One step forward in Sudan

December 2020: UN Human Rights Sudan Country Office team. © OHCHR

Sudan is in the aftermath of a revolution. Although significant change has taken place since the 30-year regime of General Omar al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019, many challenges remain. UN Human Rights is strengthening the capacities of journalists, lawyers and government officials to face their country’s new realities.

As journalist Hussein Saad walked off a plane from Kampala in July 2015, he reflected on what he had learned at a workshop on transparency and corruption and looked forward to applying this new knowledge in his writing about human rights and peace in Sudan.

He had just cleared customs when he was suddenly stopped and whisked off to Khartoum North’s political security headquarters. He was charged and placed under house arrest for three months. “That would not happen today,” Mr. Saad said. “Now, the security apparatus does not interfere and I am no longer arrested for my work. Press freedom is much improved.”

The ability to write as a journalist without interference or fear is a strong indication of how things have changed since tens of thousands of Sudanese took to the streets at the end of 2018. This pressure was maintained for six months until they toppled the Government. Sudan is undeniably more open and tolerant.

Many are encouraged by the visible changes, others express frustration at the seemingly slow pace of progress.

Salih Mahmoud is the Deputy of the Darfur Bar Association and a recipient of the Sakharov Prize for his outstanding human rights work in Darfur defending victims of ethnic violence. “Too much force is used against demonstrators and detainees are dying in custody,” he said. While Mr. Mahmoud notes that impunity still reigns, he is encouraged by the absence of war and believes the presence of UN Human Rights augurs well for the future of Sudan. In September 2019, UN Human Rights signed an historic agreement with the transitional government to establish offices across Sudan.

“So far, things are very positive but the keys to progress are a robust constitution that respects the universality of human rights and fair elections,” said Mazen Shaqoura, Head of the UN Human Rights Office start-up team in Sudan. He continued, “Most aspects of law need to be revisited through legal reform and Sudan needs to come into line with international principles and legislation.” A transitional justice process is also argued to be essential to secure accountability and reparations for victims of violence.

This requires political will and a robust civil society that is equipped with the tools to advocate for change. UN Human Rights is providing a series of training workshops for civil society groups and activists.

“We are learning about the importance of human rights terminology and how to monitor and document human rights issues,” said Hussain Saad, who can continue reporting on inequalities and injustices without fear of arrest.

Hussein Saad (left); and Salih Mahmoud (right). © OHCHR
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