Sudan

Oral update on the situation of human rights in the Sudan

49th Session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet
7 March 2022

Mr President,
Excellencies,

I am deeply troubled by the sharp reversal of human rights achievements following the military coup in Sudan last October.

The coup - which took place on 25 October 2021 - has again plunged the country into profound crisis. Two years of progress towards institutional and legal reform that Sudan had been making since 2019 is now being eroded.

A wide range of human rights violations have been documented since the coup, in a context of total impunity. I take this opportunity to thank Mr. Adama Dieng as expert I designated at the request of the Human Rights Council to monitor the human rights situation in Sudan since the coup.

Mr. Dieng, who visited Sudan last week, has been working closely with my Office to provide this update and will also prepare a comprehensive report for the 50th session of the Council in cooperation with my Office. I would also like to thank the Sudanese authorities for their cooperation with Mr. Dieng.

Today, thousands of people continue to take to the streets in Sudan to demand their rights in peaceful protest against the coup and the human rights violations committed since it began. At the same time, the repeated use of excessive force by security forces persists. Live ammunition, and offensive weapons such as machine guns and shot guns, are being used directly against protestors, and tear gas canisters have been fired as weapons at their heads and bodies, in clear breach of international law. As of 3 March, credible medical sources report that 85 people, including one woman and 11 children, have been killed due to disproportionate use of force by security forces during protests.

I am also alarmed by the attacks on hospitals, medical facilities and assaults on their staff. In one incident, security forces fired tear gas into an emergency ward. In others, they blocked injured people from accessing ambulances and medical care. Between November 2021 and March 2022, the Joint Human Rights Office documented forced incursions into six hospitals by security forces, where in some instances, they beat and arrested injured protesters and assaulted medical staff. Ambulance drivers have also been harassed while transporting injured protestors.

I deplore the widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions, with flagrant disrespect for the rights of those arrested. Of enormous concern is the fact that since the coup took place, the Sudanese security forces, including the General Intelligence Service, have been granted law enforcement powers and temporary immunity from prosecution.

After the declaration of a state of emergency on 25 October 2021, security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of individuals across the country, including 63 government officials and politically influential figures, including the Prime Minister and six of his Ministers, and held them incommunicado, again in clear breach of international law. There were also high-profile arrests in the first two weeks of February, including a former minister from the transitional government and five other members of the Dismantling Committee, whose task had been to investigate corruption during the previous regime. They are reported to be facing charges punishable by the death penalty.

The Joint Human Rights Office reports that more than 1000 people were arrested for opposing the coup and its consequences between 25 October 2021 and 3 March 2022. Shockingly, these figures include at least 144 women, and 148 children. Many of those arrested and detained were subjected to ill-treatment at the time of arrest. The whereabouts of three people arrested remains unknown.

I am concerned about the pattern of targeted arbitrary arrests and detention of prominent protest organisers and demonstrators either during protests, at their homes, or – in some cases - in hospitals. I welcome the release of 115 people during Adama Dieng’s visit last week.

The circumstances in which many individuals were arrested also raise profound concern at the lack of respect for their rights, as well as the extent to which these arrests are being used as punishment, and to prevent and deter them and others from exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to peaceful assembly.

I am also disturbed by the massive number of violations of the rights of children directly linked to the recent demonstrations. As of the end of February, the UN had verified more than 200 violations, including the killing of no fewer than 11 children and the injuring of tens more of them, as well as the arrest and detention of children who participated in protests.

Excellencies,

I am shocked by the 25 allegations of rape, gang rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, girls and men since 25 October 2021.

These appalling attacks likewise appear directed at dissuading and deterring protesters - women and girls in particular - from giving public expression to their views, as is their right. They are also taking place in a context of continuing impunity. Despite the establishment of a committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations since the coup, including rape, as of the end of February 2022, there was little progress in their work, raising concerns as to the genuineness of the authorities’ expressed will to promptly address these disturbing cases.

In addition, attacks against journalists and human rights defenders are increasing, posing a severe threat to civic space and freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly. The Joint Human Rights Office recorded at least 50 incidents of violations against journalists and media institutions since the coup, including 22 incidents of arbitrary arrest and detention. Trade unionists, lawyers, female activists, and pro-democracy activists have all been targeted.

Excellencies,

While I welcome the stated initiation of investigations into some allegations of human rights violations, I urge the Sudanese authorities to ensure such investigations are conducted quickly, independently and objectively, making public their results.

The Sudanese authorities should also immediately define the timespan of the state of emergency, which currently has no end date, and fundamentally review it for consistency with international human rights law, including with respect to the extensive law enforcement powers and temporary immunity from prosecution which have been granted to the security forces.

The Sudanese authorities must also cease to use excessive force and live ammunition against peaceful protestors, respect due process rights and release all people detained arbitrarily.

The political crisis in Sudan has caused extremely worrying setbacks in human rights. It is urgent that the Sudanese authorities take credible steps towards reinstatement of a civilian administration with democracy and rule of law at its core, and to a path towards justice, equality, dignity and peace for the Sudanese people.

Discussions around a political settlement to end the crisis continue nationally and internationally. I welcome any steps taken to advance these conversations towards a peaceful resolution in Sudan. I underscore however that, if any settlement is to hold durably, it must have respect for human rights and accountability for violations of them, at its heart.

This is the fundamental demand of the Sudanese people, expressed in such courageous ways in the streets of Sudan. It should not go unheard.

Thank you.