Human Rights Developments

The National Islamic Front (NIF) dominated Sudan's government, which had declared Sudan an Islamic republic. The civil war, underway since 1983 against the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and others and continued to be the context of massive human rights violations, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians and refusal of relief access to the needy, arbitrary detentions, mistreatment, and torture. While giving lip-service to tolerance, during 1996 the NIF, an Islamist political party, continued its policy of using state power to coerce Islamization and force its interpretation of Islam upon Muslims, in violation of freedom of religion. Its politicization of religion and ethnicity made settlement of the war increasingly difficult. Although Islam was the state religion, only 60 percent of the population was Muslim. The Muslim population lived largely in the north, and most southerners remained Christians or practiced traditional African religions. The SPLM/A, initially a southern-based movement, continued to seek a united secular Sudan. Poor relations between Christian churches and the government, as well as the civil war, were deeply related to the north-south questions and the government's Islamization project. The government continued to characterize attacks on its poor human rights record as attacks on Islam. In March, elections were held for president and legislative assembly but were boycotted by the opposition, as political parties remained banned and there were substantial restrictions on free speech, assembly and association. The governing NIF reinforced its political control through these elections, although as a political party it, too, was technically banned. The NIF's attempts to speak for all Sudanese Muslims were rebuffed by leaders of traditional Sudanese Sunni Muslim sects, two of which formed the backbone of the two largest political parties in Sudan, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Umma Party – both banned since the 1989 army/NIF coup. Slightly greater press freedom permitted to local newspapers prior to the elections ended shortly after March. After repeated suspensions, the government finally closed Al Rai Al Akhar, the last independent paper then still open in July. At two state publishing houses, the government dismissed women journalists who demanded equal pay and laid off an additional 150 women and fifty men. Arrests of journalists continued in 1996. Other forms of expression also remained tightly circumscribed. After former vice-president and well-known southern politician Abel Alier publicly called for resolution of the war in late 1995, he and others close to him were detained briefly and harassed in other ways. Several signatories of a June 1996 petition to the government calling for a multiparty system were arrested, others harassed. As usual, the universities were sites of struggle between pro- and antigovernment students, in which government forces played a partisan role. At the private, independent Ahliya University in Omdurman, the triumph of antigovernment students in student elections in mid-1996 led to more violent clashes between student groups. Although pro-NIF student supporters and NIF militias attacked and destroyed university buildings during these clashes, none were detained and instead the government used this as a pretext to close Ahliya University permanently. For the most part, however, efforts to secure the release of detained antigovernment activists did not meet with success. The government continued to hold security detainees for up to and sometimes beyond six months without charges or recourse to the courts. Unacknowledged places of detention, "ghost houses," continued to serve as informal security detention facilities where mistreatment and sometimes torture occurred. Victims of the most severe torture continued to be largely from Sudan's marginalized peoples, particularly those in or from the war-affected areas, such as the south, the central Nuba Mountains, and the Beja region in eastern Sudan. According to the government, coup plotters abounded. Several alleged "plotters" were detained by security in January and released on bail in May, under close surveillance, possibly to be tried in a civilian court. Another thirty-one detainees (including ten civilians) were put on trial by a military tribunal in Khartoum in August for an alleged February coup attempt. The trial, in October still proceeding in the military intelligence area of army headquarters, was closed to the public. Human Rights Watch's request to observe it and for the public and the press to have access was ignored. In late September, one defendant, a civilian journalist, took off his shirt to show what he said were torture scars; other defendants claimed to have been tortured. The defendants were charged with crimes that carry the death penalty. Another group captured in August in and around Port Sudan is expected to be tried before a military tribunal also. Many of the almost two million displaced southerners and Nubas in the Khartoum area since the mid-1980s "illegally" built shanties and churches. These structures continued to be destroyed in disregard of international due process standards pursuant to an "urban renewal" plan. This plan would reverse population trends resulting from the ongoing civil war and the droughts of the 1980s, as Khartoum's population doubled to four million and the ethnic balance of the capital shifted away from its Arab base. Those displaced who arrived in Khartoum after 1990 had no right of tenure anywhere in Khartoum, not even in the dreary "official" displaced persons' camps. By late 1995 about 4.25 million war-affected inside Sudan – north and south – required some form of relief assistance. Another 556,000 were refugees in neighboring countries. The war that had driven the displaced and refugees from their homes continued. The government's war abuses included targeted air attacks on civilian populations. On August 23, two helicopter gunships flew low and deliberately fired rockets and machineguns on civilians on market day in Kotobi, Western Equatoria, where 6,000 displaced persons were sheltering. Five civilians were killed and forty-five injured, and two churches were destroyed. Indiscriminate government attacks on concentrations of civilians included three bombing raids on the town center and market place in Maridi in Western Equatoria during July, in which three civilians were killed and twenty-three were reported wounded. Civilians had no respite from human rights abuses in the central Nuba Mountains either. For example, on March 23 and 24, 1996, two villages in the Moro district were looted and destroyed by a joint army and Popular Defense Forces (PDF) militia raid, leaving 1,000 families destitute. Slavery was an ongoing abuse. Government troops and government PDF militias had captured and enslaved women and children in army-sponsored raids on southern and Nuba villages for the past ten years. They were allowed, as a form of war booty, to take these civilians captive for use in domestic slavery or to sell. For example, on March 16, in southern Kordofan, a PDF attack on Mabior Deil, a village established by the government for the displaced in 1995, killed an estimated thirty-one and kidnapped at least thirteen women and children for slavery. The PDF reportedly enslaved twelve in another attack on Majok Kuom in Bahr El Ghazal on April 25, and seventy-one were reportedly enslaved by the PDF in attacks in the Abyei area of Kordofan in April. Cmdr. Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, heading a government militia, brought the greatest destruction to southern Sudan in late 1995 and early 1996. Kerubino, a former SPLA founder whom the SPLA held prisoner in secret camps for over five years, escaped and in 1993 returned to his native northern Bahr El Ghazal. Since then, in alliance with the Sudan government, his troops routinely attacked, looted, and burned civilian villages, killing civilians, wiping out their cattle and grain, and sparking a need for emergency relief. The government frequently denied access to this region to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and to Operation Lifeline Sudan (Southern Sector), the U.N. umbrella agency charged with crossborder emergency relief to the internally displaced. It appeared that the government was trying to push civilians to migrate to government garrison towns, another example of the government's scorched earth or "draining the sea" counterinsurgency strategy, as in the Nuba Mountains. In 1996, the most significant political development in the civil war since the 1991 SPLA split occurred when the leader of the 1991 split, Cmdr. Riek Machar, took his Nuer-based Southern Sudan Independence Movement/Army (SSIM/A) into an alliance with the government. Along with Kerubino, a Dinka, Machar signed a "Political Charter" with the government in April. Most of the Sudan's known oil reserves lay within SSIM/A territory. The Political Charter was the culmination of a government strategy, which did not break the war's stalemate but imposed a high cost on the south. With this charter, the Sudan government continued to actively prolong and deepen ethnic divisions between and among the two largest peoples in southern Sudan, the Dinka (mostly aligned with the SPLA) and the Nuer (mostly with the SSIA), with approximately 12 and 5 percent, respectively, of the entire population of Sudan. The government's strategy extended to arming and financing several other smaller, often ethnically-based splinters of the SPLA. Unlike prior years, however, when the SSIA/SPLA conflict could be characterized as internal SPLA faction fighting, the government of Sudan was in 1996 directly responsible for the conduct of the Machar and Kerubino forces fighting against the SPLA. This stepped-up government orchestrated fighting among southerners led to more civilians killed, displaced and left destitute in 1996 than at any time since the height of SPLA faction fighting in 1993. The Dinka-Nuer fighting even spread to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya where six refugees were killed and over one hundred wounded in two days of clashes in mid-1996. Compounding the ethnic divisions was the refusal of SPLA Commander-in-Chief John Garang to investigate and punish attacks on civilians by his troops, particularly attacks made across ethnic lines. In the largest recent attack, on July 30, 1995, Dinka SPLA forces attacked villages in the Nuer area of Ganyliel, killing more than 210 persons. Although eyewitnesses saw SPLA commanders and soldiers there, Garang said this action was not "ordered" by the SPLA, and told Human Rights Watch that investigating allegations of abuses by SPLA troops was "not a priority" for the SPLA. An SPLA offensive starting in October 1995 recaptured several southern villages from the government, and was followed in early 1996 by stepped-up SPLA forced recruitment, including of young boys, from Western Equatoria, and from refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. On August 17, an SPLA commander detained six Catholic missionaries who had been critical of SPLA forced recruitment and other abusive practices in the Western Equatoria area of Mapourdit, but released them on August 28 after international protests. New rebel actors in the war appeared in the east. The northern-based Sudan Alliance Forces (SAF) and the eastern-based Beja Congress, members of the opposition umbrella National Democratic Alliance (NDA) headquartered in Eritrea, began attacks on government forces inside eastern Sudan. Landmines were placed in the area, some left reportedly by opposition forces.

The Right to Monitor

No independent domestic human rights monitors were able to operate above ground in government-controlled Sudan. Following the 1989 coup, the government banned the independent Sudan Bar Association and the Sudan Human Rights Organization (SHRO). The original SHRO functioned out of Cairo, London and other cities as an organization in exile. Government supporters inside Sudan established an official organization also called SHRO, unconditionally supporting the government. Dr. Ushari Mahmud, a linguist and human rights antislavery campaigner, was jailed by the incumbent government for twenty-two months (1989-91) in an attempt to force him to renounce his 1987 slavery study and, as of November, remained banned from travel.

The Role of the International Community

Sudan continued to be isolated internationally, and its human rights record often criticized. Relations with most of the ten countries bordering Sudan were tense, and the governments of Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda alleged Sudan was contributing to destabilization there by backing rebel groups opposed to those governments. In January, the U.N. General Assembly renewed its condemnation of Sudan's human rights record for the fourth consecutive year, and condemned its practices of institutionalized slavery. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April condemned human rights violations in Sudan in a resolution noting with "deep concern reports of grave human rights violations in the Sudan," as described in reports submitted by the special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Sudan; on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on the question of religious intolerance; and by the chairs of the Working Groups on Arbitrary Detention and on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The Sudan government, responding to pressure, lifted its two year ban on visits by U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan Gaspar Biro. His visit to Khartoum in August was marred by a government newspaper's incorrect quotation in which he is held to have denied slavery existed in Sudan. The special rapporteur replied that the Sudanese media had "grossly misrepresented" his views, and that he continued to receive reports of slavery. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in April resolved to establish three U.N. human rights monitors for Sudan, to be based in Uganda, Kenya and Eritrea; the government refused to accept U.N. monitors on its soil. As of November, however, the U.N. failed to establish the missions of the monitors. Also in mid-1996, the government invited the U.N. special rapporteurs on free expression and religious tolerance to visit.

European Union

The Africa-Caribbean-Pacific European Union Joint Assembly of the European Union condemned the human rights record of the government of Sudan for the fourth consecutive year in a resolution on March 22, and "also condemned the regime for its practices of institutionalized slavery." It called on the international community to outlaw the sale of armaments to the government. It further criticized the government and all factions of the SPLA for killings, massacres, torture, and other abuses of human rights. A similar resolution followed in late September.

United States

The U.S. government condemned the human rights records of both the Sudan government and the southern rebel factions in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995. Although a 1993 U.S. State Department decision placing Sudan on the list of countries supporting "international terrorism" made Sudan ineligible for all U.S. assistance except humanitarian aid, the U.S. Congress in 1996 exempted SPLA-controlled areas of Sudan from the ban on U.S. development aid. The U.S. took the lead at the U.N. Security Council early in 1996 on a resolution to impose sanctions on Sudan for its failure to extradite to Ethiopia three men accused of participation in the assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he arrived in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit meeting in September 1995. In early 1996, the U.S. embassy in Khartoum withdrew its American personnel, citing security reasons. These diplomats, relocated to Nairobi, returned to Sudan for visits but their relocation hindered any active human rights role that the embassy might have played inside Sudan. The U.S. expelled from the Sudanese diplomatic mission at the U.N. a Sudanese diplomat with the portfolio of "human rights," accusing him of involvement in a conspiracy to bomb targets in the U.S. Fatih Erwa, whose naming as ambassador of Sudan to Washington was rejected by the U.S. in 1995, was named Sudan's Ambassador to the U.N. in 1996. The 1995 rejection by the U.S. was presumed to have been motivated by Erwa's involvement in Juba in 1992 in hundreds of summary executions and "disappearances," including those of four employees of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

United Nations

Mild Security Council sanctions relating to the Addis Abba incident, including a downgrading of diplomatic relations and refusal of visas to government personnel by U.N. member states, were imposed on Sudan in May 1996. These were extended in August 1996 to a ban on Sudan Airways if the government continued to refuse to extradite the suspects, whom it claimed were not in Sudanese territory. But human rights was not on the Security Council agenda. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the lead agency in Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS)(Southern Sector), won praise in an external review of OLS, specifically for its work in the south on advancing the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and observance of humanitarian law. In the south, OLS (Southern Sector) engaged actively in human rights dissemination. It signed joint commitments on humanitarian principles, CRC, and international humanitarian law, called the "ground rules," with each of the SPLM/A, SSIM/A, and the SPLM/A-United, in early 1996. The OLS conducted field investigations of attacks affecting civilians, and asked the attackers to account for violations of the conventions. UNICEF family reunification of unaccompanied boys in SPLA custody in the south was started in mid-1996, a significant first for the SPLA. A rare press release by the U.N. secretary-general in February sharply criticized the government for dropping several bombs near a marked International Committee of the Red Cross plane and U.N. personnel at two approved relief locations in southern Sudan. The chronic and grave problem of government denial of relief access for reasons unrelated to need continued. The OLS faced stiff government resistance to access to fifteen southern relief locations with assessed need (of 140 locations requested). In addition, the government had since September 1995 refused to let the OLS operate its largest and most efficient plane, a C-130, sharply reducing OLS capacity to assist the needy even in areas where access was permitted. Because of a lack of infrastructure, fighting and landmines, most access to southern Sudan continued to be by air. The C-130 issue was raised repeatedly with the government at high levels, without success, and was made public in July with a statement by the U.N. secretary-general followed by a World Food Programme press conference denouncing the impeded access, which threatened 700,000 southerners with hunger. Almost the next day, the government reversed its position and permitted OLS use of the C-130. High-level U.N. pressure by Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Yasushi Akashi convinced the government to permit OLS access to Pochalla, retaken by the SPLA in March 1996, where July floods seriously affected 15,000 to 25,000 persons. This permission only held for one month, however, not long enough to meet Pochalla's needs. The most persistent gap in U.N. attention to human rights problems in Sudan remained the Nuba Mountains, where the Khartoum government for years blocked all human rights and emergency relief access except for agencies aligned with the government. In this blackout, it attacked civilian villages and forcibly displaced civilians to government-run "peace villages" where they were subjected to human rights abuses and pauperization. Despite repeated pleas, the U.N. has dodged this access issue. This OLS failure came in for criticism in the external review of OLS, which stated that the U.N. approach of quiet diplomacy in the north "has achieved little beyond providing an impetus for the [government of Sudan] to expand its mechanisms of control and regulation. . . . the scope and coverage of OLS is determined on the basis of [government] approval, rather than actual need." This criticism was directed not only against the OLS inactivity in the Nuba Mountains but also with regard to internally displaced persons in the north, particularly in the Greater Khartoum area. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reportedly did little to prevent the SPLA from recruiting some one hundred Sudanese boys from refugee camps in Kenya (June) and Ethiopia (March). The UNHCR also faced the challenge of resettling 260 former unaccompanied boys whom the SPLA sent to Cuba for schooling in the late 1980s. Slavery complaints have been pending against Sudan for several years at the International Labour Organisation, the Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, and the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. A government-promised slavery investigation due in August had not occurred as of November.
This report covers events of 1996

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