Sudan’s government is trying to close independent forums for civil society dialogue and coordination, says a leading African rights group, accusing pro-democracy NGOs of receiving US funding in order to undermine the ruling National Congress Party:
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies expressed serious concern that by targeting civil society organizations in this manner, the government is seeking to close the small space in which Sudanese civil society operates. The closures follow widespread anti-regime demonstrations that spread throughout Sudan from June – August 2012, that were led in large part by Sudanese youth movements.
The recent closures signal the beginning of a third wave crackdown on independent civil society by the government, with the first being ushered in alongside the military coup in 1989 and the second in 2009 after the International Criminal Court’s announcement of the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir.
Sudanese civil society has only recently begun to recover from the effects of the closures in 2009.
Three civil society organizations and a literary forum have been closed and ordered to cease all operations in a renewed crackdown on freedom of expression, association and assembly. Attempts by journalists and activists to demonstrate against the closures have been suppressed by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
On 24 December the Sudanese Studies Centre (SSC), legally registered to promote dialogue on culture and democracy, was closed for one year by the Ministry of Culture and Media.
On 30 December, activists organized under the umbrella of the Confederation of Civil Society Organizations demonstrated outside Sudan’s National Human Rights Commission. They attempted to deliver a memorandum condemning the closure of the SSC. Although the Commission’s chairperson was willing to receive the memorandum, plain-clothed NISS agents surrounded the building and prevented them from entering.
The following morning, on 31 December, the Executive Director of the SSC, Mr. Abdalla Abu Alrish, was summoned from his home and interrogated all day by the NISS before being released and ordered to return for further questioning.
On the same day, 31 December, the Humanitarian Affairs Commission (HAC), a regulatory body governing the work of Sudanese civil society, closed the Organization for Human Rights and Development (ARRY) and the Al Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE – above). ARRY works on human rights monitoring and documentation in South Kordofan, and has offices in Khartoum.
KACE, a pro-democracy NGO that also works to promote multiculturalism in Sudan, was closed in the early afternoon by a delegation of six HAC representatives, accompanied by nine other individuals, including armed NISS officers.
The NISS also summoned Sudanese writer Ms. Zeinab Belil for interrogation on 31 December. Ms. Belil is chairperson of the Cultural Forum for Literary Criticism, a network of Sudanese writers. The NISS ordered the forum to cease all of its activities.
In a parallel development, on 25 December 2012 President Omar al-Bashir issued a presidential decree establishing a committee to examine the regulations of foreign NGOs in Sudan. The committee will be headed by a representative of the defense ministry and include delegates from the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Interior, the Darfur Regional Authority, HAC and the NISS.
The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) calls on the Government of Sudan to:
- Immediately allow the closed organizations to re-open and continue their peaceful work in support of civil society initiatives to promote democracy and cultural diversity in Sudan. Their assets should also be unfrozen.
- Respect the right of Sudanese people to peacefully protest and fully exercise their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression as recognized by the Interim National Constitution of 2005.
For further details contact: Osman Hummaida, Executive Director, African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS)
Phone: +44 7956 095738 (UK)
KACE is also working on a project about the reform of school curriculum funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.