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On Wednesday 4 May 2016, Sudan will undergo a formal review by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.
During the review, representatives of the government of Sudan will present a national report of efforts made to implement human rights commitments and recommendations received during Sudan's first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2011. Representatives of UN member governments will then have the opportunity to ask questions and make recommendations to the government of Sudan. Governments ask questions and make recommendations based on many factors, including their political priorities, and the information available from their embassy in the country, reports from civil society, treaty bodies and special procedures, and UN agencies.
Repression of Sudanese civil society ahead of the UN review
In anticipation of criticism of its human rights record, on 31 March Sudan's National Information and Security Service (NISS) blocked four human rights defenders from traveling to Geneva for a pre-session, hosted by the Geneva-based NGO, UPR-Info. The pre-session is an opportunity for representatives of civil society to speak directly to UN Member State delegations in Geneva in order to share information about the human rights situation in Sudan, and suggest specific recommendations to be made during the review.
The four defenders were stopped at the airport and their passports were confiscated. Since the pre-sessions were established in 2012, this is the first time that civil society have been prevented to from participation. APC joined a civil society letter condemning the efforts of the government of Sudan to obstruct civil society engagement in the review.
Civil society in Sudan have experienced ongoing restrictions and suppression of their engagement in the UPR process. In December 2014, the NISS National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) raided the offices of The Sudanese Human Rights Monitor while local civil society and journalist associations were conducting a workshop for journalists on the UPR process and civil society engagement, seizing computer and documents.
Despite the current situation, civil society in Sudan continue to work to raise awareness about the review, and to suggest recommendations to be made at the review on 4 May.
Joining forces to push for human rights in Sudan online and offline
In September 2015, APC supported a coalition of ten Sudanese civil society organisations to prepare a report on specific human rights violations in Sudan, which was submitted for official consideration by the HRC1. The submission, which was also endorsed by APC's member Alternatives International, provides a detailed report on freedom of expression in Sudan, focusing on media freedom and violations of human rights online. Online surveillance and internet blackouts are well documented.
The submission also documents human rights violations in relation to limitations on access to information, censorship, protection of journalists, violence against women journalists, religious freedom, and freedom of association and assembly. The submission expresses concern over certain aspects of the legal framework, including a constitutional amendment, Article 151 of the consitution of Sudan, that transformed the National Intelligence and Security Service into a military force responsible for combating all political, military, economic and social dangers.
In January 2015 the editor-in-chief of the Sudanese newspaper Al-Midan, Madeeha Abdalla, was charged by NISS with crimes against the state. The charges, which include acts of criminal conspiracy and undermining the constitutional system, appear to be the result of Al-Midan's rejection of pre-publication censorship, and its coverage of banned political movements in Sudan. As of April 2016 the four cases against Abdalla continue in the courts.
Suppression of dissenting voices in Sudan has escalated in the past weeks and months. Demonstrations at local universities in Khartoum, Kordofan, Red Sea and in Darfur have led to violent clashes between government and opposition supporters, which led to the deaths of two students on 19 and 27 April. NISS directed newspapers not cover the student protests.
The upcoming review of Sudan has also sparked a new campaign by religious leaders against the ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Sudan agreed to ratify at its first review in 2011. Women and girls in Sudan experience systematic discrimination and violence. Women human rights defenders in the country experience intense abuse and repression, and the majority of the rights protected under CEDAW are violated on a daily basis.
There have also been several reports of amendments made to draft laws, including the Press and Publications Act, and Cyber Crime Law. No new drafts of these laws have been released. On Saturday 30 April, the NISS prevented the Sudanese Journalists Network from holding a symposium to discuss government plans aimed at integrating daily newspapers into a limited number of press institutions.
Leading up to the review, civil society are continuing to engage in direct advocacy to hold the government of Sudan accountable for its human rights violations.
Until 4 May, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies is hosting a Twitter campaign to raise awareness about the human rights situation in Sudan, including among UN Member states attending Sudan's review.
Recommendations, how to get involved
Below are a list of suggested questions and recommendations to the government of Sudan, submitted by a coalition of Sudanese civil society and APC. Join the #UPR25 conversation on Twitter to get informed and share.
What steps have the government of Sudan taken to ensure the safe participation of Sudanese civil society in the Universal Periodic Review?
What steps have the government of Sudan taken towards developing fair media polices and legislation, in order for the Sudanese people to exercise their right to freedom of expression?
What measures have the government taken to stop sexual harassment of female journalists and to secure safe working environment?
What steps are the government taking to protect freedom of expression, association and assembly online and offline?
Release and drop charges against all journalists and media workers arrested in the context of performing their duties.
Ensure that human rights defenders can exercise their legitimate activities, including participation in international mechanisms, without being subjected to reprisals.
Take immediate steps to ensure a climate in which all citizens are able to freely express their opinions and beliefs, without fear of reprisal or retribution.
Amend, without delay, the Press and Publications Act, to bring it in line with international standards and best practices on freedom of expression, including online expression, and allow journalists and civil society to fully participate in the process of media law reform.
End impunity for all those who threaten the safety of journalists, and ensure that all attacks are investigated by an independent body.
Sign and ratify CEDAW, and develop a mechanism to ensure the implementation of the Convention.
Watch the review online: http://www.upr-info.org/en/webcast
Recommendations received by Sudan during its first review in 2011: http://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/sudan/session_11_-_may_2011/recommendationstosudan2011.pdf
Sudan Mid-term Implementation Assessmen by UPR-Info: http://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/sudan/session_11_-_may_2011/mia-sudan.pdf
Stakeholder submission from APC and partners to Sudan's UPR https://www.apc.org/en/node/21165
Sudanese government national report to the UPR:
Advanced questions posed to Sudan before the official review: http://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/session_25_-_may_2016/advance_questions_sudan.pdf
Sudan: Silencing Women Rights Defenders: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/23/sudan-silencing-women-rights-defenders
Follow @AfricanCentre, @UPRInfo and @fidh_un