Scores of suspected government opponents, including prisoners of conscience, were detained without charge or trial for periods ranging from a few weeks to several months. At least 40 political prisoners received unfair trials. Torture and ill-treatment in detention centres and offices of the security services were common; at least one man died under torture. Courts imposed cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments. Hundreds of civilians were extrajudicially executed by soldiers and militia. Scores of women and children were abducted by soldiers and militia; the fate of hundreds abducted in previous years remained unknown. At least nine prisoners were sentenced to death; there was at least one execution. Armed opposition groups were responsible for human rights abuses.

A new Constitution was promulgated in June on the ninth anniversary of the military coup that brought the government of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir to power. This followed a referendum widely assumed to have been rigged – the electoral commission claimed a turnout of 91.9 per cent but other observers reported a low turnout. Bombs exploded in Khartoum on 30 June, the day the constitution came into force.

The referendum was not held in areas contested by armed opposition organizations, grouped under the umbrella of the National Democratic Alliance. Large swathes of southern Sudan, Blue Nile state and parts of South Kordofan were under the control of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), led by John Garang de Mabior; areas along the Ethiopian and Eritrean borders were contested by the Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF), led by Abdel Aziz Khalid, the Beja Congress and other armed groups. Over 100,000 people were displaced by fighting in the east during the year, especially in Kassala, Gedaref and Blue Nile states. The government accused the Eritrean government of sending troops into Sudan to support Sudanese opposition forces.

In southern Sudan the government militia calling itself SPLA Bahr al-Ghazal, led by Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, switched sides to join the SPLA in January and attacked the garrison town of Wau. More than 100,000 people fled the area. The government quickly regained control of Wau town but fighting continued in rural areas for the next four months, displacing tens of thousands more people. Years of raiding by SPLA Bahr al-Ghazal, the government's Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and other militia groups had already displaced hundreds of thousands; the additional disruption caused the rural economy to collapse and a famine followed in which thousands of people died.

Both the government and the SPLA declared cease-fires in Bahr al-Ghazal in July and extended them in October. The cease-fires did not apply to other parts of southern Sudan. In September the SPLA, supported by Ugandan troops, attacked government garrisons in Eastern Equatoria. The government closed the universities and declared a general mobilization. The SPLA were pushed back; tens of thousands of people were displaced.

In October approximately 40,000 Sudanese refugees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were forced back into Sudan by the SPLA. At the end of the year an estimated 4.5 million people were displaced inside Sudan.

Peace talks mediated by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development countries (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) in May and August adjourned without progress.

The Sudanese authorities continued to support Ugandan armed opposition movements responsible for gross human rights abuses, supplying arms and allowing them to use bases inside Sudan (see Uganda entry). In March the Sudanese government allowed the UN to relocate 17 Ugandans who had been abducted by the Ugandan armed opposition group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) back to Uganda. In October the Sudanese authorities deployed troops, some of whom were from Ugandan armed opposition movements, in the DRC in support of President Laurent-Désiré Kabila.

In August one man died when the USA bombed a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum North in retaliation for the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The US government claimed the plant was manufacturing precursors for chemical weapons and had a connection with Usama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the bombings in East Africa.

In January the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan reported that the authorities, security forces and militia were all responsible for a broad range of human rights violations. In April the UN Commission on Human Rights again expressed deep concern at continued serious human rights violations. For the fourth year running, the Commission recommended deploying human rights field officers to monitor human rights. Yet again they were not in place by the end of the year.

Scores of suspected opponents of the government, including prisoners of conscience, were arrested during the year and detained without charge or trial for periods ranging from a few weeks to several months. In Khartoum most prisoners were held in a section of Kober Prison run by the security services. However, the security headquarters and secret detention centres were also used. Some political detainees were held in Dabak Prison outside Khartoum and there were reports of political prisoners detained in Port Sudan and other regional centres. Many suspected political opponents had to report daily to security offices where they were made to wait until sunset.

Among those detained without charge or trial were five imams from Islamist groups. Mudathir Mohamed Ismail and Mohamed Abdel Karim of the group Safar al-Hawamil, and Ali Sayyid, Rifa'at and Khalil of the Hizb al-Tahrir Islami, Islamic Liberation Party, were reportedly arrested in 1997 and in October were still in detention without charge in the security-run section of Kober Prison. They were reported to have cast doubt on the religious credentials of Hassan al-Turabi, Secretary General of the National Congress and ideological mentor of the government.

The authorities arrested dozens of suspected political activists in May, June and July after opposition calls for a boycott on the constitutional referendum. In May Hashim Tulub, a former member of the banned Sudan Communist Party (SCP), Abdel Wahab Ahmad al-Mustapha, a trade unionist, and Khalid Omar al-Sadiq, a lawyer and member of the opposition National Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy, were among more than 30 prisoners of conscience detained for two weeks in a secret detention centre in Khartoum North. After their release the men were made to report each day to security offices.

In late June at least 20 senior political figures were questioned after they announced in a challenge to the new Constitution that they intended to re-establish banned political parties. The majority were released within 48 hours. However, al-Haj Abdelrahman Abdalla Nugdullah, a member of the banned Umma Party and a former Minister of Religious Affairs, and Suleiman Khedir, a businessman, remained in incommunicado detention.

Scores more political opponents were arrested after the bomb explosions in Khartoum in June, reportedly on suspicion of involvement in the bombings. Mahjoub al-Zubeir, Siddig Yahya and other prominent trade unionists were briefly detained. Baha al-Din Hassan Osman, an electrical engineer, and at least three other men working at the bombed Burri power station, were beaten in a secret detention centre before being transferred to Kober prison and from there to Dabak. They were released without charge in mid-August.

In early July the authorities announced they had evidence that members of banned political parties including the SCP and the Umma Party were behind the explosions. Abdelmahmud Abbo, Secretary General of the Ansar Affairs Commission (close to the Umma Party), and al-Haj Abdelrahman Abdalla Nugdullah, who had been arrested before the explosions, were named in particular. However, neither man was charged. They were eventually released in October.

Four leaders of the Ansar order of Islam, including Adam Ahmad Yousuf, imam of the ‘Abd al-Rahman mosque, were arrested after a speech at Friday prayers protesting at the detention of the Ansar leaders. They were accused of undermining public security and released on bail after two weeks in prison. Although acquitted at a trial in August, they were detained as a "precautionary measure" until November.

At least 40 political prisoners received unfair trials. For example, in August, 10 men arrested in 1997 and accused of being members of the SAF, including retired military personnel, a student and a doctor, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 10 years on charges including inciting war against the state; five men were acquitted. The men had been tortured and threatened to secure confessions, and allowed to see defence lawyers only three times. In October the trial of 25 civilians and one soldier (six in absentia), accused of being members of the SPLA, opened in a specially convened military court in Khartoum. The defendants, who included Hillary Boma and Lino Sebit, both Roman Catholic priests, were arrested in July and August, ill-treated and tortured and then charged with the June bomb explosions in Khartoum. Defence lawyers did not have access to them until the trial began. There was no right of appeal. The trial had not concluded by the end of the year.

Torture and ill-treatment by security officials remained common; detainees held in security offices on suspicion of plotting against the government were particularly at risk. During February John Dur Manok, a southern Sudanese returned from Ethiopia, was beaten daily in a cell in the security-run section of Kober Prison. As in previous years, anti-government demonstrators were frequently beaten on arrest and on arrival at security offices. In August, three students at Khartoum University were beaten by security personnel following violent demonstrations against rises in student fees. Mohamed Abdelsalaam Babiker, a law student and democracy activist, died after being beaten about the head. In October students from Omdurman Ahlia University arrested during violent demonstrations against the general mobilization of students for military service were also beaten by security personnel.

Courts imposed cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments for theft and offences against "public order" or "public decency". For example, in August a student convicted of participating in the demonstrations at Khartoum University was sentenced to 20 lashes.

Hundreds of civilians were extrajudicially executed by soldiers, PDF troops and other militia. Most incidents were in the war zones of eastern and southern Sudan but in April scores of student conscripts died as hundreds of youths broke out of a military training camp at al-Ayfun near Khartoum. The authorities announced that more than 50 deserters had drowned trying to cross the Blue Nile. However, other reports said that over 100 were killed, many of whom had been shot and others beaten to death.

In January soldiers, PDF and militia drawn from the Fertit community launched a 12-day reprisal attack on civilians, the majority of them Dinka and Jur, after Kerubino Kuanyin Bol's assault on Wau. At least 300 civilians were killed, among them government officials and internally displaced people fleeing camps around the town. Armed men entered Wau hospital and killed patients unable to flee. The government, which did not set up an independent or impartial inquiry, said that 60 civilians were killed in "ethnic fighting" between the Dinka and Fertit.

In the months that followed, government forces, including regular soldiers, PDF and irregular militia, raided the countryside in Bahr al-Ghazal. In addition to killings, scores of women and children were abducted. For example, in April and May dozens of villagers were captured and killed and scores of women and children abducted in raids on villages west of Aweil. In May more than 40 civilians were killed by PDF troops who looted the market of Abindau, north of Gogrial; scores of women and children were taken captive. Hundreds of women and children abducted from Bahr al-Ghazal in previous years and allegedly held as domestic slaves remained unaccounted for.

At least nine men convicted of crim-inal offences were sentenced to death. A member of the Islamist group al-Takfir Walhijra was executed in March for murdering two worshippers at a mosque in 1997.

Armed opposition groups were responsible for human rights abuses, including torture and deliberate and arbitrary killings. For example, in May SPLA forces raiding Rizeiqat cattle camps in Southern Darfur were reported to have shot dead at least 19 civilians in retaliation for raids by militia forces in Bahr al-Ghazal.

Amnesty International urged both government and armed opposition groups to end human rights abuses. The organization called on the authorities to release prisoners of conscience, to end detention without charge or trial and torture, and to commute death sentences. In June Amnesty International renewed its appeals to the government to end its supply of weapons, bases and other support to the LRA and to intervene to free abducted children (see Uganda entry). Although the government assured the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict that it would assist in further repatriations of abducted children, it took no really decisive action. In October the government admitted for the first time that it was working with the LRA and other Ugandan armed groups.

In August Amnesty International expressed concern at the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum by the USA. In September the organization wrote to the UN Secretary-General urging him to investigate whether the attack constituted a breach of international humanitarian law.

In December the organization issued a report, Sudan: Justice? The military trial of Father Hillary Boma and 25 others, documenting concern about the unfair trial of 26 men charged with planting bombs in Khartoum in June.

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