The American Bar Association honored Sudanese lawyer Abdelrahman Al Gasim with its 2018 ABA International Human Rights Award in recognition of his long record of representing and expanding access to justice for victims of rights violations in Sudan. The award was presented during the Distinguished Guest Award Dinner with the Section of International Law and the Board of Governors Program at the ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago on August 2, 2018.
The International Human Rights Award was established to honor and give public recognition to a lawyer, human rights luminary or international human rights organization that has made an exceptional contribution to the advancement of human rights outside of the United States. The award is given on behalf of the ABA Center for Human Rights, Section of International Law, Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice, Section of Litigation, and Rule of Law Initiative.
Al Gasim, who is now living as a refugee in Uganda, played a pivotal role in co-founding the Darfur Bar Association (DBA), an institution that has lead the way in protecting human rights and civil liberties in Sudan. Al Gasim conducts trainings on regional human rights legal systems and has grown the DBA into an internationally recognized organization. He has facilitated the DBA’s participation at the Human Rights Council and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
Al Gasim has taken many risks as a human rights advocate. In September of 2010, he advocated for the extension of the United Nations mandate of the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Sudan at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Because of his advocacy, Al Gasim was arrested upon his return to Sudan and detained without due process. He was tortured for information and for his connections with human rights organizations, eventually being charged with “offenses against the state,” including but not limited to, the propagation of false news, criminal conspiracy, undermining the constitutional system and espionage. Charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence.
Once the charges against Al Gasim were dropped, he fled to Uganda to live as a refugee due to the governmental harassment he faced after his arrest. While in exile, he regularly participates in the Ordinary Sessions of the ACHPR, where he speaks about human rights violations in Sudan.
“We honor Abdelrahman Al Gasim’s steadfast commitment to the protection of human rights and civil liberties for victims of rights violations in Sudan,” said ABA President Hilarie Bass. “His achievements are particularly extraordinary given the tremendous obstacles, intimidation and threats that he has faced.”
Al Gasim recently submitted a resolution on the human rights situation in Sudan during an ACHPR Ordinary Session. This resolution calls upon the government to cease all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states to ensure all persons held in custody are granted a fair trial, and all forms of harassment against civil society and human rights defenders are stopped. The resolution also calls on ACHPR to urge the government to comply with its human rights obligations under the African Charter and international human rights treaties.
Since 2011, Al Gasim has played a crucial role in the partnership between DBA and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). With Al Gasim’s facilitation, this long-term partnership led to the DBA filing a formal communication with the ACHPR in May of 2014, concerning the case of seven people sentenced to death that fell short of due process standards required by international law. The ACHPR then agreed to review the case and instructed the government of Sudan to not execute the prisoners until the final decision had been made.
Al Gasim has influenced many Sudanese lawyers, particularly those in marginalized areas, and his work has both directly and indirectly led to dozens of rights abuse cases being heard at domestic, regional and international levels.