IRIN Focus on human rights

14 November (IRIN)

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, Gerhart Baum, last week presented his latest report to the UN General Assembly, amid what he called "spirited and controversial debate" of its contents.

The Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations, Elfatih Mohamed Ahmed Erwa, said his delegation saw certain aspects of the report as fiction. He also considered that Baum's request for a breakdown of oil revenues spent on people in the south "violates sovereignty and is an unacceptable interference in matters within the jurisdiction of the government".

Baum told the General Assembly that internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sudan, now living in camps, had fled from oil regions of the country, yet did not benefit from oil revenues. Since IDPs were part of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, it was appropriate to ask how such money was spent, he added.

In a war situation such as that in Sudan, oilfields attracted [military] attention, which resulted in civilian victims and left people with no option but to flee. In that context, he had the right to ask the government about oil expenditures, since it claimed to be using the money for development purposes, Baum added.

Erwa said there were "certain groups" which were waging "hate campaigns" against the Sudanese government, alleging various human rights violations. That was now developing into a fierce campaign to prevent the government from using the country's natural resources to eradicate poverty, he added.

The Sudanese ambassador also rejected what he called the "politicisation and double standards" applied at the United Nations to the subject of human rights. There was not a single country that was free of human rights violations in one way or another, and Sudan was dismayed that a few countries - all developing countries - should be singled out (for excessive scrutiny), he said.

Erwa said the root causes of human rights concerns expressed by Baum lay in the ongoing war, and that the government was "ready to renew its acceptance of an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire" to put an end to that.

Addressing the UN General Assembly's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) on Tuesday, Sudan maintained that statements on human rights in the country by some western countries were "consistent with the pattern of certain countries persistently appointing themselves as international custodians of human rights". These countries' efforts would be better directed towards highlighting the situation within their own borders, thereby demonstrating the virtue of self-criticism, it said.

Khartoum called on state delegations to render the UN a forum for understanding rather than revenge, "so that the difficulties that all nations face could be addressed in a fair manner".

Humanitarian access

Baum's report criticised the continuing "indiscriminate bombing of civilians, particularly in the Nubah Mountains and in Blue Nile State", which, he said, had severely hampered the access of vulnerable people to humanitarian aid.

The Nubah Mountains and the whole of Blue Nile State remained inaccessible to aid agencies, Baum said, despite the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) having formally endorsed the principle of unimpeded access to beneficiaries, as noted in UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report last month on the humanitarian situation in Sudan.

UN efforts to launch an integrated programme of relief and rehabilitation activities in the Nubah Mountains "have stalled on the question of air access to the rebel-controlled areas", Annan stated in that report. The government had insisted that air access must be through El Obeid (Al-Ubayyid) in (government-controlled) Northern Kordofan, while the SPLM/A was demanding direct access from the UN Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) base in Lokichoggio, northern Kenya, he added.

There was great concern over the recurrence of [government] flight denials for locations where people most needed assistance, and unrestricted humanitarian assistance needed to be ensured, Baum stated in his report.

For November, the government has refused humanitarian flight access to Sopo, Mangayath and Boro, all in Western Bahr al-Ghazal, in addition to previous no-flight locations, according to humanitarian sources. Those, in turn, include: Ganyiel, Ler, Duar, Nhaildiu, Toy, Gumriak, Akop, Yei, Lokutok, Thiet, Mapel, Tonj, Baw, Beneshowa, Marial Bai, Nyal, Nyamlell, Bararud, Raga, Daym Zubayr, Gogrial, Ningar, Buoth, Yirol, Abouyong, Wanki, Thokchak and all flights south of the line Kapoeta, Torit, Yei and Juba.

In broad terms, Baum condemned "the constant disregard by both parties to the conflict of their own commitments, and lack of observance of human rights principles and humanitarian law", and drew attention to the appalling conditions of the civilian population which resulted. He said he was particularly struck by the fate of displaced civilians in Sudan - estimated at some four million - for which the national government had first and foremost responsibility.

Criticism of the rebel SPLM/A

Baum's report also referred to information he had received on "serious disregard for international humanitarian and human rights law by SPLM/A, according to which it continued to loot food (including relief provisions) from the population, sometimes with civilian casualties, recruit child soldiers and commit rape".

Despite an SPLM/A programme for demobilising child soldiers, Baum said he had received information that forced recruitment was allegedly continuing, together with a recurrence of cases of rape - particularly in Mundri and Chukudum, in Eastern Equatoria. The Rapporteur was also concerned over reported use of land mines by both sides in the conflict, and by allegations that the rebel movement had no serious commitment to peace, he said.

In SPLM/A-held territory, it appeared that nobody was allowed to organise political activities which were not in line with the movement's thinking, for security reasons, and neither were there any public media, organised opposition or serious policy on developing civil society, said Baum.

The oil issue

According to reliable sources, oil revenue was insufficiently used to improve the social and economic situation of the population - especially in the south, Baum reported. Relevant sources agreed that the exploitation of oil reserves had led to "a worsening of the conflict, which has also turned into a war for oil", he added. No matter what oil companies did in terms of providing social services in the areas in which they operated, they would continue to face international criticism by doing business in Sudan until military warfare ended there, he said.

The government of Sudan has denied that oil revenues are used to fuel the war, claiming instead that they are being spent on developing the south. Baum said he had seen little evidence so far to support that assertion, and remained interested in seeing some, but Sudan (and other countries which supported it in the General Assembly) maintained that the expenditure of government revenues was an internal issue for sovereign governments.

Abduction of women and children

While recognising that some positive steps had been taken with respect to abductions - notably the establishment of the government-supported Committee for the Eradication of Abduction of Women and Children (CEAWC) - the Special Rapporteur said "there continues to be a need for a massive advocacy campaign" and a strong government stand on the issue. Baum expressed concern over the slow progress achieved by CEAWC.

He said the Khartoum government, while distancing itself from the phenomenon, had "not yet taken concrete measures to prevent new abductions". Its inaction, he said, had the effect of encouraging their occurrence. The Special Rapporteur referred particularly to the negative role of the nomadic Arab tribes [mainly the Baqqarah, Zaghawah and Misariyyah] from which government formed Murahilin militias, which were deeply implicated in abductions and the targeting of civilians in war.

Addressing the General Assembly on his report, he said one reason for a decrease in the number of abductions was that the SPLM/A was better prepared to defend villages from raiding parties.

"Above all, the government needs to exercise all its influence on the Murahilin, who are responsible for human rights abuses, such as mass killings, torture, rape and abductions," according to Baum's report. The government shared responsibility, because the Sudanese army tolerated these abuses, integrated the murahilin in its military campaigns and, in part, financed, equipped and deployed them, he added.

On the issue of abductions, the Sudanese justice minister, Ali Muhammad Uthman Yasin, on Monday announced his intention to set up special prosecution offices for the trial of those who engaged in abductions, the official Sudan News Agency (SUNA) reported on Monday, 11 November.

Meanwhile, justice ministry officials, EU delegates and officials of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) had travelled to Ed Daein (Al-Duwaym), Southern Kordofan, and Muglad, Western Kordofan, on Monday to acquaint themselves with the work of the CEAWC, the SUNA report stated.

Yasin was due to impress upon (tribal) chieftains the importance of their cooperation to make a success of the programme, it added. First Vice-President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha had also made a personal commitment to take a public stand on abductions, and pledged that the government would provide 10 million dinars (about US $40,000) to cover local requirements for forthcoming CEAWC activities, according to Baum.

Governance and Democratisation

It appeared that, with the extension of the state of emergency to the end of this year, restrictions on NGOs and the media, and a campaign of harassment, intimidation and persecution of political opponents of the government, political freedom had actually been restricted rather than relaxed this year, according to the Special Rapporteur on human rights.

What had appeared to be serious efforts to democratise Sudan were discontinued at the end of 2000 (when President Umar Hasan al-Bashir declared a state of emergency after a political struggle with the former Speaker of parliament, Hasan al-Turabi), with some security laws tightened and the security police stepping up their activities, his report said.

"The human rights situation... has worsened further during the past months", alongside an increase in military activities, Baum added.

On freedom of religion, Baum said it was untrue - as some Christian fundamentalists argued - that there was a war of religious persecution in Sudan. There was concern over restrictions on freedom of religion, discrimination and the increasing religious [Islamic] characterisation of education and public life, but there was no systematic suppression of Christian churches, he said.

Some Conclusions

The Special Rapporteur's report deplored the recurrence of human rights violations in Sudan and the lack of official action to investigate and punish such abuses, and encouraged the Khartoum government "to take positive steps in the direction of a real transition to democracy - including, primarily, repealing the state of emergency".

Baum also encouraged the government to consider the establishment of an independent national commission on human rights, as well as strengthening the role of the Advisory Council for Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteur, who was appointed to his post last December, said he intended to visit Sudan again in February or March 2002. With the human rights situation having worsened in the past months, and the war having intensified, "all possible efforts must be made to bring about a peaceful solution between the warring parties, if necessary with outside assistance", he said.

In advance of that sustainable peace settlement - and for the sake of the civilian population - "the parties to the conflict must work at reinstating humanitarian cease-fires" and providing civilians with humanitarian access, safety and protection, Baum added.


Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2001