News from Sudan
CIVIC SPACE SITUATION REPORT: APRIL- JUNE 2021
Overall civic space remained "Repressed" and unchanged in Q2 2021 compared to Q1 of 2021.
Key events taking place in the first quarter of 2021 with an impact on civic space in Sudan.
On 21 June, Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok announced his political initiative entitled “The National Crisis and Transition Issues—The Way Forward,” which aims to unite the forces of change with the revolution to achieve a comprehensive peace. The initiative includes proposals to address the economic and political crises in the country by unifying the decision-making processes in government and creating a unified national and professional army. It comes in response to what the prime minister has described as increasing divisions in the Freedom Forces for Change (FFC) alliance, which are crippling decision-making as well as stalling progress on transitional issues, such as the formation of the Transitional Legislative Council (TLC), the main mechanism guaranteeing citizen participation and influence in decision- and policymaking.
On 23 June, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it had secured pledges from several countries to finance a debt-relief package, which would help Sudan clear its arrears with the IMF and other lending institutions. The package represents a key step in helping the country rejoin the global economy and opens the way for new IMF loans as well as development assistance. The deteriorating economy and continuing decline in the value of the Sudanese pound have undercut improvements in civic space.
Social unrest and sporadic bursts of tribal and communal violence in parts of Darfur, Kordofan, and Eastern Sudan have continued unabated during the quarter. Meanwhile, on 30 June, the United Nations (UN) African Mission in Darfur announced the completion of its drawdown exercise, as requested by UN Security Council resolution 2559 (2020), and the handover of all of its sites to the Darfur state governments.
Earlier in May, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, visited the region of Darfur. In her statement, the ICC prosecutor said that the purpose of her visit was more to listen to the government and the victims than to conduct an investigation, and that a team of ICC investigators would follow up to gather evidence for the case against deposed president Omar Al Bashir and others. In February, the ICC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Sudan that paved the way for the ICC to carry out investigative activities in the country.
The ongoing conflict in the neighboring Tigray and Benishangul-Gumuz regions of Ethiopia continued to send waves of refugees into Kassala, Al-Gedarif, and Blue Nile states in the eastern part of the country. The UN Population Fund situation report of 31 May warned of “significant humanitarian concerns over the protracted nature of the displacement compounded by recent floods caused by the onset of the rainy season, clashes along the border between Sudan and Ethiopia, and the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND EXPRESSION
Freedom of information and expression remained unchanged from the previous quarter, January–March 2021.
The Cybercrime Act of 2007 (revised in 2020) continues to act as the main legal instrument used in cases related to freedom of expression. On 1 April, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issued an urgent appeal calling on Sudanese authorities to stop the judicial harassment of Khadeeja Aldewaihi, a women’s and environmental rights defender, who has been charged by the cybercrime prosecutor with “publishing false news online” under Articles 24 and 25 of the Cybercrime Act. The charge was made after Aldewaihi posted a statement on Facebook about the resignation of the minister of health and the challenges that the health-care sector faces in Sudan. In another unusual case, the Cybercrime Law was used against an employee of the Gadarif branch of the international organization ZOA, who had reportedly published news on social media about alleged corruption in the organization. Human rights defenders decried the unjustified arrest of the employee and her placement under police custody while she awaited transportation to the capital city of Khartoum to appear before the cybercrime prosecutor.
Several cases have been reported regarding media freedoms. Sulafa Abu Dafira posted an appeal and rang alarm bells on her Facebook page about the repeated interference of the director of the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation (SNBC) in programming content. Her weekly program Free Space, which featured prominent activists and civil society representatives discussing issues related to human rights, democracy, and wider social issues, was suspended in June for no declared reason. Similarly, on 10 June, a live broadcast of an episode of the weekly program Al Mashad (“The Scene”) was interrupted when it hosted a guest who spoke about the lifting of fuel subsidies and the government’s economic policies. In another incident, as journalist Ahmed Ali Abdelgadir was interviewed by a Turkish television channel, police disrupted the live broadcast and escorted him out of the studio.
Internet access has continued to suffer from poor service quality, increased service costs, and service disruption. Cloudflare reported that on 17 June, the Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority announced that internet services for mobile phones would be shut down daily from 0600 UTC (0800 local time) until 0900 UTC (1100 local time) to prevent cheating during the Sudan secondary school exams.
Positive steps regarding access to information were reported as Sudan’s Cabinet Affairs Minister Khalid Omer Youssef continued to hold weekly press briefings about various developments pertaining to the government and the transitional agenda. The briefings were aired on national radio and television.
RIGHTS OF ASSOCIATION AND ASSEMBLY
Rights of association and assembly deteriorated slightly during this quarter, mostly on the back of the continued absence of key laws to facilitate exercise of the right of association and continued reprisals against peaceful demonstrations, including the loss of life.
In May, the Ministry of Social Development issued a ministerial decision establishing a committee to review the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) Act of 2006. The ministry had formed a similar technical committee in February 2020, which was tasked with developing and implementing a roadmap for reforming the Humanitarian Aid Commission and revising or replacing the SVHWA. According to earlier reports posted on the Civic Space Monitor, a small delegation of civil society representatives, who were also members of the former technical committee, met with the incoming minister of social development on 10 March to brief him on their achievements during the previous period.
After a long wait, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the new Trade Unions Law on 13 June. In her statement announcing approval of the new law, the minister of labor and administrative reform explained that the law had been the subject of numerous consultations over a four-month period and the final version incorporated inputs from various actors. The bill now has to be approved by the Sovereign Council before being passed into law, which has yet to happen. The Trade Unions Act of 2010 was suspended and unions and professional associations were dissolved in December 2019.
The right of assembly continued to be fraught with physical risks. Several peaceful protests and gatherings were forcibly disbanded, resulting in protesters’ loss of life on several occasions. On April 28, a joint military force dispersed a sit-in organized by citizens of Belail locality of South Darfur State, killing one person and injuring several others. And again, in Debebat area of South Kordofan State, a protest coinciding with a visit by the prime minister was violently dispersed by police forces, with injuries to several protesters.
Compared to the previous quarter there was a slight improvement non-discrimination/inclusion during this quarter however the overall status remains “Repressed”.
In April, the Council of Ministers announced its approval of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)as well as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). The government approved the convention but with reservations about Articles 2, 16, and 29/1, which concern equality between men and women. Full ratification of both agreements remains pending and must come jointly from the Cabinet of Ministers and the Transitional Sovereignty Council.
Representatives of women’s groups and communities of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were invited as observers to the first round of peace talks between the government and the Abdulazez AlHilu (SPLM-North Abdulazez El Hilu faction was not a signatory to the peace agreement of October 2020 between the government and some of the armed groups but in March 2021 signed a declaration of principles with the government) faction of the SPLM–North, which took placed in Juba from 28 May to June 13. Earlier, a civil society initiative Al-Massar Al Thalith (“The Third Way”) had advocated strongly for the participation of women in the Juba Peace talks and put forth a petition entitled “Women’s Agenda for Negotiations,” which called for 50 percent of the delegates to the talks to be women. Issues related to IDPs and religious freedoms featured prominently in the negotiations.
Persons with physical disabilities, especially the blind and hearing impaired, struggle greatly from marginalization and lack of inclusion. In June, a blind female student in a public school in the Jebel Al Awliya area of Khartoum was disallowed from pursuing her education at the school. The school principal allowed her to sit for exams only after activists took up her case. Official channels of information, such as government television broadcasts, routinely fail to consider the needs of the hearing and visually impaired. Government buildings and offices also remain unfriendly for those suffering from physical disabilities.
During this quarter citizen participation improved and the overall rating was revised from Repressed to Restricted.
Despite the continued lack of a Transitional Legislative Council and a government strategy for fostering public engagement in policy and decision-making, there was some progress on citizen participation during the second quarter of 2021. In cases reported during the quarter, citizen participation was facilitated more often when the government worked in collaboration with international organizations than solely on its own.
From 17 to 26 May, the World Bank undertook the Digital Economy for Africa (DE4A)–Sudan diagnostic exercise to better understand the digital domain in Sudan. The exercise focused on the five foundations of the digital economy: digital infrastructure, digital skills, digital public platforms, digital financial services, and digital businesses. With input from various stakeholders, including civil society, the Sudan diagnostic exercise identified strengths and shortcomings in the current digital economy ecosystem and key opportunities lying ahead. The report on the exercise expected to be published before the end of the year will include recommendations for policy reforms and investments needed to take advantage of opportunities.
In June, the UN World Food Program held community consultations in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in North Kordofan to prepare for the launch of a nationally owned, localized school feeding pilot program to be implemented in late 2021.
Download Arabic version of the brief here.