Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

Sudan is in transition. An era ended on April 6, 1985, when
professional elites and senior military officers combined to
overthrow the 16-year government of President Jaafar Nimeiri.
The beginning of the end came with the public hanging on
January 18 of a 76-year old religious thinker on charges of
apostasy. Many Sudanese deemed the hanging an outrageous
violation of Sudan's traditional tolerance. In subsequent
months, unresolved civil war in the south, arguments over
Shari'a law, a worsening economy, revelations about drought
and starvation, and finally price increases on staples led to
public demonstrations that triggered Nimeiri 's fall. Military
leaders set up a 15-member Transitional Military Council (TMC)
chaired by Lt . General Abdel Rahman Sower el Dahab. In
consultation with Sudan's leading political parties, unions,
and professional associations, the TMC chose a civilian
cabinet headed by Prime Minister Dr. el Gizouli Dafalla. The
TMC, however, retains executive power. On October 10, the TMC
approved a transitional Constitution providing for
decentralization of government and observance of basic human
rights, e.g., freedom of speech. Almost 40 political parties,
representing all ideological and regional viewpoints, have
emerged in anticipation of elections scheduled for April 1986,
when the transitional period will end.
Despite the new Government's expressed desire for national
reconciliation and unity, it has been unable to end the
southern insurgency that resumed in 1983 after Nimeiri
breached southern autonomy and imposed Islamic laws
(Shari'a). In April, the TMC called on Col. John Garang de
Mabior, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army /Movement
(SPLA/SPLM), to negotiate, but he refused, claiming distrust
of the TMC. The SPLM has, however, maintained contacts with
the civilian Council of Ministers (CM), southerners, and other
Sudanese. In October, Garang declared a cease-fire and hinted
at sending a delegation to talk with civilians. In the south,
many innocent civilians continue to suffer from the fighting
and breakdown in law and order.
Despite vast agricultural potential, Sudan is in economic and
social crisis. In 1985, drought-related famine affected
nearly one-third of all Sudanese. Poor management,
transportation, and communications hampered massive foreign
relief. Strong rains started in 1985, but Sudan will suffer
the consequences of the prolonged drought for years. Besides
this natural disaster, overcentralization of economic policy,
reliance on foreign aid for food and fuel, and a foreign debt
exceeding $9 billion have contributed to falling living
standards. Two promising projects in the south — an oil
pipeline and the Jonglei Canal — were stopped indefinitely by
the SPLA because southerners saw few benefits in them.
Approximately 1.4 million refugees and displaced persons
(mostly Ethiopians in eastern Sudan, Ugandans in the south,
and Chadians in the west) add to Sudan's burden.
There were positive human rights developments in 1985. Since
Nimeiri 's overthrow, Sudan's leaders have advocated democracy
and moved cautiously toward pluralism. The TMC dismantled the
secret police, freed about 1,000 political prisoners, repealed
laws banning strikes, and removed press restrictions.
However, the Government imposed a state of emergency soon
after taking power and banned marches after ethnic clashes in
September. The Shari'a laws introduced in 1983 remain on the
books and apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Since April
6, five amputation sentences have been sustained by higher
courts but none has been carried out. Former government
officials currently face charges under the old security
regulations that carry such penalties as amputation and
posthumous crucifixion. About 264 political prisoners are
currently in detention. Most of the detained are soldiers
implicated in an alleged antigovernment plot in September.
Others, perhaps 50, are former government officials.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
The execution of Taha, the 76-year old religious thinker,
though preceded by a trial before the standing courts, was
widely viewed as a political killing. Although the legal
system still functions under the September 1983 laws that
condemned Taha, no executions have taken place since January
1985. The charges pending against former associates of
President Nimeiri theoretically carry severe sentences,
including capital punishment. Those accused have the right of
defense and representation by an attorney.
Ethnic violence that may have political overtones persists and
has resulted in recent deaths in Khartoum, south Kordofan, and
parts of southern Sudan. During September, an estimated seven
Sudanese died in demonstrations in Khartoum, organized by the
National Islamic Front with participation of TMC members. The
riot police acted with restraint; the deaths resulted from
clashes between northern and southern Sudanese. In the south,
where ethnic rivalries prevail, political killings have also
taken place. In August 1985, the SPLA announced that it had
killed William Abdulla Chuol, leader of the insurgent Anyanya
II forces which last year opted for cooperation with Nimeiri.
The SPLA viewed Chuol as a traitor. In the upper Nile region
and eastern Bahr al-Ghazal, where government forces control
only the garrison towns, killings result more from robbery and
cattle rustling associated with traditional ethnic rivalries
than from politics. Nevertheless, civilian deaths caused by
SPLA penetrations into eastern Equator ia near Lafon, Kabuyta,
and Torit and in south Kordofan are politically related.
Government and insurgent troops have also traded accusations
of human rights violations.
b. Disappearance
There were no known abductions by Sudanese government
agencies, but one German citizen is being held by the
guerrillas. The possibility of disappearances from areas
outside government control cannot be excluded; Equatorians in
particular have accused the SPLA of abducting persons during
raids in their region.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment
Sudan's new Government has committed itself to ending torture
by the Government. Some state security officials were tried
for the torture of Ba'athist politicians under the former
regime. One of the accused was acquitted, but was
subsequently rearrested (now released pending new charges).
There have been no reported cases of torture since April 6.
Amnesty International noted in its 1985 Report that over 65
people had been sentenced to amputation and over 200 to
flogging in 1984.
The criminal code introduced as Shari'a legislation in 1983
contains penalties based on Koranic injunctions. Public
lashing of both men and women is prescribed for such offenses
as drinking/possessing liquor, blasphemy, gambling, illegal
possession of commodities, and public disturbance. A fine or
imprisonment may supplement the sentence. Newspapers have
reported sentences involving both fines and lashings since
April 6. Sources suggest that lashing continues but is used
less frequently and in a milder form than that applied by the
former regime. In any case, no public pronouncements about it
have been made, in contrast with the practice of the former
government. No sentences with penalties exceeding 25 lashes
have been made public; the maximum possible lashing sentence
is 100 lashes. The law also mandates right-hand amputation
for thefts exceeding $40 and cross-limb (right hand, left
foot) amputation for more serious and repeat offenders.
Although five amputation sentences have been confirmed by
higher courts since April 6, none has been carried out.
Persons injured through commission of a criminal act by
another may invoke the right of retribution instead of
accepting monetary compensation. Since April 6, no case of
this type has been reported. Adultery by Muslims and
recurrent homosexuality are capital crimes, but the stringent
requirements for proof (four male eyewitnesses for adultery)
have precluded such severe sentences. The new Government
appears not to be prosecuting "moral" crimes with the zeal of
the former regime. Indeed, HADD (Islamic) punishments
virtually disappeared following the hanging of Taha in January.
Conditions in Sudanese prisons are poor. Food and care meet
minimal standards. Because of overcrowding and lax security,
prisoners are sometimes shackled. On the other hand,
authorities may permit prisoners to go home during the day,
requiring them to return only at night. Sudanese authorities
also allow relatives to bring food to detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Sudanese Constitution guarantees habeas corpus and
requires a court-issued warrant to arrest a citizen. The
State Security Act of 1975, however, authorizes arrest without
a warrant and preventive detention for renewable 90-day
periods on security grounds. At the end of 1985, these
practices remained in force, following the recent upholding of
the Act by the Supreme Court. The Act's recent incorporation
into the penal code extends the harsher penalties of the code
to a variety of offenses not considered grave unless linked to
security concerns. For example, the Act permits the State to
charge individuals accused of economic subversion or
corruption with treason.
In the Taha case, the distribution of antigovernment leaflets
would have brought a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment
under the Act, but the charge under the penal code for the
same offense, recast as waging war against the Government,
carried the death penalty. Former presidential advisor Baha
al-Din Muhammed Idris was recently tried by a state security
tribunal for "high treason and espionage" on nine charges
which arose from various alleged economic deals and which
carry a possible death penalty. He was sentenced on charges
of corruption to 10 years in prison and a fine of roughly $1.2
million. Likewise, the Government, with prosecution led by
the Attorney General himself, charged former Vice President
Omar Mohamed el Tayyeb with treason for the transport of
Falasha Jews to Israel. The 9 charges against him entailed
violations of 18 articles of the penal code. His trial
continued into 1986.
Because of the state of emergency in force since April 6, the
impact of constitutional guarantees remains questionable. The
attorney general, magistrates, or police officials may arrest
persons without warrants although all arrests are made
public. Under the former government, the President appointed
judges. Although the judicial structure remains in place, a
panel of qualified persons now selects magistrates. This
panel also administers preventive detention. The law still
mandates use of tangible property as bail. Financial disputes
require bond until settlement. Traffic injury or death cases
may require bonds of up to $1,000. Bond may also be required
for nonphysical charges such as defamation.
Well-informed and reliable sources estimate the number of
political detainees at about 264, most of them interned after
the revelation in September of an alleged antigovernment plot
involving mainly Nubans and southerners. Among those held
initially were university professors and persons formerly
alleged to have plotted coups such as Nuban priest Philip
Abbas Ghabboush who was later released in January; Ghabboush
was previously jailed by Nimeiri between October 1984 and
January 1985 when he was amnestied. The other political
detainees — former government officials, state security
organization personnel, ex-leaders of the Sudanese Socialist
Union (formerly the sole political party) and
ex-governors — include those under house arrest as well as
those in prison. There is no incommunicado detention and no
forced labor in Sudan.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The new Government did not rush into a series of quick trials
of former government officials. Many of those detained
following the revolution were soon released. Lengthy
investigations preceded the formulation of charges against
those now being tried. Both the Idris and al Tayyeb trials
have been televised. Cross-examination of both prosecution
and defense witnesses has taken place. During the Idris
trial, however, the defense was refused the opportunity of
cross-examination of a prosecution witness on at least one
occasion. The case is now on appeal. The other four
potential defendants in the Tayyeb case have turned state's
evidence in exchange for a pardon. The Government will also
try former President Nimeiri in absentia.
Theoretically, defendants may choose their own lawyers. In
the Baha al Din Idris case, however, the attorney general
called on attorneys to refuse to serve as defense counsel.
Persons charged with minor crimes often go without counsel;
the Government sometimes provides legal aid to those charged
with serious crimes if they cannot afford a lawyer. Khartoum
university students maintain a legal aid service. A new legal
aid society, formed by practicing lawyers, has found office
space but has not yet begun to function.
In more common cases, the judicial process involves a police
or magistrate investigation,' a field report, an arrest
warrant, the arrest, and a trial before a panel of three
judges. Sudanese now view the judiciary in Sudan as
independent because judges feel less subject to arbitrary
removal. Some of the judges displaced following the
institution of the Sharia system have regained their former
positions. Like the country in general, judicial proceedings
remain in a state of flux. The Islam-based penal code remains
the law of the land under the present Government. With the
exception of the fundamentalist National Islamic Front, all
major political parties advocate some modification of the
former legal system in a way that would moderate application
of HADD punishments. The predominantly Muslim groups,
however, favor retention of an Islamic-oriented legal system.
No persons have been sentenced to imprisonment for political
beliefs or acts under the new Government, and none has been
sentenced to exile.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The only documented cases of arbitrary interference reported
since April involved searches of homes following the
revelation of an alleged ant i government plot in September.
Refugees and drought victims constitute the only population
movements in Sudan. The Government has periodically moved
refugees to new camps, and returned drought victims to their
home regions. There is no solid evidence, however, that these
people objected to the movements.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although radio and television, as well as some magazines and
newspapers, remain under government ownership, Sudan's new
leaders vigorously defend the freedoms of speech and the press
embodied in the transitional Constitution. In the aftermath
of the coup, party newspapers, notably the Ba ' ath (al-Hadaf),
the Communist (al-Maydan), and the National Islamic Front
(al-Rayah) rushed into print. Trade unions and other groups
plan to publish papers soon. The press is carefully
monitoring Sudan's progress toward democratic rule and will
undoubtedly protest if there are delays. Criticism that was
formerly heard only in private is now voiced openly and
loudly. Academic freedom is not restrained. Shortly after
the change in government, however, a number of journalists
closely associated with the Nimeiri regime were purged.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Prior to April 6, Sudanese gathered in public to protest acts
such as the execution of Taha . T^tigovernment demonstrations
that preceded the change of government were met with restraint
by the authorities. In the aftermath of the coup, freedom of
assembly prevailed until the National Islamic Front-inspired
"security" march in September resulted in seven deaths. Since
that time, public marches have been officially banned, but
some have taken place without interference. There is no ban
on meetings .
The new transitional Constitution guarantees the right of
workers and political parties to organize. In the past, the
unionized work force was estimated at 7 percent. Among the
Government's first acts was to abolish legislation that
prohibited strikes. The primary labor organizations are the
Sudanese Workers Trade Union Federation (SWTUF), the Sudanese
Federation of Employees Trade Unions (SFETU), and the Trade
Unions Alliance (TUA) , representing respectively blue collar,,
nonprofessional white collar, and professional white collar
unions. The SWTUF and SFETU existed before the April change
of government, but the TUA arose from an alliance of those
professional unions that former President Nimeiri had
abolished following the doctors' strike of March-April 1984.
The TUA has joined with all major political parties (excluding
the National Islamic Front) to form the National Alliance for
the Salvation of the Country (NASC) . Because the civilian
Cabinet was drawn from among NASC supporters and was chosen in
cooperation with them, the NASC maintains close ties to it.
The SWTUF has complained periodically to the attorney general
about his interference in trade union law, arrests of trade
union leaders connected with the former regime, and support
for the NASC which it views as a political rather than a labor
organization. The National Islamic Front, excluded from the
NASC, joined with others involved in the September "security
march" to form a new "security alliance" to rival the NASC.
Unlike the NASC, which favors negotiations with the SPLA, the
new group tends to advocate a military solution if Col. Garang
rejects present government overtures for dialogue. Trade
unions from all parts of Sudan are represented in these
The Sudanese labor union movement has a long and distinguished
history. Today, the SWTUF participates in both regional and
international labor activities. A number of strikes have
taken place since the coup in April, and more can be
anticipated as trade union workers strive to improve their
status. Thus far, the Government has conceded substantial
wage and benefit increases in settling or forestalling strike
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam predominates in the northern two-thirds of Sudan, while
traditional African religions and Christianity are the major
beliefs in the south. Small Christian (Coptic, Greek, Syrian,
Armenian) and minuscule Jewish communities in the north exist
primarily in Khartoum. Non-Muslim southerners have migrated
to northern cities in search of work. The new Constitution
retains Islamic law and custom as the main source of
legislation, although most southerners oppose it as inherently
discriminatory against them. Both Islam and Christianity are
recognized as religions of Sudan. However, adherents to other
religious beliefs are not restricted.
The Sudanese Government supports mosques and Muslim
educational projects; government schools include both Muslim
and Christian religious education. Muslims, Christians, and
Jews maintain centralized offices in Khartoum for
administration and keeping records such as birth
certificates. Both Muslim and Christian missionaries are
active in Sudan. Christian education, health, and welfare
projects operate freely, especially in the south. Christians
are free to maintain strong ties with coreligionists outside
Sudan. Sudanese of the major religious groups participate in
all strata of government, security institutions, and private
orgcinizations . Religious groups do not face discrimination
under the present Government .
The Umma, Democratic Unionist Party, and National Islamic
Front reflect the memberships of the Ansar, Khatmiyya, and
conservative Muslims, respectively. Anti-Christian tensions
which existed in parts of south Kordofan in 1984 appear to
have abated, and no harassment of Christian institutions has
occurred recently. That area includes adherents of all major
religious groups in Sudan.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The new Sudanese Constitution, like that of 1973, guarantees
freedom of movement. Internal movement of both foreigners and
Sudanese, however, is sometimes controlled. Diplomatic
personnel must notify the Government and obtain permission in
advance to travel outside Khartoum although the Government has
withheld permission only on rare occasions. Some Sudanese now
under investigation have been restricted to their home areas
pending the filing of charges.
In order to travel outside Sudan, Sudanese and foreigners
alike must obtain exit permits. Sudanese desiring to work
outside the country for an extended period require a leave of
absence from their employers. An active organization of
Sudanese expatriate workers exists and held a conference in
1985 to discuss their mutual interests. Because education in
Sudan entails heavy government subsidies, members of certain
professions must spend a fixed term of service in Sudan before
obtaining permission to work abroad. Exit permits are not
available to all Sudanese.
Sudan currently hosts approximately 1.4 million refugees and
other displaced persons from Ethiopia, Uganda, and Chad. The
Government, in cooperation with the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other international
bodies, strives to meet their needs. Private voluntary
organizations, including American groups, have contributed
substantially to improved health and sanitation. Refugees and
displaced persons live in reception centers, camps, and
settlements. Despite the burdens of hosting these people,
Sudan has not impeded or discouraged their movement into
Sudan. The Government prefers, however, that they remain in
refugee centers rather than move to urban areas . The new
Government has tried former Nimeiri officials for permitting
Ethiopian Jewish refugees to resettle in Israel. During 1985,
about 50,000 Tigreans returned to Ethiopia after the onset of
rains, but their departure was more than offset by a new
influx of Eritreans. The 120,000 displaced persons along the
Chadian border interact with their compatriots on both sides
of the frontier. Sudan hosts about 250,000 Ugandan displaced
persons; this group remains generally stable. Refugees in
Sudan must possess valid refugee documentation or risk
detention, especially in Khartoum.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Transitional Military Committee (TMC) currently holds all
executive power, subject to consultations with the civilian
Council of Ministers (CM). There is no legislative body.
Sudan's leaders have repeatedly expressed their commitment to
implement a multiparty constitutional democracy after
elections now tentatively scheduled for April 1986. It is
uncertain, however, if this timetable will be met. Organizing
the election will take special efforts. Lack of government
control in large areas of the south precludes the holding of
elections in all parts of the country. The fundamental
political structure of Sudan is also in cjuestion. Some
Sudanese favor a federal structure, while others prefer
centralized control. In the south, most residents of Upper
Nile and Bahr al-Ghazal regions advocate southern unity as
embodied in the 1972 Addis Ababa Accords, while most
Equatorians want three separate southern regions. The present
system — instituted April 6 — theoretically reunites the south
under a higher executive council but also retains features of
decentralization. The only large group which at present
refuses to participate in political discussion is the SPLA,
but it remains widely heard through proxies, its own
Ethiopia-based radio station, and almost daily discussion in
the press, including interviews with SPLA officials, of its
future role in Sudan.
The present Government has affirmed its commitment to help the
south; southerners occupy three ministries in the Council of
Ministers, including the Deputy Prime Minister position.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The present Government welcomes human rights investigations by
international bodies. The International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) has an office in Sudan while members of other
international human rights bodies have made short visits.
Both TMC and CM members have spoken frankly with visitors and
avoided interfering with their investigations. In August
1985, a Sudanese human rights organization was inaugurated at
a meeting attended by 150 members. Academics, lawyers,
judges, and students — both men and women — participated in
formulating the organization's objectives. The group plans to
promote Sudan's adherence to international human rights
conventions and to affiliate with the Arab Organization for
Human Rights based in Cairo. The new organization is
independent of the transitional Government but includes
members of the labor group, NASC. International human rights
bodies continues to express their opprobrium at the
application of HADD punishments in Sudan. Amnesty
International, in its 1985 report (covering 1984), was
concerned about the Nimeiri Government's incarceration of
prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, and the
detention without trial of suspected opponents, as well as
about allegations of torture. Freedom House rated Sudan "not
free" but noted the progress in 1985 in restoring civil
liberties since the coup.
Sudan's economic and social indicators reveal a significant
decline in recent years. In 1985, Sudan's estimated
population was nearly 23 million; drought, famine, and disease
led to a 0.2 percent negative population growth rate in 1985.
The per capita gross national product in 1983 ($400) was 10
percent below the 1982 ($443) level. Despite its development
potential, especially in agriculture, the Government's overly
aggressive development efforts through much of the 1970 's,
combined with poor financial management, drought, and
insurgency, have created staggering international debt
obligations. Development in southern Sudan remains hampered
by the insurgency and the lack of government control in many
areas. Along with intermittent attempts to cooperate with the
International Monetary Fund, Sudan's present rulers continue
to press for debt relief and concessionary arrangements for
commodity and food supply. At present, the country's
financial future is grim.
Facing an infant mortality rate of 113.9 per 1,000 live
births, the average Sudanese at birth can expect to live 48.3
years. In 1978, only 45 percent of Sudan's population had
access to safe water, although the Government has subsequently
promoted water projects to improve health and sanitation. The
only available figure for calorie supply as a percentage of
requirements (95) dates from 1977; famine afflicted over
one-third of Sudan's population during the past year; and only
massive international assistance averted widespread
starvation. Primary school enrollment figures indicate that
39 percent of females and 55 percent of males, with a combined
average of 47.5, attend school. These figures date from 1981
and obscure the educational deterioration in rural Sudan,
particularly in the south. Also, many Sudanese teachers have
left for better paying jobs in the oil-rich Arab countries.
Sudanese labor law and practice embrace international
standards. The workweek is limited to 48 hours, with a full
24-hour rest period. Sudanese labor custom grants an extra
month's pay for each year's labor, as well as allowances for
transportation and sometimes housing. A new salary scale
introduced in August 1985 prescribed a minimum wage of about
$15 per month, but particular skills are rewarded with legally
mandated supplements. Annual raises must be a minimum of 5
percent of annual salary. The salary scale for industries
sets a higher minimum wage (about $16 per month) than that for
government workers. Under Sudanese law, the minimum age for
workers is 16. All workers, even domestic servants, enjoy
paid annual holidays prescribed by law. Sudanese labor law
also prescribes health and safety standards, but in a country
where the general standards are so low, conditions are poorer
than those found in the industrialized West. Many young
people in Sudan are self-employed or employed in family
While men and women retain traditional roles within Sudanese
society, women play an active role in the professions and in
higher education. In urban areas, they drive automobiles and
work in offices with men. Separate educational facilities for
men and women, however, are the rule. Sudanese women dress as
they please. In urban parts of the north, they often wear the
Sudanese female wrapping over Western clothing. Sudanese
women participate in both national and international forums.
A recent exeimple was the the women's conference held in 1985
in Nairobi. Their writings and interviews appear in
newspapers and periodicals. In the rural milieu, men and
women also work side-by-side, although a division of labor
does exist. Grandparents and other relatives often care for
children, thus facilitating employment outside the home.
Female circumcision, though illegal, is widely practiced
throughout much of Sudan. Efforts to eradicate it have failed
so far, despite significant concern among educated women.
Sudanese, especially those in the periphery, recognize and
resent the Government's emphasis on central Sudan and the
north, where the Arab population is concentrated. Non-Arab or
non-Muslim groups such as the Fur in the west, the Beja in the
east, or the Nuba in the Kordofan mountains resist efforts to
compromise their unique identities. In the south, a rich
mixture of ethno-linguistic clan groups exists. Generally
speaking, however, the northern part of Sudan is Muslim and
Arabized while the south is non-Arabized African and
non-Muslim, with adherents to African religions outnumbering
Christians and Muslims.