Op-ed: Will Sudan end torture?

By Ahmed Elzobier, Amnesty International’s Regional Researcher for the Sudan
3 April 2018, 14:17 UTC

Abdala Abdel Algyoum Abddalias, 54 year old father of four, and founding member of El Gedaref Salvation Initiative, told Amnesty International last year how he was abused by agents of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

“I was taken to a courtyard and made to stand facing the wall until sunset. Then seven NISS agents holding sticks and whips started to beat me. When I resisted their instruction to take off my clothes, they ripped off my shirt and trouser and threatened to rape me with a stick. They beat me until the evening prayer time. They went to pray and promised to come back to continue their torture,” he said.

Another victim is Mohamed Salah Mohammed Abderhman. He was a 5th year student at the University of Khartoum when he and others were arrested by heavily armed agents of the NISS in June 2012 from a restaurant in Khartoum with no court order, or any due process.

 “They took us to the NISS political offices where they began beating and abusing us. They tried to make us feel as if it was the end of our lives. The humiliation and vulgar words continued [for days] then high-ranking officials began to threaten us,” he said in video testimony. His ‘crime’ was taking part in peaceful protests calling for a change in government. He was held in detention for eight weeks.

Mohammed and Abdala are among many thousands of people, including both local and foreign journalists, who are arbitrarily arrested, abused and tortured in Sudan. Amnesty International has documented and reported many disturbing cases of arbitrary arrest and torture of journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, doctors, political activists and students. In a hopeful turn of events, in February 2018, the government released 79 political prisoners but at least another 61 remain in detention.

The NISS has broad powers of arrest and detention under the National Security Act 2010. This Act has systematically been used as an instrument to intimidate, silence, and punish political opponents. NISS has the power to detain suspects for up to four-and-a-half months without judicial review. The same law also shields NISS agents from prosecution for any offence they commit in their work. This has resulted in a pervasive culture of impunity.

In 2016 and 2017, Amnesty International documented testimonies from victims and their families on the systematic and widespread use of torture in Sudan. Most victims are kidnapped from their homes, offices, or the streets.

Armed security forces in plainclothes, forcefully handcuff, blindfold and shove victims into their cars. Victims are beaten with sticks, iron bars, gun butts, or kicked, and verbally abused. Several victims told Amnesty International that they were severely beaten for hours by several NISS agents. Some are subjected to electric shocks, whippings, solitary confinement, or they are forced to stand facing a wall, and not are to talk to each other. Some have fainted during the torture. Some have been raped.

People from the conflict areas of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile are subjected to even worse treatment and spiteful racial insults.

“Before they ask you your name, they ask you where you are from and your tribe. If your tribe is not a tribe they approve of, you get tortured for your tribe, then you get tortured for your political affiliation, or group, or for being in a protest,” Mohamed Salah affirmed.

The unlawful detentions last for months, even over a year, without access to a lawyer, with very few family visits, and limited access to medical care. Some are released after they are made to sign a commitment not to oppose the government.

Sudan signed the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1986 but it is yet to ratify the Convention more than 30 years later. In the periodic reviews of its human rights record by the UN Human Rights Council, the Sudanese government has been accepting recommendations to ratify the Convention.

In 2017, the government stated that it was taking steps to ratify the Convention. Amnesty International is hopeful that this will come to pass soon. It is high time Sudan turned a page in history by ratifying the Convention against Torture, and repealed its domestic laws and practices ended torture. 

This article was first published in the EastAfrican on 31 March 2018.