Human Rights Abuses Abound in Sudan

With the world’s attention focused on the creation of the new country of South Sudan, the Khartoum government’s continued oppression of the Sudanese has flown under the radar. South Sudan’s independence does nothing to stem Khartoum’s human rights violations against its own people. As a wave of regime change sweeps Africa and the Middle East, continued support and pressure – both domestic and international – needs to remain on authoritarian leaders like Sudan President Omar al-Bashir. They need to help stop the ethnic cleansing that has been endemic to his 22 year tenure and help bring about additional needed reforms.

In 2009, Sudan’s gender policy came into focus when the government arrested journalist, and former United Nations employee, Lubna Hussein and her associates for wearing pants at an outdoor café in Khartoum and charged them with violating decency laws. The punishments varied for the 12 women, as some pleaded guilty and were subjected to 10 lashes immediately, while others, like Hussein, fought the case. While Hussein was not flogged, she did go to jail for refusing to pay the fine.

More recently, Sudan’s security forces were accused of rape. Two journalists were sentenced to jail time for covering the story. This has prompted the UN to publicly denounce the arrests and draw attention to the silence that often surrounds acts of sexual violence. Not only does this highlight the disregard for women’s rights in the country, it is also contrary to the national constitution that proclaims a free press.

The press, however, has routinely come under attack for exercising their right to free speech, especially when newspapers are critical of the regime. Opposition newspapers are being confiscated and the government is placing restrictions on who can and cannot be hired by newspapers, in an effort to ensure that journalists who are critical of the government are sidelined.

The government has also been violently oppressing the Sudanese people. This is once again being played out in South Kordofan, where it has resulted in at least 200,000 displaced persons. The fighting, which began in June, has escalated and drawn international attention. The conflict is rooted along ethnic and political lines. The state, which borders on South Sudan, is home to South Sudan loyalists, who supported the SPLM (South Sudan’s ruling party) during the civil war. Their current political party SPLM-N is considered illegal as it is seen as an extension of a foreign political entity. The current fighting, which erupted when the government attempted to forcibly disarm the SPLM-N loyalists, has since spread to what some have described as ethnic cleansing of the Nuba people. The UN is investigating the conflict for war crimes and crimes against humanity; meanwhile mass graves continue to be unearthed. Al-Bashir has just signed a two-week ceasefire to assess the situation.

South Sudan may have gained its independence, but the situation in northern Sudan is far from peaceful. The continued oppression of the people and violation of rights needs to remain in the public eye. Without continued oversight and international pressure, crimes are going to escalate and rights are going to continue to erode.

Photo Credit: UN Multimedia

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Kathleen O'Neill

Kathleen O'Neill is interested in migration and refugee issues as well as international politics, with a particular interest in the Middle East. She has a double BA in economics and international studies with a concentration in Middle East studies from Washington College in Maryland. She has an MA in Middle East studies and a graduate diploma in migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Kathleen has co-authored two short articles published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and London Middle East Institute at SOAS. She has lived in the MENA region for more than seven years.

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