Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government, installed in August 2019, is led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who heads the Council of Ministers. There is also a Sovereign Council led by Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, who is one of the five military members, as well as six civilians. The Transitional Legislative Council had not been formed as of year’s end. Under the constitutional declaration signed in August 2019, general elections were scheduled for 2022, but following the signing of the Juba Peace Agreement on October 3, they were postponed to 2024.
Under the civilian-led transitional government, responsibility for internal security resides with the Ministry of Interior, which oversees police agencies as well as the Ministry of Defense and the General Intelligence Service. Ministry of Interior police agencies include the security police, special forces police, traffic police, and the combat-trained Central Reserve Police. There is a police presence throughout the country. The General Intelligence Service’s mandate changed from protecting national security and during the year was limited to gathering, analyzing, and submitting information to other security services. The Ministry of Defense has a mandate to oversee all elements of the Sudanese Armed Forces, including the Rapid Support Forces, Border Guards, and defense and military intelligence units. During the year the police infrastructure was largely moved under executive authority to assure it would adhere to its mandate to protect individuals and enforce the laws. Civilian authorities’ control of security forces continued to improve. Nevertheless, members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Throughout the year the civilian-led transitional government continued its legal reform process. This included repealing the public order act and amending the criminal acts to outlaw female genital mutilation, remove capital punishment for conviction of sodomy, and increase freedoms for religious minorities, including repealing apostasy laws. The civilian-led transitional government and various armed rebel groups continued peace negotiations and signed a peace agreement on October 3 that sought to end decades of internal conflict.
Significant human rights abuses included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and cases of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by reportedly rogue elements of the security apparatus, especially in conflict zones; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious problems with politicization of the judiciary by holdovers from the previous regime, prompting mass dismissals by the civilian-led transitional government; serious abuses in internal conflicts, including killings, abductions, torture and use of child soldiers by rebel groups; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; criminalization of consensual same-sex conduct; and child labor.
The civilian-led transitional government continued its investigation into security force abuses that occurred throughout the 2019 revolution, including the violent dispersal of a peaceful sit-in in June 2019 in Khartoum, and the beating and sexual assault of others. As of year’s end, the investigative committee had not publicly submitted its findings. The Ministry of Justice also began investigations and trials for members of the deposed regime for alleged human rights abuses. The prime minister stated more than 35 committees were actively conducting investigations.
In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued sporadically to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports militias looted, raped, and killed civilians. Intercommunal violence originating from land-tenure disputes and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. There were also human rights abuses reported in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from local conflict over cattle and land between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya indigenous groups. Reports were difficult to verify due to access challenges. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were the main causes of insecurity.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the unrestricted right of freedom of expression and for freedom of the press as regulated by law, and the CLTG reportedly respected these rights.
Freedom of Speech: There were few reports of reprisals against individuals who criticized the government, with the primary exception of criticism of the security services. On July 18, the SAF stated they had appointed a special commissioner to file lawsuits against individuals who insult the army, including activists and journalists; however, no such cases were filed during the year. According to Human Rights Watch, there were also reports of intimidation of journalists and activists who criticized the security services.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The CLTG generally respected press and media freedoms and issued a number of media licenses, although media continued to be dominated by former regime loyalists.
Violence and Harassment: Unlike under the prior regime, there were no reports of the CLTG using violence and harassment against journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of government censorship or print confiscations. Many journalists, however, practiced self-censorship in reporting on corruption (see section 4).
Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief potentially criminally liable for slander for all content published or broadcast.
National Security: In contrast with previous years, there were no reports of authorities using national security as a justification to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of the government.
Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Media: The 2019 constitutional declaration provides for freedom of expression, including for media, and the CLTG took measures to respect these rights. The CLTG allowed foreign journalists, including those previously banned by the Bashir regime.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Unlike in the previous regime, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom, but in one case a cultural event was restricted. The CLTG started drafting a curriculum for public schools that would respect diversity and freedom of religion or belief. The CLTG appointed university leadership after dismissing those appointed by the Bashir regime. All major universities returned to operation after the 2019 revolution.
On August 10, a total of 11 artists were arrested and charged with endangering public safety and creating public disturbance, reportedly after neighbors complained of excessive noise during a rehearsal of a theater piece. The artists were tried and on September 18 and September 24 convicted and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a fine. In October the court of appeal annulled the sentences, and the 11 artists were released.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The government generally respected the right of peaceful assembly; however, it restricted the freedom of association of civil society and NGOs.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government in most cases respected those rights. Peaceful protests were generally allowed to occur. For example, on June 30 and October 21, protesters conducted demonstrations. Demonstrations were largely peaceful; police used nonviolent measures to maintain order. But in August media reported police forcibly dispersed protesters with tear gas.
Freedom of Association
Although the 2019 constitutional declaration provides for the right of freedom of association, the existing law still included many restrictions on civil society organizations and NGOs.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for the freedom of movement, foreign travel, and emigration, and although the government largely respected these rights, restrictions on travel to conflict areas remained.
In-country Movement: Armed opposition groups still reportedly restricted the movement of citizens in conflict areas (see section 1.g.).
Internal movement was generally unhindered for citizens outside conflict areas. Foreigners needed travel permits for domestic travel outside Khartoum, which were bureaucratically difficult to obtain. Foreigners were required to register with the Ministry of Interior’s Alien Control Division within three days of arrival and were limited to a 15.5-mile radius from Khartoum. Once registered, foreigners were allowed to move beyond this radius, but travel to conflict regions required official approval. The CLTG eased some of these requirements, especially for travel to tourist sites.
Foreign Travel: The Miscellaneous Amendments Act abolished the requirement for an exit visa thus allowing Sudanese citizens to depart the country without prior permission.
Exile: Many activists returned to the country from self-exile after the CLTG took power. For example, after the removal of President Bashir in 2019, the former Transitional Military Council forcibly deported leaders of armed movements to South Sudan; in July some of these leaders returned to participate in peace discussions in Khartoum. Several prominent opposition members also returned to the country to participate in the formation of the new government. Some members of the armed movements remained in exile, however, and some expressed concern regarding their civic and political rights should they return to Sudan.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Large-scale displacement continued to be a severe problem in Darfur and the Two Areas.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the vast majority of the displacement during the year was triggered by intercommunal and other armed conflict. Reports of IDPs attempting to return to or access their farmlands in Darfur increased. Many IDPs faced chronic food shortages and inadequate medical care. Significant numbers of farmers were prevented from planting their fields due to insecurity, leading to near-famine conditions in parts of South Kordofan. Information regarding the number of IDPs in these areas remained difficult to verify. Armed groups estimated the areas contained 545,000 IDPs and severely affected persons, while the government estimated the number as closer to 200,000. UN agencies could not provide estimates, citing lack of access. Children accounted for approximately 60 percent of persons displaced in camps.
Some UN agencies were able to work with the Darfur governor’s advisers on women and children to raise awareness of gender-based violence and response efforts.
There were reports of abuse committed by government security forces, and armed opposition groups against IDPs in Darfur, including rapes and beatings (see section 1.g.).
Outside IDP camps and towns, insecurity restricted freedom of movement; women and girls who left the towns and camps risked sexual violence. Insecurity within IDP camps also was a problem. The government provided little assistance or protection to IDPs in Darfur. Most IDP camps had no functioning police force. International observers noted criminal gangs aligned with armed opposition groups operated openly in several IDP camps.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations regarding treatment of IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons.
UNHCR reported more than one million refugees and asylum seekers in the country, the majority of whom were South Sudanese. Some South Sudanese and Syrian refugee and asylum-seeker populations did not present themselves to the government’s Commission on Refugees (COR) or to UNHCR for registration. UNHCR reported there were many South Sudanese in the country who were unregistered and at risk of statelessness.
As of mid-December, UNHCR had registered 49,370 refugees and asylum seekers from the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The refugees had crossed the country’s eastern border and remained in temporary camps located in Kassala and Gedaref at year’s end.
Approximately 3,000 refugees from Chad and 14,000 from the Central African Republic remained in Darfur. Eritrean refugees entering eastern Sudan often stayed in camps for two to three months before moving to Khartoum, other parts of the country, or on to Libya in an effort to reach Europe.
UNHCR estimated that 859,000 South Sudanese refugees remained in the country. The government claimed there were between two and three million South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. It remained unclear how the government was categorizing who was South Sudanese and who was Sudanese. Many South Sudanese refugees resided in remote areas with minimal public infrastructure and where humanitarian organizations and resources had limited capabilities.
UNHCR Khartoum registered an estimated 284,000 South Sudanese refugees, including 60,000 refugees who lived in nine settlements known as “open areas” around Khartoum State. South Sudanese refugees in the open areas made up approximately 20 percent of the overall South Sudanese refugee population and were considered among the most vulnerable refugee communities. Sudan’s and South Sudan’s “four freedoms” agreement provides their citizens reciprocal freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership, but it was not fully implemented. Implementation varied by state, as well as refugees’ relations with local host communities. For example, South Sudanese in East Darfur had more flexibility to move around (so long as they were far away from the nearest village) than did those in White Nile State.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Asylum seekers and refugees were vulnerable to arbitrary arrest and harassment outside of camps because they did not possess identification cards while awaiting government determination of refugee or asylum status. According to authorities, registration of refugees helped provide for their personal security.
There were some reported abuses, including gender-based violence and exploitation, in COR-managed refugee camps. The CLTG worked with UNHCR to provide greater protection to refugees and stateless persons.
Refugees often relied on smuggling networks to leave camps. Smugglers turned kidnappers routinely abused refugees if ransoms were not paid. Fear of violence prompted some of the South Sudanese refugee population in Khartoum and White Nile to return to South Sudan. South Sudanese refugee returnees faced arrest, extortion, and theft along the route through Sudan to South Sudan.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
Refoulement: The country generally respected the principle of nonrefoulement. With UNHCR’s assistance, authorities were trained on referral procedures to prevent refoulement, including of refugees who previously registered in other countries. During the year there were no reported cases of refoulement; however, individuals who were deported as illegal migrants may have had legitimate claims to asylum or refugee status.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law nominally requires asylum applications to be submitted within 30 days of arrival in the country. This time stipulation was not strictly enforced. The law also requires asylum seekers to register both as refugees with the COR and as foreigners with the Civil Registry (to obtain a “foreign” number).
The government granted asylum to asylum seekers primarily from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Syria; it sometimes considered individuals registered as asylum seekers or refugees in another country, mostly in Ethiopia, to be illegal migrants. Government officials routinely took up to three months to approve individual refugee and asylum status, and in some cases took significantly longer, but they worked with UNHCR to implement quicker status determination procedures in eastern Sudan and Darfur to reduce the case backlog.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, more than 93,000 Syrians registered with UNHCR in Sudan. Government sources, however, claimed there were far more Syrians in the country than were registered with UNHCR and the COR. More than 1,600 Yemeni refugees had registered in the country.
Freedom of Movement: The country maintained a reservation on Article 26 of the UN Convention on Refugees of 1951 regarding refugees’ right to move freely and choose their place of residence within a country. The government’s encampment policy requires asylum seekers and refugees to stay in designated camps; however, 76 percent of South Sudanese refugees (the great majority of refugees in the country) lived with local communities in urban and rural areas. The government continued to push for the relocation of South Sudanese refugees living outside Khartoum city to the White Nile state refugee camps. UNHCR notified the government relocations must be voluntary and dignified. By year’s end the CLTG had yet to relocate most South Sudanese and Ethiopians refugees to camps. The government previously allowed the establishment of two refugee camps in East Darfur and nine refugee camps in White Nile for South Sudanese refugees.
Refugees who left camps without permission and were intercepted by authorities faced administrative fines and return to the camp. Refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas were also subject to arrest and detention. UNHCR worked with legal partners to visit immigration detention centers and to provide persons of concern with legal assistance, such as release from detention centers and help navigating court procedures. On average, 150 to 200 refugees and asylum seekers were detained in Khartoum each month and assisted with legal aid by the joint UNHCR and COR legal team.
Employment: The government in principle allowed refugees to work informally but rarely granted work permits (even to refugees who obtained degrees in the country). A UNHCR agreement with COR to issue more than 1,000 work permits to selected refugees for a livelihood graduation program was being implemented in Kassala and Gedaref. To get a work permit, the CLTG required refugees to apply for a “foreigner number,” but most refugees did not have one, which is why the number of issued work permits remained low. Some refugees throughout the country found informal or seasonal work as agricultural workers or laborers in towns. Some women in camps reportedly resorted to illegal alcohol production and were harassed or arrested by police. In urban centers the majority of refugees worked in the informal sector (for example, as tea sellers, house cleaners, and drivers), leaving them at heightened risk of arrest, exploitation, and abuse.
g. Stateless Persons
Many South Sudanese refugees in the country not registered with the South Sudanese government risked statelessness.