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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
During the year the use of lethal excessive force against civilians and demonstrators significantly decreased. There were reports of lethal excessive force against protesters in Darfur, and killings by armed militias (see section 1.g.).
In July trial sessions began against the nine Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers accused of killing six protesters in El-Obeid in July 2019.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The 2019 constitutional declaration prohibits such practices of torture or inhuman treatment of punishment, and reports of such behavior largely ceased under the civilian-led transitional government (CLTG).
On December 16, the RSF detained Bahaa el-Din Nouri in Khartoum. His body was found in a morgue five days later showing signs of torture while in custody. The case was referred to the prosecutor’s office and remained pending at year’s end.
The UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reported government forces committed sexual violence in a few instances, although most abuses were committed by militias (see section 1.g.).
Although impunity was less of a problem than in previous years, some problems with impunity in the security forces remained. The CLTG took strong steps towards reckoning with the crimes perpetrated by the Bashir regime, including opening up investigations into past abuses and working to address legal immunities that would otherwise bar prosecutions for serious crimes.
Prison conditions throughout the country remained harsh and life threatening; overcrowding was a major problem, as was inadequate health care.
Physical Conditions: The nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Prison Brief estimated, based on 2009 and 2017 data, that the country’s prisons held approximately 21,000 prisoners in facilities designed for 7,500 prisoners. More recent data were not available, but overcrowding remained a serious problem. The Prisons and Reform Directorate, a branch of the national police that reports to the Ministry of Interior, oversees prisons. The Ministry of Interior generally did not release information on physical conditions in prisons. Data on the numbers of juvenile and female prisoners were unavailable.
Authorities generally provided food, water, and sanitation, although the quality of all three was basic. Prison health care, heating, ventilation, and lighting were often inadequate but varied from facility to facility. Some prisoners did not have access to medications or physical examinations. Family members or friends provided food and other items to inmates. Most prisoners did not have beds. Former detainees reported needing to purchase foam mattresses. These problems persisted throughout the year.
Overall conditions, including food and sanitation, were reportedly better in women’s detention facilities and prisons, such as the Federal Prison for Women in Omdurman, than at equivalent facilities for men, such as the main prison in Khartoum or the Kober or Omdurman Prisons. In Khartoum juveniles were not held in adult prisons or jails, but they were reportedly held with adults at other prisons.
Administration: The police inspector general, the minister of justice, and the judiciary are authorized to inspect prisons. Police allowed some visitors, including lawyers and family members, while prisoners were in custody and during judicial hearings Islamic and Christian clergy were allowed to hold services in prisons following the CLTG’s coming to power. Access varied across prisons. In Omdurman Women’s Prison, church services were held six times a week, but information on the regularity of services was not obtained. Sunni imams were granted access to facilitate Friday prayers.
Independent Monitoring: During the year the CLTG lifted restrictions on independent monitoring, but the International Committee of the Red Cross was still generally denied access to prisons, with the exception of installing water points and distributing hygiene products during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministry of Interior granted UNAMID access to government prisons in Darfur to monitor, mentor, and advise prison officials.
The 2019 constitutional declaration prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. In contrast to the previous regime, during the year the CLTG generally observed these requirements. The period of arrest without a warrant is 24 hours.
Under the law, warrants are not required for an arrest. The law permits police to detain individuals for 24 hours for the purpose of inquiry. A magistrate may renew detention without charge for up to two weeks during an investigation. A superior magistrate may renew detentions for up to six months for a person who is charged. The General Intelligence Service is not allowed to detain individuals.
The law provides for an individual to be informed in detail of charges at the time of arrest, with interpretation as needed, and for judicial determination without undue delay.
The law allows for bail, except for those accused of crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment if convicted. There was a functioning bail system; however, persons released on bail often waited indefinitely for action on their cases.
Suspects in common criminal cases, such as theft were compelled to confess guilt while in police custody through physical abuse and police intimidation of family members.
By law any person may request legal assistance and must be informed of the right to counsel in cases potentially involving the death penalty, imprisonment lasting longer than 10 years, or amputation if convicted. Accused persons may also request assistance through the legal aid department at the Ministry of Justice or the Sudanese Bar Association. The government was not always able to provide legal assistance, and legal aid organizations and lawyers partially filled the gap.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest largely ended under the CLTG.
In August several artists were arrested while rehearsing a prodemocracy theater piece (see section 2.a., Academic and Cultural Events).
Pretrial Detention: The law states that pretrial detention may not exceed six months. Lengthy pretrial detention was common. Using 2013 data, World Prison Brief estimated 20 percent of prisoners were in pretrial detention. The large number of detainees and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.
The constitutional declaration and relevant laws provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The CLTG dismissed numerous judges throughout the country who were considered incompetent or corrupt or who had strong ties to the former regime or the country’s intelligence apparatus. There were no known reports of denials of fair trials, but this lack of reports may be partially due to the closure of the majority of courts between February and July due to strikes and COVID-19 restrictions.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial as well as a presumption of innocence; however, this provision was rarely respected. Trials are open to the public at the discretion of the judge. In cases of national security and offenses against the state, trials are usually closed. The law stipulates the government is obligated to provide a lawyer for citizens in cases in which punishment if convicted might exceed 10 years’ imprisonment or include execution or amputation.
By law criminal defendants must be informed promptly of the charges against them at the time of their arrest and charged in detail and with interpretation as needed.
Defendants generally have the right to present evidence and witnesses, be present in court, confront accusers, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Throughout the year some defendants reportedly did not receive legal counsel, and counsel in some cases could only advise the defendant and not address the court. Persons in remote areas and in areas of conflict generally did not have access to legal counsel. The government sometimes did not allow defense witnesses to testify.
Defendants have the right to appeal, except in military trials. Defendants were sometimes permitted time and facilities to prepare their defense.
Unlike under the prior regime, there were no reports of lawyers being arrested or harassed by the CLTG.
Military trials, which sometimes were secret and brief, lacked procedural safeguards. The law subjects to military trials any civilians in Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF)-controlled areas believed to be armed opposition or members of a paramilitary group.
Three-person security courts deal with violations of constitutional decrees, emergency regulations, and some sections of the penal code, including drug and currency offenses. Special courts primarily composed of civilian judges handled most security-related cases.
Due to long distances between court facilities and police stations in conflict areas, local mediation was often the first resort to try to resolve disputes. In some instances tribal courts operating outside the official legal system decided cases. Such courts did not provide the same protections as regular courts.
Sharia continued to influence the law.
On September 3, Prime Minister Hamdok and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hilu, signed a declaration of principles agreement to begin peace talks on the basis that separation of religion and state would be protected in the constitution to be developed during the transitional period, a key demand of the SPLM-N.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Unlike under the Bashir regime, there were no reported cases of such practices.
Although persons seeking damages for human rights abuses had access to domestic and international courts, there were problems enforcing domestic and international court orders. According to the law, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies. Some individuals, however, reported they feared reprisal if they did appeal.
The law prohibits such actions, and this type of activity appeared to have ceased, or been dramatically reduced, under the CLTG.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
On October 3, leaders of the CLTG and a number of armed opposition groups signed a peace agreement in the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Observers expressed hope it would end nearly two decades of conflict in the country’s war-torn regions of Darfur and the Two Areas.
Killings: Military personnel, paramilitary forces, and tribal groups committed killings in Darfur and the Two Areas. Most reports were difficult to verify due to continued prohibited access to conflict areas, particularly Jebel Marra in Central Darfur and SPLM-N-controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. Humanitarian access to Jebel Marra remained stable compared with past years.
Nomadic militias also attacked civilians in conflict areas. Under the CLTG, renewed intercommunal violence occurred mainly in Darfur, South Kordofan, and East Sudan. These resulted in the deaths of several civilians. For example, on July 25, the UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS) reported that armed Arab nomads killed at least 65 civilians including two police officers at Mesteri town, West Darfur. The UNDSS asserted that the perpetrators also burned houses, looted shops, and broke into a SAF armory in the town.
On August 6, in South Kordofan, reliable sources and Sudanese media reported at least a dozen persons were killed and several others injured in fighting between armed Arab nomads and Nuban farmers at Khor al-Waral area. The sources asserted that the Sudan Revolutionary Front and the SPLM-N faction led by General Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hilu’s units were both involved in the fighting. The CLTG announced formation of an investigation committee to probe the incident. Its report was pending completion as of October.
On January 2 and 4, the government announced that 15 persons were killed, and 127 others injured in the renewed intercommunal fighting between Beni Amir and Nuba tribesmen at Port Sudan, capital of Red Sea State. The governor of Red Sea State imposed a curfew in Port Sudan and deployed additional SAF units to deter and contain the situation. On August 22, the governor of Red Sea State blamed the Bashir regime for inciting the fighting between Beni Amir and Nuba tribesmen. The CLTG initiated a separate truce and peace reconciliation process between the Beni Amir and Nuba tribes in the eastern part of the country and between Arab nomads and Nuba tribes around Kadugli. Truces temporarily quelled the violence and paved way for the reconciliation process to continue among various ethnic groups and communities throughout the country.
The general political and security situation of Abyei, the long-standing oil-rich disputed territory between Sudan and South Sudan, continued to remain fragile, and was marked by instances of violence between Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities. For instance, on January 20 and 26, the Ngok Dinka native administration in Abyei announced that 33 civilians were killed, 20 others injured, and 16 children abducted in two attacks by armed Messiriya nomads of Kolom area inside Abyei. Faisal Mohamed Saleh, the minister of information and CLTG spokesperson, condemned the deadly attacks, urged UN Interim Special Force for Abyei to protect civilians, and called upon the Messiriya and Ngok Dinka communities to coexist peacefully.
Abductions: There were numerous reports of abductions by armed opposition and tribal groups in Darfur. International organizations were largely unable to verify reports of disappearances.
There were also numerous criminal incidents involving kidnapping for ransom.
UNAMID reported that abduction remained a lucrative method adopted by various tribes in Darfur to coerce the payment of diya (“blood money” ransom) claimed from other communities.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: There were continued reports that government security forces, progovernment and antigovernment militias, and other armed persons raped women and children. Armed opposition groups in Darfur and the Two Areas reportedly detained persons in isolated locations in prison-like detention centers.
The extent to which armed opposition groups committed human rights abuses could not be accurately assessed, due to limited access to conflict areas. The state of detention facilities administered by the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid and SPLM-N in their respective armed opposition-controlled areas could not be assessed due to lack of access.
Under the CLTG, human rights groups reported armed individuals committed rape and arbitrarily killed civilians in the five Darfur states and government-controlled areas of the Blue Nile. While some wore government uniforms, including those affiliated with the RSF, it was not clear whether the individuals were actual official government security forces or militia.
Unexploded ordnance killed and injured civilians in the conflict zones.
Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children and provides criminal penalties for perpetrators.
Allegations persisted that armed opposition movements conscripted and retained child soldiers within their ranks. Both SPLM-N al-Hilu and SPLM-N Malak Agar reportedly continued to conscript child soldiers from refugee camps in Maban, South Sudan, just across the border from Blue Nile State and brought them into the country. If refugee families refused to provide a child to SPLM-N, they were taxed by whichever SPLM-N armed group with which they were considered to be affiliated, continuing SPLM-N’s long-standing practice. Many children continued to lack documents verifying their age. Children’s rights organizations believed armed groups exploited this lack of documentation to recruit or retain children. Some children were recruited from the Darfur region to engage in armed combat overseas, including in Libya. Due to access problems, particularly in conflict zones, reports of the use of child soldiers by armed groups were few and often difficult to verify.
Representatives of armed groups reported they did not actively recruit child soldiers. They did not, however, prevent children who volunteered from joining their movements. The armed groups stated the children were stationed primarily in training camps and were not used in combat.
There were reports of the use of child soldiers by the SPLM-N, but numbers could not be verified, in part due to lack of access to SPLM-N-controlled territories.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Although humanitarian access improved considerably during the year for UN and NGO staff, there were still incidents of restrictions on UN and NGO travel in some parts of North Darfur and East Jebel Marra based on what the government described as insecurity. The CLTG took steps to allow for unfettered humanitarian access. For example, under guidance from the prime minister, the Humanitarian Aid Commission issued guidelines to ease restrictions on movement of humanitarian workers. While the guidelines were not consistently implemented, there was marked improvement from the Bashir regime.
UN reporting continued to indicate that intercommunal violence and criminality were the greatest threats to security in Darfur. Common crimes included rape, armed robbery, abduction, ambush, livestock theft, assault and harassment, arson, and burglary and were allegedly carried out primarily by Arab militias. Government forces, unknown assailants, and rebel elements also carried out violence.
Humanitarian actors in Darfur continued to report victims of sexual and gender-based violence faced obstructions in attempts to report crimes and access health care.
Although the 2019 constitutional declaration pledged to implement compensation to allow for the return of internationally displaced persons (IDPs), limited assistance was provided to IDPs who wanted to return, and IDPs themselves expressed reluctance to return due to lack of security and justice in their home areas. IDPs in Darfur also reported they still could not return to their original lands, despite government claims the situation was secure, because their lands were being occupied by Arab nomads who were not disarmed and could attack returnees, and there were reports of such attacks.
Government restrictions in Abyei, administered by the country, limited NGO activities, especially in the northern parts of Abyei. Additional problems included delays in the issuance of travel permits.