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Civic Space Situation Report: April - June 2020

This report provides an overview of some of the major developments and events (national, regional and international) that have influenced and impacted the observable course of civic space in Sudan during the period April – June 2020. The report is based on a review and analysis of the news alerts published on the “Sudan Civic Space Monitor” as well as analysis provided by Sudanese civil society experts and practitioners from different backgrounds and areas of expertise.

April to June 2020, witnessed the following events and developments that have influenced and impacted the observable course of civic space in the country.

In response to the rise in Corona virus cases, the lockdown in capital city Khartoum continued to be enforced by the National Health Emergency Committee. Measures included the closure of bridges leading into Khartoum, restricting freedom of movement and assembly, and disrupting civil society activities, including preventing journalists from covering events. As a result of these measures people have increasingly turned to social media (rather than print journalism) for news and information, leading to a noticeable spike in the spread of fake news and rendering doubt and a lack of credibility on a lot of news and statements attributed to the government.

The government introduced several new economic measures, liberalizing the prices of some basic commodities which included fuel prices, and increasing the wages of government employees by over 500%. This has had the effect of worsening the already high inflation in the country and driving up the price of newspapers as result of increased costs of production and distribution.

On the international front, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2524 in June, establishing a new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). UNITAMS would provide technical assistance and support to the Transitional Government of Sudan with fulfillment of the key political milestones of transitional period including the Constitution drafting process, holding fair elections, and supporting legal and institutional reforms. June also saw Germany convening virtually the Friends of Sudan Conference. The conference aimed at harnessing international assistance in support of the Sudanese and the transitional period. A memorandum outlining needs and priorities for the transitional period that was prepared and submitted by national CSOs to the Conference organizers was presented at the meeting.

There were numerous instances where the right to peaceful assembly came under fire, particularly in the conflict-affected area of Darfur, and where a state of emergency was in place. Poor internet connectivity and service provision has also negatively affected the right of access to information over the internet.

Freedom of Association

The Committee for dismantling the June 30th regime and removing empowerment, continued to dissolve and appropriate institutions and organizations that were affiliated or belonged to the former NCP regime. In April, the Committee issued a decision that dissolved the Islamic Dawa Organization (IDO), confiscating all its assets and investments and revoking the law under which it is registered.

International organizations have raised concerns over measures taken by the government to dissolve humanitarian organizations or bring them under their control. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed concern over the repeal of the 2010 Sudanese Red Crescent Act, and the dissolution of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society and formation of a steering committee to run the institution. Recognizing that the issue of repealing the law and dissolving the governing body of the Society is a matter of state sovereignty, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted that such measures should not jeopardize the independence of the Sudanese Red Crescent Society. In a similar matter, a statement issued by the World Federation of Trade Unions on June 29th condemned the continued practice of the Sudanese authorities to restrict the labor movement in Sudan.

Omdurman National Bank (ONB) issued a decision to abolish the bank's employees' union, forcing departmental managers and the Bank’s branch managers to collect signatures from their employees rejecting a union on the grounds that the bank belongs to the Sudan Armed Forces. In response the Sudanese Bankers' Association issued a statement condemning the move, saying it violated the freedom of organization and stressed that the possession of shares in the bank by the armed forces does not make the bank a military institution. In the same vein, the security authorities arrested the head of the subsidiary union of the Sudanese Oil Corporation from his home, after refusing to hand over the union's belongings following a government decision to dissolve it. Similarly, in White Nile State, the Federal Minister of Government (and Acting Governor for the state) issued an order suspending the Associations of Agricultural Production Professionals in the state and replacing them with a committee to ensure the success of the agricultural season. These incidents have disrupted the plight of the trade union movements, and the transition from the old unions to new governing committees has been chaotic and difficult, and in several cases causing obvious disturbances. In May, the Republican Party issued a press circular stating that it had received threats against leaders of its organization, and that the party's offices in Khartoum would be blown up.

Although there are no accurate statistics, and despite the fact that there has been no change in the laws and regulations governing civil society organizations, this quarter was marked by an increase in the number of organizations and networks that have been re-registered, in addition to the registration of new organizations by the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), indicating a marked processing of organizations to register. The HAC is also reportedly in the process of undergoing significant internal reforms, new resolutions have been adopted to overcome travel and movement procedures for staff of international organizations, where a travel authorization procedure has been replaced by a simple travel notification.

On the legislative front, the Ministry of Justice organized a workshop in June around alternative legislation to the Trade Unions Act of 2010, however trade union representatives failed to agree on a version of a replacement Act. Temporary steering committees continued to lead the trade unions even after the government had decided to dissolve them, rendering the legal context governing these unions ambiguous. Almost a year following the formation of the TG, laws governing trade unions have not yet been issued, rendering the legal environment lacking in relation to call for democratic transformation in the country. A committee established by HAC earlier in the year completed a review process of the institution and assembled a roadmap for the replacement of the Sudan Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act of 2006 that continues to govern the regulations of CSOs in the country.

Freedom of Expression

Despite the TG embarking on some legislative and institutional reforms that restrict freedoms related to peaceful assembly, nonetheless instability on the political, economic and security fronts have caused the continuation of emergency measures in conflict-affected areas of the country, negatively impacting the citizens right to express themselves and hold peacefully demonstrations.

Security forces continue the use of physical force, firing of tear gas and arrests to disperse peaceful demonstrators. On April 6th and marking the commemoration of the violent dispersal of the peaceful sit in a year earlier, police dispersed a procession from in front of the Council of Ministers. A peaceful vigil organized by family members of leaders of the former regime in front of ‘Kober” prison was also disbanded and 25 persons were arrested. On June 30th, large crowds marched peacefully in most cities of Sudan, in memory of the martyrs of the revolution, calling for justice and the dismantling of institutions of the former dictatorial state. The marches were described in the media as peaceful and sponsored by the state, however one person died and dozens were injured, according to a report issued by Sudan Tribune.

Following the rise in violence and abuse by the police in response to peaceful demonstrations, several entities filed legal complaints, demanding the government pursue investigations into the infractions by the police authorities. In response, the government announced it had formed investigative committees headed by the Attorney General and that it dismissed some police officers, however there was no information on the results of the investigations and the police remain untrained on how to engage with peaceful protestors whilst recognizing their rights and protecting them from harm.

Measures to curb the spread of the corona virus have contributed to numerous restrictions on the freedom of movement, as a curfew (in several states) and a lockdown in Khartoum state were enforced by the authorities. Bridges were closed, interstate travel banned, and Khartoum International Airport continued its closure. Given the measures imposed by the Emergency Health Committee, civil society has increasingly turned to the internet and the use of meeting/conferencing platforms and applications to carry out its work. use of

The threat to the security of citizens exercising the right to peaceful assembly has risen, and given that the government has repeatedly expressed that the identity of those individuals or groups attacking protestors was unknown – there is a growing lack of confidence by the public in the ability of the government to protect its citizens. During this reporting period, no reports citing or condemning human rights violations were issued by the Sudan Human Rights Commission.