By Andrew Anderson
The recent decision by President Obama to lift sanctions on Sudan might give cause for hope that the human rights situation in the country might finally be moving in a positive direction.
Sadly, the reality is that the situation is going in the opposite direction and the government of Sudan is currently waging a campaign of violence and intimidation to silence the last voices of dissent. The ongoing violence by government forces, pro-government militia groups and anti-government armed groups forms the backdrop to continued harassment, arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions and torture of human rights defenders (HRDs) by Sudanese military and security forces.
In November the government arrested 23 opposition activists, 10 of whom are currently on trial, following a three day stay at home strike organised to protest at the rising cost of living and the cutting of government food subsidies. The government’s immediate response was uncompromising confrontation. Speaking to supporters at an event in the east of the country, President Bashir said “We want to tell them that if you want to overthrow the regime, then face us directly on the streets. I challenge you to come out onto the streets. But we know you will not come because you know what happened in the past… This regime will not be overthrown by keyboards and WhatsApp.”. In 2013 more than 200 people were killed when the army and police cracked down on protests against a previous round of subsidy cuts.
Meanwhile the government has shut down independent media and has repeatedly seized the print runs of newspapers prior to distribution. In this way the newspapers have to incur the printing costs while being unable to sell any of the papers. It is yet another way to silence independent or critical voices.
One of those voices is that of Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam. Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim is one of the most distinguished human rights defenders in Sudan known for his role in exposing human rights violations in Darfur. He is the founder and former director of the Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO), which works on human rights as well as water, sanitation and health.
Dr Mudawi is a man who has devoted his life to trying to pull Sudan out of the chaos of war and conflict and to building a peaceful prosperous Sudan. He wrote “I think we have no choice. If we want to live a decent life in our own country we have to continue working with the people, struggling with them. We need the support of the international community. We need to feel that there are people behind us. It is a moral support. It is not tangible but it has a deep meaning in the heart. It has something, even when you close your eyes you see people who you haven’t seen, you imagine their shapes, but they are holding your hand continually”.
But now it is Mudawi himself who needs this support.
On 7 December 2016, Mudawi Ibrahim Adam and his long-time driver Mr Adam El-Sheikh were arrested on the University of Khartoum campus and forcibly transferred to an unknown location. On 12 December, Ms Nora Abaid, an accountant from Mudawi Ibrahim Adam’s engineering company, Lambda Engineering, was arrested by NISS agents who approached her in an unmarked car. They all continue to be detained incommunicado. Under the 2010 National Security Act (NSA), detainees can be held in custody for up to four and a half months without judicial review.
On 22 January 2017, Dr Mudawi Ibrahim Adam started a hunger strike, in protest of his arbitrary detention since 7 December by the Sudanese authorities. Reports received today describe how members of the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) badly beat him and chained him to the wall of his cell. It seems this is an attempt to force him to end his hunger strike. Mudawi has been tortured before. He has now been detained on at least five occasions by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) since 2003. He has been threatened and he has been subjected to prosecution on fabricated charges. And yet he has refused to flee his beloved country. He has continued to work peacefully for an end to conflict and respect and rights for all in Sudan.
The government of the United States and other providers of significant development aid must send a clear message to the government of Sudan that the lifting of sanctions is not an unconditional act of benevolence. The government of Sudan must honour its commitments to improve the human rights situation. A starting point would be the release of Dr Mudawi and all those jailed for using their right to peaceful protest.
Andrew Anderson is Executive Director Front Front Line Defenders – the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, based in Dublin, Ireland