Home | News    Wednesday 24 March 2010

Rights body accuses GOSS, GONU of political repression, intimidation

By Julius Uma

March 23, 2010 (JUBA) — With less than a month to Sudan’s much anticipated general elections, a US-based human rights watchdog has openly accused Sudan’s Government of National Unity and its semi-autonomous Southern counterpart of grossly undermining processes for free and fair elections.

In a damning report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said political repression and other rights violations orchestrated by the Khartoum regime and the South Sudan government ahead of the April general elections in Sudan threaten prospects for a free, fair, and credible vote.

"Conditions in Sudan are not yet conducive for a free, fair, and credible election," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, adding that, "Unless there’s a dramatic improvement in the situation it’s unlikely that the Sudanese people will be able to vote freely for leaders of their choice."

The report was compiled by Human Rights Watch’s research missions to Sudan from November 2009 to March 2010. Described specifically in the March 21 report were scenarios that involved violating rights and restricting freedoms critical to a fair poll, including freedoms of expression and of assembly.

According to the US-based researachers, Sudanese authorities throughout the country were failing to uphold standards agreed with the African Union in March, which are based on the African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Major areas of concern, noted Human Rights Watch, included restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression, freedom of the press, and equal access to the media. Previously similar concerns were also reported during voter registration in November and December 2009.

For instance, in Northern Sudan, said Human Rights Watch, the national government continues to arrest and detain activists and opposition party members, break up public gatherings, prevent public meetings, and to control the state-owned media, all significant obstacles to free, fair, and credible elections.

The Khartoum-based national security service, working under the guidance of the National Congress Party (NCP) government, has been openly accused of carrying out arbitrary arrests. In one serious incident, said Human Rights Watch, on March 14, two armed men in plainclothes reportedly abducted Abdallah Mahadi Badawi, an 18-year-old activist with the group Girfina ("We Are Fed Up") in Khartoum, beat him severely, and interrogated him about Girfina’s activities.

MEDIA FREEDOM IN JEOPARDY

Much as fundamental human rights and freedoms of an individual (including media freedom) are said to be inalienable, the media in Khartoum remains under serious repression.

For instance, while the print press has enjoyed more freedom in recent months in Sudan, the Press Council, a government regulatory body, has been accused of suppressing media freedom, a move that has been widely criticized by the US-based human rights watch dog.

In essence, the Human Rights Watch research also found that the various political parties do not have equal access to the media. According to the rights body, although the state-owned media have allocated free airtime to all parties’ candidates under the rules of the National Elections Commission’s media committee, radio and TV outlets in Khartoum heavily focus their regular programming on the ruling NCP party.

DARFUR SITUATION

Frequent clashes in Sudan’s troubled western region of Darfur, said the HRW, were likely to undermine efforts to achieve free and fair elections in April. To-date large areas of Darfur reportedly remain inaccessible to election officials and candidates, and insecurity caused by banditry and ongoing conflict has restricted candidates’ freedom of movement.

As a remedy, HRW called on the national and southern Sudanese governments to take urgent steps to uphold and enforce key civil and political rights in the remaining period before the April 11 polls.

HRW also appealed to international election observers, currently in the process of deploying around Sudan, to monitor and report on the wider human rights context in which the elections will occur.

“The Government of National Unity and the Government of South Sudan should respect the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly enshrined in the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the African Union Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the March 21 report added.

(ST)