Amnesty International has warned of increasing human rights violations in Sudan ahead of the country's referendum on southern independence on January 9, 2011. Widespread human rights abuses by the government and armed groups are a daily occurrence in Sudan. Although the conflict in Sudan has recently been less intense than it has been in the past, all sides to the conflict continue to commit violations of international humanitarian law, such as attacks on civilians and on humanitarian convoys. Violence against women, including rape, remains widespread, particularly in Darfur in and around camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Throughout Sudan, the government routinely represses human rights defenders, political opponents and ordinary civilians, subjecting many to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.
Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have lost their lives since the Darfur conflict erupted in February 2003. Systematic human rights abuses have occurred, including killing, torture, rape, looting and destroying of property by all parties involved in the conflict, but primarily by the Sudanese government and government-backed Janjawid militia. Though the International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, and Genocide related to abuses in Darfur, widespread, systematic, and grave abuses persist. Disturbingly, the government continues to restrict humanitarian aid in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. Darfuris also continue to face arbitrary arrest and detention, often resulting in torture and ill-treatment, at the hands of the National Intelligence and Security Services.
On March 4th, 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it had issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al Bashir on seven charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. It is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state. The arrest warrant for President al Bashir follows arrest warrants issued by the ICC for former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior Ahmad Harun and Janjawid militia leader Ali Kushayb. The government of Sudan has not surrendered either suspect to the ICC.
Amnesty International has documented in recent years a wide range of human rights violations committed by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), including arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as violations to the right to freedom of expression.
The extensive powers provided to NISS agents under the 1999 National Security Forces Act and the 2010 National Security Act, as well as the immunities provided under both acts, have allowed NISS agents to commit human rights violations with impunity in Sudan.
Journalists are regularly arrested and detained for carrying out their work and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) often control the press through strict pre-print censorship. Journalists can be prosecuted for their work under several broad and imprecise provisions of Sudanese law. Defying the censorship rules places journalists and editors at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. One journalist told Amnesty International that it was almost impossible to publish articles on human rights in national newspapers, because of self-imposed censorship.
AI has noted an increase in violations of civil and political rights in the north of Sudan since the April 2010 presidential and parliamentary elections. These violations include a clamp down on freedom of expression such as the targeting of human rights defenders and journalists, and the resumed pre-print censorship that the NISS has been imposing on newspapers since May 2010.
Sudanese women face a daily risk of being arbitrarily arrested in public or private places for "indecent or immoral behavior or dress." Public Order Police Officers in Sudan have the power to decide what is decent and what is not. In most cases women are arrested for wearing trousers or knee length skirts.
Such behavior can be punishable by up to 40 lashes according to article 152 of the Sudanese Criminal Act of 1991. Judges have even exceeded the legal limit in some instances and punished women and girls by up to 50 lashes. These punishments amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and affect women as well as girls under 18 in Sudan.
In July 2009, Lubna Hussein, broke the silence around these laws. Lubna, a Sudanese journalist with the UN, was arrested with 12 other women for wearing trousers. She chose to challenge her arrest in court and launch a public campaign calling for the abolishment of article 152 of the 1991 Criminal Act.
Article 152 is part of a broader set of laws and practices, known as the public order regime, which allow the imposition of corporal punishment for what is seen as immoral behavior in public or private sometimes, affecting a wide range of men and particularly women throughout Sudan.
The media attention Lubna Hussein's case obtained brought the punishment of flogging into the public spotlight. Large numbers of women are regularly arrested under these laws, but many remain silent because of the trauma of their arrest and punishment and/ or out of fear of the social stigma they would suffer from if people heard of their arrest.
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This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.
Some 150,000 people from Blue Nile state languish in a string of refugee camps in neighboring Ethiopia and South Sudan, and tens of thousands more have been forcibly displaced within Sudan. And although the frequency of armed clashes between Sudanese government and rebel forces has diminished, violence against civilians continues.