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SUDAN: Fear Campaign Reported Ahead of Referendum

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, Jul 20 2010 (IPS) - With less than six months before the residents of southern Sudan vote on a reform which is expected to result in the cessation of South Sudan from the north, a new report implicates Sudan’s security services in “carrying out a brutal campaign of arbitrary detentions, torture, and mental and physical intimidation” against opponents of the government.

The report, released on Monday by Amnesty International, says that the “The Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service” (NISS) has participated in rampant human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances.

“The NISS rules Sudan by fear. The extensive, multi-pronged assault on the Sudanese people by the security services has left the critics of the government in constant fear of arrest, harassment or worse,” said Erwin van der Borght, Africa programme director for Amnesty International.

“The Sudanese authorities are brutally silencing political opposition and human rights defenders in Sudan through violence and intimidation. NISS agents benefit from total impunity for the human rights violations they continue to commit,” van der Borght continued.

The report, titled ‘Agents of Fear: The National Security Service in Sudan’, documents the arrest of at least 34 journalists, students and human rights activists by the NISS.

Sudan’s general election in April – which was marked by reports of fraud, voter intimidation and logistical difficulties – has given way to continued violence in the Darfur region in western Sudan.

Some reports have indicated that as many as 300,000 people have been killed since 2003 as anti-government forces continue to clash with the Sudanese military.

As January’s referendum draws closer, many here in Washington are concerned that if the south votes to secede from the north – as they are expected to do – more widespread violence may ensue.

“Without substantive changes in Sudan’s national security laws and practices, the situation of human rights in Sudan will not improve. As long as the powers and immunities of the NISS are maintained, there is no hope of seeing an end to arbitrary arrests, prolonged incommunicado detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, and deaths in custody,” said the report.

“The escalating human rights violations by the NISS since the April elections and the clamp down on freedom of expression raise grave concerns, particularly in light of the coming 2011 referendum and the risks of increased human rights violations around the referendum,” it continued.

Amnesty charges that the government of Sudan is directly responsible for the “…culture within the NISS that allows the use of torture and other serious human rights violations” and warns that unless the Sudanese government cracks down on human rights abuses “Sudan will continue to be ruled by fear, and members of the NISS will remain Sudan’s agents of fear”.

Listing similar concerns, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported today that increased fighting between the Sudanese military and rebel forces this year have caused hundreds of deaths and displacements in Darfur.

HRW called for the U.N. to ensure that international peacekeepers strengthen their protection for civilians and renew the mandate of the Darfur peacekeeping mission.

“While international attention has focused on the Sudanese elections and the referendum on Southern Sudan, Darfur remains in shambles,” said Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The new fighting and rights abuses across Darfur show clearly that the war is far from over and that the U.N. needs to do more to protect civilians.”

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) mandate includes creating and maintaining security conditions for humanitarian groups to access all of Darfur and to protect the civilian populations from “[the] imminent threat of physical violence and [to] prevent attacks against civilians, within its capability and areas of deployment, without prejudice to the responsibility of the Government of Sudan”.

HRW says that peacekeepers have been prevented from conducting frequent, long-range patrols by both the Sudanese government and rebel forces.

“For example, U.N. sources reported at the end of May on the failure of 18 out of 24 attempts to reach locations in Jebel Mara. A UNAMID and interagency team reached some displaced communities from Jebel Mun at Aro Shorou and Hijllija villages on May 20, but the Sudanese army prevented the team from visiting Kalgo, Falako, and Alona villages, stating that unexploded ordnance made the area unsafe to visit,” said HRW.

Amnesty reports that cases of human rights abuse by the NISS have spiked during period of political tension, as occurred after a major attack by a Darfur armed group on Khartoum in May 2008, and after the International Criminal Court’s issuance of an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al- Bashir in July 2008, as well as after the April elections.

Freedom of the press has also deteriorated significantly since the April elections largely due to an NISS crackdown which has led to the closure of several opposition newspapers and the arrest and detainment of journalists.

“The National Security Act must be reformed so that agents are no longer provided with extensive powers of arrest and detention. All immunities should be removed,” said van der Borght.

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