January 09, 2017

Sudanese Lawyers Seek Redress for Human Rights Violations

“We stayed [in detention] for one month with the security forces and the torture lasted for long periods of time. The person who was assigned to me gave me 150 lashes a day for an entire month. I was handicapped, always requiring a cane. My legs were always tied with a chain throughout the period of capture … I would rather have died than surrender and compromise my brethren, my reputation and my struggles.”

These were the words one man used to describe the inhumane conditions he endured while being detained incommunicado by security forces in Sudan in 2011. Mr. Mohammed* and six other men were arrested by the military intelligence unit of the Sudan Armed Forces and detained on allegations of committing criminal acts against the State. While in custody, the detainees were subjected to daily beatings, sleep deprivation and psychological abuse. Several months later, the prisoners were handed over to the prosecuting attorney of Crimes Against the State and a criminal case was instituted against them.

Throughout the trial, the prisoners were repeatedly denied the opportunity to properly present their defense; they were routinely prevented from meeting with their attorneys in private, and refused the right to make a full statement in their own defense or have the testimonies of their defense witnesses heard. After several months of deeply flawed judicial proceedings that fell short of the due process standards required by international law, the seven men were sentenced to death. Although the defense successfully won a temporary stay of the prisoners’ executions, the fates of these seven men currently lie in the hands of a Constitutional Court that is not fully independent from the ruling political party. There is no other domestic legal measure that can prevent their execution.

In the absence of a means to seek redress for these human rights violations at the national level, one local independent bar association stepped up to advocate for these men and make an appeal to a regional body for human rights protection on their behalf. In 2012, the Darfur Bar Association (DBA) sought the assistance of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) to provide them with the training and advocacy skills they would need to effectively challenge the actions of the Sudanese government at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission). The DBA, with technical support from ABA ROLI, filed a formal communication with the African Commission on behalf of the seven imprisoned men, citing violations of eight articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a regional human rights instrument to which the Republic of Sudan is a party. The African Commission accepted the communication in June 2014, and deemed it admissible in July 2016. Using skills gained from advanced training workshops on effective engagement and public advocacy, the DBA also conducted parallel advocacy at the Nongovernmental Organization Forum that precedes the African Commission to garner support for its case and raise the profile of the human rights situation in Sudan.

ABA ROLI has supported independent bar associations in Sudan, such as the DBA, since 2012. Through training and technical support, ABA ROLI works to strengthen the capacity of Sudanese advocates to effectively engage with the African Commission, as a regional extension of their national legal efforts to defend individuals’ human rights. ABA ROLI’s work with Sudanese bar associations is currently supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.

To learn more about our work in Sudan, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org