Rwandan FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Sudan

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 1 August 2018

Introduction

The history of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Sudan dates to the country’s colonial period under Anglo-Egyptian rule, from1899 until Sudan’s independence in 1956. During this time, there were a small number of cultural, literary, and artistic societies of limited membership in Khartoum. In the mid-1940s, however, political movements started to become active in Sudan in the struggle for either Sudan’s independence or, alternately, a union with Egypt. The most active organization was the Graduates Congress (in reference to the graduates of Gordon Memorial College), which was founded by political leaders from various sectors of society who established political parties based on their various social, tribal, ethnic, and regional affiliations. These new parties eventually played a role in the negotiations for the post-colonial future of Sudan and are considered to be the first CSOs in Sudan’s history.

Following Sudanese independence, CSOs working on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights formed across the country, especially in Khartoum. The legal and operating environment for CSOs varied significantly in subsequent years, however, depending on the nature of the government in power. Sudan has had three parliamentary democracies and three military governments since independence, including the current government, and CSOs have tended to fair better under civilian rule. When the present military government took power in a 1989 coup, the government of newly installed President Omar Hassan al-Bashir declared a State of Emergency that included the banning of all political parties, organizations, professional associations, trades unions, societies, newspapers and magazines. It has been an uphill battle for CSOs in Sudan ever since.

Pressure on civil society increased in September 2013 and has continued since then. In September 2013 there were protests in which more than 200 peaceful demonstrators were killed in the streets of Khartoum and other cities. One year later, the government launched a crackdown on CSOs, including detaining 48 activists, according to the Sudan Change Now movement. In the months before the presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2015, the government again cracked down on CSOs, human rights defenders, students, the media and members of the political opposition, and refused to allow CSOs to observe the elections. Some CSOs, such as Massarat, were closed down, while others, such as The Civic Forum, The Sudanese Writers Union, and Mahmoud Mohammed Taha Centre, had their licenses revoked and offices closed as a result of their political activism. In early 2015, at least 16 newspapers had their publications confiscated by the Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (SISS), and more than 21 journalists were interrogated by the police and the NISS. This revealed that the government was not prepared to create a more enabling space within which CSOs can operate and carry out their missions. The crackdown continued in 2016 when the government filed capital charges against six CSO activists associated with Training and Human Development (TRACKs). TRACKs, a Khartoum-based organization, was raided twice before by NISS, which also confiscated the passports of its staff members. In addition, the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) has tightened its grip on civil society, including through scrutiny of women’s organizations.

Despite the ruling's party's suggestions in recent years that it is open to "national dialogue" with civil society and other political parties, there has been little action to support such statements. On the contrary, the government excluded CSOs from dialogue because it assumed they are opposed to the regime in power. After three years of deliberation, at the start of 2017, the idea of having a "national dialogue" came to an end. The various political parties outside the government's single-party system came to the conclusion that any “reforms”, including to amend the Constitution, were intended to entrench the President’s powers and increase the number of MPs in “opposition parties" who are actually supporters of the National Congress Party that has been in power since the 1989 coup d'etat. More significantly, the proposed reform of laws on public freedoms, including those governing CSOs, the media and public assembly, has been postponed until the next session of Parliament. This means that the current restrictive laws and measures on CSOs will continue in force.

In January 2018, the Sudanese security forces arrested scores of people in connection with protests against austerity measures imposed under the January 2018 budget. Peaceful demonstrations took place across Sudan after the announcement of the budget and the lifting of subsidies and other measures, effectively tripling Sudan’s US dollar exchange rate and increasing the price of basic commodities. The security forces arrested and detained scores of Sudanese citizens, including opposition political party leaders, human rights defenders/activists, journalists, student activists and others for prolonged periods without charge or trial.

In addition, a proposed new law, the Humanitarian and Voluntary Works Act, 2018, has raised concerns among civil society actors regarding registration requirements, discretionary power of the Registrar General, and provisions related to CSO funding.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms National voluntary organization, charitable organization, civil society organization (as defined in the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) Act).
Registration Body Ministry of Interior.
Barriers to Entry Mandatory registration; Burdensome requirements (30 minimum founders required); Annual re-registration.
Barriers to Activities Suppression of CSOs not aligned with government.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy Fines and penalties for CSOs that publicly disagree with the government; refusal to allow CSOs to participate in "national dialogue."
Barriers to International Contact “Country Agreements” required for foreign CSOs.
Barriers to Contact Nearly impossible to receive permit to hold an assembly.
Barriers to Resources Advanced government approval for all foreign funding.
Barriers to Assembly Nearly impossible to receive a permit to hold an assembly.

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Key Indicators

Population 41,984,512 (2018 est.)
Capital Khartoum
Type of Government Federal republic ruled by the National Congress Party the (NCP), which came to power by military coup in 1989
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 62 years
Female: 66 years (2015 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 83.3%
Female: 68.6% (2015 est.)
Religious Groups Sunni Islam, small Christian minority
Ethnic Groups Sudanese Arab (approximately 70%), Fur, Beja, Nuba, Fallata
GDP per capita $4,600 (2017 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 165 (2016) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 9 (2016) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 3 (2016) 100 – 0
Transparency International 170 (2016) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: "Worst of the Worst"
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
Rank: 7 (2018)
178 – 1
0-10

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 18 Mar. 1986
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No  --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 21 Mar. 1977
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes --
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) No 3 Mar. 1990
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No  --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 4 Apr. 2009
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No  --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 4 Apr. 2009
Regional Treaties    
Arab Charter on Human Rights
African Charter on Human Rights and People's Rights
No
Yes
--
11 Mar. 1986

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The 2005 Interim National Constitution (INC) followed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (Summary) of the same year, which was concluded between the Government of Sudan and the South Sudan-based Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). A new constitution is expected to be adopted in the coming years, but there is controversy between the Government of Sudan and opposition parties, including independent civil society organizations, on the nature of the new constitution. The Government may seek to impose an Islamic constitution and the opposition is advocating a civil (secular) constitution.

The current INC does provide for protection of freedom of assembly and association. Article 40 of the INC states:

(1)        The right to peaceful assembly shall be guaranteed; every person shall have the right to freedom of association with others; including the right to form or join political parties, associations and trade or professional unions for the protection of his or her interests.
(2)        Formation and registration of political parties, associations and trade unions shall be regulated by law as is necessary in a democratic society.
(3)        No association shall function as a political party at the national, Southern Sudan, or state level unless:

(a)        Its membership is open to any Sudanese irrespective of religion, ethnic origin or place of birth.
(b)        It has a programme that does not contradict the provisions of this Constitution.
(c)        It has a democratically elected leadership and institutions.
(d)       It has disclosed and transparent sources of funding.

Article 27(3) of the INC also states:

All rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants, and instruments ratified by the Republic of the Sudan shall be an integral part of this Bill.

As Sudan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1986, Sudan is bound by the ICCPR’s provisions, including Article 21 (the freedom of peaceful assembly) and Article 22 (the freedom of association).

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

CSOs are governed by the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) Act, 2006 (“the Act") (Arabic version). The legislation is inconsistent with many provisions of the 2005 Interim National Constitution and the ICCPR. A key concern is Section 6 of the Act, which defines the objectives of humanitarian work narrowly, so as to include only such goals as emergency relief from natural disasters, reducing risks from disasters, directing relief aid to rehabilitation and development, reconstruction of infrastructure destroyed by war or natural disasters, building local capacity of national organizations, and the execution of relief projects and services through voluntary and charitable organizations.

It is thus clear that the Act is intended for humanitarian relief and charitable work, rather than the wider scope of civil society pursuits, such as the rule of law, democratic transition, justice and fundamental human rights and freedoms. CSOs working in these fields face harassment from government officials in charge of registering CSOs, and in particular from the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). The National Intelligence and Security Act, 2010, empowers the NISS to search, arrest and detain persons for varying periods without any judicial supervision or sanction.

Pending CSO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. In 2016, a new draft law regulating civil society was circulated. Although the draft appears to be broadly similar to the Sudanese Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act, 2006, which is currently in force, the new legislation would, in its current state, place additional burdens on civil society. A new draft of the proposed law, the Voluntary and Humanitarian Works Act, 2018, was discussed in a workshop in November 2017. The discussions were mainly focused on the following problematic provisions:
a. Requirements for registration: 

  • The newly revised articles doubled the number of members needed to register from 30 to 60 members. 
  • There are two new proposed requirements for those intending to register at a federal level: organizations are required to register at the state-level for a period of two years before they are registered at a federal/national level (Article 16 (1)(b); and the organization must prove that it has the financial and technical capacity to operate at national level (Article 16 (1)(c).

b. Discretionary powers of the Registrar General: 

  • The Registrar General has the discretion to waive the 60 member requirement for registration. 
  • The Registrar General also has the discretion to determine whether an organization has the financial/technical competency to meet registration requirements at the national level
  • The registrar also has the discretion to cancel the registration of an organization if after carrying out an investigation; he/she has found that there has been a violation of law or misconduct by an organization. There is no mention of judicial oversight over such power

c. Disclosure of funding:

  • Article 24 of the proposed law discusses the issue of funding and shifts power of approval of funding from the Minister to the Humanitarian Aid Commission. The article requires that all grants and funds for project and programmes of organizations registered under the proposed law must be via a project document to be approved by the Humanitarian Aid Commission, as per the by-laws/procedures.
  • Another article that relates to funding is article 34(2). Under this article, it is required that any funds received by an organization, union, or network registered under the law from a local or international source be deposited in a bank account and that a written notice stating the source and proposed expenditure of the received amount/funds be sent to the Commissioner.
  • Articles 34(3) of the proposed law stipulates that assets or current accounts of an organization may not be liquidated, sold or transferred to a third party without the authorizations of the Commissioner.

2. In addition, the Government of Sudan has been in the process of preparing a new Islamic Constitution, which civil society and the majority of opposition parties believed at the outset would not be suitable for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society, such as Sudan. In February 2015, President Omar Bashir said, "the drafting of a permanent Constitution will be preceded by a comprehensive Islamic dialogue between all sectors of society to reach a constitution acceptable to all the people of Sudan and a model of the Islamic state." The various political parties outside the government's single-party system concluded in early 2017 that any “reforms” to amend the Constitution are intended to entrench the President’s powers and increase the number of MPs in “Opposition Parties" who are actually supporters of the Congress Party that has been in power since the 1989 coup d'etat. Dialogue on such reforms has therefore been discontinued.

3. Lastly, a draft bill approved by the Cabinet in July 2018 seeks to bestow the Press and Publications Council with authority to suspend a journalist from writing and revoke a journalist’s practice licence without a court order. The bill also provides for restrictions to online publishing that have already been addressed in the Cyber-Crimes Act, 2014. Members from Sudan’s journalist community have rejected the proposed sections to the bill due to their restrictive nature as well as the intention of authorities to control the press. The existing laws -- the National Security Act 2010, Criminal Act, 1991 and Press and Publications Act, 2009 -- have already been relied on by the authorities to censor and curtail press freedom in Sudan. The Sudanese authorities, particularly the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), have continuously used tactics to restrict press freedom, such as summoning journalists, preventing the distribution of printed copies of newspapers without rationale, imposing “red lines” on media through telephone communications to editors-in-chief, and blacklisting journalists from publishing their work in newspapers. Newspapers, including pro-government newspapers, have been subjected to pre- and post-censorship before and after publication, causing tremendous financial loss. Journalists have also been targeted for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, criminal prosecution and summons.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There are three organizational forms defined in Section 4 of the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) Act (“the Act”):

  • A “national voluntary organization” is defined as “a Sudanese non-governmental voluntary organization registered in accordance with the provisions of this Act” that does not include a:
    • a company registered in accordance with the provisions of the Companies Act, 1925; or
    • a political party.
    A “charitable organization” is an “organization that may be established by citizens, groups or individuals and having thefinancial ability to establish and sustain charitable activities.”
  • A “civil society organization” is “a civil society organization that practices voluntary and humanitarian work for not-for-profit purposes and which is registered in accordance with the provisions of [the Act].”

According to the Act, “voluntary and humanitarian work” means any “not-for-profit voluntary humanitarian activity carried out by any national or foreign voluntary or charitable organization registered in Sudanthat aims atproviding humanitarian aid, relief, public servicesand human rights services, protecting the environment, or enhancingthe economic and social standards of the beneficiaries.”(Section 4)

Public Benefit Status

There are no clear rules about tax exemptions or public benefit status in Sudan. However, according to the Act, exemptions on customs and other duties, taxes, and funds given to organizations that carry out “voluntary or charitable work”may be granted by the Minister of Finance and National Economy, upon the recommendation of the Minister [of Humanitarian Affairs],“to national, foreign voluntary organizations, or civil society organizations registered under the Act.” (Section 29(1),(2), and (3))

Barriers to Entry

There are a number of barriers to entry in the Act. For instance:

Minimum membership requirement.
In order to register a voluntary or charitable organization, the Act requires the organization to have a minimum of 30 members. (Section 9(1)(a)) However, if the organization has less than 30 members, “the Minister [of Humanitarian Affairs] may approve the registration of an organization on condition that [the organization] establishes that it has financial capacity, sustainability, sources of funding, and is registered.” (Section 9(2))

Requirements for foreign organizations. A foreign voluntary organization “shall provide proof showing its financial and technical capability to carry out the activities or work it intends to carry out in Sudan and the source of those capabilities.”(Section 9(2)(e)) In addition, it “shall not have its quarters or origin in any country in a state of war with the Sudan, or boycotted by [Sudan].” (Section 9(2)(d))

Annual re-registration requirement. Every organization must annually renew its license “as to such conditions, as the regulations may specify.” (Section 11)

Mandatory registration. Registration is mandatory and unregistered organizations can be fined for not being registered. Section 23 states that “every person, or group of persons, who practice the activity of voluntary organization, without registration in accordance with the provisions of this Act” is deemed to have committed a contravention[of the Act].”Section 24 defines the penalty for contravention as a fine. As a result, Sudanese CSOs that are unregistered or were refused registration have been forced to hold their meetings in other countries, such as Ethiopia, to avoid arrest.

Refusal of registration. The Registrar may reject the registration of any organization where “the activities it carries out are inconsistent with the principles provided for in section 5[of the Act]”(Section 13(1)(a))

These “principles” include:

  • Non–discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, ethnicity, political afflation or religious beliefs; (Section 5(a))
  • Having due regard for the desires of the local community at all stages of the project through the participation of local communities; (Section 5(e)) and
  • Non-interference of foreign voluntary organizations in the internal affairs of the Sudan in a way that may infringe on the sovereignty of the country. (Section 5(f))

The non-discrimination principle, while it may seem appealing, could violate the freedom of association. For example, an advocacy campaign to bring together “women against forced marriages” or to raise awareness about the human rights of a certain minority group could risk violating the provision in Section 5(a) since they could be considered “discriminatory” on the basis of gender or ethnicity.

Similarly, the interest in the participation of local communities in CSO projects in Section 5(e) and preventing foreign CSOs from “interfering” in internal affairs in Section 5(f) are not “precise” grounds for denial and do not meet the strict limitations for restricting the freedom of association under the ICCPR. Terms such as “due regard for the desires of the local community,” “non-interference” and “internal affairs” are undefined in the Act, giving implementing officials substantial discretion to determine whether an organization’s activities are in violation of the Act.

Furthermore, a decision to refuse registration may be appealed to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs within fifteen days, but there is no required timetable for the Minister to respond to the appeal and there is no ability to make a subsequent appeal to an impartial body. (Section 13(3))

Revocation of registration. An organization can have its registration revoked if it “has contravened the provisions of this Act, the regulations or any other law in force;” if it fails, “without acceptable justification,” to perform its activities for the period of one year; or if it “uses humanitarian aid for obtaining unlawful gains.” (Section 14(1)) These vague provisions leave undefined terms such as “acceptable justification” and “unlawful gains” and open the door to revocation even for minor infractions of law.

In addition, there are practical barriers to entry.  For example, the Sudan Development Initiative (SUDIA) tried to open an office in Red Sea State in 2013.  After waiting for over three months, SUDIA received a formal answer from the HAC notifying SUDIA that the request was declined, and without stating any reason as to why the HAC declined the request. HAC has also been obstructing the work of other national NGOs throughout the country, even those that engage with the HAC and ensure their compliance with the HAC’s procedures and regulations.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Legal barriers to operational activity in the Act include the following:

Annual re-registration requirement.Every registered organization must renew its license on an annual basis. (Section 11)

Interference in internal affairs.The Registrar has the authority to “supervise the elections of national organizations.” (Section 22(2)(d))

Reporting requirements. Every registered organization must submit to the Registrar a semi-annual report on its business;an annual report; and a copy of the annual budget, which is “approved by a certified auditor.” (Section 27(1))

Government harassment. CSOs face many restrictions. The permission of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) is required prior to carrying out any proposed activity. The NISS uses its powers to prevent activities it classifies as “political,” including, for example, workshops that intend to discuss the contents of the new Constitution.

Civil society also faces a number of extra-legal pressures. In 2014, for example, the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) began scrutinizing several women’s organizations, including Salmmah Women's Resource Centre, whose Director was served with a decree signed and stamped by the Sudanese Ministry of Justice that ordered the cancellation of Salmmah's registration license and Salmmah's immediate liquidation. A five-person committee was also appointed to oversee its dissolution process while plain-clothed civilians, who did not identify themselves, accompanied the Dissolution Committee to Salmmah's offices and prohibited non-staff members from entering Salmmah's premises. This has led to concerns that the HAC will continue to shut down organizations that it perceives to be working against its interests, even those that provide needed services to women.

Other incidents that illustrate extra-legal pressures on civil society include the following:

  • In November 2012, the newly formed Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organizations (CSCSOs) purported to hold a press conference to declare the new organization. The NISS entered the premises of Sudan Human Rights Monitor (where the press conference was to be held) and ordered the dispersal of the gathering as an unlawful meeting for which no permission was obtained, labeling the meeting a threat to a “national security.”
  • Also in November 2012, the Sudanese Writers Union was given a warning that a workshop held on the proposed constitution was a “political” activity in which they should not engage.
  • In December 2012, the Sudan Studies Centre was suspended for one year in a letter from the Minister of Information alleging that the Centre had been engaged in activities threatening “national security.” On the same day the Dar Alfinoon (House of Arts) was closed for the same reason.

Barriers to Speech/Advocacy

CSOs supporting the government in power enjoy full government backing, including funding, customs exemptions on imports, and participation in government activities, including accompanying official delegations on travel to regional and international events. CSOs opposing the government, however, are often harassed, threatened, and closed down if they voice a position contrary to government views. The government also refuses to allow CSOs to take part in "national dialogue" because they are perceived as opposing the government.

In the months before the presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2015, the government again cracked down on CSOs, human rights defenders, students, the media and members of the political opposition, and refused to allow CSOs to observe the elections. Some CSOs, such as Massarat, were closed down, while others, such as The Civic Forum, The Sudanese Writers Union, and Mahmoud Mohammed Taha Centre, had their licenses revoked and offices closed as a result of their political activism. In early 2015, at least 16 newspapers had their publications confiscated by the Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), and more than 21 journalists were interrogated by the police and the NISS. In addition, Sudan's crackdown continued in 2016 when the government filed capital charges against six CSO activists associated with Training and Human Development (TRACKs). TRACKs, a Khartoum-based organization, was raided twice before by the NISS, which also confiscated the passports of its staff members.

In addition, in March 2017, three human rights defenders were released on time served after a court sentenced them to one-year imprisonment and a fine for “dissemination of false information” and “possession of immoral material”. The three human rights defenders had been detained since May 2016. A few months later, Dr. Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, along with five other human rights defenders, was released on August 2017 after being detained since early December 2016. He faced six trumped-up charges, including “undermining the constitutional system” and “waging war against the state”, both of which carried either the death penalty or life imprisonment. All charges against him were dropped.

In July 2018, eight charges, including crimes against the state, were added to charges that Winnie Omer was previously facing. She was first targeted in December 2017 by the public order police in Khartoum, who arrested her and charged her with “indecent dress”. At time of her arrest, she was wearing a long skirt, blouse and a scarf that she had worn that same morning while attending the trial of 24 women who had also been charged under Article 152 ("indecent dress") of the Sudan Criminal Act, 1991 for wearing trousers at a private party. Winnie Omer was detained for a few hours before she was released on bail in December 2017, and after three more court hearings the public order court dismissed the charges against her and found she was not indecently dressed. Two months later, however, in February 2018, Winnie Omer and three friends were arrested again during a police raid on an apartment where the group was having a meeting. During the raid, the police confiscated laptops and mobile phones. The group was detained for five days before being released on bail. The group was accused of, among other things, prostitution. It is unclear what was the reason behind the charges against Winnie Omer in July 2018 but it is believed they were related to her activism that has highlighted the ongoing pattern of harassment and intimidation against other activists and her by the authorities.

As demonstrated in the case of Winnie Omer, the authorities disproportionately apply broadly and ill-defined criminal offences, known as “public order” offences, which forbid, inter alia, “indecent and immoral” acts against or by women and girls. The police, prosecution and courts have broad discretion to judge whether a person has acted in “an indecent manner” or “a manner contrary to public morality”, or “wears an indecent, or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings”. In practice, the enforcement of public order laws by the public order police and courts has often been discriminatory and arbitrary against women and girls, especially those from marginalized religious or ethnic groups.

The Armed Forces Amendment Act, 2013, which allows military courts to try civilians for various crimes under Sudan's 1991 criminal code, including the spreading of "false news," has also been used to prosecute journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society activists.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers that restrict the ability of domestic organizations from contacting or communicating with international counterparts.  In practice, however, governmental authorities have stifled the ability of domestic CSOs from participating in international fora. In March 2016, for example, four CSO representatives were intercepted by security officials at Khartoum International Airport on their way to a high level human rights meeting with diplomats in Geneva. 

Several provisions do potentially restrict the ability of foreign organizations from operating in Sudan.  For example, Section 5(f) requires the “Non-interference of foreign voluntary organizations in the internal affairs of the Sudan in a way that may infringe on the sovereignty of the country.”  In addition, Section 9 sets forth the following registration requirements for a foreign organization:

  • “Its headquarters or origin shall not be in any state in a state of war with Sudan, or boycotted by [Sudan];” (Section 9(3)(d))
  • The foreign organization “shall produce what may prove itsfinancial and technical capabilities to carry outthe activities or work it intends to carry out in Sudan and the source of those capabilities;”(Section 9(3)(e))
  • The foreign organization “shall sign the country agreement;” (Section 9(3)(g)) and
  • The foreign organization shallsatisfy “any other conditions, as the minister may lay down, from time to time.” (Section 9(3)(h))

All of these provisions may be subject to arbitrary interpretation so as to prevent foreign organizations from operating in Sudan.

Barriers to Resources

According to Section 7(1) of the Act, CSOs seeking grants or funding for an organization’s program must have a “project instrument” approved by the government. CSOs may not obtain funds or grants from inside or outside the country, except with prior approval of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. (Section 7(2))

A recent policy issued by the HAC in 2013 reinforces these rules.  The 2013 policy requires CSOs to secure HAC approval for projects and individual activities before a CSO obtains funding from foreign sources. However, the HAC will only grant approval if the project is aimed at providing humanitarian services; advocacy activities will not receive approval. The receipt of foreign funding without prior HAC approval subjects the CSO to dissolution.

Barriers to Assembly

Excessive government discretion. According to Section 69 of the Interim National Constitution (INC), a “breach of the peace” occurs even when one person commits an act, which “is likely to breach the peace or public tranquility.” The consequence of a “breach of the peace” is severe: punishment with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month, or a fine, or flogging not exceeding twenty “lashes.” With vague terms such as “public tranquility,” this is a troublesome provision that may deters individuals fromengaging in assemblies.

Place restrictions. Under section 127 of the INC, the Governor or Commissioner of the jurisdiction may order the prohibition or restriction of any meeting, assembly or procession on public roads or places where a “breach of the peace” is likely. There is no right to appeal against the prohibition.

Notification. Although the INC provides for freedom of assembly, the Government has relied on a Circular from the Minister of Interior, which states that before any rally or demonstration may take place, the organizers must submit to the Minister a letter of intent, including why, where and when they plan to assemble. The Minster must give his consent in writing before such demonstration can take place. In fact, however, no such permit is ever given.

In connection to this, it is important to mention an incident that occurred on December 30, 2012. Following a series of raids by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) on the premises of CSOs, and the suspension of the activities of other CSOs, dozens of members of suspended CSOs decided to present a petition to the recently established National Commission on Human Rights. When these CSOs reached the premises of the Commission, security and police forces forcibly prevented them from entry and arrested two people. The Chairman and some members of the Commission intervened, arguing that it was within the Commission’s mandate to admit the CSOs and receive their petition. This was rejected by the security forces, who replied that they do not receive orders from the Commission. The crowd was then dispersed by force. What was unprecedented is that the Commission issued a press statement the same day denouncing the action of the security forces as a denial of the constitutional rights of CSOs and an affront to the Commission’s role and its immunity, and that the Commission would take any action necessary to ensure that such actions are not repeated in future.

Enforcement. Article 40 of the INC protects the right to freedom of assembly, but in practice assemblies, rallies, demonstrations and public gatherings face suppression by the police and the NISS. National Security laws adopted since the 1989 coup – the latest being the National Intelligence and Security Act, 2010 – have empowered the NISS to search, arrest and detain persons for varying periods, without any judicial supervision or sanction. In particular, the NISS has been used to prevent protest demonstrations and rallies, no matter what the purpose. Resorting to the Constitutional Court has proved futile, as the petition is always rejected when one is seeking to contest the legality of suppression of the right of assembly on the basis of alleged threat to “national security.”

Since the separation of South Sudan in July 2011 – and the stoppage of the revenue from oil, which constituted more than 75% of GDP – inflation has hit the economy very hard and   affected the lives of the majority of the Sudanese population. Peaceful demonstrations spread throughout the country in July and August 2012 and again in September 2013, especially at university campuses, schools and poor quarters in towns. The police and security organs were high-handed in repressing these demonstrations, using teargas, electric sticks and batons; detaining several individuals and political party leaders for weeks in solitary prison cells in secret detention houses, and subjecting them to torture and inhuman treatment.

Prominent human rights defenders, human rights lawyers and journalists have been targeted for arbitrary arrests and detention for their participation or purported participation in anti-austerity protests that started in January 2018. After January 6, 2018, the security forces arrested and detained scores of Sudanese citizens, including opposition political party leaders, human rights defenders/activists, journalists, student activists and others for prolonged periods without charge or trial.

Criminal penalties. Prison terms and physical punishment are common for even minor infractions of the laws on assembly, most of which are written vaguely to allow the authorities broad discretion to determine which actions are “unlawful” and warrant penalties. Two such examples are included below:
Section 67 of the Sudan Penal Code provides as follows:

“A person shall be said to commit the offence of breach of the peace if he joins in any crowd of five persons or more, if the crowd shows force or uses terrorism or violence, or if the common intention is to achieve any of the following objects:

  • To resist the execution of a provision of any law or any legal process.
  • To commit the offence of mischief or criminal trespass or any other offence.
  • To exercise any right or claimed right in way that may lead to a breach of public peace.
  • To compel a person to do what he is legally bound to do or to omit to do what he is lawfully entitled to do.”

Section 68 provides:

“Any person who commits the offence of ‘breach of the peace’ shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or with flogging which may not exceed twenty lashes. If he is carrying a weapon or any instrument which may cause death or grievous harm he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or with fine or with both.”

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports

Sudan

Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Sudan
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes

Not available

U.S. State Department

2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sudan

Fragile States Index Report

Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index

IMF Country Reports Sudan and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not Available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Sudan
ACJPS, FIDH, IRRI

Key Concerns and Recommendations for the Universal Periodic Review of Sudan, 2016

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Sudan Journalists Protest Restrictive Press Bill (July 2018)
A draft bill for the press and publications in Sudan has sparked extensive debate between government authorities and the media sector, the latter having described the law as being more restrictive on freedom of expression and the press. Sudanese journalists hope to remove the limitations on press freedom that are threatened with the introduction of the new law.

Activist Faces Trumped-Up Charges in Sudan (July 2018)
Khartoum-based rights activist Wini Omer has long been a vocal opponent of Sudan’s morality laws that criminalize “indecent dress” and other private choices, making her a frequent target for prosecution by authorities. This week authorities massively raised the stakes in their showdown with the activist, charging her with a slew of offenses, including ‘crimes against the state,” which carries a possibly death penalty.

Sudan must release Sakharov Laureate Salih Mahmoud Osman (February 2018)
In light of recent developments in Sudan, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Heidi Hautala and the Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee, Pier Antonio Panzeri stated: "We strongly condemn the arbitrary arrest by Sudanese forces of Salih Mahmoud Osman, Sakharov Prize Laureate and Vice President of the Darfur Bar Association, as well as arrests of other human rights defenders in Sudan. We are alarmed to learn that a crackdown on protesters, human rights defenders, student activists, journalists, attorneys and academics continues in Sudan, with the authorities using arbitrary arrests and excessive force to deal with peaceful protests against rising food prices."

Incommunicado detention of 8 human rights defenders and others for participating in peaceful protests (February 2018)
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sudan. The Observatory fears that these arrests and detentions occur in reaction to nation-wide demonstrations that began on January 6, 2018 and were set off by the announcement of Sudan's 2018 budget and the lifting of subsidies and measures, effectively tripling Sudan's U.S. dollar exchange rate and increasing the price of basic commodities. (See another "urgent appeal" at this link).

Sudan's human rights activist receives amnesty (August 2017)
Sudan's human rights activist Mudawi Ibrahim was the beneficiary of a decree by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, which pardons him along with other five political activists. Nabil Adib, Mudawi Ibrahim's defence lawyer, said the decree has dropped all charges against his client, who has served nine months in detention with charges including undermining the constitutional order and inciting war against the state. Ibrahim, 59, was detained by Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service last December. In March 2009, the authorities shut down Sudan Social Development Organization, which was chaired by Ibrahim, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Khartoum.

Sudanese security service arrests human rights defender (May 2017)
The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested Sudanese human rights defender Mudawi Ibrahim Adam in Khartoum and took him to undisclosed location, said Amnesty International. Adam was arrested on Wednesday December 7 at Khartoum University, where he works as an engineering professor. Amnesty International said his arrest is "further proof of the government's intolerance of independent voices".

Opposition Leaders Barred From Flying to Paris (January 2017)
Agents of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) prevented seven prominent opposition leaders from travelling to the French capital. They are all leading members of the Sudan Appeal, a two-page document calling for regime-change and democracy, signed by them and the rebel movements allied in the Sudan Revolutionary Front, in Addis Ababa in December 2014.

Sudan Activists Charged with Death Penalty Crimes (August 2016)
Following the filing of capital charges against six civil society activists associated with Training and Human Development (TRACKs), Freedom House issued the following statement: “Authorities in Sudan have charged Khalaf-Allah Al-Afif Muktar, Mustafa Adam, Midhat Afifaddin Hamadan, Arwa Al-Rabie, Imany-Leila Ray, and Al-Hassan Kheiry with espionage and terrorism, charges that are preposterous and were brought against these individuals for exercising the fundamental right to free association.... The government of Sudan should either drop these absurd charges or ensure a speedy and fair trial. It should allow observers to attend all proceedings and guarantee the defendants’ right to receive visitors in prison.” TRACKs, a Khartoum-based organization, has been raided twice during the last two years by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services, which has confiscated the passports of staff members. In April 2015 criminal charges—some carrying the death penalty—were brought against TRACKs Director Khalafalla Alafif Mukhtar and Adil Bakheit, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Directors for Sudanese Human Rights Monitor.

Sudan blocks civil society participation in UN-led human rights review (August 2016)
The efforts of the Government of Sudan to obstruct the engagement of civil society activists in a United Nations (UN)-led human rights review of the country is unacceptable and shows blatant contempt not just for human rights defenders in Sudan, but to human rights standards and the UN Human Rights Council. Four representatives of Sudanese civil society were intercepted by security officials at Khartoum International Airport on their way to a high level human rights meeting with diplomats which took place in Geneva on 31 March. The meeting was organised by the international NGO, UPR Info, in preparation for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Sudan that will take place in May.

Civil Society Barred From Holding Press Conference (December 2015)
Security agents prevented a number of Sudanese civil society organisations from holding a press conference in Khartoum. In a joint statement, the organisations stated that they will adhere to their "constitutional rights of free expression and gathering". They said they will continue to organise a series of meetings in which they will express their views on "the current cultural state of affairs in the country, and the government legislations and practices that shackle any cultural and artistic activity".

Leading human rights defender released from prison (April 2015)
On April 9, 2015, the Sudanese Minister of Justice announced the suspension of the case brought against Dr. Medani, President of Sudan's Confederation of Civil Society Organisations, Vice President of Civil Society Initiative, and former President of the Sudan Human Rights Monitor (SHRM). He was released, along with Mr. Faruq Abu Eissa, chairman of the opposition group, the National Consensus Forces and Mr. Farah Ibrahim Alagar, political activist. The three men were released the same day.

Sudan Government stifling media and civil society (April 2015)
With the general elections fast approaching in Sudan, the government's clampdown on dissenting voices threatens the independence and freedom of action of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, students, the media and members of the political opposition, Amnesty International said in a briefing. Since January 2015, at least 16 newspapers have had editions of their publications confiscated by the Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). Some 21 journalists have been interrogated by the police and the NISS. Three leading civil society organizations have been shut down, with at least five others under imminent threat of closure.

Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrests civil society leaders (December 2014)
Agents of the Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) detained Faroug Abu Eisa, leader of the National Consensus Forces (NCF, a coalition of opposition parties), Dr Amin Mekki Madani, chairman of the Sudanese Civil Society Initiative, and Dr Farah El Agar, senior consultant of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N). The three leaders were detained at their homes in Khartoum and Omdurman, a day after returning from Addis Ababa. In Addis Ababa, they met with the AU High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) mediation team for Sudan to discuss their participation in the National Dialogue, as proposed by President Omar Al Bashir earlier in 2014. A spokesman for the ruling National Congress Party said that the civil society leaders will face criminal charges.

In anniversary of September 2013 uprising, regime cracks down on freedoms (September 2014)
During the month that witnessed the first anniversary of the 'uprising' of September 2013, when more than 200 peaceful demonstrators were killed in the streets of Khartoum and other cities, the Sudanese regime continued its crackdown on political and civil liberties. The regime froze the activities of the "Regional Centre for Training and Development of Civil Society", prevented the annual meeting of the Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organizations and previously the "Salamah Centre for Feminist Studies" was shut down by national security agents without providing any reasons in each of these cases. Furthermore, the security agencies launched a detention campaign, during which dozens of political activists were arrested and kept in detention in unknown places.

End Arbitrary Detention of Activists - Investigate Allegations of Torture, Abuse (June 2014)

Sudan's VP reiterates government's determination to hold national dialogue (January 2014)

Sudan ruling party dissident forms 'Reform Now Movement' (January 2014)

In Sudan, Civil Society says It's Struggling to Work Around US Sanctions' Block on Tech (January 2014)

UN Expert deeply concerned at mass arrests and heavy media censorship during protests (October 2013)

At Least 32 Killed, 700 Arrested In Worst Unrest In Years (October 2013)

Sudan to further restrict work of foreign aid groups including UN agencies (August 2013)

Crackdown on civil society in Sudan emboldens hardliners (March 2013)

On the closure of Al Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE) (December 2012

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner organization in Sudan.