Darfuri Human Rights Defenders Arrested in Khartoum
(1 November 2010) Between 4 and 4:30 PM on 30 October, six Darfuri human rights defenders disappeared in Khartoum. It was confirmed on 31 October that all six individuals had been arrested, though no charges have been pressed. Some of the members of the group had just attended a youth forum on social development hosted by Girifna, a pro-democracy student movement.
The first disappearance occurred in Suq al Arabia in downtown Khartoum, when National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agents arrested Abdelrahman Mohamed Al-Gasim, a prominent human rights defender from Tulus, South Darfur. Mr. Al-Gasim is based in Khartoum and is the Legal Aid and Training Coordinator of the Darfur Bar Association. He was not seen by his family and never returned home, and his mobile has been switched off since Saturday evening. On 31 October, his family received confirmation that he had been arrested, though no charges had been pressed and they were not allowed access to him. He is being held separately from the rest of the group.
Another round of disappearances occurred almost immediately after, suggesting a coordinated effort by the NISS. The arrested individuals are:
· Dirar Adam Dirar, a finance and administration officer with the HAND network. HAND is a coalition of nine grassroots Darfuri organisations that publishes weekly human rights monitoring reports from Darfur.
· Abdelrahman Adam Abdelrahman, the Deputy Director of HAND’s network.
· Manal Mohamed Ahmed, activist
· Aisha Sardo Sharif, activist
· Aziza Ali Edris, activist
The three female activists arrested, Manal Mohamed Ahmed, Aisha Sardo Sharif, and Aziza Ali Edris are not affiliated with HAND. It was announced on the 31 October that they would likely soon be released. As of 1 November, the entire group remained in the NISS’ custody.
A group of lawyers in Khartoum have organised a submission for clarification on the arrest of Abdelrahman Mohamed Al-Gasim and any charges brought against him. Information available to the African Centre indicates that the group was arrested for no reason other than their association with other human rights defenders and members of civil society. The freedom of expression and association are protected under Article 39 (1) of the Interim National Constitution (INC) of 2005, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. That there is little information on the detainees’ whereabouts, treatment, and of any charges pressed against them is of great concern, as is the fact that they are being held by the NISS. The African Centre calls on the Government of Sudan and Ministry of Justice to respect their international commitments and the INC, and either release the group immediately or charge them with an internationally recognised offence and allow them access to a lawyer and their families.
That the arrests of the Darfuri human rights defenders occurred in two separate places and after members of the group attended a youth forum shows the NISS’, and by extension the Government of Sudan’s, unflinching resolve to suppress independent voices. The disappearances appear to have occurred in coordination, raising serious concerns that other waves of disappearances may take place. That the group simply disappeared and it was announced the following day that they had been arrested shows a lack of respect for procedural safeguards and due process designed to protect detainees.
When viewed in relation to the upcoming voter registration and referendum in the South, and the end of the interim period throughout the country, the arrests are particularly jarring and show the determination of the Sudanese government to suppress civil society during this critical time, and the extent to which the freedom of expression, and in turn, a national dialogue about the future of the country, will not be tolerated.
Other sources: Human Rights Watch