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Sudan: Human Rights Watch Letter
Sudan: Human Rights Watch Letter
Date distributed (ymd): 970224
Document reposted by APIC
Human Rights Watch/Africa
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SUDAN'S SECRET MILITARY TRIALS AND ILLEGAL ARRESTS SHOW HUMAN
(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
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
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
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
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,
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
LIST OF SOME PORT SUDAN DEFENDANTS, February 1997
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
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