While the world is preoccupied with the Arab Spring turned Autumn turned Winter, Sudan continues to be a cesspool of human rights violations. For example, the trial of Nubian activist Jalila Khamis, 45-year-old mother of 5, teacher and Nubian woman human rights defender, who may face a death sentance. Jalila was detained on March 14, 2012, subjected to abuse and held in solitary confinement for over 2 months. She faces charges which include undermining the constitutional system, waging war against the state, espionage, publication of false news, and inciting feelings of unrest. The first three charges are punishable by death.
Earlier this month, Osman Naway, director of Arry Organization for Human Rights joined a Sudanese delegation of human rights defenders at the UN Human Rights Council's (HRC) 21st session in Geneva to bring international attention to the violations in Sudan. Years ago, Osman took refuge from persecution by the Sudanese authorities in the United States, leaving his family behind. Following his participation at the UN HRC, the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) pursued his two brothers, who were still in Sudan, for investigations. Osman's brothers, Bakry Naway and Alzaky Naway, are student activists focusing on issues affecting the Nuba Mountain region in Sudan. Bakry and Alzaky are now in hiding, while NISS forces continue to search for them.
The border states between Sudan and South Sudan also continue to be of concern. In addition to continued armed clashes, unresolved issues of border demarcation and cross-border trade following the independence of the South last year are exacerbating the already severe humanitarian situation in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the region of Abyei. The government of Sudan has denied international NGOs access to the areas affected by the armed border conflict, which severely limits possibilities for monitoring the situation of human rights in these regions.
Refugees from the southern border states arriving in South Sudan continue to report aerial bombings of villages. Cluster bombs have reportedly been found in civilian areas bombarded by government forces. Recently, when tensions between the two Sudans intensified in April in the oil-rich area of Higlig, some 4,000 civilians in the area were forced to flee to refugee camps in South Sudan, adding to the approximately 665,000 people have been either internally displaced or severely affected by the ongoing conflict affecting these two states.
Continued violence has prevented farmers from cultivating their crops for a second season. The resulting food shortage has been exacerbated by new laws prohibiting trade in the border areas, in effect creating a food embargo imposed by the Sudanese government on South Kordofan, especially in areas controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). Restrictions on aid agencies prevent them from providing humanitarian relief to thousands of people trapped in the border regions. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese in the borders states face severe levels of food shortages.
Violence in Darfur similarly continues. In early August 2012, a militia attacked the Kassab camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), looting homes and markets and randomly killing civilians. Twenty-five thousand people, the entire population of the camp, were forced to flee and struggle to survive without shelter. There aren't any serious investigations into the incident, nor any viable plans to protect IDPs from reoccurring crimes. The actual number of casualties among the IDPs remains unknown. It is clear that the Darfur region remains unstable and rife with tribal and ethnic polarization following a decade of conflict.
Sudan joins crack down on Arab Spring
The Sudanese government joined its northern neighbors in cracking down on peaceful demonstrations in cities across the country, including in the capital city of Khartoum. Ten months ago, in late December 2011, Khartoum University students protested in the capital in support of the Manasir people, whose homes and livelihoods had been destroyed by a government project to construct a dam. Police responded to these protests by raiding the student dorms at night, beating and arresting 70 students.
In June 2012, increasing discontent among Sudanese students and the ending of government subsidies on food and fuel grew into waves of popular demonstrations calling for regime change and greater freedoms. The Sudanese authorities responded by arresting students and youth leaders, human rights defenders, civil society, political activists, and opposition leaders. An estimated 1,500 protestors were arrested and subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment while being held by the NISS. In an attempt to suppress demonstrations, the Sudanese police and security forces frequently target female protestors with sexual and verbal abuse. Over 100 female demonstrators have been detained; among them are 14 women human rights defenders who were held for two months.
Sudanese police have used clubs, rubber bullets and tear gas fired at close range, and in some cases live ammunition used against protestors. Recently, excessive use of force led to the death of 10 people, many of them high school students, when police used live ammunition on demonstrators in Nyala in Southern Darfur. Police also shot heavy machine guns into the air, leading to the injury of several civilians in their homes. No one has been held accountable for the incident.
Freedom of expression has not gone unscathed either. While there has been a clear policy of censorship for years, this year the NISS started confiscating newspapers after they had been printed in order to incur greater financial losses on the papers and impose a culture of self-censorship. On January 2, Rai Alshab, a Sudanese opposition paper affiliated with the Popular Congress Party, was closed by NISS, just months after it had begun publishing again following a previous raid. Similarly, on January 13, Alwan daily newspaper was closed under the pretext that it represented a threat to national security.
Journalists and internet activists, including social media users and bloggers, have also been detained, tortured, and harassed, including Faisal Mohamad Salih, a journalist and human rights defender who was held for several hours every day for eleven consecutive days. At least 18 other writers and journalists have been prohibited from publishing, and in general papers are banned from discussing sensitive subjects such as the president and the armed movements against the government.
It is time for Sudan to come back into focus again. The unrelenting conflict that has taken the lives hundreds of thousands of people should not be forgotten.