Four representatives of Sudanese civil society were intercepted by security officials at Khartoum International Airport on their way to a high level human rights meeting with diplomats which took place in Geneva on 31 March. The meeting was organised by the international NGO, UPR Info, in preparation for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan that will take place in May.
The four civil society representatives were travelling via different routes to Geneva between 23 and 28 March. In each case, plain-clothed officers from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) approached them after they had checked in, and before they proceeded through passport control, and confiscated their passports.
The four representatives – prominent human rights lawyer Mr. Salih Mahmoud Osman, Director of Asmaa Society for Development, Ms. Sawsan Hassan Elshowaya, President of the Human Rights and Legal Aid Network (HRLAN) Dr. Muawia Shaddad, and President of the Sudanese Solidarity Committee Mr. Siddig Yousif – have not been informed of any reasons for the travel bans.
“Sudan should immediately return the passports and allow the free participation of civil society in the UPR Process without fear of reprisal or intimidation”, the 36 Sudanese and international groups and seven prominent Sudanese individuals said. “The recent flagrant actions of the NISS are symptomatic of a broader strategy to intimidate and harass human rights defenders and independent civil society actors who may be critical of the human rights situation in the country”.
The signatory organisations also called on the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Choi Kyonglim, to exercise his responsibility to intervene with the Government of Sudan, ensure that all restrictions are lifted and that Sudanese human rights defenders and civil society organisations can participate in the UPR of Sudan freely and without fear of arrest, detention, harassment or reprisals.
Under Sudan’s National Security Act of 2010, Sudanese Security agents are granted broad powers of arrest and can detain individuals for up to four and a half months without judicial review, well in excess of international standards. This and other laws have been used by the authorities to intimidate and silence human rights defenders, journalists, members of political opposition, and others.
Powers of search and seizure granted under the 2010 Act are also routinely used by the NISS to undermine freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly, including the obstruction or cancelling of civil society events and public forums, the confiscation of assets belonging to civil society organizations, and censorship through the confiscation of entire print runs of newspapers.
“The Human Rights Council and its Member States should condemn the severe restrictions on human rights defenders and other members of civil society in Sudan, including the reprisals for engaging with UN mechanisms”, the organisations said. “States should call on Sudan to immediately cease arbitrary restrictions on independent civil society, and ensure that human rights defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment, including by making the necessary reforms to the National Security Act of 2010.”