5 November 2021
Dear President, Distinguished members of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I have the honour to address your Excellencies today on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures. We recognize the importance of convening this Special session on the situation in the Sudan.
Emerging after decades of violations of economic, social, and cultural rights since 2019, the peoples of Sudan had placed great hopes on the transition framework through which civilian rule would be consolidated. However, by dissolving the civilian government and the joint Sovereign Council and suspending key articles of the Constitutional Document governing the transition, the military leaders have shown utter contempt for democracy or any transitional process to restoration of democratic governance and human rights.
Since 25 October 2021, the world is witnessing popular and peaceful protests in the streets of Khartoum and other cities. Special Procedures have received reports that the demonstrations against the dissolving of the civilian government and the Sovereign Council are led by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association and the so-called Resistance Committees. Both civil society organizations were at the forefront of the uprising that toppled long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
We are deeply concerned to see peaceful protestors facing violent crackdowns by the military and its forces. On 2 November, our colleague the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association condemned the clampdown on peaceful protesters who were demanding that the military reinstate the civilian government, noting that he has received disturbing reports of unlawful killings and injuries, including those resulting from the use of live ammunition to disperse protesters. Accounts also refer to the beating of protesters by military and security personnel. In his statement, the Special Rapporteur called on the de-facto authorities to investigate all reports of the use of force against peaceful protests. I ask you to bear in mind in your deliberations these expressed concerns, which we make ours.
Allegations submitted to the Special Procedures indicate that since the 25 October coup, at least 13 persons have been killed as a consequence of the excessive use of force against peaceful protests; that around 300 persons have been injured, many of them having sustained gunshot wounds; and that many have been arrested and detained for taking part in peaceful protests. International human rights law makes it clear that arrest and detention for peaceful exercise of rights protected by the Universal Declaration is arbitrary. It also establishes clear frameworks for the use of force. Within that vital context of international legality, we are deeply concerned about the deployment of the military in the streets and the consistent allegations of its use of unnecessary and disproportionate force. We are also concerned by the allegations of the curtailment of digital rights and freedom of expression through a blanket shutdown of mobile-based internet and the disruption of telecommunications across the country. Blanket internet shutdowns contravene international law and the scope of permissible restrictions of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The peoples of Sudan can no longer access and share information and organise online, which is also vital for human rights monitoring.
As a result of these actions, we are concerned that since the military takeover, civic space has been targeted, curtailed and shrunk.
In the fulfilment of their mandates, Special Procedures have repeatedly engaged the transition government to express concern about grave allegations that shed light on serious gaps in the protection of the right to life, freedom of opinion and expression, and grave issues with transitional justice, especially non-implementation of the post-2019 commitments concerning rule of law and respect of fundamental freedoms. Our colleagues have also repeatedly been raising concerns about the marginalization of women and their rights in the formal peace and transition process, congruent with the views expressed by the last Independent Expert on the Human Rights situation in Sudan, who concluded that while women were at the forefront of the peaceful protests and were among the first victims of the violence, including human rights violations and sexual violence, they were excluded from political negotiations that marked the transition.
The Independent Expert, together with other Special Procedures, also raised concerns at the lack of justice and reparations to the victims of the 3 June 2019 crackdown on peaceful protestors in Khartoum and to hold accountable all those responsible, without exception.
These concerns pointed to a situation that was already characterised by frailty and impunity, which is emboldening the perpetrators. Most of these attempts at engaging by Special Procedures Mandate Holders are yet to receive a reply, and are now exacerbated in the context of the coup.
It has been one year since this Council decided to end the mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Sudan after a phasing out of two years. It was a real sign of hope that, after years of dictatorship, Sudan appeared to decisively embrace the path of transition to democracy and respect for human rights, which included its declared intentions to cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights machinery, including the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Special Procedures. At the time of conclusion of his mandate, the Independent Expert stressed that major challenges lay ahead, and that these would require sustained international support and engagement with the country to help guide the Sudan through a challenging transition period.
The recent developments in the country confirm this assessment as well as the need for decisive action by the international community to help restore democracy and respect for human rights in Sudan. As shown by demonstrations of the Sudanese people in the last two weeks, the call for freedom and rule of law is loud and clear, and it is our view that this Council should take all the measures necessary to support it.
We are deeply concerned about the impact of the 25 October actions by the Sudanese Military on the transition framework through which civilian rule would be consolidated in the Sudan, as well as in the Juba Peace Agreement. The implications for the democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights in the Sudan are clear. I therefore urge the Human Rights Council to take all measures within its reach to assist in resorting the peace process, including the measures to support the immediate and unconditional reinstallation of civilian rule.