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CIVIC SPACE SITUATION REPORT: APRIL - JUNE 2022
Overall civic space remained REPRESSED but also declined across all the four pillars of civic space. Rights of Association and Assembly continue to lead the decline in civic space followed by Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Citizen Participation and Non-Discrimination/Inclusion.
Overall Civic Space Status: REPRESSED
Key events taking place during the second quarter of 2022 that have had an impact on civic space in Sudan.
Dialogue sessions facilitated by the Tripartite Mechanism. On 28 April, the Tripartite Mechanism consisting of the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and head of UNITAMS Volker Petreas, the envoy of the African Union, Mohamed Hassan Ould Labbat, and the representative of the (IGAD) Ismail Aweys, announced it would be sponsoring a dialogue that would bring together all Sudanese stakeholders to hold talks on ending the political impasse in the country and resume the transitional period in Sudan. Subsequently in June the Tripartite mechanism announced it was ending the dialogue effort that it was sponsoring between the civil and military components and attributed this to the decision of the Military Committee to withdraw from it.
European and US Senior officials visit to Sudan. On 29 April, senior officials from France, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union concluded a joint visit to Khartoum to show support for the people of Sudan and a civilian-led transition towards democracy. In their closing statement, the delegation “underscored the importance of action to create an enabling environment for the success of the UNITAMS-AU-IGAD facilitated process” and “stressed that freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association needed to be respected in full for the UNITAMS-AU-IGAD facilitated process to succeed.
Rescinding of the State of Emergency. On 30 May 2022, the head of Sudan’s ruling council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, rescinded the state of emergency in the country which had been in place for the previous seven (7) months following the military coup that was staged on October 25 last year. According to the statement by the Transitional Sovereign Council the decision to lift the state of emergency and release political detainees was taken as part of efforts to create the right atmosphere for “a fruitful and meaningful dialogue that achieves stability during the transitional period”.
Visit of UN Expert on Human Rights to Sudan. Adama Dieng the designated United Nations expert on human rights in Sudan, concluded a 3-day visit to Sudan on 4 June 2022. In his end-of-visit statement, the Expert expressed that the main purpose of the trip was to continue his “engagement with the authorities on human rights concerns linked to the coup” and follow up on the recommendations he had made during his last visit in February 2022, as well as to “hear from civil society and victims of human rights violations”. His statement flagged several areas of concern related to human rights violations including “the arbitrary and mass arrest and often incommunicado detention of resistance committee members, protestors, activists, media professionals and others in the context of protests; sexual and gender-based violence and acts of torture and ill-treatment in the course of arrest and during detention and lack of fair trial and due process guarantees”.
Intercommunal conflict and violence. A flash update released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Monday, May 2, reported massacres having occurred in Sudan’s West Darfur state between April 22 and April 30, causing the displacement of around 100,000 people. According to a statement by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) the violence left 200 people dead. Intercommunal conflict also broke out again in West Darfur’s Kulbus locality between 6 - 11 June. In early May, tribal clashes in the Eastern city of Kassala left at least two people killed and several injured.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AND EXPRESSION
Freedom of information and expression deteriorated and continues to be REPRESSED during the quarter April - June 2022.
Freedom of expression continues to decline as the military authority controls the official media, and satellite channels, and journalists continue to face arrest, harassment, and other punitive measures. In what has been seen as a signal of a return to practices that place a tighter grip and censorship on the media sector by the security, the media advisor to the President of the Sovereign Council, disclosed on 12 April, their intent to impose controls over the media sector. In his statement, Brigadier General Dr. Al-Taher Abu Wahaga, said that the coming period will witness a return of a Journalists Code of Honor, as well as tighter enforcement of laws and regulations governing the media sector, and stressed that the “red lines” which were not to be crossed stemmed from the consciousness of the people, and represented a legitimate practice in sovereign states. Furthermore, he denounced the national television’s coverage of the protests in the streets and its failure to report military news in an appropriate manner. These disclosures came on the back of the sacking, on April 10th, of the Director of Sudan Radio and TV Corporation Lugman Mohamed Ahmed from his post by the head of the Sovereign Council Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Infringements on media freedoms and independence documented included the banning on 14 April of a popular talk show that dealt with issues related to the Sudanese revolution and the ongoing political strife in the country from airing on Sudan National TV channel.
On commemoration of the Worlds Press Freedom Day, the Sudanese Initiative for Human Rights released a report entitled "Shattered Lenses" which documents the violations that journalists and the press have faced between since the military takeover of power on October 25th, 2021. According to their Facebook post, the report documented 65 violations, ranging from arrests, beatings, physical abuse, 14 violations against female journalists, and the storming of (5) media outlets in Khartoum.
Internet access on 30 June, and ahead of protests being organized against the military rule, was cut from 0800 in the morning. Ahead of most anti-coup protests, disruption in internet services has been consistently noted to disrupt the protestors from organizing and using social media platforms to report on the violent reprisal by the authorities. According to NetBlocks, the London-based internet advocacy group, internet service was interrupted on Thursday across many fixed-line and mobile internet service providers in Sudan, including state operator Sudatel, reducing overall country connectivity to just 17% of what it usually is.
Internet services were also suspended between the hours of 0800 – 1100 during the period 17 – 22 June 2022. The suspension of services came on the back of a decision by the Attorney General instructing the Telecom Companies to suspend their services on these dates – during which Secondary school examinations across the country were being held – and to prevent attempts of cheating.
Access to information continues to be constrained by a lack of adequate laws or policies which make it easier for people to access public information.
RIGHTS OF ASSOCIATION AND ASSEMBLY
Rights of association and assembly declined during this quarter and continues to be REPRESSED.
Despite the lifting on 30 May 2022 of the state-of-emergency in the country, violations of freedom of association and assembly, the repression of peaceful protests, and the arrest of demonstrators and political activists has persisted during this quarter.
Freedom of Assembly continues to be curtailed as the street protests demanding the country's military leadership transfer political power to civilian authorities continue unabated. The protests which are organized on a weekly basis are met with violent reprisals and closures of the bridges leading into the center of the capital city Khartoum.
April 30th marked the third anniversary of mass sit-in killings. Security forces fired teargas to disperse the protestors and blocked roads leading to the central parts of the city. On 3 June 2019, armed men had charged and killed hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators who were holding a sit-in outside the military headquarters in the center of the capital, demanding the army hand over power to civilians after Bashir's ousting. Despite a fact-finding committee being formed no one has been questioned or implicated in these killings. A statement by the Troika released on the third anniversary of the massacre, called on the fact-finding committee to come to an “urgent solution and release their findings to the public”.
Again, on June 30, which marks the day that the ousted President Omar Al Bashir came to power in 1989, seven protestors were shot dead, and several others wounded. The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors also reported that security forces attempted to storm some of the hospitals were many of the injured were being treated.
Intercommunal violence and unrest in April and May 2022 triggered the enforcement of curfews in some cities. On 27 April, local authorities in El Geneina, West Darfur State, announced a curfew in the city market from 6 PM to 6 AM the following day. The curfew came on the wake of violence between different ethnic groups which left hundreds dead and triggered mass displacements. Similarly on 11 May, the General Secretariat of Kassala State’s government issued a decree imposing a curfew across the Locality and its markets for 24 hours. The decree, based on the declaration of state of emergency in the country came following tribal clashes that resulted in numerous casualties.
Freedom of Association has also come under duress during this quarter. On 21 April 2022, acting Governor of Khartoum State instructed the State Commissioner of the HAC (Humanitarian Aid Commission) which oversees and regulates civil non-governmental organizations working in Khartoum state, to carry out his duties in monitoring and reviewing the performance of both national and international organizations working in the state, and to withdraw the licenses of any organizations found to be working outside the umbrella of the HAC. The Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006 (aka the HAC law) restricts the right to freedom of association as protected by Sudan’s 2019 Constitutional Charter for the Transitional Period as well as international law, criminalizes informal, unregistered organizations and grants the state broad discretion to de-register and otherwise sanction organizations and individuals for violations of the Act and other laws.
CSOs Autonomy and Rights came under attack on 8 May when the Khartoum State Commissioner of the HAC (Humanitarian Aid Commission - the organization that oversees and regulates civil non-governmental organizations working in Khartoum state), issued a letter to several hotels in the city, asking them to not lease their meeting/conferencing spaces to any non-governmental organization that does not have written approval to convene an event from the HAC. The Darfur Bar Association issued a statement on 24 May in which it stated it would report this violation of CSOs autonomy and rights to the UN-OHCHR.
The HAC law has also been known as a way for Sudanese authorities to extort money from NGOs and interfere in the independence and operations of NGOs. An article published on Devex Newswire, reported that according to UN officials and aid workers working in the Sudan, State ministers and officials in Sudan have adopted methods from the dictator Omar al-previous Bashir's administration, such as adding more bureaucratic red tape to increase profits and seeking to meddle in INGO procurements.
NON-DISCRIMINATION / INCLUSION
Compared to the previous quarter non-discrimination/inclusion declined during this quarter and remains “REPRESSED”.
Marginalized groups and minorities continue to struggle in having their rights protected. Violations against women have continued, and they have been especially targeted in the internal displacement camps, at demonstrations, and on social media.
On April 8, the Director of Combating Violence against Women, Salima Ishaq, was interrogated at the State Criminal Prosecution. This was the result of statements in which she claimed that at least 8 women had been raped during demonstrations/protest rejecting the coup and the army’s takeover of power.
The state’s indifference and inaction towards racial discrimination was widely condemned when on 17 April lawyers on the defense team in the trial of the former ousted President Bashir’s, were heard, on a hot mic making racial remarks against Luqman Ahmed, the recently dismissed director general of Sudan Radio and TV. Twenty human rights and civil society organizations from Sudan and around the world have issued an urgent plea to "call attention to the mounting concerns of racism, hate speech, and intolerance in Sudan".
Christian minorities have also expressed their discontent with the inaction and indifference by authorities in taking measures to ensure the safety and religious rights of Christians. This comes on the back of complaints to the police that were made by the Priest of the Church of Hajj Abdullah in Gezira state - that his church as well as himself came under attack from individuals from village members who accused him of disrespecting Islam by offering meals to children (on a Friday) to attract them to Christianity, and claiming that the church’s grounds belongs to them. “On May 25, four trucks protected by a significant number of security forces started the demolishment of 2000-square-metre properties belonging to the Church in Omdurman”. These two incidents come against a backdrop where Sudanese officials have been accused of seeking to “control real estate belonging to the church in strategic locations in a number of states across the country”.
Citizen Participation declined during this quarter and continues to be REPRESSED.
Citizen/Public participation continues to be thwarted following the October 2021 military coup, with decisions being made disjointedly by the military rulers. Conversely, the participation of citizens in opposition to the coup and in support of the martyrs and detainees has increased through protests, demonstrations, and speeches and seminars that are regularly held within residential neighborhoods.
On May 11, Khartoum Resistance Committees adopted the final version of the Charter for the Establishment of People's Authority. The signing of the charter took several weeks and involved lengthy consultations among members of 15 of the Resistance Committee in Khartoum state as well as with political entities and parties. It establishes a unified political platform for the resistance committees and charts a roadmap for the transitional process which would end with free and fair general elections. It is structured to prepare Sudan for eventual democratic civilian rule and citizen participation in public affairs.
Hopes for a solution to the political impasse that has gripped the country since the military coup were thwarted in June 2022 following the decision by the tri-partite mechanism to suspend their dialogue initiative which was announced in April 2022. Despite the reasoning given by the Tripartite Mechanism that it had suspended the dialogue because of the withdrawal of the military from it, many civil society observers suggested that the tri-partite mechanism had failed to build on and learn from the experience of the UN in Sudan in relation to dialogue facilitation (Abuja Agreement in 2006 – the Darfur-Darfur-Dialogue and Consultations; the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur). They noted that the dialogue initiative of the Tripartite Mechanism lacked a coherent and informed approach for dialogue facilitation, one which might have been grounded on best practices and experiences from elsewhere across the world.
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