a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Under the Civilian Led Transitional Government (CLTG), the use of lethal force against civilians and demonstrators was minimal; after the military takeover on October 25, there were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, especially of prodemocracy protesters.
On May 11, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) fired tear gas and live ammunition at peaceful protesters in Khartoum, killing Osman Ahmed Badr al-Din and Muddather al-Mukhtar Elshafie and wounding 37. The military denied ordering the use of live ammunition and promised an investigation; the prime minister decried the use of excessive force and called on the military and judicial systems to investigate. Attorney General el-Hibir told local media that the Public Prosecution’s Office had opened cases against those who killed protesters. As of year’s end, the cases remained pending.
On May 25, the body of Mohamed Ismail “Wad Aker,” a resistance committee member, was found in the morgue of al-Tamayuz hospital in Khartoum. According to media reports, Ismail was last seen on April 3. The autopsy reported he died as the result of torture. He was participating in a vigil for protesters killed in 2019. The case remained pending at year’s end.
In response to the military takeover, prodemocracy civilian actors organized demonstrations and strikes in Khartoum and across the country condemning the military’s actions and calling for full civilian rule. Resistance committees in Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum North organized numerous large-scale peaceful protests, which were often met with security force violence, including the use of live ammunition. On November 17, violence against protesters peaked when security forces killed 17 persons. Violence subsided after the November 21 agreement. As the weeks wore on, security forces again violently cracked down on protesters on numerous occasions culminating on December 30, when security forces used live ammunition, tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades against protesters. Six were killed. Security forces also stormed hospitals in search of injured protesters, assaulted journalists, and raided a television station (see sections 1.c., 1.d., and 2.a.). According to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, 52 protesters were killed, and hundreds injured during protests between October 25 and year’s end.
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including reports of such killings by reportedly rogue security force elements in Darfur (see section 1.g.). On August 5, a court convicted and sentenced six Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers to death for killing five protesters in El-Obeid in 2019. The presiding judge declared that the defendants’ actions were individually motivated rather than the result of command orders.
There was one report of a disappearance and killing, possibly committed by rogue government elements (see section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings – case of Ismail “Wad Aker”).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The 2019 constitutional declaration prohibits torture or inhuman treatment of punishment. Reports of such behavior largely ceased under the CLTG, although there were numerous reports of violent attacks on peaceful protesters following the military takeover.
Following the military takeover on October 25, security forces arrested several civilian officials, including cabinet affairs minister Khalid Omar Youssef, whom they reportedly beat.
After the military takeover, security forces often used live ammunition, tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades against peaceful protesters. Six were killed. Security forces also stormed hospitals in search of injured protesters, assaulted journalists, and raided a television station, killing scores and injuring hundreds (see sections 1.a., 1.d., and 2.a.). Security forces also stormed hospitals believed to be treating injured protesters and fired tear gas inside them.
There were several reports of security forces committing sexual violence against women across the country reportedly to discourage their participation in demonstrations. Following December 19 prodemocracy protests, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that 13 women and girls were survivors of sexual violence, including rape. Moreover, there were reports that security forces sexually harassed women who were attempting to flee the area near the Presidential Palace where the demonstrations took place.
There continued to be some reports that security forces committed sexual violence in Darfur, although most abuses were committed by militias (see section 1.g.).
For the period up to October 25, impunity was less of a problem than under former president Bashir’s regime; however, some problems with impunity in the security forces remained. The CLTG continued to take strong steps towards reckoning with the crimes perpetrated by the Bashir regime and addressing contemporary abuses. After the military takeover, these efforts appear to have largely ceased.
The December 2020 case of Bahaa el-Din Nouri remained pending at year’s end. He was detained by the RSF in Khartoum. His body was found in a morgue five days later showing signs of torture.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
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 2017 data, that the country’s prisons held 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 after the CLTG came 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 available. Sunni imams were granted access to facilitate Friday prayers.
Independent Monitoring: While the CLTG lifted restrictions on independent monitoring, the International Committee of the Red Cross was generally denied access to prisons, apart from installing water points and distributing hygiene products during the COVID-19 pandemic. International monitors were not allowed access to those detained for protesting the military takeover.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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, and the CLTG generally observed these requirements; the military government did not.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
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 (GIS) is not theoretically allowed to detain individuals without permission of the attorney general. Prior to October 25, GIS detained suspects in counterterrorism cases using this process. After October 25, it worked with Sudanese National Police to detain individuals based on its own investigations.
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. Following the military takeover, authorities routinely violated these laws.
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, although legal aid organizations and lawyers partially filled the gap. Detainees arrested in connection with protesting the military takeover were routinely denied access to legal counsel or their families.
Arbitrary Arrest: Following the military takeover, hundreds were detained without charges, including high-level political actors and activists. Some were subsequently charged. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies confirmed that all political detainees arrested since October 25 had been released by December 20 (see section 1.e.). In advance of and during subsequent protests through the end of the year, security forces detained resistance committee members, activists, and protesters, all of whom were apparently released the same day as or the day following the protest.
Pretrial Detention: The law states that pretrial detention may not exceed six months; however, the attorney general may authorize a second six-month period. 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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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. Following October 25, some dismissed judges, prosecutors and Ministry of Justice staff were returned to service. There were no known reports of denials of fair trials, although many courts faced closures during the year due to strikes and COVID-19 pandemic 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 were 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 detained in connection with prodemocracy protests were routinely denied counsel. 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; however, there were reports of such harassment following the military takeover.
Military trials, which sometimes were secret and brief, lacked procedural safeguards. The law subjects to military trials any civilians in 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.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
During the military takeover, security forces detained Prime Minister Hamdok and other senior government officials. The UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) monitored 204 individual cases of detainees, ranging from officials in the Office of the Prime Minister to representatives of the Sudanese Professionals Association. On December 3, the prime minister reported that security officials released all political detainees arrested on and since October 25. Separate UNITAMS and African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies reports confirmed that all political detainees arrested since the October 25 takeover had been released, including protesters and activists outside Khartoum.
While most detainees were released without criminal charges, a group including the trade unions NGO Sudan Professionals Association spokesperson Ismail al-Taj; former industry minister Ibrahim El Sheikh; Dismantling Committee (DC) members Wajdi Saleh, Altayeb Osman, and Taha Ishaq; Forces for Freedom and Change spokesperson Jaffar Hassan; DC secretary general Ehab Altayeb; and Sovereign Council member Mohamed El Faki were charged under Articles 58 (“inciting the regular forces to revolt”) and 62 (“arousing discontent among regular forces”) of the criminal code and released on bail.
With each round of protests, however, security forces detained additional protesters, including 114 demonstrators arrested on December 25. Those detained were released either the same day or the day after the protests.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and this type of activity appeared to have ceased, or been dramatically reduced, under the CLTG. Following the military takeover, the military government increasingly accessed, collected, or used private communications or personal data arbitrarily. There were also some reports of security forces entering homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization in search of individuals believed to be involved in organizing protests.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
In October 2020 leaders of the CLTG and several armed opposition groups signed the Juba Peace Agreement, intended to end nearly two decades of conflict in the country’s war-torn regions of Darfur and the Two Areas; however, implementation remained slow and uneven throughout the year. In March Sovereign Council chairman Burhan and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hilu, signed a declaration of principles agreement that outlined priorities of the peace talks, including unification of armed forces and the separation of religion and state, a key SPLM-N demand. In May the CLTG and al-Hilu resumed peace talks. After five weeks, the chief negotiator announced that peace talks had been suspended due to disagreements regarding the security arrangements and separation of religion and state, and they remained suspended at year’s end. Violence increased in Darfur throughout the year. According to NGO reporting, more than 330,000 individuals fled their homes in Darfur because of violence, a seven-fold increase from 2020.
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 was restricted due to fighting among rival rebel groups.
Nomadic militias also attacked civilians in conflict areas. Throughout the year renewed intercommunal violence occurred mainly in Darfur, South Kordofan, and East Sudan, resulting in the deaths of numerous civilians. For example, according to the OHCHR, on January 15, in West Darfur, confrontations between the Massalit and Arab tribes in El Geneina and the Krinding camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) resulted in 162 deaths, 300 injured, and the displacement of more than 100,000 civilians. On January 18, in South Darfur, another clash between the Fallata and Rezeigat tribes in Tawilla village resulted in 72 deaths, 73 injured, and more than 20,000 civilians displaced. The OHCHR reported dozens of persons were killed and others injured in April due to conflict among rival tribal communities in El Hamid, revealing “a pattern of volatility, impunity and vulnerability across several areas in South Kordofan.” Following renewed intercommunal fighting between Beni Amir and Nuba tribesmen in Red Sea State, the governor of Red Sea State imposed a curfew in Port Sudan.
On November 17, clashes in Jebel Moon, West Darfur, began in response to reported livestock rustling. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, camels from Rezigat-Arab nomads crossed into Misseriya Jebel land. Rezigat who went to recover the camels were eventually killed by the Misseriya Jebel. Rezigat tribes in the area mobilized and responded by burning 12 villages, killing civilians, and causing displacement. Such fighting, sparked by livestock and land disputes, was representative of conflict in Darfur.
In August the West Kordofan State governor announced that 17 Messiriya tribesmen were killed, and 30 others were injured in renewed intercommunal fighting between the Hamar and Messiriya tribes. According to the government, the tribal fighting regarded disputed agricultural land. The prime minister sent Sovereign Council member Siddiq Tawar, Minister of Interior Ezzeldin al-Sheikh, and Federal Governance Minister Buthaina Ibrahim Dinar to reconcile disagreements concerning the disputed areas.
The general political and security situation of Abyei, the disputed territory between the country and South Sudan, continued to remain fragile and was marked by instances of violence between Misseriya and Ngok Dinka communities.
Abductions: According to NGOs, 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.
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. The UN Panel of Experts reported that, in areas of Jebel Marra under government control, bordering Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) areas, some civilians, in particular traders, were still harassed and sometimes unlawfully detained by the security forces, on the assumption that they supported the SLA-AW. 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 SLA-AW and SPLM-N in their respective armed opposition-controlled areas also 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 participants 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.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Although humanitarian access improved considerably under the CLTG 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. Prior to October 25, the CLTG took steps to allow for unfettered humanitarian access, including by issuing blanket travel permits to some humanitarian staff. Nonetheless, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported administrative procedures continued to be complicated and varied between federal and state authorities as well as among states, presenting obstacles to aid agencies for delivering timely and quality humanitarian assistance.
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 survivors 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 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.