KHARTOUM, Sudan, February 19, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you very much for attending this press briefing.
As I conclude my fourth mission to the Sudan from the 11th –19th February 2014, I would like to thank the Government of the Sudan for its continued cooperation with my mandate and for the support extended to facilitate my visit. I also thank the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the AU/UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), UN agencies and international organizations in the Sudan, members of the diplomatic community, civil society organisations and leaders of opposition political parties for their engagement and support during my visit.
In September 2013, the Human Rights Council renewed my mandate for another year requesting me to continue my engagement with the Government of the Sudan and urging the Government to continue its cooperation with me, including by giving me access to the entire country, in order to assess and verify the situation of human rights in the country, to determine the technical assistance needs that will further help the Sudan to fulfil its human rights obligations, and to submit a report to the Human Rights Council for its consideration at its twenty-seventh session in September 2014.
This is the first of two missions I plan to undertake to the Sudan in 2014 under my renewed mandate. In the press release I issued before the commencement of this mission, I stated, based on my assessment of the human rights situation in the Sudan last year, that the Government of the Sudan had made progress in developing policies as well as legislative and institutional mechanisms necessary for improving the human rights situation in the country, and that the next stage is for the Government to concentrate on implementing those policies in a result-oriented manner that ensures the realization of human rights throughout the country. To this end, I made some specific recommendations to the Government of the Sudan and other relevant stakeholders in my last report. My two missions to the Sudan this year will be specifically geared at pursuing the implementation of those recommendations towards the realisation of substantial improvement in the human rights situation on the ground in the Sudan.
Within the past 9 days, I have held meetings with different interlocutors in Khartoum, Kadugli in South Kordofan, El-Fasher in North Darfur, El-Daein in East Darfur and Zalingei in Central Darfur. I have collected a lot of information which I am yet to evaluate. My briefing this morning will therefore be a general overview of my preliminary assessment but with references to a number of issues as examples of matters covered with different interlocutors I have engaged with during this visit. I will be submitting a detailed report to the Human Rights Council in September 2014, after my second visit in June.
In Khartoum, I held meetings with the Minister for Justice, the Advisory Council for Human Rights, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Welfare and Social Security, the Ministry for Education, high ranking members of the judiciary, the Head of the Legal Department of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the General Prosecutor, the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), the Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly, the National Commission for Human Rights, the Unit on Combating Violence Against Women and Children, and the Family and Child Protection Unit. I have also met leaders of opposition political parties, Civil Society Organisations, the Sudanese Bar Union, UN agencies and members of the diplomatic community. I also visited the Al-Huda Prison and Reformatory Centre outside Khartoum, where I spoke to some of the prison officials, inmates and observed the conditions in the prison.
I had robust discussions with the Government on the general human rights situation in the country, with particular emphasis on the human rights challenges raised in my last report, namely, the curtailment of the activities of civil society organisations, press censorship, arbitrary arrests and detentions, freedom of religion, the 2010 National Security Act, women and children’s rights, humanitarian access, economic, social and cultural rights, the protection of civilians in the conflict areas.
In my last report, I emphasised the need for the Government to focus on addressing these human rights challenges by taking concrete measures, and encouraged continued cooperation of relevant donor countries and international institutions. In our discussions, the Government indicated its commitment to improve the practical realisation of human rights in the Sudan in the areas of the human rights challenges identified in my last report.
I acknowledge the Government’s commitment, openness to constructive dialogue and demonstration of positive political will in all our engagements during this visit. Pending the evaluation of all the information I have gathered during this mission, my preliminary assessment, based on my discussions with the different interlocutors during this visit, is that the general human rights challenges highlighted in my report in September 2013 still remain a matter of concern.
After submitting my report to the Human Rights Council in September 2013, there were oil subsidy demonstrations in the Sudan that resulted in killings, injuries, arrests and detentions, and destruction of property. The international community expects a thorough investigation of the human rights violations that occurred during the September demonstrations. On enquiry, the Government had informed me in December 2013 that it had set up two committees to investigate the September incidents. I regret to note that five months after these incidents, the committees set up by the Government have not yet issued their reports or findings on the incidents. I have highlighted the international concerns about this and urged the Government to accelerate the release of the reports.
I must also make reference to the National Human Rights Commission due to its importance and the international community’s high expectations of it as an independent institution for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Sudan. I commend the continued assistance provided by UNDP to the Commission to enhance its capacity in discharging its mandate. I have advised the Commission to share its recent annual report with the donor community to alleviate concerns about its efficiency and hope that the UNDP will continue its collaboration with the Commission, and I also call for the continued support of the donor community to enable it do so.
In my meetings with leaders of opposition political parties in Khartoum, they emphasised the need for a transparent, inclusive and democratic political and constitutional process that will serve as a strong and lasting foundation for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Sudan.
In my visit to Al-Huda Prison and Reformatory Centre outside Khartoum, I was pleased to note that the facilities were excellent and beyond my expectations. I am informed that this is a model prison and reformatory centre that the Government of the Sudan intends to replicate in other states to replace the old prisons inherited from colonial times. I was informed that similar facilities are intended to be built in the future in Madani, Port Sudan, Al-Fasher and Al-Obeid. I commend the Government of the Sudan for this laudable initiative to improve its prison facilities along the model of Al-Huda.
The role of international agencies in supporting the Sudan’s effort to fulfil its human rights obligations is very important. I would therefore like to commend the commitments of the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to look into the matter of some UN staff in the Sudan which I brought to their attention during our discussions to sustain the continued good relations between UN agencies and the Government.
In Kadugli, I met the Wali and members of the executive of the government of South Kordofan state, the legislative assembly of the state, the chief prosecutor, civil society organisations, UN agencies and international organisations operating in the state. I also met tribal leaders from the greater Kadugli localities. The Wali expressed the need for peace as an important factor for the realisation of human rights in the state. He noted that a large part of South Kordofan state has been relatively stable except for random insurgencies and tribal conflicts around the borders, which continue to cause devastation to human life and property and create civilian displacements.
The state has adopted an initiative on social peace through which members of armed movements who decided to lay down their arms were re-absorbed into their former posts in the civil service of the state. He acknowledged the cooperation of UNDP in working with the state to realise human rights through development initiatives. In pursuance of that effort, the state and UNDP have agreed to work together in the five specific areas of education, health, water, poverty alleviation and Social Peace. I commend this initiative of linking development to human rights, particularly in the rural areas of the Sudan, and hope that it can be effectively sustained and replicated in other parts of the country.
I observe that tribal conflicts and conflicts between government forces and armed movements continue to be a major source of human rights violations in South Kordofan, as well as in the Darfur States visited, particularly in form of civilian displacements. I therefore reiterate the call made in my last report that the Government of the Sudan, the armed movements and the international community intensify efforts towards ending the armed conflicts that lead to human rights violations, and resort to dialogue in settling the armed conflict. While there are no formal IDP camps in South Kordofan, the issue of voluntary returnees is a serious human rights problem, which is being addressed by the state in collaboration with relevant UN agencies and the Humanitarian Aid Commission. The need for a better coordinated and organised returns programme was identified. In my meeting with the tribal leaders, they also emphasised the need to promote peace in South Kordofan, emphasising the use of traditional peace settlement mechanisms and adequate consultation with the tribal leaders as an important factor for success in the peace initiatives.
The problems of unexploded ordnances and the need for adequate demining in conflict areas was emphasised by OCHA officers in the state. Reference was made to the case of two children who had been killed while playing with unexploded ordnance a few days prior to my visit to the state. This need for adequate demining and proper monitoring to prevent the killing of returnees to the conflict areas by unexploded ordnance is an important matter that I have called the attention of the Government of the Sudan to, and will also want to call the attention of relevant UN mine action teams to. The continued lack of formal law enforcement institutions in some of the tribal areas of South Kordofan was also identified as a problem affecting access to formal justice in the area.
In El-Fasher, I met the Wali of North Darfur state and members of his government, the Head of the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the Special Prosecutor for Darfur crimes, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and the UN team in Darfur. I also had a debriefing meeting on the situation in Darfur with the Joint AU/UN Special Representative and Joint Chief Mediator for Darfur, and Head of UNAMID, to share insights on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Darfur. In the briefing from the UNAMID security team, the security threats from the armed movement groups and their impact on human rights were highlighted. As earlier noted, the issue of armed conflicts generally and its consequent civilian displacement effect were identified as the major factor of human rights violations in the state. The poor conditions in the IDP camps also continue to be of serious human rights concern.
I engaged with the head of the DRA particularly on the application of the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), which I assessed in my last report as the most human rights friendly road map for peace in Darfur. The position of the non-signatory armed movements continue to be an issue in that regard. I commend the effort of the Head of UNAMID in trying to broker a solution that will bring a long-lasting peace to Darfur. Other issues of concern in Darfur brought to my attention include the safety of IDP returnees, protection of civilians in the conflict areas and impunity of some offenders.
The DRA has also initiated a Social Peace Conference aimed at promoting social peace in the most conflict prone areas in Darfur. The Special Prosecutor provided me with an update of its activities and the cases that he has further brought before the Darfur Special Court since my last report. Although it was brought to my attention that one of main challenge was to reach Darfur crime offenders, I however underlined the need for the Special Prosecutor to exert more effort to ensure that the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Darfur since February 2003 be brought to justice as intended under Article 59 (para 322) of the DDPD. I also highlighted the need to facilitate a team of specialised experts to observe the proceedings of the court in accordance with Article 59 (para 326) of the DDPD. I have urged the rule of law unit of UNAMID to look into the possibility of facilitating this process.
I also visited the office of the Truth, Peace and Reconciliation Commission in El-Fasher, and met with the head of the Commission. I am pleased to note that the Commission has now been fully facilitated by the Government of the Sudan to be able to commence its work. The Commission submitted copies of its revised policy of operation to me, which I will be studying and addressing in detail in my next report to the Human Rights Council.
In El-Daein, I met the Deputy Wali of East Darfur state and members of the government, the Humanitarian Affairs Commission in the state, the Chief Prosecutor, and civil society organisations. The UNAMID team in East Darfur confirmed that there is good cooperation between the government and the UNAMID team in El-Daein. There are problems of IDPs in East Darfur, due to the tribal and other conflicts in the state. There is however a modern model village for returnees with facilities to encourage voluntary returns of IDPs, which has been built with aid from Qatari donors. East Darfur is a new state with very poor development. There is an urgent need to promote economic and social rights in the state to alleviate poverty and enhance the general human rights situation in East Darfur. Many of the civil society groups I met in the state complained about the human rights situation, and that there was no independent human rights office in East Darfur. This relates to the need for the establishment of branch offices of the National Human Rights Commission to facilitate engagement with local human rights organisations at the grass roots level. I have urged the human rights section of UNAMID in El-Daein to enhance its collaboration with local civil society organisations in the state, pending the establishment of the branch office of the National Human Rights Commission in East Darfur. I will be following up on this in my next visit.
In Zalingei, I met the Wali of Central Darfur state and members of his government, the chief prosecutor, and the speaker of the House of Assembly. I also visited Zalingei prison to inspect the facilities and condition of the prisoners therein. The conditions of the male section of the prison was deplorable. The inmates complained of lack of water and poor sanitary conditions. There were a few apparently under-aged inmates in the prison and there was one inmate who has been awaiting trial for 33 months. There was also a young inmate who was held in shackles inside his cell. The female section of the prison was however well refurbished, with the assistance of aid agencies to a reasonable standard. I urge the government to improve the conditions of the male section of the Zalingei prison along the lines of the Al-Huda prison in Khartoum.
Central Darfur state also suffers from the problem of tribal and other armed conflicts, which continues to affect the human rights of civilians in the state. There are a great number of IDPs and very large IDP camps in this state, some of which are completely controlled by armed movements that do not allow any formal state authority to operate in the camps and are, thus, a potential source of conflict.
The challenges highlighted above will form the basis of identifying the relevant areas of continued technical assistance and capacity building necessary to improve the human rights situation in the country as required under my mandate. In this regard, I urge and encourage the Government to continue to strengthen its effort to improve the situation of human rights in the country to encourage the possibility of attracting the necessary technical assistance and capacity building required as is necessary.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my commitment of pursuing my mandate in a result-oriented manner to aid the Sudan in fulfilling its human rights obligations. I must also thank all the international partners, and agencies that have been contributing towards the improvement of the situation of human rights in the Sudan and hope that they will continue to do so.