Several African civil society organisations have written to the African Union human rights watchdog calling for an urgent investigation into killings and detention of protesters by security forces in Sudan in September.
The organisations expressed deep concern at the lack of action or public comments made by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the African Union (AU) concerning state-sponsored terror in Sudan, including the deaths of at least 170 protestors and the detention of over 800 others, and restrictions on the media.
The violence was meted out on unarmed civilians protesting against the rise in the cost of living occasioned by removal of fuel subsidies by the government.
“The gravity of the situation requires a swift and concerted response from the ACHPR. As the premier human rights institution on the continent, the ACHPR should urgently condemn the excessive and disproportionate use of force against protestors and restrictions on basic civil and political rights in Sudan,” the organisations said.
The ACHPR should also send a fact-finding mission to investigate the violations and call on the government of Sudan to immediately stop further abuses. Such an inquiry could be organised in close coordination with the African Union High Level Implementation Panel and relevant UN bodies.
The eleven organisations are the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, Amman Centre for Human Rights Studies, Arry Organisation for Human Rights and Development, Conscience International Sierra Leone, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders’ Project and the Human Rights Institute of South Africa.
Others are Human Rights Watch, International Refugee Rights Initiative, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and the Sudan Consortium.
“We call on the ACHPR to act swiftly to protect human and peoples’ rights in Sudan, which is a state party to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The African Charter contains guarantees relating to the rights to liberty, freedom of expression, information, association, and assembly under Articles 6, 9, 10, and 11. The Sudanese government response to the protests has violated these obligations,” the groups said.
The findings of any inquiry should include recommendations to the AU to take up its responsibilities as set out in the AU Constitutive Act to promote peace, security, and stability in Sudan; promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation, and good governance; and promote and protect human and peoples’ rights.
Demonstrations taking place throughout the country that began on 23 September were met with brutal force by the Sudanese authorities. Many of the protests turned violent as protesters vandalized and set fire to gas stations and police stations, and threw stones at police and security forces. Government security forces, including the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) and the Central Reserve Police forces, fired live ammunition at protestors, beat them with rubber batons and fired tear gas to disperse crowds.
Whilst the exact death toll linked to these events is not known, Sudanese human rights groups have documented at least 170 deaths. The Sudanese Doctors’ Union placed the figure at 210. According to witnesses the majority of deaths resulted from gun-shots to the upper parts of the body and head and strongly suggests the disproportionate use of force against scores of protestors.
Since the demonstrations began the Sudanese authorities have shut down national and international media outlets, ordered journalists not to write about these incidents, and issued strict instructions to newspaper editors on what information can be published about the protests.
On 25 September the Medical Director of Omdurman Hospital was summoned by the NISS after he spoke publicly on BBC Arabic about the numbers of casualties admitted to his hospital. The Chairman of the Sudanese Doctors’ Union was also detained for a few hours on 5 October after he reported publicly that at least 210 people had been killed according to data from his Union.
At least 800 people have been detained by the police and the NISS since the demonstrations began, according to the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies. Those in custody include scores of political activists and human rights defenders as well as journalists, lawyers, and youth activists, who have been arrested at their homes and places of work.
Authorities have used Sudan’s repressive National Security Act of 2010 to detain people who have spoken out or sought to document the abuses. Under the act detainees can be held for four-and-half months without charge or trial, and are usually held incommunicado and without access to their families or lawyers for prolonged periods in violation of international law, giving rise to a risk of torture or ill-treatment in detention.
At least 50 people who participated in the protests have been arrested, charged with public order offences and are subject to summary trials that do not meet international law standards and fail to guarantee procedural rights. Some of those convicted have been sentenced to lashing.
“The human rights violations that have taken place in Sudan in connection with the demonstrations reflect a broader governance and human rights crisis in the country that requires concerted and swift action by the ACHPR and AU,” the civil society organisations said.