by Alexa Huffman
Last month, 16 countries came before the United Nations Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review. This exercise is a process where human rights records of UN member states are examined. Each state gets to talk about how they have worked to improve human rights situations in their country and fulfill their human rights obligations. Every country receives an equal review.
One of the states evaluated was Sudan, whose government has shown little interest in promoting human rights among citizens. There have been predictions that after the South’s secession on July 9, the human rights situation in northern Sudan will only deteriorate.
Protests in the North have been met with arrests, detainments, torture, and sexual assault. Violence in Darfur by the Sudanese army back in December targeted civilians. President Bashir has said that he wants Sudan to be an Islamic State that adheres to Sharia law instead of the religious and ethnically diverse country it is now. This could lead to more tension.
The review was a chance for the United Nations to warn that the international community will continue to monitor and demand improvements regarding human rights in both the North and South Sudan.
It was also a chance to question and pressure the two Sudanese governments on its future decisions for the two countries. These decisions will have a huge impact for the citizens of both countries especially in terms of a post-secession citizen policy and constitutional review. Minorities should be included and basic freedoms and rights should be ensured for all citizens.
On May 10, the review started off with an introductory summary of the country. Because of South Sudan’s autonomy, the report was divided into two. There was a remark on the signed peace security agreement regarding the situation in Darfur. Also mentioned was the fact electoral laws have been strengthened as women are being allowed to participate in elections. Children’s rights have improved as well.
Then there was a discussion among member states and observer states. The positive achievements in Sudan were recognized including multi-party elections last year and the establishment of institutions. These included the Human Rights Commission, the Constitutional Court, and the Advisory Council on Human Rights.
Other positive achievements were efforts to achieve a peace agreement, organizing a referendum and the promotion of free and compulsory education for all citizens.
However, there were areas of concern. These included discrimination against women, the use of the death penalty and torture, media censorship, the arrests of human rights activitists and journalists, sexual and gender based violence, and perhaps the two with the most attention, human rights violations and the conflict in Darfur.
Other states wanted to know what measures Sudan was taking to ensure ethnic and religious minorities do not face discrimination.
With all these issues and questions brought to light, countries suggested steps for Sudan to take. Ones that stood out were to promote freedom of religion, establish a national human rights institution, suspend the death penalty, protect journalists and human rights activist against violence and eradicate female mutilation. They also called Sudan to cooperate with the International Criminal Court. Building a lasting peace in Darfur was also on the list.
Sudan’s response to the issues and recommendations was defensive. It responded by saying a National Human Rights Committee is being completed and the government is discussing human rights in Sudan with international organizations and local institutions. There is press freedom, an advisor will monitor the situation of detained people, and a law for children protects their rights. A unit has been created to protect women and children against violence.
The issue of the death penalty was less agreeable. Sudan responded by saying it had reservations with the elimination of the death penalty as a person is only sentenced to death when they have committed a very high level of treason. In the eyes of Sudan’s government, it is a suitable form of punishment and has appropriate boundaries.
Regarding peace in Darfur, Sudan responded by saying it is a joint effort by different parties
So the international community did take the opportunity to suggest improvements for human rights in Sudan. The community also did well by addressing its concerns surrounding the new Constitution. Sudan pointed out that minorities are involved in the new draft and the Bill of Rights is incorporated in Southern Sudan’s constitution.
These issues regarding human rights and the constitution are important. Both the Sudanese and the South Sudanese governments should be monitored on their response to the recommendations and how they draft the new constitution. How the two countries handle human rights and citizenship with the creation of South Sudan could determine conflict in either state. Conflict can arise, as it has in the past with Sudan, when political, cultural, or religious rights are revoked from one group for the benefit of another.
Alexa Huffman is a regular contributor to the STAND Canada Blog.