"After announcing the arrest warrant against al-Bashir, big trucks and men with guns appeared at our headquarters."

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Portrait of Amir Suliman, Sudanese human rights defender.

Amir Suliman is a Sudanese lawyer and a co-founder of the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS). He has been based in Kampala since 2009, when he was forced to flee his home country out of fear of government retribution for his work on human rights and international justice issues.

In 2008, Suliman, along with his colleagues Osman Hummaida and Abd El-Monim El-Gak were arrested and tortured by agents of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) for their alleged cooperation with the ICC. In February 2009, while acting as Director of the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development (KCHRED), Suliman was informed by FIDH that the ICC would be issuing a warrant for the arrest of Omar al-Bashir for the human rights violations committed in Darfur. Suliman consulted with other members of the KCHRED and decided it was best to leave the country. "After announcing the arrest warrant against al-Bashir, big trucks and men with guns appeared at our headquarters. They took everything from computers to the air conditioning units that were on the walls. But most importantly they took our library, the first Sudanese human rights library to which students and professionals had contributed throughout the years. They locked it away and let it spoil," recounts Suliman.

In the aftermath of these events, Suliman, along with Osman Hummaida and Abd El-Monim El-Gak filed a complaint with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) seeking redress for the maltreatment they suffered in 2008. In February 2015, after 6 years of legal procedures, the ACHPR declared that the Sudanese government must answer for these violations and called on the authorities to investigate and prosecute the security and intelligence officers allegedly responsible. The Commission also called on Sudan to unfreeze the bank accounts of the Khartoum Centre and allow it to reopen its doors, as well as pay the victims compensation. Suliman’s decision to file suit along with his colleagues, as well as their steadfastness over the years of proceedings, demonstrates his belief in the utility of regional and international mechanisms.

As soon as he settled in Uganda, Suliman, along with fellow activist Osman Hummaida and others, they founded ACJPS. Thanks to their passion and determination, the organisation quickly became a leading actor in the field of human rights abuse documentation and in the fight against such abuse in Sudan. He currently holds the position of head of the legal programme.

The organisation’s activities include monitoring the general human rights situation in Sudan, advocating at the national, regional, and international levels and advocating for reform of the justice system and certain Sudanese laws. ACJPS also places special emphasis on human rights education. "I’ve trained many people on human rights issues, including police officers and legal advisors. What strikes me the most is their desire to know more. Especially law enforcement officers, when it comes to torture. Most of them didn’t know that it’s illegal and some decide to spread the word around them. As for legal counselors, they discover how to ask questions to see if the cases they are handling involve torture," explains Suliman.

Suliman’s interest in human rights issues stems in part from his family background. His own father, chairman of the veterinarian trade union (1986-1989) and member of the National Democratic Alliance secretariat, was detained multiple times for his political activities and mistreated during his detention. In 1989 Suliman witnessed the military coup that brought president Omar al-Bashir come to power. The democratic government was dissolved, as well as trade unions and civil society organizations. It was in this oppressive atmosphere that Suliman began studying law at Elneelin University in Khartoum in the 1990s, where he began his career as an activist. These experiences led Suliman to place the respect of human rights in Sudan at the center of his legal career.

After graduating, Suliman became a lawyer at a private firm, where he defended victims of human rights abuses in Sudanese courts. Among his clients were inmates on death row who had been subject to inhumane detention conditions, some kept shackled and isolated for up to 13 years.

Suliman went on to work for a number of prominent human rights organisations, among them the Sudanese Human Rights Group, the Sudanese Organisation Against Torture, the Amal Center for the rehabilitation of torture victims, and KCHRED, before founding ACJPS along with Osman Hummaida.

Among his most important contributions to the improvement of the human rights situation in Sudan was his participation in the campaign to integrate a bill of rights into the Sudanese Constitution. While serving as Director of KCHRED, he helped lead the campaign to raise awareness about the importance of the bill of rights, including in marginalised areas of the country. It was the first time a bill rights would be included in the Sudanese constitution, the Interim National Constitution of the Republic of Sudan of 2005.

On a regional and international level, he has collaborated with organisations such as FIDH, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, partnerships which have helped call attention to the human rights violations going on in Sudan. "FIDH helped us to enhance our capacity to commmunicate with regional human rights mecanisms, and raise the voice of Sudanese before the Human Rights Council," said Suliman.

Sudan is plagued by a number of ongoing conflicts, notably in Darfur, the Blue Nile state, and South Kordofan. In these regions, international crimes are regular occurrences. Suliman would like the resolution of these conflicts to be everyone’s priority: "These people want peace, they don’t deserve any of this. For years now, people have not been educated, have not had access to health services, or houses. Let us all wish for peace and security in these three areas." While Suliman has not been allowed to return to Sudan since he left in 2009, he remains fully engaged with his home country and dedicated to breaking down any barriers that stand between those living in Sudan and their full enjoyment of their human rights.

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