Discrimination and Hate Speech Fuel Violence in Sudan - March 2021 [EN/AR]

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The current momentum for change in Sudan since the 2019 Revolution provides unique opportunities, evidenced recently by the Cabinet and the Sovereign Council’s approval for ratification of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in February 2021.
This timely report identifies that prejudice, discrimination and divisions, often exacerbated by incitement to hostility, have impacted communities in Sudan and are continuing to fuel violence. The findings and recommendations aim to contribute to constructive dialogue about measures needed to strengthen social cohesion in Sudan.

If change towards a rights-based and democratic society in Sudan is to be achieved, it is critical to maximise opportunities for dialogue about the root causes of violence, their impacts and reversal.
Our main findings are that:

  1. Sudan is seeing an escalation of violence characterised by clashes between ethnic groups, often ignited by instances of hate speech and incitement to violence.

  2. Many inter-communal clashes start as individual disputes. Civil society groups consistently identify the need for the government to take responsibility for de-escalating attacks, protecting citizens and holding those responsible to account. Silence and lack of intervention has resulted in chronic insecurity and escalating violence.

  3. Local groups repeatedly point to Sudan’s weak and discriminatory justice system. The perceived lack of official uptake in resolving cases drives people to take matters into their own hands, often escalating tensions and leading to cyclical patterns of violence.

The Sudanese government must take account of the whole picture, addressing legal, structural and social change. There is a need to break down centre-periphery discrimination by embracing inclusive processes that provide genuine dialogue and decision-making powers to affected groups. Critically, the government must address its weak justice system, as well as the backlog of discriminatory laws that need reforming and new laws that are necessary to give effect to international standards to promote equality and counter hate speech.

There is no universally agreed definition of hate speech. In fact, some hateful speech should be permissible; international standards require that offensive language, even if deeply offensive, be permitted in an open and democratic society. Free speech must only be limited when necessary and by law. However, when expression incites violence, discrimination or hostility against a defined group, it must be prohibited. If language incites the destruction of a specific group (“a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” as per the 1948 Genocide Convention), in whole or in part, it becomes an international crime of genocide.

As regards discrimination, numerous human rights treaties define discrimination, which in combination, read as:

“any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, national, social or ethnic origin, religion or belief, gender, marital status, disability, age, sexual orientation, language political or other opinion, nationality, property, birth or any other status, which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

In Part I, the report considers historic and systemic foundations of divisions and violence. Linkages are drawn between colonial ‘divide and rule’ and later ‘Arabisation’ policies that underlie ongoing mistrust and hatred between different groups, making them vulnerable to political manipulation, rumours or other triggers. Hate speech is merely an expression of prejudice, racism and ideologies of superiority, providing an indicator of bias intention in relation to other violations, including widespread human rights abuses, and sometimes spilling over to mass atrocity crimes.

Part II considers a range of recommendations on legal and policy reform, emphasising the importance of ensuring inclusive processes in the reform agenda, be it with regard to the constitution, an anti-discrimination law, engaging in an extensive law reform programme to align national laws with international standards, or to introduce new provisions to counter incitement to violence and genocide.