Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, and thank you very much for attending this press briefing.
As I conclude my second visit to the Sudan, I would like to thank the Government of the Sudan for its continued cooperation and for the support extended to facilitate my visit. I also thank UNAMID, the United Nations Country Team, members of the diplomatic community, and civil society organisations for their support during my visit.
In September last year, the Human Rights Council renewed my mandate for another year. The mandate now requires me to assess and verify the human rights situation in the country in order to determine the technical assistance and capacity building needs of the Government. It also urges the Government to grant me access to the entire country, in particular to Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. The geographical focus of this visit was on Khartoum and Darfur. During my next visit, I will focus on South Kordofan, Blue Nile and other parts of the country.
I met with a wide variety of interlocutors in Khartoum and El-Fasher (Darfur). I hope to meet other relevant stakeholders that I could not meet on this occasion during my next visit in a few months’ time. The Government granted me access to all places, persons and institutions requested. In Khartoum I met the Minister for Justice, the Advisory Council for Human Rights, the Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Interior, the Chair of the Darfur Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Director General of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the Deputy Director General of Police, the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly, the National Commission for Human Rights, the Publication and Press Council and some members of the diplomatic community. In Darfur I met with officials of UNAMID and other UN agencies and a wide variety of state actors including the Wali of North Darfur State, the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the head of the Judiciary of North Darfur, the Special Prosecutor for Darfur Crimes, the North Darfur General Prosecutor, the State Minister for Social Affairs, the Government of the Sudan (GoS) Police Family and Child Protection Unit as well as civil society organisations. I also visited a camp for internally displaced persons in Abou Shouk near El-Fasher and the Centre for Peace Studies and Human Rights at the El-Fasher University.
I would like to take this opportunity to brief you on my preliminary observations. My final report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September. My initial observation is that while there has been some noteworthy progress towards the promotion and protection of human rights by the Government of the Sudan, significant challenges still remain to be addressed.
I note that the Government has taken further steps towards implementing the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Recommendations, including conducting workshops in Elgazeera State, Blue Nile State, Northern State, River Nile State and Red Sea State to familiarise the states with the UPR implementation time frame and focal points. There is an agenda to conduct workshops in the remaining 6 states by the end of February 2013. The Government has indicated that the priority areas for the implementation of the UPR recommendations for 2013 will be in the areas of administration of justice, law reform, and ratification of identified international human rights treaties. I will be observing the progress made on these initiatives.
In my last report, I emphasised the important role of the National Commission for Human Rights in the promotion and protection of human rights and highlighted the need for the Government to support the Commission with necessary funding to enable it function effectively. I have been informed that the Government has approved the Commission’s budget and that funds would soon be disbursed. . I urge the Government to effect the disbursement of funds as quickly as possible to enable the Commission carry out its mandated functions. It is also worth noting that the Commission is receiving funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which will enable it extend its operation nationwide. I want to thank the UNDP for its support to the Commission.
I met with the Special Prosecutor for Darfur Crimes who informed me that he has commenced prosecution of crimes committed in Darfur. I have requested information on the cases under prosecution, as well as progress made and challenges facing his office, which will be detailed in my final report. However, I note with concern that Darfur conflict related crimes are currently being tried in the ordinary courts and that human rights officers have been denied access to these trials. I urge the Government to ensure that the Special Courts for Crimes committed in Darfur as stipulated under the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) are made operational and that national and international observers are allowed unhindered access to on-going trials.
With regards to challenges, I regret to observe that despite the recommendations in my last report emphasising the important role of civil society organisations and urging the government to create a conducive environment for the operation of these organisations, it is evident that the government through the NISS has clamped down on some civil society organisations and prevented them from submitting a complaint to the National Commission on Human Rights in Khartoum. Such prevention is a clear hindrance on the function of the Commission. The Commission has rightly protested this hindrance on its function. I have expressed my regret about the occurrence of these incidents and urged the government to desist from such actions. I again call on the government to allow civil society organisations to operate freely, to respect the right to freedom of assembly, the freedom of expression, press freedom and also create an enabling environment of free and open political discourse in the on-going constitutional making process.
I am also concerned about the arrest and detention of political opposition figures and other individuals by the NISS. I have been informed that some of the detainees have health problems and are in need of urgent medical attention. I urged the Government to release or promptly charged them with recognizable offences and bring them before a court of law. I must emphasise that violations of human rights by the NISS has been raised consistently by most stake holders I met during this visit and I urge the Government to take this matter seriously. As a state institution, the NISS should be mindful of human rights considerations when carrying out its functions.
On the situation in Darfur, my observation based on my discussions with UNAMID and other stake holders, is that while the security and human rights situation remains dire, there has been some relative improvement over the years as a result of the good work of UNAMID, and other UN agencies working in collaboration with the State. The January 2013 Secretary General`s Report on UNAMID also indicates that there is relative decrease in the overall numbers of documented human rights violations. However, there still remain major challenges regarding the improvement of the human rights situation, particularly in North, South and Central Darfur due to armed incidents in those areas.
In North Darfur, the issue of lack of security and denial of humanitarian access impacted on the enjoyment of human rights. The tribal clashes in Jabel Amir and other areas such as Kutum, Abu Deleg, Saraf Oumra and Kabkabiya have led to civilian casualties and displacements.
My visit to the Abu Shouk IDP Camp gave me an opportunity to talk to the community leaders and women’s representatives who explained their needs and expressed their hope to return to their places of origin. The government’s initiative to curb the proliferation of arms and reduce violence in the Darfur region through the registration and marking of arms, is commendable and must be pursued diligently.
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. The protection of women and children’s rights are also issues of concern. The head of the North Darfur Judiciary expressed concern about the impacts of the war on children and emphasised the need for improvement in juvenile justice. I observed the construction of a new modern juvenile reformatory centre as well as new court premises in the state, which are all steps in the right direction. The poor condition of prisons was also emphasised. My recommendations on technical assistance and capacity building will aim at addressing some of these challenges.
The Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Commission established under the DDPD has also not been able to function owing to lack of funding. I understand however that the government has now released funds in fulfilment of its obligation under the DDPD, which the DRA can now access to enable the different Commissions to be established and become operational.
There was consensus amongst everyone I met that peace and security in Darfur were necessary prerequisites for ensuring the improvement of the human rights situation. The full implementation of the DDPD is therefore essential and I urge all stakeholders to renew their commitment in that regard. I also urge the armed groups who have not yet signed the agreement to do so in the interest of permanent peace and stability in the area.
In conclusion, I urge and encourage the Government to strengthen its effort to improve the situation of human rights in the country and endeavour to address the challenges identified above. These challenges will form the basis of identifying the relevant areas of technical assistance and capacity building necessary to improve the human rights situation in the country. In this regard, 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.
Finally, 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.