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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Sudan: Human Rights Watch Letter

Sudan: Human Rights Watch Letter
Date distributed (ymd): 970224
Document reposted by APIC

Human Rights Watch/Africa
485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104 Tel: 212/972-8400, Fax: 212/972-0905, e-mail: 1522 K Street, NW, Washington DC 20005
tel:202/371-6592, fax:202/371-0124, e-mail:

For Further Information: Jemera Rone (212) 972-8400 ext. 308 (messages), Peter Takirambudde (212) 972-8400 ext.247

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(February 19, 1997) In a letter to the Sudanese government, Human Rights Watch/Africa charges that the human rights situation in government-controlled areas has deteriorated recently, citing yet another military trial of alleged coup plotters, widespread arrests by Sudan's security agency under arbitrary and illegal security laws, and reported torture in "ghost houses." The letter follows.

February 17, 1997

TO: His Excellency Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al Bashir President of Sudan, People's Palace, PO Box 281, Khartoum, Sudan

RE: Port Sudan trials and recent arrests

Your Excellency:

We write to express our concern with the military trial, begun in February 1997, of twenty-one persons, ten of whom are civilians, including seven who were never in the military. [Some of] their names are attached to this letter.

The defendants, referred to as "the Port Sudan defendants," are being tried without right to attorney by a specially-convened but not legally qualified military tribunal. The trial is being held in secret in the headquarters of military intelligence in Khartoum, and the appeal afforded is inadequate. The procedures used in this case make a mockery of justice.

We appeal to you to remedy these defects by transferring the Port Sudan case, as well as the on-going military trial of Col. Awad al Karim Omar Ibrahim Elnagar and thirty others, to the jurisdiction of pre-existing civilian criminal courts, and to guarantee them fair trials in accordance with international standards, if you must try them at all. We also request that you open the entire proceedings to the public, including human rights monitors, and press, both national and international.

We are concerned that in 1996 your government took a step backward when it commenced the trial, in another secret military tribunal, of Col. Awad al Karim Elnagar and others, instead of trying them in a pre-existing civilian court. It is more alarming that you have continued down this path with the Port Sudan defendants' trial. Prior to 1996, most similar trials - of coup plotters - were conducted in civilian courts, with the notorious exception of the execution of twenty-eight military officers in 1990 following secret summary trial. The 1990 trial rightly garnered widespread international condemnation. We do not understand why your government is reverting to this discredited procedure of secret military tribunals. It suggests that your government may be motivated by the desire to assure greater likelihood of conviction and heavier sentences than could be guaranteed in a pre-existing civilian criminal court. Such misuse of military tribunals is internationally regarded as one of the hallmarks of an undemocratic society.

We are concerned that the composition of the field court-martial in the Port Sudan case may have preordained the outcome. We note that none of the three judges appointed to this specially-created military tribunal has a law degree or legal professional qualification: they are Republican Guard Brig. Taha Dafalla Al Zein, president; Army Trucks Administration Col. Abdel Moneim Mohamed Zein; and Col. (Eng.) Ahmed Abdel Ghaiyoum of the army's Khartoum North Military Command. The first and the third have reputations as adherents of the National Islamic Front. Although the judge advocate, Maj. Othman al Tijani Ahmed, has legal qualifications, his presence does not correct the lack of qualifications of the three above-mentioned judges. The composition of this special military court creates the appearance that the court is politically inspired and motivated, not impartial and independent as required by international law.

This trial also suffers from the defect of being conducted in secret, and not being open to the public; it is being held inside a restricted area - military intelligence headquarters inside the army's main Khartoum base - not accessible to the public. This secrecy greatly contributes to the appearance of an unfair trial, since neither the public nor the press nor human rights monitors will be able to judge the credibility of the various witnesses and defendants, nor the adequacy of procedures followed.

It is another cause for concern that the rights of the Port Sudan defendants are fewer even than the defendants' rights in the pending trial of Col. Awad Alkarim Elnagar and others. The Port Sudan defendants do not have the minimal right to have an advocate (attorney) represent them and directly address the court, as was conceded in the Col. Awad Alkarim Elnagar case. The Port Sudan defendants have been limited to having a "friend," who may or may not be an advocate, present but doing nothing official during the trial. The "friend," even if he or she is an advocate, may not act in a professional capacity, may not address the court, and may not examine or cross examine witnesses. This does not comply with international norms; it is highly unfair to make a person on trial for his life conduct his own defense.

It is also alarming that there is no adequate right to appeal under the military code, for either civilians or military personnel. For civilians, the Commander-in-Chief is to confirm the sentence. For military personnel, only the officer constituting the tribunal, who in this case is the minister of defense Maj. Gen. Hassan Abdel Rahman, confirms the judgment and sentence of the specially-constituted field court-martial. As far as we know, neither is trained in law.

Military personnel only have a right of appeal to the Commander-in-Chief if there is a death sentence; he acts on the recommendation of the Director of Military Justice Corps. In all non-death sentence cases of military personnel, the sentence may be carried out immediately following confirmation. These procedures, taken together with the other denials of fair trial, render meaningful appeal nugatory.

We object to the use of a military tribunal to adjudicate the serious crimes charged, which carry the death penalty. We have already voiced our objections to the death penalty on the grounds that it is irreversible, among other defects.

Although the minister of justice may have given his "consent" to try the civilians in a military tribunal, this consent is not consistent with minimum international legal standards for fair trial set forth above. There is no excuse for not using the pre-existing and functioning civilian courts to adjudicate civilians for violations of the criminal code, particularly where, as here, these civilian courts have jurisdiction over all the crimes charged against the civilian defendants. We understand that all Port Sudan defendants are charged with infractions of the Criminal Code of 1991, sections 50 (undermining the constitutional regime), 51 (waging war against the state), 58 (incitement to disaffection in the armed forces), and 63 (propagating the violent overthrow of the government by criminal force). However, these criminal code sections appear to be overly vague, also a violation of the right to a fair trial.

We reiterate our concern about the lack of fair trial in the Col. Awad Alkarim Elnagar case, expressed in our letters to your government of September 12 and 30, 1996. In addition, we add our voice to the growing international concern over the large numbers of detentions made by Sudan Security in the last few months. As we set forth in our report of May 1996, Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan, the security laws utilized violate basic international civil and political rights. The detainees are held without charges and without legal redress whereby they may challenge the adequacy of the evidence against them. We consider all detentions pursuant to these security laws to be arbitrary and illegal as a matter of international law, and call upon you promptly to charge (under a non-security law) or release all those so held.

We are particularly alarmed that many detainees have been and/or are being held in secret unacknowledged detention facilities known as "ghost houses," where they reportedly are tortured. We join in expressing concern about the physical well-being of Gen. Fadel Allah Burma Nasir (Ret.), Umma Party leader and former state minister; Dr. Abdel Nabi Ali Ahmed, former governor of Darfur and a university lecturer at the time of his detention; Hashim Awad Abdel Majeed, Motasim Abdel Rahim Madani, and many others. We urge that you permit them and all others in security detention to be examined immediately by their family doctors.

We are concerned that even those held in an acknowledged security facility, the western wing of Kober Prison, do not have the right to family visitation or access to their advocates. We again urge you to close down all detention facilities under the sole jurisdiction of Sudan Security.

The lack of right to defense and fair trial accorded to these security detainees is highlighted by the detention of advocates who often defend persons accused by Sudan Security. They include Mustafa Abdel Gadder and Ali Mahmoud Hassenein, both of whom, we noted in Behind the Red Line, repeatedly have been detained, harassed, and even physically abused. Other detained advocates include Hashim Awad Abdel Magid, Al Tijani Mustafa, and Ali Ahmed Al Said.

There are too many detainees to list separately: Amnesty International estimates there have been at least ninety-one in the last two months. Although some have been released, most remain detained. Those still detained include well-known politicians such as Umma Party leaders Abdelrasoul Elnoor Ismail, former governor of Kordofan; Abdel Mahoud Haj Salih, former Attorney General; Abulrahman Abdalla Nugdalla, former minister of religious affairs and endowments; and Fadl al Nur Jabir. The detained also include Democratic Unionist Party leaders Sid Ahmed al Hussein, former minister, and Mohamad Ismail al Azhari; Communist Party members Siddiq Youssif al Nur, Awad Al-Karim Mohamed Ahmed, Abdel Moneim Ahmad al-Haj, Abdel Karim Karomal, Abdel Aziz al Rufai, Mohamed Adam, and others; and members of the Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party Osman Idris Abu Ras, Mohammed Dia, Ishaq Ibrahim, and al-Tijani Hussein Daffala al-Sid, also a poet.

In light of the November 11, 1996 report by the United Nations special rapporteur on religious intolerance, it is particularly disappointing to see that members of the Ansar religious order, including Adam Yousif, secretary of organizational affairs, and Mohamed El Mahdi, imam of Ansar Mosque, were detained.

While we understand that the arrests of the Umma Party and Ansar leaders were triggered by the departure of Umma Party and Ansar leader Sadiq al Mahdi into exile in December 1996, we regard this as an inadequate basis for detaining other Umma Party and Ansar members. As a matter of international law, Sadiq al Mahdi, as other Sudanese citizens, has the right to freedom of movement. We see no legal basis for refusing or denying his right to leave Sudan. Therefore his departure alone does not justify detaining his associates nor his family members.

The number of trade unionists detained also is alarming. They include Najib Nejim al Din, former secretary general of the Doctors' Trade Union, Kamil Abdel Rahman al Sheik, Nasir Ali Nasir, Yahya Mudalal, Saudi Daraj, Taha Said Ahmed, Abdallah Malik, and others. Southerners are among those detained, as well, including Ezekiel Kodi, a former regional minister, Joshua Dau Diu, and Kwai Malak. We urge your government promptly to charge (under a non-security law) or release all security detainees.

Finally, we note that Samira Hassan Ali Karrar, a prominent human rights activist and sister of one of the twenty-eight army officers executed in 1990, was detained for several days in January 1997 in Omdurman Women's Prison and threatened with trial. Her husband was detained with her but released after several hours. She was released but then rearrested on February 5, and her sister Widaat was arrested the following day, February 6. They have apparently been released again. It appears that these detentions may have been effected to pressure the relatives' group not to publicly protest these executions, as they do yearly on or about the anniversary of the deaths. As we have done before, we object to these detentions and urge your government to respect the right of this group and others to freely speak and associate and to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of their grievances.

In all, we regret to say that we have come to the conclusion that the human rights situation in areas your government controls in Sudan has deteriorated in the last few months. We are well aware of military developments inside Sudan and of your government's accusations against neighboring countries, and theirs against you. Nevertheless, the need for military defense is no justification for any of the parties to ride roughshod over basic human rights. We hope that you will take all necessary steps to see that the problems we respectfully bring to your attention in this letter will be promptly investigated and corrected.


Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch/Africa

Jemera Rone, Counsel, Human Rights Watch

cc: Minister 'Abd al-Basit Sabdarat, Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Ministry of Justice; Minister Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PO Box 873, Khartoum; Chief Justice Obeid Haj Ali, Supreme Court; Dr. Ahmad al-Mufti, Secretary, Advisory Council for Human Rights, PO Box 302, Khartoum; Ambassador Mahdi Ibrahim Mohamed, Embassy of the Republic of the Sudan, 2210 Mass Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006; Ambassador Fatih Erwa, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Sudan to the U.N., 655 Third Ave, 5th floor, New York 10017


Military: Col. Jamal Yousif Mohamed Saleh, Lt. Col Al Abbas Ali Al Abbas, Lt. Col. Othman Abdel Rahman Hamid, Lt. Col. (Navy) Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Al Hassan, Lt. Col. Ismael Ahmed Mohamed Isawi, Lt. Col. Badr Al Din Al Haj, Lt. Col. (Engineer) Tarig Mohamed Ahmed Abu Libbda, Maj. Al Dardeery Al Haj Ahmed, Maj. Camelio Loutari, Maj. Salah Hamid Karbous, Maj. Al Bashir Hamid Beraima, Capt. Ali Ofkash Mohamed, Sgt. Maj. Issal Deen Gasmal Seed Mohamed, Sgt. Yahiya Dahiya Musa

Retired officers: Col. (Ret.) Omar Mohamed Othman Abdel Rahman, Col. (Ret.) Fadl Al Seed Abdalla, Col. (Ret.) Abdel Marouf Hussein Abdel Rahman

Civilians (never in the military):, Al Daawi Ibrahim Al Sheikh, Abdel Moneim Hassan Sharwani, Salim Borainma Salim, Diyab Ibrahim Diyab

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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