HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS REPORT OF SUDAN
9 July 2014
The Human Rights Committee today completed its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Sudan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report, Isameldin Abdelgadir, Deputy Minister and Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice of Sudan, stated that Sudan was committed to the protection and promotion of human rights in theory and in practice, in accordance with constitutional principles and laws, in full compliance with international human rights laws. The current report had been prepared in an inclusive and transparent process, taking into account the opinions and views of relevant stakeholders, including civil society organizations. Sudan was committed to objectivity and transparency, and the report had highlighted the challenges faced by Sudan. The Government had inaugurated the national human rights plan in 2013, based on the principles of universality and equality of all.
During the discussion, Committee Experts welcomed the establishment of the national Human Rights Commission in 2012, but wondered what the results of its work had been so far. They expressed concerns over the status and treatment of refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers, asked about the state of emergency, which had been declared in parts of Sudan, and wanted to know whether humanitarian access was guaranteed to those in need. Other issues raised included combating impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity, gender equality and domestic violence, female genital mutilation, torture, application of the death penalty, the Sharia law, and the recent case of Meriam Ibrahim, charged with apostasy.
In concluding remarks, Nigel Rodley, Chairman of the Committee, said that the death penalty and harsh corporal punishment were matters of concern; the Committee could not accept that the definition of most serious crimes was left to auto representation of each individual State. The right to choose and change one’s religion was enshrined in the Covenant and was incompatible with the concept of apostasy. Concerns over the excessive use of lethal force and access to fair trial may not have been fully addressed.
Mr. Abdelgadir said that observations and questions by Experts would be beneficial to the State party for improving the situation of human rights. It was difficult to understand the difference between Islam and the Sharia law; one could be a believer only if he applied Sharia rules. Sharia provisions were not necessarily in contradiction with the Covenant.
The delegation of Sudan included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Advisory Council for Human Rights, National Council for Social Welfare, Ministry of Social Welfare, Advisory Council for Human Rights, Unit for Combating Violence against Women and Children, and the Permanent Mission of Sudan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its consideration of the initial report of Malawi (CCPR/C/MWI/1).
The fourth periodic report of Sudan can be read here (CCPR/C/SDN/4).
Presentation of the Report
ISAMELDIN ABDELGADIR, Deputy Minister and Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice of Sudan, presenting the report, said that Sudan had been one of the first countries to apply the right to self-determination, in accordance with article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Human rights as a whole were a lofty objective of the Government of Sudan. People across all sectors of society believed in Islam, which preserved human dignity. Sudan was committed to the protection and promotion of human rights in theory and in practice, in accordance with constitutional principles and laws, in full compliance with international human rights laws.
The current report had been prepared in an inclusive and transparent process, taking into account the opinions and views of relevant stakeholders, including civil society organizations. Sudan was committed to objectivity and transparency, and the report had highlighted the challenges faced by Sudan.
Ever since Sudan had joined the Covenant in 1986, it had been committed to the domestication of its provisions in national legislation. The Government had inaugurated the national human rights plan in 2013, based on the principles of universality and equality of all.
An inclusive national dialogue to which all Sudanese, without exception, had been invited, had taken place recently, focusing on peace, promotion of freedoms, political activity and promoting national identity. The participation of an overwhelming number of political actors had been encouraging. Future steps would include drafting of a permanent constitution of Sudan.
Sudan had always been committed to cooperating with treaty bodies, and saw the Universal Periodic Review as a very pertinent and useful tool in that regard. Sudan also cooperated with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Sudan, who had been appointed by the Human Rights Council. The act on trafficking in persons had been promulgated and the Penal Code of 1992 and the Election Code were being currently reviewed. Women’s quota in the Parliament had increased to 30 per cent. The Constitutional Court dealt with human rights and fundamental freedoms, and had laid down basic principles, binding on all courts in the country.
A number of parliamentary committees had been established, as well as a national council, with the view of increasing oversight and monitoring. Combating wrongful and harmful practices and raising awareness on pertinent human rights issues were high on the Government’s agenda.
A member of the delegation then presented an executive summary of responses by Sudan. Any complaints against officials over human rights violations were followed up. The full implementation of the Doha peace agreement was underway, including the establishment of an authority for reconstruction and rehabilitation, and compensation for victims. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had also commenced its work. The Government was doing its best to involve various armed groups in peace efforts.
As for refugees, internally displaced persons and asylum seekers, experience had shown that prolonged periods of refugee status could have negative effects on the refugees themselves, particularly women and children. Sudan was seeking to overcome challenges with regard to displaced persons, and had a comprehensive strategy in place, which, inter alia, included the establishment of villages. The state of emergency, which was in place in some parts of the country, was in line with the Covenant, and would be lifted as soon as the conditions leading to it had been eliminated.
Sudanese women were number one in the Arab world when it came to the occupancy of high offices in the Government. A national policy for the education of girls had been launched in order to bridge the education gap between boys and girls. Women were also given the right to choose their work with the guarantee of equal remuneration. While Sudan was dominantly a Muslim country, peaceful coexistence between religions was easy to see in Sudan. There was a multitude of various churches in Sudan, which all operated freely.
A commission was in place to combat enforced disappearances, and human trafficking was forbidden and actively dealt with. The establishment of labour unions was provided for by labour laws; such organizations had to prove that they are peaceful in nature. While freedom of expression was guaranteed, all calls to hatred and war were outlawed.
Questions by Experts
An Expert noted that the report had been submitted with a two-year delay. The Committee was aware of security-related difficulties that the Government was facing in parts of the country.
The Expert welcomed the establishment of the national Human Rights Commission in 2012, but regretted that no information on its achievements had been shared so far. The Commission had not yet requested international recognition, nor had it communicated with the Human Rights Committee. Had the Commission provided any recommendations to the Government thus far?
The Committee welcomed that the State party had ratified the Covenant without reservations, and the new Constitution should conform to the existing national obligations. The Committee was concerned that the provisions of the interim Constitution provided for the derogation of normally non-derogated rights.
Impunity remained a recurring problem, noted the Expert. Should it be assumed that there were no cases processed on war crimes or genocide? The Committee was concerned about cases of officers arresting people arbitrarily, or using force excessively. Did military and security services block prosecution of their members?
The situation in Darfur was dire again, with hundreds of thousands of people newly displaced. The Doha peace agreement excluded amnesty for the gravest offences. Did impunity indeed continue to prevail in Darfur, including those who had been wanted for earlier crimes?
Another Expert noted progress on the treatment of internally displaced persons, who were now partly accommodated in host communities and not only in camps. Nonetheless, the ongoing new displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons was very worrisome.
How were the Government troops trained to do what they could to avoid causing displacement? How was the new approach implemented?
Was Sudan planning to ratify the Kampala Convention on the protection of refugees in Africa?
The Expert raised the issue of Eritrean asylum seekers, some of whom had been reportedly forcibly returned from Sudan. Could the delegation provide more information on that matter?
Had there been any new cases or investigations into war crimes or crimes against humanity since 2013?
The question of humanitarian access to areas under the Government’s control was brought up. The humanitarian situation in South Kordofan was reported to be potentially catastrophic, suffering from severe food insecurity. Could the Government confirm that no humanitarian access restrictions were currently imposed by the Government in the region of Darfur?
Another Expert asked for the dates of the state of emergency in several Sudanese states. Had the Parliament approved each of the declared states of emergency? Was it under the purview of the Parliament, or did the President play a role in it as well?
With regard to public morality, the Expert commented that it seemed to be left to the police to decide what constituted decent and indecent clothing. It seemed that most sentences to flogging were not carried out, but some were still practiced in parts of Sudan.
Could the delegation provide more information on non-discrimination, especially when it came to the treatment of women?
The State party had listed 10 crimes which could lead to the death penalty, including threats to the constitutional system. Apostasy should not be punishable by the death sentence. Capital punishment should not be carried out against minors. Certain laws contradicted provisions of the Covenant, and the death penalty had sometimes been carried out even if confessions had been obtained under torture.
An Expert inquired about the number of women in the judiciary and the executive. Could the delegation elaborate on the impact of the national plan on women’s empowerment and girls’ education?
Violence against women remained a serious problem in the State party, and sexual violence was underreported due to social stigma, another Expert noted. Criminal law provided insufficient protection against such violence. The Expert asked about the outcome of the study on the change of relevant articles of the Criminal Code. Were marital rape and domestic violence criminalized in Sudan?
How many persons had been prosecuted and convicted under the laws prohibiting female genital mutilation? A reporting system ought to be put in place to monitor the implementation of the national strategy to prohibit this practise, adopted seven years earlier, the Expert commented.
Response by the Delegation
The head of delegation reiterated the readiness of the delegation to engage in the interactive dialogue. Some replies would be provided now and some in writing within 48 hours.
Regarding the national plan for human rights, a delegate said that it had begun in 2013; copies of the plan had been distributed to the Committee members. The effective entry into force of the plan had been at the beginning of 2014, which meant that the plan had been implemented for only six months. A high monitoring committee for the plan had been set up.
Human rights education was a high priority and was to be included in school curricula. The Minister of Education had authorized the inclusion of human rights topics in textbooks, and agreed to carry out awareness-raising work.
A delegate explained that the Human Rights Advisory Council had prepared all of the reports due from Sudan, including those to be submitted to the United Nations and African bodies. All those reports had been circulated widely and issued free of charge to all regions across Sudan, including in libraries and universities, with the view of educating the public about human rights issues.
The Human Rights Advisory Council, in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme, had organized a wide range of consultative meetings across Sudan with a view to drafting a new, permanent Constitution.
More than 50 perpetrators of crimes in Darfur had been brought to justice, and more trials were underway. Twenty-seven individuals had been sentenced to death, 12 of whom had been from the regular Sudanese Army, which was a sign of the fight against impunity.
The delegation said that the Human Rights Commission was an independent body, set up in line with the Paris Principles. The Government had held two meetings with the Commission in recent months; its budget was provided by the State, which enabled it to fulfil its mandate properly.
With regard to the death penalty, out of 227 death sentences handed down, 10 had been carried out, while other cases were still being heard. Any death sentence was automatically submitted to appeal in higher courts. It was applied only if all other legal remedies had been exhausted. If a minor was executed, this was due to errors in dates of birth. Such errors were unfortunately frequent in Sudan.
Most cases of extrajudicial executions had been carried out by armed rebel groups.
The delegation said that immunity should not be applied as a means for escaping appropriate punishment. It was for that reason that the functions of the police and law enforcement officers were very specific. Categories of persons who could enjoy purely procedural immunity were clearly specified.
On asylum seekers and internally displaced persons, the delegation said that Sudan had opened its doors to migrants from Somalia, Eritrea and other countries for more than four decades. Recently, an agreement with the High Commissioner for Refugees had been signed, and refugees were now registered and their children given birth certificates. As for refoulement, Sudan respected all treaties and conventions to which it was a party. Allegations on the recent refoulement of Eritrean refugees were unfounded. There were also economic migrants, who, when arrested, claimed to be asylum seekers.
In Darfur, more than 1,000 housing plots were being delivered to displaced people and returnees. In the north and west of Darfur, 21 camps for returnees had been established with the help of Qatar, with the clear improvement of services offered.
Answering the questions on the state of emergency, it was explained that the declaration of the state of emergency was an exceptional measure, only if there was an imminent danger threatening the country at large. It was a legal and constitutional right. There was no danger more serious than facing rebel movements, which was why a state of emergency was declared in several parts of Sudan. The declaration of a state of emergency was subject to restrictions – the Parliament had to approve it. A state of emergency had to safeguard all the rights and freedoms listed in the Covenant.
On the issue of article 152 of the Criminal Code, regarding attire, the delegation said that immodest attires were legally sanctioned.
The delegation said that Sudan was working on promoting equality between men and women when it came to pay. There were seats dedicated to women in both the Parliament and the judiciary; there were altogether 96 judges in various courts, while there was one woman in the Constitutional Court. The representation of women in legislative and executive branches exceeded the quota of 25 per cent. There were four female federal Ministers.
Regarding violence against women, in 2004 Sudan had set up a high commission presided by the Vice President. The Minister of Justice had issued a decree allowing women to complain against perpetrators, ensuring that perpetrators did not enjoy impunity.
A delegate said a committee had been set up by the Ministry of Social Welfare to review all women-related laws, including the Penal Code and the Personal Status Code. Revisions of provisions considering adultery and rape were currently in parliamentary committees.
There was no discrimination against women in Sudan, which was confirmed by the interim Constitution. The bill of rights confirmed affirmative action for women, also when it came to appointments and promotions. In 2007, a bill had been adopted on women’s empowerment.
No cases of rape had been reported in camps in Darfur. There had been a small number of cases reported outside of camps.
Regarding female genital mutilation, which was a customary practice present in 28 African countries, the delegation explained that it had been combatted ever since 1920. A change in mentality was needed, which was why there was a strategy in place - “Salima campaign”, an awareness raising endeavour to promote the physical and mental integrity of children.
On the return of displaced persons in Darfur, a delegate explained that 21,000 families had returned in 2013 and 2014. They had all been granted food and basic services. A number of organizations had humanitarian access to Darfur and South Kordofan, and the Government was doing its best to facilitate their work.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked whether the Government of Sudan allowed that humanitarian assistance be brought to areas controlled by non-State actors.
Why had the Eritrean refugees been sent back to Eritrea, and not to Ethiopia, where they had come from, which would have been in line with the UNHCR provisions?
Another Expert asked whether the State was planning to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
Was the State party willing to ratify the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant?
The issue of the application of the death penalty for various crimes was raised by an Expert, who noted that the practice was not compatible with the Covenant.
Was apostasy considered a capital offence, an Expert asked, especially in light of the recent notorious case of Meriam Ibrahim. Had that case finally been closed?
Another Expert asked about the definition of torture, the type of punishment for acts of torture, and the treatment of confessions obtained under torture. Why had Sudan not signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Torture?
Could the delegation present information on the prohibition of flogging and amputation? Corporal punishment was considered inhuman, and the response by the State party that Islamic Sharia was the source of law in Sudan did not resolve the issue.
The period for detention without any legal review could be up to 4 months, the Expert noted. While there was no doubt that the law of 2010 highlighted respect for relevant provisions of the Covenant, the detention period exceeded international norms of 30 days for detention.
What was the number of people deprived of liberty in Sudan?
On the issue of abductions, an Expert recalled that the State party had been recommended to help those abducted to get reintegrated with their families, and asked what kind of assistance had been provided to victims in that regard. In how many cases had such assistance been provided?
What was the present situation with regard to kidnapping and abductions of refugees and asylum seekers?
Was it correct that the 2013 amendments allowed military courts to try civilians for various crimes, such as publication of false news and leaking of confidential information? Could journalists be tried by military courts for such offences?
Was it true that three Christian educational institutions had been shut down and their property seized in January 2014? Was this just an example of the overall treatment of the Christian minority in the country?
An Expert brought up the issue of closing down, suspending and confiscating newspapers in the State party. Such actions must have had a chilling effect on the freedom of expression. Were journalists punished for the publication of false news or damaging the image of the State?
Could more information be provided on the excessive use of force by the police during the protests from June to August 2012, and in September 2013?
Serious restrictions seemed to be in place on the freedom of association and the scope of the activities of non-governmental organizations. How could the relevant provisions be reconciled with the Covenant?
Another Expert asked about low rates of birth registration, especially in some remote areas. Were South Sudanese children, abandoned and internally displaced children also registered? Was birth registration for children free, regardless of their legal status?
Were persons of South Sudanese origin discriminated against and vulnerable to unfair treatment?
The Government had been continuously accused of forming and training militias called Janjaweed, aimed at persons of sub-Saharan origin. Was that issue still present? How had the deal been implemented with regard to the status of local minorities?
There were more than 600 different ethnic groups in Sudan, many of whom had been displaced by conflict. How was the Government planning to protect their diverse lifestyles and production modes, and prevent disappearance of those customs which were not in conformity with the majority group? Did the Sharia law allow for plurality of cultures?
Response by the Delegation
Regarding humanitarian aid to the areas controlled by rebel movements, the delegation explained that there was nothing preventing that, based on the existing multilateral agreement.
On the return of Eritrean refugees, on 18 June, those concerned had been granted travel documents, and returned to the Eritrean authorities, which meant that any refugee papers were void. After the expiration of their visas, they had been arrested and sent back to their country in line with Sudan’s laws.
The interim Constitution prohibited discrimination on any ground, and all Sudanese laws had to comply with it.
Answering the question on the two Optional Protocols, the delegation said that the Government was currently examining both Protocols, and would continue to do so until a decision was reached.
Sudan had nothing to hide with regard to the death penalty. The list of crimes which could be punished by the death penalty was clear, and apostasy was clearly one of such crimes. Standardized values and principles all over the world when it came to the definition of serious crimes were hard to reach and be agreed on; it had to be left to each individual State to define what a serious crime was, in line with that State’s traditions and legal practices.
Sudan had signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and was now considering ratifying it. All kinds of torture were covered by different Sudanese legislative texts, rather than in one single text. It would not be wise to go down the path of a single piece of legislation, a delegate stated. Any confession obtained under torture was not considered by courts.
On the question on proportionality of acts of torture to related sanctions, a delegate reiterated that there was not a single text or a definition of torture, which made it difficult to assess the proportionality of punishments on a single scale. If a victim of torture had suffered serious damage, longer prison sentences for the offender would be applied. Arbitrary arrest was not directly connected to torture.
The head of delegation said that any individual could choose their religion. The Covenant could not prevail over religion, even if that religion provided for corporal punishment. Was Sudan being encouraged by the Committee not to apply its religion fully and properly? While it was clear what could be done under the Sharia, it was broad in scope and allowed for some flexibility.
Sharia did not apply to non-Muslims, even if they lived in areas where Sharia was applied. The case of Meriam Ibrahim had been brought to court by her brothers, who were claiming that she, as a Muslim had married a Christian, which was an infraction. At the time, the State had not known she was a Christian, which was revealed only later. She would have been free to leave the country had she had her documents in order.
Deprivation of liberty of a person was a long-standing means of combating crimes and ensuring public order. All States across the world had the task to ensure their safety and security, but there was no room for the arbitrary application of legal provisions. The duration of detention was very clearly defined, in line with the Covenant. The authorities were obliged to provide written justification for any extension of detention – otherwise, the detainee would need to be released immediately.
With regard to kidnapping of women and children in conflict zones, a commission to address that issue had been established and had started its work. The commission had enabled a number of families to be reunified and had provided financial, social and healthcare assistance.
A delegate said that since 2008, Sudan had been receiving increasing numbers of asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea. Many among them were using Sudan as a transit country, trying to reach Europe or Israel. It was a regional phenomenon, for which a regional conference ought to take place shortly, with the support of the UNHCR. Preparatory meetings had already taken place.
The Government of Sudan had adopted a law to combat trafficking in 2014, and it would be implemented from May 2015, a delegate explained. Some 500 victims had been rescued from the hands of traffickers, who had been subsequently brought to justice.
It was explained that the trial of civilians before military courts was limited to acts related to military personnel. Members of paramilitary armed groups were eligible to be tried in military courts. So far, no journalists had yet been brought to trial in military courts, and no text provided for that specifically.
There was no discrimination based on religion or ethnicity, a delegate stressed. Statistics on Christian churches would be provided to the Committee.
Freedom of expression and press was guaranteed in Sudan and no censorship was applied. There were more than 60 daily newspapers in addition to social media, sports outlets and others. If journalists committed infractions, such as false news or defamation, they would be subject to prosecution before ordinary courts. Protection of security, public order and morals also had to be respected.
Demonstrations in summer 2012 had actually been sabotage attempts, for which evidence existed, a delegate stated. They had not been peaceful demonstrations, but included the destruction of public property and deaths, which had been established in a number of reports. No persons involved in those events were still detained by the authorities.
It was explained that one of the most important State programmes was on birth registration. The law enshrined the right to free birth registration for all children, but in some states of Sudan there were fees sometimes. The current percentage of registered children stood at 59 per cent, and a strategy was in place to increase it to 90 per cent within three years.
On the question of child soldiers, a delegate said that there was a permanent sub-programme in place for their demobilization.
Questions by Experts
An Expert stressed that there was a difference between Sharia and religion. As laws evolved over time, Sharia also should. Harsh punishments carried out under the Sharia did not contribute to the positive global image of Islam.
Another Expert said that he was struck by the State’s reference to religious freedom as a justification for not bringing the laws in line with the Covenant. The Committee did not have a single culture or religion, as it was composed of 18 individuals with very diverse backgrounds.
ISAMELDIN ABDELGADIR, Deputy Minister and Undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice of Sudan, thanked the Committee members for their observations and questions, which would be extremely beneficial to the State party for improving the situation of human rights. The exchange of views had been useful. It was difficult to understand what was just said about religion being one thing and Sharia being another. The rules of Islam were set out in the Sharia, and a person was not religious except if he applied Sharia. Sharia provisions were not necessarily in contradiction with the Covenant. Each country had its own way to measure the seriousness of crimes eligible for the death penalty.
NIGEL RODLEY, Chairman of the Committee, acknowledged the importance of the way Sudan had acquiesced to the secession of South Sudan. The death penalty and harsh corporal punishment were matters of concern; the Committee could not accept that the definition of most serious crimes was left to auto representation of each individual State. The right to choose and change one’s religion was enshrined in the Covenant and was incompatible with the concept of apostasy. Concerns over the excessive use of lethal force and access to fair trial may not have been fully addressed. There was hope that the next time the delegation was presenting its State report, there would have been progress on some of the recurring issues.
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