State Department Human Rights Report Cites Lack of Progress in Sudan

and U.S. policy continues to not match conditions on the ground

Posted by Mark Hackett on April 23rd, 2018

Every year, the U.S. Department of State releases the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, more commonly known as the The Human Rights Reports. This unique document examines the status of human rights and worker rights in nearly 200 countries and territories.

These reports are required by U.S. law and are used by a wide variety of actors. This includes the U.S. Congress, the Executive branch, and the Judicial branch as a factual resource for decision making in matters ranging from assistance to asylum. Since these reports are free and open to the public to view, the information within them is often times viewed by non-governmental organizations (including us) that work on a variety of international issues, scholars and researchers, and other groups and individuals who work outside of the government. 

In our case, we examine the Sudan section of the report to see if it matches the following areas:

  • what we see directly on the ground in Sudan and Sudanese refugee camps
  • what our Sudanese partners report to us from the ground
  • what media (both international and Sudan-based) is reporting on Sudan

While these reports frequently provide relevant details, they are more useful to be viewed as a broad overview of what the State Department sees as progression or digression on an array of human rights and worker rights issues. You can see the entire Sudan section of the 2017 report here, but I have highlighted some key areas below that are cause for concern:

Ceasefires Are Holding, But Remain Fragile

2017 was largely quiet on the frontlines in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. While fighting between rebel movements and forces loyal to the government of Sudan, which include the country's official armed forces and paramilitary groups, included small skirmishes and only one major clash in Darfur, government forces continued their long-held pattern of raping civilians, pillaging unarmed communities, and murdering civilians. 

These crimes included the attack on the Kalma IDP camp in South Darfur in September 2017. Government troops and their proxy militias also actively tortured civilians throughout the year in Darfur. 

Skirmishes and massive Sudanese government weapons purchases, the latter of which is not mentioned in the report, show that the dictatorship remains largely prepared to resume major offensive militiary operations against both rebel movements and civilians at any given moment. 

Regime Oppression Remains Rampant

The general theme of the Sudan section of the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has an obvious negative tone cutting through it. Throughout the report, the State Department notes that the oppressive nature of the Bashir regime remains largely unchanged. From the heart of regime control in Khartoum to lawless areas of Darfur, the dictatorship wielded the country's militiary, paramilitary forces, and the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) as tools of violent oppression. 

The NISS specifically has a long history of human rights abuses across the country. In 2017, NISS forces arbitrarily arrested Sudanese, murdered civilians, tortured Sudanese activists, continued running off-the-books "ghost houses" (where civilians are often raped and disappeared), and blocked feeble challenges to the organization's terrifying authority. The agency continued its practice of running an internal court system that the public has no access or input into. 

A small section from the report worth reposting here:

Throughout the year the government verbally warned newspapers of “red line” topics on which the press could not report. Such topics included corruption, university protests, the national dialogue, political negotiations in Addis Ababa, the conflict in South Sudan, the weak economy and declining value of the Sudanese pound, cholera outbreaks, government security services, and government action in conflict areas. (pg.26)

Corruption Is The Regime's Key Tool To Survival

Virtually every corner of the dictatorship remained affected by corruption throughout 2017. Security services harassed and attacked perceived political opponents of the regime, judges were absent from their posts, journalists were harassed and detained for covering corruption issues, and enforcement against corruption was practically non-existent.

The Bashir regime continued to enrich and strengthen itself at the expense of much of the country as it has done for decades. 

There Remains A Severe Lack of Humanitarian & Media Access

While the State Department notes that humanitarian access in Sudan improved in limited areas, widespread regime-enforced humanitarian blockades remained in effect on the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. The dictatorship continued to impede humanitarian aid access and harass NGOs, despite "implementing" new policies that would theoretically improve humanitarian conditions. 

On the peacekeeping front, the government of Sudan continued to delay in several areas with regards to UNAMID, the international peacekeeping force in Darfur. The regime did not issue new visas for UNAMID personnel, especially the human rights section which had a vacancy rate of 44 percent. International observers alleged UNAMID’s human rights section was targeted to curtail human rights reporting on the Darfur conflict, which fits in with the broader trend of the regime seeking to cover up its crimes. Authorities continued their years-long practice of arresting and detaining members of UNAMID’s staff on allegations of espionage.

Hate Remains A Core Component Of Sudanese Government Thinking & Policy

Although the State Department provided no details, the report cites that the government and their aligned forces continued to use propaganda, hateful rhetoric, and discriminatory religious language to incite violence. As in previous years, the government did nothing to counter hate speech across the board. 

Reports of civilian groups loyal to the regime, specifically students, being armed and attacking ethnic miniorities were common across the country. 

The Dictatorship Remains Uncommitted To Real Change

Over the past two years, the Bashir regime has worked nonstop in an attempt to shed its status as a pariah government in the eyes of other world leaders. This has led to the lifting of U.S. sanctions, funding from the European Union to forcibly prevent migration through Sudan, and much more. 

Unfortunately the dictatorship has made few actual behavioral changes, all of which are partial and flawed and that may not even be permanent. As the State Department report makes clear, not much else has changed in Sudan despite U.S. officials, in both the Obama and Trump administrations, citing improvements in the overall situation in Sudan. Hopefully the U.S. government's own report about a severe lack of progress in Sudan will help U.S. officials make better decisions with regards to foriegn policy and assisting the Sudanese people. 

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The people of Sudan are overcoming two of the greatest challenges facing humanity today: war and genocide. Operation Broken Silence is working to accelerate their ability to generate lasting change through storytelling and movement-building, education and emergency response, and grassroots advocacy programs.

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