Sudan's Rapid Support Forces have been blamed by protesters for violently suppressing demonstrations (AFP)

Sudan set to win seat on UN's top human rights body, despite abuses

Sudan’s bid for a seat on the UN’s top human rights body should be rejected, as it fails to meet the basic membership criteria. The election of 14 new countries to the Human Rights Council will be held at the UN in New York on October 17, 2019. See our full report on all candidates, and press release.
Regrettably, because the African group only has four candidates running for the same amount of available seats, many ambassadors from the 193 UN member states who will vote on Thursday wrongly assume that they are obliged to endorse Sudan.
Sudan’s Human Rights Record
Sudan commits serious human rights violations, including:

  • Unlawful and arbitrary killings
  • Enforced disappearances
  • Torture
  • Arbitrary detention
  • Harsh and life-threatening prison conditions
  • Political prisoners
  • Restrictions on freedom of the press, including arrests and intimidation of journalists
  • Restrictions on the rights of assembly and association
  • Restrictions on religious liberty
  • Restrictions on political participation
  • Corruption
  • Violence against women, including rape and FGM
  • Human trafficking
  • Child labor

After thirty years in power, on April 11, 2019, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes,[1] was overthrown and arrested by the military.[2] The coup followed 16 weeks of protests. Under Bashir’s rule, Sudan was listed by Freedom House among the thirteen “worst of the worst” countries in the world.[3]
But the protesters were disappointed that President Bashir was initially replaced by military rule rather than a civilian government. The military continued to violently crackdown against protesters.[4] In June, more than 100 protesters were killed and 500 injured outside the Khartoum military headquarters during a peaceful sit-in to protest the failure of the military to hand power to a civilian government.[5] High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet “deplored the apparent use of excessive force in the protest camps.”[6] On June 10, authorities completely shut down the internet for an extended period.[7] These events led to Sudan being suspended from the African Union.[8]
On June 30, at least seven were killed and 181 injured in another wave of mass protests. The next day, the bodies of three more activists were found with visible signs of torture. High Commissioner Michele Bachelet called for “prompt, transparent and independent investigations” into the deaths and for accountability by security forces.[9]
In August, the military and the protesters reached an agreement to form a new council to transition the country to civilian rule.[10] It is too soon to comment on the long-term implications of this change. Some have expressed doubt about whether the military is serious about implementing democracy in Sudan and note that international pressure is what forced the military to the negotiating table. According to the agreement, the interim council will be headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for the next 21 months.[11] However, civilian Abdallah Hamdok, a former UN economist, was selected to serve as interim prime minister with elections to take place in three years. He has already chosen a civilian cabinet of 18 ministers, including four women.
In a submission to the Human Rights Council ahead of the September 2019 session, Human Rights Watch commented that “the human rights situation in Sudan continues to be of grave concern, including with violence against protesters and ongoing lack of accountability for violations and abuses since December [2018].”[12] Nevertheless, Prime Minister Hamdok appears to be genuinely set on the path to reform. For example, he has already set up an investigations committee into the June 2019 protester killings.
Ousted President Bashir’s crimes include murder, rape, torture and genocide. Under his rule, Sudan became a haven for jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, fought a bloody civil war in the south which led to the creation of South Sudan, and oversaw the genocide of an estimated 300,000 in Darfur.[13] The last months of Bashir’s rule were characterized by violent crackdowns against demonstrators protesting the poor economy.[14] According to Amnesty International, at least 37 protesters were killed in December 2018.[15] In the midst of the protests, the government also blocked major social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp and shut down the internet.[16]
Under Bashir, basic civil liberties were severely restricted, including through government censorship and intimidation and arrests of journalists and human rights activists. In December 2018, nine journalists demonstrating against government harassment of the media were briefly detained and three journalists covering anti-government demonstrations were assaulted by security forces.[17] Following his ouster, on June 20, members of Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces, responsible for killings in Darfur, detained journalist Amar Mohamed Adam as well as employees of the health ministry who had participated in a protest.[18]
Under Bashir, security forces routinely detained political opponents incommunicado without charges.[19] Security forces also commonly tortured, beat and harassed detainees. In January 2018, a detainee died after two days in police custody. The autopsy report showed signs of severe torture.[20] Members of the security forces benefited from legal protection for acts committed in their official capacity.[21]
In addition, under the Bashir government’s interpretation of Sharia law, physical punishments such as flogging, amputation and stoning were permitted. Indecent dress and production and consumption of alcohol have been typically punished with lashes. Sharia law was also sometimes applied against non-Muslims against their wishes in civil domestic matters like marriage and divorce.[22]
The Bashir government also perpetrated violence in Darfur where it is accused of genocide. The situation there remains unstable and dangerous, particularly for internally displaced persons.[23] Following Bashir’s ouster, the conflict continues. In June, the UN announced that 17 people had been killed and more than 100 homes burned down in a Darfur village.[24]
While Bashir has been ousted, and there is optimism that Prime Minister Hamdok’s new government is headed in the right direction, Sudan must establish a positive record on human rights before it can be considered for membership in the Human Rights Council.
Sudan’s UN Voting Record
Negative: At the General Assembly, Sudan backed human rights abusers when it supported a resolution denying the right to level sanctions against such regimes, and by voting to delay the work of the Special Rapporteur on violence against LGBT individuals. Sudan opposed resolutions that spoke out for victims of human rights violations by North Korea and Russia and abstained on resolutions that spoke out for victims of human rights violations by Iran and Syria. It also abstained on a resolution calling for protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

[1] Sudan: Former president Omar Al-Bashir must be tried by ICC For war crimes, Amnesty International (April 17, 2019),
[2] Sudan’s Bashir appears in public for first time since being ousted, The Guardian (June 16, 2019),
[3] Democracy in Retreat: Freedom in the World 2019, supra note 62.
[4] In Sudan, Repression of Protests by Another Name, Human Rights Watch (June 26, 2019),
[5] Sudan’s Bashir appears in public for first time since being ousted, The Guardian (June 16, 2019),; Investigations and Monitoring Needed in Response to Sudan Violence, Human Rights Watch (June 7, 2019),
[6] UN Human Rights Chief deplores killings and detentions amid peaceful protests in Sudan, OHCHR (June 3, 2019),
[7] Sudan: UN experts denounce Internet shutdown, call for immediate restoration, OHCHR (July 8, 2019), x
[8] Investigations and Monitoring Needed in Response to Sudan Violence, Human Rights Watch (June 7, 2019),
[9] Bachelet urges Sudan to restore freedoms, investigate violations and move swiftly to civilian rule, OHCHR (July 3, 2019),
[10] Nermin Ismail, Sudan protesters, military form new transitional council, Deutsche Welle (Aug. 20, 2019),
[11] Id.
[12] Sudan: Ensuring a credible response by the UN Human Rights Council at its 42nd session, Human Rights Watch (Sep. 3, 2019),
[13] Declan Walsh, The Fall of Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the ‘Spider’ at the Heart of Sudan’s Web, New York Times (April 11, 2019),
[14] Freedom in the World 2019: Sudan, Freedom House (2019),
[15] Sudan: 37 protesters dead in government crackdown on demonstrations, Amnesty International (Dec. 24, 2018),
[16] Freedom in the World 2019: Sudan, supra note 131.
[17] Id.
[18] In Sudan, Repression of Protests by Another Name, Human Rights Watch (June 26, 2019),
[19] 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sudan, US Department of State (March 13, 2019) [Hereinafter “State Department Report Sudan 2019”],
[20] Id.
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Id.
[24] Yousef Saba, U.N. says it confirms 17 deaths in Sudan’s Darfur, Reuters (June 13, 2019),

UN Watch