Republic of the Sudan

Head of state and government: Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
Capital: Khartoum
Population: 32.6 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist

The war dominated Sudan in 1999 and the human rights situation deteriorated significantly. People taking no active part in the hostilities faced gross human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict, massive internal displacement and widespread disruptions to food supplies. Human rights abuses in contested areas included indiscriminate bombing, abductions and enslavement, and deliberate and arbitrary killings of civilians. The activities of oil companies in the southern region resulted in further suffering for people who had already endured over 16 years of conflict. During 1999 more than 200,000 civilians were forced to flee because of the fighting. In cities under government control, restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association persisted. In January the government announced the Political Association Act (Tawali), allowing political parties to register, but it continued to enforce a ban on political opposition parties and trade unions. Lawyers, journalists and human rights activists remained at risk of arrest, imprisonment, beatings, torture and "disappearances". In December President Omar al-Bashir declared a three-month state of emergency and dissolved parliament.


Despite a cease-fire agreement, the civil war continued in the south and east between regular government forces, the government's paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and informal militia groups known as the murahaleen on the one side, and various forces allied to the opposition Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) on the other.

Aided by external interest in its oil reserves, the government was largely successful in efforts to overcome its previous isolation from the international community.

In May fighting broke out in the western part of the oil-rich state of Upper Nile between different pro-government forces over the issue of who was in charge of securing oil fields. The Southern Sudan Defence Force (SSDF), led by Riek Machar who signed a peace agreement with the government in 1997, was attacked by the government-allied forces of Paulino Matip. The fighting caused internal displacement and a halt to oil exploration in various locations. Two commanders subsequently defected from the forces of Paulino Matip and formed the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM).

The oil companies took no responsibility for human rights abuses linked to the forces they used to protect their oil fields. According to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Sudan the government deployed its military to clear a large area around the oilfields as a safe zone for exploration. At the time of the first shipment of 30,000 barrels of oil in September, local people testified that helicopter gunships had been widely used in the area and that civilian targets had been indiscriminately bombarded from a high altitude.

Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, a key war leader and military commander in Bahr el Ghazal who had defected from the government back to the SPLA in 1998, was shot dead in an ambush in western Upper Nile in September.

On 13 December President al-Bashir declared a three-month state of emergency and dissolved the parliament. The influential Speaker of the Parliament and leader of the National Islamic Front, Hassan al-Turabi, was deprived of power.

Internal displacement

There were almost 4.5 million internally displaced people within Sudan, while more than 350,000 Sudanese were refugees abroad. More than two million people displaced from the war-torn south lived in camps around Khartoum. There were plans to forcibly relocate more than 200,000 of these people further away from Khartoum, to an area with no access to safe water, firewood, shelter or education.

In areas of oil exploration, mainly in western Upper Nile and Southern Kordofan, tens of thousands more people were forced to leave their homes during 1999, abandoning their land, livestock and relatives, after raids by government forces or allied militias. Many of the internally displaced had no access to humanitarian aid, because of the unstable military situation. In July the government imposed a ban on flights to western Upper Nile. An estimated 150,000 people in western Upper Nile were at risk of famine because of displacement and the consequent failure to cultivate.

Abuses in war zones

On all war fronts – in the eastern part of Sudan, the Nuba Mountains and Ingessana Hills, as well as in the south – hundreds of civilians were extrajudicially executed by regular soldiers, PDF forces and irregular militias.

Scores of people were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by the SPLA and its allies, who also looted villages and diverted humanitarian aid. In March, three government employees and one staff member of the Red Crescent were abducted by the SPLA and subsequently killed while held captive.

Bahr el Ghazal

During 1999, hundreds of women and children were abducted, scores of women were raped and scores were killed by pro-government forces. Thousands of women and children abducted from Bahr el Ghazal in previous years, and allegedly held as domestic slaves, remained unaccounted for.

Despite the extension of the cease-fire, there were aerial bombardments and attacks by government forces on civilian targets. In May government troops attacked Rumbek and Yirol from their bases in Wau, northern Bahr el Ghazal. Villages near the railway were attacked by PDF forces and murahaleen militias escorting the government supply train which crosses the area one to three times a month. Aid agency staff were evacuated, causing access problems for humanitarian aid.


Government warplanes bombarded hospitals throughout 1999, apparently targeting them deliberately. There was heavy fighting around the towns of Chukudum and New Cush, and the SPLA unlawfully killed a number of people. The SPLA reportedly planted anti-personnel mines around Chukudum, putting hundreds of people at risk.

Western Darfur

In January the local population of Western Darfur, predominantly the Masaalit, were involved in conflict with militias allegedly backed by government helicopter gunships and armed vehicles. Thousands of people died and tens of thousands fled to Chad. In early February, President al-Bashir issued an emergency decree suspending the Western Darfur state authority with regard to security and public order. In mid-March the attacks resumed, carried out by government-backed militias assembled from members of the ruling party (the National Islamic Front), people from Arab ethnic groups, and non-Sudanese.

At least eight Masaalit men were sentenced to death by hanging, cross amputation (one hand and the opposite foot) and crucifixion, for involvement in "tribal clashes".

Eastern Sudan

In January the government attacked the Northern Blue Nile area, partly controlled by the Sudan Allied Forces (SAF), the military wing of some of the parties in the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Several civilian targets were destroyed. Civilians were displaced and hospitals were targeted in Menza.

In May aerial bombardment and artillery shelling in Telkouk killed at least 17 civilians and hundreds were wounded.

In August government forces attacked the village of Khor Adar, about 140km south of Damarzin. Villagers were allegedly attacked in the mosque and 20 people extrajudicially executed.

The north

Clashes between the military garrison in Wadi Halfa and the people of the northern part of Sudan were reported in July. At least 10 civilians were injured.

Torture and ill-treatment

Torture and ill-treatment continued to be reported, mainly in government-held towns but also in SPLA-held territories.

  • Khamis Adlan Idris, a lorry driver from Sinja Town in Blue Nile, originally from the Nuba Mountains, was seized at his home by military intelligence officers in July. He was held incommunicado and interrogated about involvement with the SPLA, which he denied. According to his testimony, his hands and legs were cuffed, he was stretched out on a table and was whipped. His captors poured a salt-like substance on his back and resumed the whipping. They melted plastic and poured it on his back, arms and chest. He did not receive any medical treatment for 11 days and the wounds became infected. Before being admitted to hospital in Sinar, the incident was reported to the police, but after three months in hospital Khamis Adlan Idris learned that the security forces had confiscated the police report. He subsequently left the country.

Restrictions on freedom of expression

Parallel to the increasing war efforts in the south and east, the government arrested and detained without charge scores of suspected opponents, including journalists, lawyers and members of banned political parties. There was a marked rise in arrests and harassment in Khartoum. Newspapers were banned or suspended for days at a time. At least three newspapers were suspended on approximately 10 different occasions during 1999 for publishing articles criticizing the government.


As well as suppressing the publication of newspapers, the authorities arrested journalists.

  • Mohamed Abd Al-Seed, Maha Hassan Ali and Abdelgadir Hafiz, all journalists, were arrested by security officers in Khartoum in mid-April. They were not charged or taken to court within the period stipulated by law, and their whereabouts were kept secret. They were reportedly accused of spying for a foreign power. Mohamed Abd Al-Seed was released without charge or trial in May and required medical treatment for infected wounds on his arms and legs as a result of being tortured in detention.


There was a pattern of police and security force harassment directed against lawyers. At least eight were arrested during 1999, and at least two were abducted by the security forces and detained without charge or trial.

  • Gazhi Suleiman, a lawyer and human rights defender was arrested at least six times during 1999. He was banned from the Sudanese Bar Association and meetings in his office were raided by the police. In November he organized a press conference with the SPLA leader, John Garang de Mabior, speaking via a telephone link. Police raided the press conference, cut the telephone line, and beat, kicked and stabbed participants. Gazhi Suleiman had been arrested in July together with Toby Madut, the leader of a southern Sudanese political party. AI wrote to the government in April about the pattern of harassment directed against Gazhi Suleiman.

Human rights defenders

In May UNICEF published a report on slavery in Wau county, documenting cases of government soldiers and members of the PDF raping women and abducting women and children. In July 1999 security officers arrested UNICEF Programme Officer Hamid El-Basher Ibrahim at his home in Khartoum after searching it and taking his fax, telephone and computer. He was detained without charge and subsequently released.


Students were also targeted for arrest, detention and torture.

  • Adam Issa Mohamed, a fourth-year economics student at the Islamic University in Omdurman, and Al-Waseela Ahmed Eizeldin Malaa, a second-year law student were abducted at the main gate of the university and allegedly taken to a secret detention centre known as a "ghost house". They were reportedly tortured by having their nails extracted, having chemicals poured on their thighs and being burned on sensitive parts of their bodies.

Forced recruitment

Government officials resorted to "hate speech" and to promoting the war as a jihad (holy war) to boost the number of recruits into the armed forces. There was also forced recruitment by both the government and SPLA. There were many reports of the security forces rounding up young men on the streets and buses of Khartoum and other cities in the north for recruitment. In government-controlled garrison towns in southern Sudan, boys as young as 14 were reported to have been forcibly recruited into the PDF.

Despite SPLA assurances that it would not recruit children, various reports from SPLA-held territory indicated that boys below the age of 18, even below the age of 15, were taken by the SPLA to their training camps. According to testimonies from village leaders and relatives, SPLA forces rounded up young men and boys in villages at night, and took away those singled out by chiefs, or took them indiscriminately. Various groups , such as forces led by Paulino Matip and Peter Gadet, reportedly used child soldiers well below the age of 18 in combat.

Women's rights

Violations of women's rights were prevalent. In central Sudan, especially in Khartoum, women faced severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. The Public Order Act of Khartoum, 1992, prohibited women traders from appearing in public places before 5am and after 5pm. No such restriction applied to men. Visas for women wishing to travel abroad were issued only with the written permission of a male guardian. Control over women's bodies, their children and their property was in the hands of their male guardians. Violence against women within the family took place with virtual impunity.

  • On 14 June, 24 students were arrested and convicted by the Public Order Court on charges of committing indecent or immoral acts and wearing clothes which upset public feelings. The students were arrested at a picnic held with the permission of the University. They were convicted on the grounds that the female students were wearing shirts, trousers and T-shirts and that men and women were holding hands in the traditional Nubian dance they were performing. They were sentenced to up to 40 lashes each, and fined.

AI country reports and visits


  • Sudan: serious risk of human rights abuses after cease-fire ends (AI Index: AFR 54/002/99)
  • Sudan: Justice? The trial of Father Hillary Boma and 25 others – an update (AI Index: AFR 54/003/99)


AI delegates visited Bahr el Ghazal and western Upper Nile in October.

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