Sudan is a republic with power concentrated in the hands of authoritarian President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his inner circle. The National Congress Party (NCP) continued approximately three decades of nearly absolute political authority. The country last held national elections (presidential and National Assembly) in 2015. Key opposition parties boycotted the elections when the government failed to meet their preconditions, including a cessation of hostilities, holding of an inclusive “national dialogue,” and fostering of a favorable environment for discussions between the government and opposition on needed reforms and the peace process. Prior to the elections, security forces arrested many supporters, members, and leaders of boycotting parties and confiscated numerous newspapers, conditions that observers said created a repressive environment not conducive to free and fair elections. Only 46 percent of eligible voters participated in the elections, according to the government-controlled National Electoral Commission (NEC), but others believed the turnout was much lower. The NEC declared al-Bashir winner of the presidential election with 94 percent of the vote.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. Some armed elements did not openly identify with a particular security entity, making it difficult to determine under whose control they operated.
The government repeatedly extended its 2016 unilateral cessation of hostilities (COH) in Blue Nile and South Kardofan states (the “Two Areas”) and an end to offensive military action in Darfur. Clashes between the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) and government forces resumed, however, in April and continued through July, and there were credible reports that villages in Darfur’s Jebel Marra mountain range were targeted for attack during these clashes, resulting in thousands of newly displaced civilians. Nevertheless, the COH did allow for periods of increased stability and an overall improvement in the human rights situation in Darfur and the Two Areas. As part of its UN Security Council-mandated reconfigurations, the African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur (UNAMID) established a Jebel Marra Task Force and a temporary operating base in Golo to monitor the humanitarian and security situation in the area. In Darfur weak rule of law persisted, and banditry, criminality, and intercommunal violence were main causes of insecurity in Darfur.
Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, and arbitrary detention, all by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arrests and intimidation of journalists, censorship, newspaper seizures, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization (NGO) laws; restrictions on religious liberty; restrictions on political participation; corruption; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; outlawing of independent trade unions; and child labor.
Government authorities did not investigate human rights violations by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS), the military, or any other branch of the security services, with limited exceptions relating to the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF). Impunity remained a problem in all branches of the security forces and government institutions.
In Darfur and the Two Areas, paramilitary forces and rebel groups continued to commit killings, rape, and torture of civilians. Local militias maintained substantial influence due to widespread impunity. There were reports of both progovernment and antigovernment militias looting, raping, and killing civilians. Intercommunal violence spawned from land tenure and resource scarcity continued to result in civilian deaths, particularly in East, South, and North Darfur. The government continued its national arms collection campaign, which began in October 2017, mostly in Darfur.
There were some human rights abuses in Abyei, a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, generally stemming from tribal conflict between Ngok Dinka and Misseriya. Reports were difficult to verify due to limited access.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “as regulated by law,” but the government heavily restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately were subject to reprisal, including arrest. The government attempted to impede such criticism and monitored political meetings and the press.
In January and February, at least 18 journalists were arrested in and around Khartoum while covering protests against the declining economic situation and bread price increases. Arrested journalists included employees of Agence France Presse, Reuters, and the BBC. Most were released shortly after arrest, but several from Sudanese media outlets were held up to two months in detention, including Al Midan correspondent Kamal Karrar. No formal charges were ever brought against any of the journalists.
Journalist Mohamed Osman Babiker was arrested and taken from his home in El Gezira on July 31, after Kassala state authorities filed a complaint against him under the Information Act of 2015 for criticizing the state’s branch of the National Congress Party on social media. Babiker was transferred from a jail in Khartoum to Kassala to await trial.
The government also curtailed public religious discussion if proselytization was suspected and monitored religious sermons and teachings (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/).
Press and Media Freedom: The Interim National Constitution provides for freedom of the press, but authorities prevented newspapers from reporting on issues they deemed sensitive. Throughout the year the government verbally warned newspapers of “red line” topics on which the press could not report. Such topics included corruption, university protests, the weak economy and declining value of the Sudanese pound, deaths of persons in detention, the fuel crisis, government security services, and government action in conflict areas. Measures taken by the government included regular and direct prepublication censorship, confiscation of publications, legal action, and denial of state advertising. Confiscation after printing in particular inflicted financial damage on newspapers already under financial strain due to low circulation.
The government influenced radio and television reporting through the permit process, as well as by offering or withholding government payments for advertisements, based on how closely affiliated they were with the government.
The government controlled media through the National Council for Press and Publications (NCPP), which administered mandatory professional examinations for journalists and oversaw the selection of editors. The council had authority to ban journalists temporarily or indefinitely. The registration of journalists was handled primarily by the Sudanese Journalists Network, which estimated there were 7,000 registered journalists in the country, although fewer than 200 of them were believed to be actively employed as journalists. The remainder were members of the government and security forces working on media issues, who received automatic licenses.
On June 10, the Parliament approved a new Combatting Cybercrimes Act for 2018. The new act makes spreading anything deemed to be “fake news” illegal and carries a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment. On October 11, the act was applied after a judge sentenced a man in White Nile State to two years imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 SDG ($215) for creating a fake Facebook account and posting indecent photographs. Human rights activists were concerned about the potential use of the law to further censor content in news and social media, but there have not been any known cases against human rights activists as of November.
Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, intimidate, and abuse journalists and vocal critics of the government. NISS required journalists to provide personal information, such as details on their ethnic group, political affiliation, and family.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to practice direct prepublication and prebroadcast censorship of all forms of media. Confiscations of print runs was the censorship method most frequently used by NISS, This was an incentive to self-censorship.. On June 10, authorities confiscated the full run of Al Tayar newspaper for publishing an article about the economic situation. The same day, NISS asked the article’s author, journalist Shamile al Noor, to report to NISS for questioning. He was questioned for three hours and then told to report back the following day, when NISS told him to stop commenting publicly on President Bashir. On October 4, NISS seized print runs of two newspapers and summoned their editors-in-chief for a meeting after the editors met with foreign ambassadors and charges. NISS summoned the editors for a second meeting on October 24.
Authorities used the Press and Publications Court, specializing in media issues and “newspaper irregularities” and established under the Press and Publications Act, to prosecute “information crimes.”
In early August the Speaker of the National Assembly met with editors-in-chief of major newspapers and instructed them to comply with red line topics and, in exchange, NISS would no longer confiscate newspapers. The NCPP would then take on the responsibility of monitoring newspaper content. Some human rights groups expressed concern that this was a move by the government to further encourage self-censorship.
On July 31, the chief editor of Al-Jareeda newspaper, Ashraf Abdelaziz stated publically that NISS prevented the newspaper from being distributed for seven straight days, thus inflicting a huge financial loss on the paper.
Following the December protests, government censorship of media tightened, resulting in the arrests of several journalists and near daily confiscations of entire newspaper print runs. The NISS declared news on the protests a “red line” topic and then pre-censored newspapers to stop the publication of news on the protests.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law holds editors in chief criminally liable for all content published in their newspapers. In April Muhsin Musa was arrested in Kadugli, South Kordofan for defamation after he posted critisicm of the fuel crisis and general economic conditions on his Twitter account. A few days later, police arrested Awadia Abdulrahman in Khartoum North for sharing Musa’s posts.
National Security: The law allows for restrictions on the press in the interest of national security and public order. It contains loosely defined provisions for bans for encouraging ethnic and religious disturbances and incitement of violence. The criminal code, National Security Act, and emergency laws were regularly used to bring charges against the press. Human rights activists called the law a “punishment” for journalists.
NISS initiated and continued legal action against journalists for stories critical of the government and security services.
The government regulated licensing of telecommunications companies through the National Telecommunications Corporation. The agency blocked some websites and most proxy servers judged offensive to public morality, such as those purveying pornography. There were few restrictions on access to information websites, but authorities sporadically blocked access to YouTube and “negative” media sites. On December 21, the government suspended service for key social media platforms including WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube to disrupt communication among protestors. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 28 percent of individuals used the internet in 2016.
Freedom House continued to rank the country as “not free” in its annual internet freedom report. According to the report, arrests and prosecutions under the Cybercrime Act grew during the year, reflecting a tactical shift in the government’s strategy to limit internet freedom. The report noted that many journalists writing for online platforms published anonymously to avoid prosecution, while ordinary internet users in the country had become more inclined to self-censor to avoid government surveillance and arbitrary legal consequences.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted academic freedom, determining the curricula and appointing vice chancellors responsible for administration at academic and cultural institutions. The government continued to arrest student activists and cancel or deny permits for some student events. Youth activists reported some universities discouraged students from participating in antigovernment rallies and treated NCP students favorably. Some professors exercised self-censorship. On April 15, Esmatt Mahmoud, a philosophy professor at the University of Khartoum, was arrested after the university filed a complaint against him for a Facebook post he wrote criticizing the university’s handling of personnel issues. The Public Order Police monitored cultural events, often intimidating women and girls, who feared police would arrest them for “indecent” dress or actions.
On May 28, NISS prevented a theater troupe, Al Samandal, from performing a play entitled “The Worker’s Revolution” during a theater festival in Port Sudan.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
Although the Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The criminal code makes gatherings of more than five persons without a permit illegal. Organizers must notify the government 36 hours prior to assemblies and rallies.
On March 9, a Public Order Court convicted 12 youths of gross indecency, committing an indecent or immoral act, and alcohol and drug consumption. The individuals were arrested at Burri Beach in Khartoum and accused of belonging to a sunworshipping cult, after they had brought mattresses to sleep on the beach with the intention, reportedly, of waking early to watch the sunrise and then slaughter a sheep.
The government continued to deny permission to Islamic orders associated with opposition political parties, particularly the Ansar (Umma Party) and the Khatmiya (Democratic Unionist Party), to hold large gatherings in public spaces, but parties regularly held opposition rallies on private property. Government security agents occasionally attended opposition meetings, disrupted opposition rallies, or summoned participants to security headquarters for questioning after meetings. Opposition political parties claim they were almost never granted official permits to hold meetings, rallys, or peaceful demonstrations. Security forces used tear gas and other heavy-handed tactics against largely peaceful protests at universities or involving university students. NISS and police forces regularly arrested Darfuri students at various universities for publicly addressing civilians).
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of association, but the government severely restricted this right. The law prohibits political parties linked to armed opposition groups. The government closed civil society organizations or refused to register them on several occasions.
Government and security forces continued arbitrarily to enforce legal provisionsthat strictly regulate an organization’s ability to receive foreign financing and register public activities. The government maintained its policy of “Sudanization” of international NGOs. Many organizations reported they faced administrative difficulties if they refused to have progovernment groups implement their programs at the state level.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The Interim National Constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, and emigration, but the government restricted these rights for foreigners, including humanitarian workers. After the lifting of certain foreign economic sanctions in October 2017, however, the government slightly eased restrictions for humanitarian workers.
The government impeded the work of UN agencies and delayed full approval of their activities throughout the country, particularly in the Two Areas; however, there were fewer such restrictions than in prior years. NGOs also alleged the government impeded humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas. The SPLM-N also restricted access for humanitarian assistance in the Two Areas due to concerns over security of commodities crossing from government-held areas into SPLM-N-controlled areas.
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 of gender-based violence, in refugee camps. The government worked closely with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide greater protection to refugees.
Refugees often relied on human trafficking and smuggling networks to leave camps. Smugglers turned traffickers routinely abused refugees if ransoms were not paid.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
In-country Movement: The government and rebels 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 outside of Khartoum State to conflict regions required official approval. Requirements for travel to tourist sites were loosened during the year.
Foreign Travel: The government requires citizens to obtain an exit visa to depart the country. Issuance was usually without complication, but the government continued to use the visa requirement to restrict some citizens’ travel, especially of persons it deemed a political or security interest. A number of opposition leaders were denied bording for flights out of the country, and in some cases their passports were confiscated.
Exile: The government observed the law prohibiting forced exile, but political opponents abroad risk arrest upon return. Some opposition leaders and NGO activists remained in self-imposed exile in northern Africa and Europe; other activists fled the country during the year. As of year’s end, several prominent opposition members had not returned to the country under the 2015 general amnesty for leaders and members of the armed movements taking part in the national dialogue; some expressed concern about their civic and political rights even with the amnesty.
In February National Umma Party chair Sadiq al-Mahdi began self-imposed exile in Cairo. In April authorities charged al-Mahdi with attempting to overthrow the government. On July 10, Egyptian Authorities refused Al-Mahdi entry to Egypt upon his return from a meeting of the Sudan Call opposition network in Paris. The refusal reportedly came after the Sudanese and Egyptian governments signed an agreement to ban opposition activities in each other’s countries and to collaborate on antiopposition efforts. Al-Mahdi then went to London and Jordan, but announced that he would return to the country in October.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Large-scale displacement continued to be a severe problem in Darfur and the Two Areas. The year saw an increase in conflict-related displacement in Jebel Marra, due to fighting between the government and armed opposition forces.
According to the United Nations and partners, during the year at least 15,000 persons were newly displaced in Darfur and 5,000 in South Kordofan, a substantial increase from 2017’s estimated 10,000 newly displaced persons. 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. 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. The government and the SPLM-N continued to deny access to humanitarian actors and UN agencies in areas controlled by the SPLM-N. Information about the number of displaced in these areas was difficult to verify. Armed groups estimated the areas contained 545,000 IDPs and severely affected persons during the year, 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.
Government restrictions, harassment, and the threat of expulsion resulted in continued interruption of gender-based violence programming. Reporting and outreach were limited (see section 5). 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 numerous reports of abuse committed by government security forces, rebels, and armed 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 rebel groups operated openly in several IDP camps.
As in previous years, the government did not establish formal IDP or refugee camps in Khartoum or the Two Areas.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
UNHCR reported more than 927,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country. The government’s Commission for Refugees estimated the total refugee population could be as high as 1.3 million persons, because a large number of potential refugees and asylum seekers remained unregistered. UNHCR reported there were countless South Sudanese in the country who were unregistered and at risk of statelessness.
Approximately 4,200 refugees from Chad and 5,100 refugees from the Central African Republic lived in Darfur. New 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. In eastern Sudan, UNHCR estimated there were 131,000 refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia. According to UNHCR an average of 500 to 1,000 new asylum seekers arrived each month in eastern Sudan, but over 70 percent migrated onward. The government has eased international humanitarian NGOs’ access to eastern Sudan, as it did throughout the country.
During the year UNHCR and the government amended the official South Sudanese refugee statistics to include South Sudanese living in Sudan before December 2013. UNHCR estimated that 768,819 South Sudanese refugees were in Sudan. The government claimed that there were between 2 and 3 million South Sudanese refugees in Sudan. Many South Sudanese refugees arrived in remote areas with minimal public infrastructure and where humanitarian organizations and resources were limited.
According to UNHCR, Khartoum hosted an estimated 285,000 South Sudanese refugees, including 47,000 refugees who lived in nine settlements known as “open areas” until August. A December 2017 joint government and UN assessment of the open areas indicated gaps in protection, livelihood, shelter, health, and education services.
Sudan’s and South Sudan’s “four freedoms” agreement provides their citizens reciprocal freedom of residence, movement, economic activity, and property ownership, but was not fully implemented. The government stated that, because South Sudanese are recognized as refugees (since 2016), their rights were governed by the Asylum Act, justifying a lack of implementation of the four freedoms. Implementation also varied by state in each country. 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. Recognition as refugees allowed South Sudanese to receive more services from UNHCR. At the state level, however, governments still referred to them as “brothers and sisters.”
Refoulement: The country is a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and generally respected the principle of nonrefoulement with a few notable exceptions. With UNHCR’s assistance authorities were trained on referral procedures to prevent refoulement, including of refugees who previously registered in other countries. There were no reported cases of refoulement during the year; however, individuals who were deported as illegal migrants may have had legitimate claims to asylum and/or refugee status.
Access to Asylum: The law requires asylum applications to be nominally 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 Commission for Refugees and as foreigners with the Civil Registry (to obtain a “foreign” number).
The government granted asylum to many asylum seekers, particularly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Syria; it sometimes considered individuals registered as asylum seekers or refugees in another country, mostly in Ethiopia, to be irregular movers or migrants. Government officials routinely took up to three months to approve individual refugee and asylum status, 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 12,500 Syrians have registered with UNHCR. Government sources, however, claimed that there were 106,000 Syrians in the country. The government waived regular entry visa requirements for Yemenis. As of September more than 3,200 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 the local community in urban and rural areas. The government continued to push for the relocation of South Sudanese refugees living outside of Khartoum city to the While Nile state refugee camps. UNHCR notified the government that relocations must be voluntary and dignified. By year’s end the government had yet to relocate South Sudanese refugees to camps. The government 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, excluding Egyptians, Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis, and Palestinians, were also subject to arrest. On average 150-200 refugees and asylum seekers were detained in Khartoum each month and assisted with legal aid by the joint UNHCR and Commission for Refugees legal team.
Employment: The government in principle allows refugees to work informally, but rarely granted work permits (even to refugees who obtained degrees in the country). A UNHCR agreement with the Commission for Refugees to issue more than 1,000 work permits to selected refugees for a livelihood graduation program implemented in Kassala and Gadaref was, due NISS suspension of the granting of permits, only 27 work permits were issued during the year, compared with 25 in 2016.
Some refugees in eastern states found informal work as agricultural workers or laborers in towns. Some women in camps reportedly resorted to illegal production of alcohol 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.
Temporary Protection: The government generally provided first asylum/temporary protection to individuals who might not qualify as refugees.