By Janet Sankale
The United Nations Human Rights Council has been asked to adopt a resolution to extend its support for human rights reform and monitoring in Sudan during its 48th regular session, which is currently going on in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The council should adopt a resolution extending technical assistance and capacity-building to the Sudanese government and human rights actors in the country, while ensuring regular monitoring of, and reporting to the council on, the human rights situation and the work of the OHCHR country office,” some 38 civil society organisations (CSOs) said in a joint letter dated September 10, 2021.
They described Sudan’s political transition as incomplete and added that it was the responsibility of the council to support national authorities and actors, including civil society organisations, and to maintain the monitoring and public reporting capacity of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Tracing the genesis of their concerns, the organisations recalled that during its 45th session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted Resolution 45/25 on October 6, 2020, on technical assistance and capacity building to further improve human rights in Sudan.
The resolution resulted in the termination of the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, which was established in 1993. The council then requested OHCHR to report on the progress and challenges made, and ongoing human rights challenges in the country.
The CSOs commended OHCHR for continuing to provide valuable updates on human rights developments in Sudan and cited its last report in which it praised the positive steps taken by the government of Sudan to address systematic human rights and rule-of-law concerns.
“However, the prolonged precarious situation in Darfur and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, coupled with the unresolved root causes of the conflict, often lead to the reoccurrence of violence, resulting in significant civilian displacements, with immediate human rights and protection implications,” OHCHR was quoted as saying.
The UN organisation expressed concern that the council’s termination of the UN/African Union Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) in Darfur in December 2020 had led to increased civilian vulnerability. The report also expressed several other concerns, including curtailment of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and participation; targeting of journalists and human rights defenders by security forces; and sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls.
The organisations asked the council to support OHCHR to enable it to fulfill its expanded mandate and “acknowledge that monitoring and reporting complement technical cooperation”. They urged HRC to continue supporting Sudan and extend its scrutiny of the country’s human rights situation.
The civil society groups acknowledged the significant changes that have occurred in Sudan in terms of human rights reforms, including the new bill to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the peace process.
However, they noted that Sudan continued to face significant human rights, humanitarian, political, economic, social, and health challenges. The organisations expressed concern about the increase of violence against civilians in Darfur and inter-communal conflicts in the eastern part of the country in recent months.
In the face of what was happening in Sudan, the organisations reminded the Human Rights Council that it had a responsibility to keep the country high on its list of priorities and to help it to progress.
They lauded the Sudanese government for its new policy of full cooperation and the positive steps it had taken in multilateral arenas, and urged it to continue sending positive signals to the international community by supporting the proposed resolution, which also calls for enhanced interactive dialogues on Sudan at HRC.
They called on the council to continue supporting human rights reforms in Sudan, both through technical assistance and capacity building, and by holding public debates on progress and challenges, as well as the work of OHCHR in the country.
UNAMID was a peacekeeping mission deployed in Darfur in 2007 to end a bitter conflict that erupted in the western region in 2003 between government forces and rebel groups. The rebels protested what they contended as the Sudanese government’s disregard for the western region and its non-Arab population.
The government, under the leadership of Omar Al Bashir, responded by equipping and supporting Arab militias – which came to be known as the Janjaweed – to fight the insurrection in Darfur. The militias also terrorised civilians and prevented international aid organisations from delivering to the region much-needed food and medical supplies.
The United Nations says that about 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million more displaced during the conflict that lasted between February 2003 and 2009.
A transitional government was formed between the military and civilians after Bashir’s 30-year dictatorial rule that ended when he was deposed in April 2019.
On June 3, 2020, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2524 establishing a UN political mission to assist Sudan’s political transition; support the peace process; aid peacebuilding, civilian protection, and rule of law; and support the mobilisation of economic and development assistance, and coordination of humanitarian aid in Darfur.