friday, a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the agency was “deeply concerned” about the significant number of people killed during the demonstrations.
“Witnesses speak of bodies of dead demonstrators with gunshot wounds in the upper torso and head. There have also been reports of destruction of property by demonstrators”, said spokesperson Cecile Pouilly.
The OHCHR has called on Sudanese authorities to show restraint and to comply with international human rights obligations and standards on policing.
“We also urge the authorities to respect the civil liberties of those protesting and, in particular, their right to assemble peacefully and express their views”, said Pouilly.
In a separate statement, the spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy and vice president of the commission said she is deeply concerned by reports of violence and significant loss of life during protests across Sudan.
The high representative has condemned the violence, calling on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and urging the Sudanese government to refrain from excessive use of force.
She called on those detained and for a credible investigation to be conducted into incidents that have led to loss of life, injury and property damage.
“The high representative calls on the Government of Sudan to carry through its commitment to begin an inclusive national dialogue that will strengthen national unity and promote democratic governance”, Ashton’s spokesperson said.