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Civic Space Situation Report: October - December 2020
This report is produced as part of the Sudan Civic Space Monitor and presents a brief on the situation of civic space in the country based on the fundamental pillars of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Freedom of Association and Assembly, Non-discrimination/Inclusion and Citizen/Political Participation. The report is based on news and information that is captured and published on the Civic Monitor website and analysis provided by Sudanese civil society actors from different backgrounds and areas of expertise.
The United States formally removed Sudan's status as a state sponsor of terrorism on December 14th, removing one of the biggest impediments hindering the economic reform efforts of the government and opening access to international lending institutions and economic development. This came on the back of an agreement with the US administration where in return for normalizing ties with Israel, Sudan would be removed from the State Sponsor of Terror listing.
Conflict in the Tigrayan region of neighboring Ethiopia, bordering Sudan’s eastern region, erupted in November 2020 triggering a wave of refugee movement into the country. In response, the Government heightened security and introduced restrictions and a state of emergency in the states of Geddaref and Kassala, which are on the border with Ethiopia.
In October, the transitional government of Sudan signed a final peace deal with the National Revolutionary Front (NRF) in South Sudan capital, Juba. As a result of the peace deal and to incorporate elements of the Juba Agreement for Peace in Sudan, amendments were made to the constitutional decree. This sparked fierce political disagreements across the political spectrum and led to several incidences where freedom of expression and assembly came under duress.
December witnessed the establishment of the Transitional Partners Council (TPC). Comprised of 29 members (six military members, the prime minister, 13 members from the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), and nine of the signatories of the Juba Peace Agreement), the purpose of the TPC was “to direct the transitional period in a way that serves the supreme interests of Sudan, to resolve differences in viewpoints between the various parties, and to mobilize the necessary support for the success of the transitional period”, according to a press release issued by the Sovereign Council.
In December, UNAMID’s decision to close its mission in Darfur, sparked a sit-in at Kalma camp near Nyala, South Darfur, where protestors called for the reversal of the decision and the continuation of the UNAMID forces claiming that peace and civilian protection would deteriorate. Amnesty International also issued a statement urging the UN to extend its UNAMID mandate in Darfur as insecurity and violence remain present.
To curb the spread of the Corona virus during a second wave of the pandemic, recommendations issued by the High Committee for Health and Emergencies resulted in the suspension of schools and university studies, as well as cancellation of several conferences and events that were planned by civil society organizations in the country. Meanwhile, the economic situation continued to deteriorate with average inflation rates at the end of the year standing at an all-time high of 163.26 per cent compared to 51 per cent in 2019, an increase of 112 per cent.
Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
The deteriorating economic situation and increasing prices has continued to take a toll on freedom of expression and access to information. In November, according to a report by Matarees, telecommunications companies imposed unannounced increases on their daily and monthly internet/data bundles, with increases ranging from 30 to 150 percent. Rising print and fuel costs further increased the cost of production of newspapers causing newspapers to reduce the number of newspapers that they print.
The TV broadcast sector also suffered some infringements where based on an earlier decision of the Committee for Dismantling Ingaz (Salvation) Regime and Removing Empowerment, in which Al-Shorouk satellite TV channel was placed under the control of the Committee, the newly appointed director of Al-Shorouk Satellite TV channel terminated the service of a large number of its employees in late October.
Sporadic instances of violations against journalists and bloggers were reported during the last quarter of 2020. Activist/blogger Ahmed Al Daey was arrested from outside his home allegedly in response to an arrest warrant issued against him because of a case lodged against him by an unknown complainant. During peaceful gatherings commemorating the October 1964 revolution, several journalists were arrested, beaten and had their cameras confiscated as they documented the conduct of the police with the peaceful demonstrators. A statement issued by the Sudanese Journalists Network (SJN) condemned the physical attacks on the journalists, as well as on a news team from the international broadcast channel Sky News. A press release issued by the Euro-Mediterranean human rights monitor flagged amendments made earlier in the year to the Combatting Cybercrimes Law for the increase in Journalists/bloggers being "persecuted and threatened over publications they posted on social media criticizing the authorities".
Freedom of Association and Assembly
Laws governing freedom of association and peaceful assembly have remained largely unchanged, despite increased demands by civil society activists for new laws that are aligned with human rights standards and international principles to be enacted. Foremost amongst the news laws being called for is a new trade unions law and a new civil society Law as well as the Political Parties Act and a new Cooperatives Act. However, the government has continued to stall on the legal reform front and govern through former repressive laws or new structures that are increasingly being seen as repressive.
The trade union movement in the country has been the focus of increased infringements by the government with several trade unions being dissolved and their affairs being administered through steering committees appointed by the government. The Committee for Dismantling Ingaz (Salvation) Regime and Removing Empowerment has been a principal driver of these infringements using its powers to take control over the trade unions. In December the Federation of Carpenters was raided by police and its assets forcibly transferred to the custody of a new steering committee appointed by the Committee for Dismantlement.
The government continued its use of the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006 to close and confiscate the assets of civil society organizations. In December 2020, the Commissioner of the Humanitarian Aid Commission for Khartoum State, Mustafa Adam, issued a statement in which he announced the cancellation of the registration of 45 organizations and confiscation of their assets on the grounds that these organizations were linked to the former regime or were performing activities that did not serve the communities. Among these organizations were Cheshire Home for Children with Special Needs and Husn Al Khatima. Similarly, in November, the Geddaref branch of the Committee for Dismantling Ingaz (Salvation) Regime and Removing Empowerment dissolved and confiscated the assets of Ansar al-Aqsa charitable organization, claiming its affiliation with the former regime.
Protests have increased over the last quarter of 2020, and although they remained largely peaceful, they were oftentimes met with violence on the part of the police who resorted to firing tear gas and forcibly dispersing the protests. This was the case in the protests calling for the dismissal of the Minister of Trade and Industry on 1 October 2020, the protests commemorating the October 1964 revolution on 21 October 2020 in both Khartoum and Nyala cities. In response the Public Prosecutor Tajelsir El Hibir established a committee on 25 October to investigate the violence used by security forces during these protest marches. Again, in December protests marches commemorating the December 2018 revolution were forcibly dispersed by the authorities.
Progress on the women’s rights front was manifested in a decision by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development (ML&SD in October establishing a committee tasked with revising laws and regulations that restrict and infringe on women’s rights. More specifically, and beginning with the personal status law, the committee would work to map all legislation and laws related to women; review the text in the national laws and ensure they are aligned and do not contravene the constitutional document; and the harmonization of women's legislation with international conventions ratified by Sudan. An earlier decision issued by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had established another committee that was tasked with preparing a new law on the personal status of Muslims.
Persons with disability have continued to feel marginalized and left out of the political process. Persons with disabilities have also voiced their frustration with government control over their unions. But on a more positive note, in December, the National Council of Persons with Disabilities signed a memorandum of understanding with the Technical University of Sudan with the aim of facilitating access to technical education for persons with disabilities, adopting an integrated approach to integrating persons with disabilities in education at the university, and promoting their causes.
The signing of the Juba Peace Agreement and the return of the SRF signatories to Khartoum, sparked a flurry of debate on issues related to political participation and quotas of the newcomers in the different structures of the transitional period, the executive branch of the government, the sovereign council and the anticipated legislative council. Meetings between the Resistance Committees and the Freedom Forces for Change (FFC) were convened to discuss youth participation and quotas in the legislative council. Civil society through its membership in the FFC (the Civil Forces Caucas) was party to these discussions and which culminated in an initial agreement around the distribution of the 300 parliamentary seats among the SRF, the FFC and other forces supporting the revolution.
Although the political debate over political quotas in the transitional government and its institutions intensified in the post-peace agreement period, advocacy campaigns for women's empowerment and equitable opportunities in the transitional period have declined compared to the campaigns launched during the formation of the transitional government following the success of the revolution.
Also noticeable was the lack of representation of women, youth and/or IDPs on the part of the SRF during negotiations of the Juba peace agreements. Voices and views of other minority groups (such as religious groups, persons with special needs) remained muted both before and after the Juba peace agreement.
Whilst government sponsored mechanisms and platforms for consultation and citizen participation continue to be lacking, protests and demonstrations have become the way in which citizens are able to have their voices heard.