Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

The military-National Islamic Front (NIF) government is in its sixth year of power, continuing to dismantle civil society and to enforce laws and policies which discriminate against non-Muslims and women. Civil and political rights even for Muslim men are not recognized, suspended by a draconian set of emergency rules established when the junta seized power in 1989. Political parties and independent trade unions remain banned, with no prospects, under the present regime, for freedom of association or expression. Torture and arbitrary detention continue to be prominent features of the human rights picture in Sudan.

The civil war, waged mostly in the southern third of the country and in the Nuba Mountains in the central region known as the transition zone, remains beyond military solution as the parties to the conflict continue to inflict extreme hardship on the southern and Nuban population. Massive and expensive humanitarian assistance by the world community has been required to prevent starvation of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Negotiations to end the armed conflict petered out in 1994, despite international encouragement.

Sudan, the largest country in Africa and with a population of about twenty-five million, is ethnically and religiously diverse, although the current government seems determined to impose one mold, of Arabism and militant Islam, on the population. An aspect of this has been to impose its contested version of Islamic shari'a law on both Muslim and non-Muslim segments of the population. The government has also embarked on urban clearance programs to remove the large non-Muslim population with war-displaced southern and Nuban people from the greater Khartoum area to isolated sites far from urban areas. With little or no notice, the displaced, who have fled for safety and work in the north, have seen their homes destroyed without compensation as a result of this clearance program. In the first seven months of 1994, at least 160,000 were newly displaced in this manner, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). An estimated 800,000 southerners displaced by the war are presently sheltered in the outskirts and slums of Khartoum.

Sudanese security forces clashed with protesting squatters in Omdurman on October 15, 1994. The security forces killed at least five and severely injured fourteen squatters who protested the government's attempts to destroy their settlements and remove them to primitive sites in the desert far outside Khartoum.

Children among the southern displaced have suffered in particular. Young southern boys have been picked up by the government from the streets and markets of Khartoum and sent to remote indoctrination camps without notice to their families. The program flouts child welfare laws and procedures, although it is presented as a measure to deal with "street children." Boys are given Muslim names and religious instruction in Islam regardless of the fact that most do not come from Muslim families. Boys who have escaped from the camps say that camp officials tell them they will be inducted into the government militia (for the war in the south) when they reach fifteen.

The northern political opposition, which formerly found expression in political parties, remains severely repressed. Not only are parties banned, but the leaders and activists who have remained in the country are periodically arrested, often without charges, and frequently mistreated or tortured. Those who are released sometimes have been put under daily obligation to report to the security forces, where they are made to wait until nightfall. This harassment continues for months in some cases; the authorities may see this as a means to avoid international criticism of long-term detentions.

In 1993 retired Brigadier Mohamed Ahmed al-Rayah al-Faki, imprisoned in 1991, complained in writing to the authorities of having been severely tortured over an eighteen-month period. He said he was raped, subjected to electric shock, beaten, doused in hot and cold water, and held in chains over long periods. Although al-Faki named his torturers and gave details of the torture, the complaint has not been addressed by the authorities.

When defendants accused of conspiring to cause acts of sabotage testified at their trial in early 1994 that they had been tortured, court-ordered medical examinations confirmed torture. The only remedy offered by the court, however, was to advise the victims to file a complaint with the police. The accused were convicted and sentenced to long terms of imprisonment on the basis of confessions obtained through torture.

Arrests of political activists continued in 1994. The top leaders still in the country of the two largest Sudanese political parties, now banned, were both arrested, as were many of their followers. Sadiq al-Madhi, elected prime minister in 1986 and overthrown in 1989, who is the head of the Umma Party, was kept in a "ghosthouse" – an unofficial place of detention – for ten days; many of his followers were jailed for longer periods of time, some of them more than once. Sid Ahmad al-Hussein, the secretary general of the Democratic Unionist Party, was also detained and tortured several times. Several members of the Communist Party were arrested, and others remain long-term political detainees without charge or trial.

Independent trade unions remain banned, and government-sponsored unions are being established, but union activists continue to press for improvement in working conditions. Many were arrested in 1994, including those who organized a campaign in Sennar to require government agencies to pay long overdue wages to their employees.

All of the independent press was banned after the 1989 coup, but the government introduced a new, allegedly more liberal press law in late 1993. The first and only independent newspaper to try to operate under this law, al-Soudani al-Doulia, was stifled in early 1994, despite the fact that it was owned and operated by a leading NIF party member. Because of its rather independent line, this newspaper was raided and its publication stopped for two days in February, and the news editor was arrested and held for almost two months. In April, as the result of reporting on corruption and other matters critical of the government, two journalists and the owner-editor were arrested. This time the newspaper was closed and its assets confiscated. The journalists and owner were eventually released.

During this process, the new press law was not invoked; the newspaper was banned under the emergency law "for raising doubts about the purpose and struggle of the armed forces and People's Defense Forces" and having the aim of "destroying the revolution."

In the war in the south and Nuba Mountains, the government made military gains against the rebel forces of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA)-Mainstream, headed by Commander John Garang. Formerly rebel-held towns and areas in Equatoria province were captured by the government, using means which included indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas. Kajo Keji, an important town on the Ugandan border, fell to the government.

Much of the large civilian population living in these areas was evacuated prior to government advances, in particular the three displaced persons camps known as the "Triple A" camps. Located on the east bank of the White Nile, these camps sheltered about 100,000 people.

In the evacuation some 60,000 fled to Laboni, a remote site near the Ugandan border, which was only accessed with difficulty by relief agencies who had been assisting the displaced at the "Triple A" camps. At first, access was almost blocked because of the poor condition of the roads. Later in the year, however, relief agencies using the roads in northern Uganda to truck food into southern Sudan were faced with sharply increased problems of banditry and landmines on those roads, apparently placed by Ugandan rebel groups. As a result, deliveries to the two camps of Laboni and Mughale (together sheltering about 97,000 people) were often suspended for safety reasons.

The source of the landmines in Uganda's border areas is unclear, although the beneficiary of this activity is most certainly the Sudanese government, which has long viewed all relief efforts in southern Sudan as plots to aid the SPLA. Ugandan rebel activity by the Lord's Resistance Army against the Ugandan government resulted in a clash in August near the border in Gulu, Uganda, where U.N. and nongovernmental relief staff were located, forcing their evacuation for several weeks. Also in August, Norwegian Church Aid's compound and the Catholic mission in Pakele, Uganda, which ministers to Sudanese refugees, were attacked by armed men, killing three and abducting five, including two nuns and a priest.

Mundri in Sudan's Western Equatoria province was bombed by the government of Sudan for several days in early October. Fighting was reported between the government of Sudan and the SPLA-United (renamed South Sudan Independence Army, SSIA, on September 27, 1994) around Bentiu in September and October; there had previously been no clashes between the government and SPLA-United since Malakal was attacked in late 1992.

In another development related to the war, an epidemic of Kala Azar, a disease transmitted by sand flies, was reported by MSF to have claimed some 200,000 victims, many in Bahr el Ghazal; access to the area for medical teams and supplies was frequently thwarted by fighting by the government and SPLA factions.

The southern Sudanese rebel movement continued to be split. The SPLA-Mainstream and the SSIA (led by Commander Riek Machar) continued to differ over personalities and program, SSIA being in favor of a sovereign south. But open warfare between the two factions was greatly reduced from the level of 1993, when together they were responsible for probably tens of thousands of civilian casualties due to indiscriminate attacks, raiding, asset destruction, and war-related diseases.

Clashes between the two factions were reported in the Ikotos area of Eastern Equatoria in February 1994. In mid-1994 faction fighting again disrupted life in Lafon village of Eastern Equatoria; there were faction clashes there in early 1993 when Lafon was burned to the ground with dozens of civilian casualties. In 1994 the Pari community of Lafon complained of military occupation and food aid abuses by SSIA.

In the period July to September 1994, there was serious faction fighting in and around Mayen Abun, Bahr el Ghazal. SPLA-United commanders Faustino and Kerubino (both formerly long-term political prisoners of SPLA-Mainstream, who escaped in late 1992) attacked SPLA-Mainstream's Mayen Abun, then departed after ten days. The town was thoroughly looted by both sides. Heavy fighting took place in the villages, with an estimated 1,000 dead, mostly civilians, some of whom drowned trying to cross the Lol river fleeing the attackers. Nearby Akon, where MSF had warned in April of a serious rate of malnutrition, remained insecure, however, making resumption of assistance difficult.

Further south in Bahr el Ghazal, in Akot, an attack by SSIA on this SPLA-Mainstream town on October 22 resulted in an estimated 106 deaths (only twenty were SPLA soldiers) and eighty-nine wounded (only eighteen of them SPLA soldiers). Some of the killed were patients in the Akot hospital. The town, including the hospital, the church and relief organization compounds, was heavily looted, and about 35,000 civilians were displaced.

The SSIA by late 1993 reversed its year-long refusal to permit unaccompanied boys to be reunified with their families by U.N. agencies, which was a step forward in the solution of the problem of thousands of boys segregated from their families for SPLA military purposes (which began in the mid-1980s). The SPLA-Mainstream, however, made no move in the direction of recognizing that this was even a problem, and continued to have under its jurisdiction several thousand boys whom it had separated from their families and who when not obliged to perform military duties were receiving grossly inadequate care.

The Right to Monitor

Both the Sudan Human Rights Organization (SHRO) and the Bar Association were effective Sudanese human rights monitors prior to the 1989 coup. Since then, the SHRO has been banned, and in 1993 the Bar Association was taken over by government supporters. The Bar Association no longer serves as an independent human rights voice.

The U.N. special rapporteur on Sudan, Dr. Gáspár Biró, visited Sudan twice in 1993. He published an interim report in November 1993 and a final report in February 1994. The government took umbrage at his finding that hudud and gisas punishments were contrary to international human rights law binding on Sudan. Some hudud offenses, sometimes referred to as "absolute crimes" in Islamic law, are punishable either with death or amputation or flogging. Armed robbery, for example, is punishable by death or death and crucifixion, or amputation of the right hand and left foot. Children who have not attained puberty may be whipped by way of discipline instead of being subjected to other corporal punishments or death. Gisas is the institution of retribution, whereby a premeditated offense is punished by inflicting the same act which was committed – an eye for an eye. As a result of these critical reports, the government has refused to allow the U.N. special rappporteur to return to Sudan, thus making even more difficult his mandated duty of human rights monitoring.

The government of Sudan in mid-1993 rescinded an earlier invitation to Human Rights Watch/Africa to visit Sudan. After publication of the report, Civilian Devastation: Abuses by All Parties in the War in Southern Sudan, in July 1994, the government renewed its invitation to Human Rights Watch/Africa. It has responded that it would like to make this visit in early 1995.

The Role of the International Community

The U.S. government condemned human rights violations by both the government and the SPLA factions in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. Ambassador Melissa Wells (a strong human rights advocate who was U.S. ambassador to Mozambique when a peace agreement was negotiated) was appointed in May as special envoy for Sudan. Her brief, which was specifically on the peace process and humanitarian matters, did not include public criticism of human rights concerns, which remained in the purview of U.S. Ambassador Donald Pettersen, based in Khartoum. Ambassador Pettersen continued his visits to the southern war zones in 1994, including Nimule in February 1994.

The U.S. government issued statements during 1994 condemning various human rights violations; on February 8, 1994, it expressed concern over the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the south by the government, and in October it condemned the riot police in Khartoum for shooting into a crowd of unarmed displaced persons and squatters protesting forcible resettlement. In November it strongly condemned the South Sudan Independence Army's killing of more than one hundred residents in the town of Akot in southern Sudan in October.

In mid-1994, the Sudanese authorities turned over accused terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, known as "Carlos the Jackal," to the French government. This cooperation did not, however, result in the lifting of the 1993 U.S. listing of Sudan as a state sponsor of international terrorism. Some asserted that the French, however, supported Sudan in its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and that as a result the IMF did not proceed with its threatened expulsion of Sudan from the IMF.

The European Union condemned the February 1994 bombings by the Sudanese Air Force in Equatoria, which harmed the civilian population and caused a mass exodus to Uganda. On October 31 the E.U. condemned the use of violence by the government to repress demonstrators in Omdurman who protested the razing of their homes. The E.U. called upon the government of Sudan to halt its violent campaign against the inhabitants of squatter settlements, and to compensate these victims.

Peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya between the government and the SPLA factions were sponsored by the Inter-Governmental Agency on Drought and Development (IGADD), an East African agency comprising Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Other countries such as the U.S. also encouraged the peace negotiations. Human rights were not specifically included in the talks that IGADD facilitated, and in September 1994 the talks foundered over the issues of autonomy for southern Sudan and the role of shari'a law.

The U.N. continues to maintain Operation Lifeline Sudan (Southern Sector), a large relief operation for the needy war-affected population of southern Sudan, operating from bases in Uganda and Kenya. Aside from the appointment of a special rapporteur on human rights, the U.N. has taken no other steps to increase its monitoring of human rights in Sudan, such as a program of human rights monitors. The U.N. has also failed to press the Sudan government to rescind its decision to prevent the special rapporteur from revisiting the country.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa

Human Rights Watch/Africa has kept up the pressure on the government of Sudan by publishing and widely disseminating a series of reports on human rights abuses in the war zones and in the north, and by advocating a program of U.N. human rights monitors to promptly investigate and intervene with the government and the rebels on human rights issues. We have also advocated that the Security Council impose an arms embargo on all sides to the conflict, based on the indiscriminate use of weapons by all parties. The international community is urged to vote against any further disbursements or loans to Sudan until its human rights performance is substantially improved.

The reports were the book-length Civilian Devastation: Abuses by All Parties in the War in Southern Sudan (July 1994) and In the Name of God: Repression Continues in Northern Sudan (October 1994). In addition, the Children's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch reissued the chapter on child soldiers and children in the custody of the SPLA factions from Civilian Devastation to bring additional attention to this special worldwide problem, with a view to raising the minimum age of recruitment from fifteen to eighteen in all conflicts, and to encouraging the family reunification efforts undertaken by the U.N. in Sudan. This report is entitled Lost Boys: Child Soldiers and Unaccompanied Boys in Southern Sudan.

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