Sudan

Last updated: 22 October 2019

Update

On June 3, 2019, there was a violent crackdown by the Sudanese Security Forces on pro-democracy protesters, which ended weeks of peaceful sit-ins outside the Army Headquarters in Khartoum. The National Security Forces and the government-backed paramilitary, Rapid Support Forces (RSF), including child soldiers, violently attacked protesters, bystanders, and medical workers, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds. Following the attack, on June 4, more than 40 bodies were recovered after security forces allegedly threw bodies into the Nile River. Hundreds of people were also arrested or disappeared and their properties were looted or destroyed.

The bloody dispersal drew sharp condemnation from the United Nations, the African Union (AU), and other international partners. On June 6, 2019, the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) suspended Sudan from participation in all AU activities until it effectively established a civilian-led transitional authority. The PSC further decided that should the Transitional Military Council (TMC) fail to hand over power to a civilian government, punitive measures shall be imposed.

There have, however, been no reports on crackdowns on civil society or the media since June 2019. The country has been relatively peaceful since the start of the transition period.

Introduction

The history of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Sudan dates to the country’s colonial period under Anglo-Egyptian rule, which lasted from 1899 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 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 throughout the subsequent years, depending on the nature of the government in power. Until the recent April 2019 political changes, Sudan had three parliamentary democracies and three military governments since its independence, including the current government, and CSOs tended to fair better under civilian rule. When the recently-deposed military government took power in a 1989 coup, the government of newly installed President Omar al-Bashir declared a state of emergency that included banning all political parties, organizations, professional associations, trades unions, societies, newspapers, and magazines. It was an uphill battle for CSOs in Sudan after that.

Pressure on civil society increased in September 2013 and continued after then. During protests in September 2013, 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 April 2015presidential and parliamentary elections, 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, the Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (SISS) confiscated the publications of at least 16 newspapers, and the police and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) interrogated more than 21 journalists. This made clear that the government was not prepared to create a more enabling space for CSOs to 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, had previously been raided twice by NISS, which also confiscated the passports of its staff members. In addition, the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) tightened its grip on civil society, including through scrutiny of women’s organizations.

The crackdown on CSOs continued again in 2018. For example, Sudanese security officials used excessive force to respond to peaceful protests that began in mid-December 2018. The NISS and Sudanese Police Force indiscriminately fired live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters, killing more than 40 civilians. Hundreds of peaceful protesters, including opposition politicians, students, doctors, advocates, activists, and journalists, were arbitrarily detained for their involvement in the protests, which were triggered by the rising prices of basic commodities.

However, at the end of 2018, mass protests calling for an end to Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule began, and, finally, on April 11, 2019, then-Defense Minister and Vice-President, Lt. Gen. Awad Ahmed Ibn Auf, announced the arrest of al-Bashir and the formation of a Transitional Military Council (TMC) that would seize power for a two-year transitional period under his leadership. He further announced that the Sudanese Constitution had been suspended, declared a state of emergency for three months, and called for the release of political prisoners. Opposition parties and the international community immediately raised concerns over the composition of the TMC, however, and Ibn Auf was soon replaced by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was the Inspector-General of the armed forces and the commander of Sudanese forces fighting in the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.

Sudanese citizens continued to remain in the streets calling for a civilian transitional government and structural reform of the state. On April 23, 2019, Mr. Salah Abdallah Mohammed Salih, also known as Salah Ghosh, resigned as Director of NISS and was replaced by Lieutenant General Abu Bakr Mustafa. Salah Gosh was known for overseeing security forces’ use of lethal force during the September 2013 protests. On April 16, 2019, al-Burhan dismissed the Head of Prosecution, Omer Ahmed Mohamed, and replaced him with Al-Waleed Sayyed Ahmed.

The protests were led by members of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which rejected Ibn Auf’s announcements. The SPA instead called on protesters to continue demonstrating until a civilian transitional government is established. The Sudanese people and other CSOs have expressed solidarity and called for a peaceful and democratic transition. In addition, the African Union Peace and Security Council has suspended Sudan from all African Union activities until the constitutional order is restored. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued its own statement urging the authorities to ensure the protection of human rights and refrain from use of violence and further stressed “the need for independent, prompt and effective investigations into the excessive use of force against protestors.”

The TMC, for its part, has welcomed dialogue with opposition forces, including those behind the protests and had made promises to respond to the protestors’ demands. The Forces of the Declaration of Freedom (DFC), a coalition of political and CSO actors, who are taking the lead in advocating for democratic transition by civilian rule based on internationally agreed principles, presented their demands to the TMC. However, on April 21, 2019, the DFC announced that it was suspending negotiations with the TMC because of issues related to doubts surrounding the actual willingness of the TMC to allow for a change of the regime.

Since April 2019, hundreds of political prisoners, including those detained for their involvement or suspected involvement in the original popular protests that broke out in mid-December 2018, have been released. They include Mohamed Hassan Alim, a political activist who was arbitrarily detained by the NISS on October 9, 2018 following his deportation from Egypt; Hisham Ali Mohammed Ali, a Sudanese blogger arbitrarily detained by the NISS in May 2018 after he was deported from Saudi Arabia; Mohamed Naji Al-Assam and Ahmed Rabi of the SPA Secretariat, who were arbitrarily detained on January 4 and 5, 2019 in connection with the popular protests. On March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, 36 of 54 women detained in connection with the popular protests were also released following a presidential directive from the recently deposed al-Bashir. Several of them had been arbitrarily detained for two months.

On June 3, 2019, the TMC called for an election within nine months. However, on July 17, 2019, following mediations between the TMC and DFC led by the AU and Ethiopia, the TMC and the DFC reached a political agreement on the political declaration of the transitional period. The political declaration includes three institutions: sovereign council, government and legislative council. According to the text of the agreement, the sovereign council will consist of 11 members, including five members from the military and five civilians, while the 11th member will be a civilian selected by both the TMC and the DFC. The mediations also tackled transitional period tasks such as peace, economic reforms and humanitarian relief and reaffirmed the investigation of crimes committed against civilians after the collapse of al-Bashir’s regime in April 2019. The agreement also established a rotating presidency, with the TMC appointing the chairman of the Sovereign Council for 21 months, followed by a chairman chosen by the DFC for the remaining 18 months.

On August 4, 2019 the TMC and the opposition coalition Forces for Freedom of Change (FFC) signed a Constitutional Charter that paves the way for a transitional period. Around two weeks later, on August 17, 2019, the TMC and the FCC appended their signatures to the Constitutional Charter, 2019, in the presence of regional and international envoys. The 2019 Constitutional Charter governs a 39-month transitional period. This power-sharing agreement incorporates both the political and constitutional agreements. The end of the transitional period shall be followed by general elections. The Constitutional Charter repeals the 2005 Interim National Constitution and provides a governance structure for the transitional period.

The transitional period will be under the leadership of the Sovereign Council comprising five military officials and six civilians. For the first 21 months of the transitional period, the Sovereign Council will be chaired by a military member and the last 18 months will be chaired by a civilian member. On August 21, 2019, the 11-member Sovereign Council was sworn into office with Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan as the chair. Mr. Abdalla Hamdok, a promiment economist, was sworn in as Prime Minister for the transitional cabinet. An independent Transitional Legislative Council with at least 40% women’s participation is to be formed within three months of the signing of the Charter.

The Constitutional Charter provides for a number of goals for reforming institutions and ensuring accountability for atrocities suffered. During the transitional period, state agencies have the duty to hold members of the former regime accountable for crimes committed against Sudanese people since 1989. The Charter also provides for the formation of a national and independent investigation committee to address the June 3, 2019 violence. On 23 September 2019, Hon. Prime Minister Hamdouk announced the formation a seven-member investigation committee for the June 3 violence. Furthermore, the Constitutional Charter provides for the formation of 11 independent commissions, including a transitional justice commission.

Organizational FormsNational voluntary organization, charitable organization, civil society organization (as defined in the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) Act).
Registration BodyMinistry of Interior.
Barriers to EntryMandatory registration; Burdensome requirements (30 minimum founders required); Annual re-registration.
Barriers to ActivitiesSuppression of CSOs not aligned with government. However, since the negotiations between FFC and TMC were followed by the commencement of the transitional period in August 2019, there have been no further reports of crackdowns on media or CSOss.
Barriers to Speech and/or AdvocacyFines and penalties for CSOs that publicly disagree with the government; refusal to allow CSOs to participate in “national dialogue.” However, since the negotiations between FFC and TMC were followed by the commencement of the transitional period in August 2019, there have been no further reports of crackdowns on media or CSOs.
Barriers to International Contact“Country Agreements” required for foreign CSOs.
Barriers to ContactNearly impossible to receive permit to hold an assembly.
Barriers to ResourcesAdvanced government approval for all foreign funding.
Barriers to Assembly
Nearly impossible to receive a permit to hold an assembly. However, since the negotiations between FFC and TMC were followed by the commencement of the transitional period in August 2019, there have been no further reports of crackdowns on media or CSOss.
Population41,984,512 (2018 est.)
CapitalKhartoum
Type of GovernmentUntil 2019, it was a federal republic ruled by the National Congress Party the (NCP), which came to power by military coup in 1989. Currently the country is testing a transition to greater democracy.
Life Expectancy at BirthMale: 62 years
Female: 66 years (2015 est.)
Literacy RateMale: 83.3%
Female: 68.6% (2015 est.)
Religious GroupsSunni Islam, small Christian minority
Ethnic GroupsSudanese Arab (approximately 70%), Fur, Beja, Nuba, Fallata
GDP per capita$4,600 (2017 est.)

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

Ranking BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index167 (2018)1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index11 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index2 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International172 (2018)1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: “Worst of the Worst”
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States IndexRank: 7 (2018)178 – 1
0-10

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes18 Mar. 1986
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)No —
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes21 Mar. 1977
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize ConventionNo
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)No3 Mar. 1990
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenNo —
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes4 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)Yes4 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

Article 2 of the Constitutional Charter, 2019, repeals the Interim Constitution of Sudan, 2005, and the constitutions of provinces. However, the laws enacted under the Interim Constitution remain in force unless repealed or amended. Before the end of transitional period a national constitutional conference is to be held with the expectation of adopting a new constitution. Members of the Commission in charge of the constitution-drafting and constitutional conference shall be appointed by the Sovereign Council in consultation with the Cabinet.

Chapter 14 of the Constitutional Charter, 2019, sets out the rights and freedoms. It retains rights included in the previous bill of rights under the Interim Constitution of Sudan, 2005, including:

56. Freedom of express and the press
(1) Every citizen shall have the unrestricted right to freedom of expression, to receive and publish information and publications, and to access the press, without prejudice to public order, safety and morals, as defined by law.
(2) The right to access the internet, without prejudice to public order, safety, and morals, as defined by the law.
(3) The state shall guarantee freedom of the press and other media, as regulated by law in a democratic, pluralistic society.
(4) All media shall adhere to the ethics of the profession and shall not incite religious, ethnic, racial, or cultural hatred, or call for violence or war.

57. Freedom of assembly and organization
(1) The right to peaceful assembly shall be guaranteed, and every person shall have the right to free organization without others, including the right to form political parties, associations, organizations, syndicates and professional unions, or the join the same in order to protect their interests.
(2) The law shall regulate the formation and registration of political parties, associations, organizations, syndicates and professional unions, in accordance with what is required by democratic society.
(3) No organization shall have to right to work as a political party, unless it has the following:
(a) Open membership for all Sudanese, regardless of religion, ethnic origin or place of birth;
(b) Democratically elected institutions;
(c) Transparent and open sources of funding.

Article 41(2) of the Constitutional Charter states: “All rights and freedoms contained in international human rights agreements, pacts, and charters ratified by the Republic of Sudan shall be considered an integral part of this document.”

The Interim National Constitution of Sudan, 2005 (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).

The 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 its provisions, including Article 21 on the freedom of peaceful assembly and Article 22 on the freedom of association.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

CSOs are governed by the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) (“VHO”) Act, 2006 (“the Act”) (Arabic version), which 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 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, 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 people for varying periods without any judicial supervision or sanction.

Pending CSO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

While the new transition government is being formed and new appointments in the executive are being made, there has not been movement on initiatives to amend previous laws prohibiting the work of independent civil society and the media. Statements and promises have been made by various officials, however. For example, at the 74th UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Hamdok made a statement on the state of press freedom in Sudan and the benefits it would have for promoting human rights, good governance, a culture of tolerance, dialogue, and peace. He also underscored the importance of free press in promoting accountability and transparency and fighting corruption, especially when information is made readily available to the public.

For information previous initiatives, please see the below:

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 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. Given the political changes since April 2019, it is unclear what the status of this proposed Act will be moving forward.

2. The al-Bashir regime had been in the process of preparing a new Islamic constitution, which civil society and the majority of opposition parties believed would not be suitable for a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural society such as Sudan. In February 2015, President al-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 would be 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 was in power since the 1989 coup d’état. Dialogue on such reforms was therefore discontinued.

Given the political changes since April 2019, it is doubtful there will still be a push for this new Islamic constitution. However, the TMC and the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC) forces, an umbrella organization for opposition and protests organizers, have been holding talks to reach an agreement on unified vision of the Constitutional Declaration, a document that will guide the country during the agreed three-year transitionary period. In July 2019, the AFC rejected some of the contents in the draft Constitution developed by the TMC, including an Article that grants members of the Sovereign Council immunity from prosecution of crimes they committed, including in the June 3, 2019 crackdown. The draft Constitution also provides for the powers of the three institutions of the transitional body.

3. On July 29, 2019, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued Constitutional Decree No. 33 to reform the NISS. The decree changes the name of the NISS to General Intelligence Services and limits its mandate to intelligence and counter intelligence services. The opposition and Sudanese citizens have since the ouster of Omar al-Bashir called for comprehensive reforms of the security sector.

4. 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 license 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 and the intention of authorities to control the press. The authorities already rely on existing laws—the National Security Act, 2010, Criminal Act, 199,1 and Press and Publications Act, 2009—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-publication censorship, causing tremendous financial loss. Journalists have also been targeted for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, criminal prosecution, and summons. Given the political changes in April 2019, it is unclear what the status of this proposed initiative will be moving forward.

Organizational Forms

There are three organizational forms defined in Section 4 of the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work (Organization) (“VHO”) 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 is not 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 the financial 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 Section 4 of 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 Sudan that aims at providing humanitarian aid, relief, public services and human rights services, protecting the environment, or enhancing the economic and social standards of the beneficiaries.”

Public Benefit Status

There are no clear rules about tax exemptions or public benefit status in Sudan. However, according to the VHO Act, “the Minister of Finance and National Economy, upon the recommendation of the Minister [of Humanitarian Affairs],” may grant exemptions from duties, taxes, and privileges to “national, foreign voluntary organizations, or civil society organizations registered under the Act.” In addition, anyone who provides funds for “voluntary or charitable work” may be exempted from taxation (Section 29(1),(2), and (3)).

Barriers to Entry

There are a number of barriers to entry in the VHO Act.

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 fewer 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 desirable, 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 terms such as “acceptable justification” and “unlawful gains” undefined 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, without stating any reason why. 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 VHO Act include the following:

Annual re-registration requirement. Every registered organization must renew its license annually (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 “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 its immediate liquidation. A five-person committee was also appointed to oversee its dissolution process, and plain-clothed individuals, 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 illustrate extra-legal pressures on civil society:

  • In November 2012, the newly formed Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organizations planned 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.”
  • 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 received a letter from the Ministry of Information suspending the Centre for one year and 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.

More recently, the Seema Centre for Training and Protection of Women and Children’s Rights announced that its Khartoum office was raided by unknown individuals in the early hours of July 23, 2019. According to Seema, the contents of the office were ransacked and there are indications the raid and break-in had nothing to do with theft, but were aimed at obtaining papers and documents concerning the nature of the work of the centre.

Barriers to Speech/Advocacy

CSOs that support the government enjoy its full backing, such as funding, customs exemptions on imports, and participation in government activities, including accompanying official delegations on travel to regional and international events. CSOs that oppose 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, the Sudan Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) confiscated the publications of at least 16 newspapers, and the police and NISS interrogated more than 21 journalists. 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, had been raided twice before by the NISS, which also confiscated its staff members’ passports.

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.” They 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 against Winnie Omer. 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. After three additional court hearings, the public order court dismissed the charges against her and found she was not indecently dressed. However, in February 2018, 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. They were accused of, among other things, prostitution. The reason behind the July 2018 charges against Omer is unclear, but it is believed they were related to her activism highlighting the authorities’ ongoing pattern of harassment and intimidation of her and other activists.

As demonstrated in Omer’s case, the authorities have disproportionately applied 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.

On December 20, 2018, the Sudanese government shut down the internet in an attempt to suppress protests. Using virtual private networks, Sudanese citizens were able to continue sharing information on various social media platforms, including updates on scheduled protests and details about the ongoing crackdown by security forces. Sudanese authorities have subjected journalists who continued to cover the protests have been subjected to physical attacks, summons and interrogations, arrests and detention, and bans from writing. For example, a journalist was dismissed from work following comments he made to the BBC about the ongoing protests. The authorities have also subjected Sudanese newspapers to post-print censorship through confiscation of print-runs. On January 21, 2018, the Sudanese authorities also withdrew the journalist license of Mr. Saad Eldien Hassan, an Al-Arabiya correspondent, thereby banning him from working as a journalist in Sudan.

The political changes since April 2019 have suggested the government will change course from previous trends. For instance, hundreds of political prisoners, including those detained for their involvement or suspected involvement in the original popular protests that broke out in mid-December 2018, have been released. They include Mohamed Hassan Alim, a political activist who was arbitrarily detained by the NISS on October 9, 2018 following his deportation from Egypt; Hisham Ali Mohammed Ali, a Sudanese blogger arbitrarily detained by the NISS in May 2018 after he was deported from Saudi Arabia; and Mohamed Naji Al-Assam and Ahmed Rabi of the SPA Secretariat, who were arbitrarily detained on January 4 and 5, 2019 in connection with the popular protests. On March 8, 2018, International Women’s Day, 36 of 54 women detained in connection with the popular protests were also released following a presidential directive from the recently deposed al-Bashir. Several of them had been arbitrarily detained for two months.

Furthermore, in August 2019, the Sudanese authorities allowed al-Jazeera to re-open their offices in Khartoum after it was forced to close on May 31, 2019 and its license was withdrawn without justification and its journalists banned from carrying out any reporting on Sudan.  The offices were notably shut down a few days before the violent crackdown at the sit-in protest on June 3, 2019. After that crackdown, the TMC shut down internet services for national security reasons. Telecom companies only restored the internet on July 10, 2019 after a National Court ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by a group of lawyers challenging the internet shutdown as a violation of a constitutional right.

In addition, 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, government authorities have limited domestic CSOs’ ability to participate 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 of the VHO Act 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 its financial and technical capabilities to carry out the 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 shall satisfy “any other conditions, as the minister may lay down, from time to time” (Section 9(3)(h)).

These provisions have all been subject to arbitrary interpretation to prevent foreign organizations from operating in Sudan. However, the political changes since April 2019 suggest the government may reconsider the above provisions in favor of more enabling regulations.

Barriers to Resources

According to Section 7(1) of the VHO Act, CSOs seeking grants or funding must have a “project instrument” approved by the government. Prior approval of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs is required for CSOs to obtain funds or grants from inside or outside the country (Section 7(2)).

A 2013 HAC policy reinforces these rules by requiring CSOs to secure HAC approval for projects and individual activities before they obtain 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. A CSO can be dissolved for receiving foreign funding without prior HAC approval.

It is unclear whether the political changes since April 2019 will affect the HAC.

Barriers to Assembly

Excessive government discretion. According to Section 69 of the Criminal Act of 1991, a “breach of the peace” occurs even when one person commits an act that “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 from engaging 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 the prohibition.

Notification. Although the INC provides for freedom of assembly, the Government has relied on a Circular from the Minister of Interior stating 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 the demonstration can take place. In fact, however, no such permit is ever given.

On December 30, 2012, following a series of National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) raids on CSOs’ premises and the suspension of other CSOs’ activities, 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 entering 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. The security forces rejected this argument, stating that they do not receive orders from the Commission, and then dispersed the crowd by force. In an unprecedented move, the Commission issued a press statement that day denouncing the security forces’ actions as a denial of the constitutional rights of CSOs and an affront to the Commission’s role and its immunity. The Commission also vowed to 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 most recent being the National Intelligence and Security Act, 2010—have empowered the NISS to search, arrest, and detain people for varying periods without any judicial supervision or sanction. In particular, the NISS has prevented protest demonstrations and rallies, no matter what the purpose. Resorting to the Constitutional Court has proved futile, as the petition is always rejected when it contests 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 accompanying stoppage of oil revenue, 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 lower income areas of towns. The police and security organs repressed these demonstrations harshly, using teargas, electric sticks, and batons and 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.

Excessive Force. Sudanese security officials used excessive force to crack down on peaceful protests that began in mid-December 2018 and continued in 2019. The NISS and Sudanese Police Force indiscriminately fired live ammunition and tear gas into crowds of peaceful protesters, killing more than 40 civilians, according to the Sudanese Doctors Committee. Hundreds of peaceful protesters, including opposition politicians, students, doctors, advocates, activists, and journalists, were also arbitrarily detained for their involvement in popular protests. Protests occurred in various parts of the country including Atbara, Karima, Ed Damazin, Al Gadarif, Al Obeid, Khartoum, Omdurman, Al Fahser, Wad Madani, Port Sudan, Berber, and Sinja.

Since April 2019 the TMC has welcomed dialogue with opposition forces, including those behind the protests that led to the removal of Omar al-Bashir from power, and has made promises to respond to the protestors’ demands. Nevertheless, on June 3, 2019, there was a violent crackdown by the Sudanese Security Forces on pro-democracy protesters, which ended weeks of peaceful sit-ins outside the Army Headquarters in Khartoum. The National Security Forces and the government-backed paramilitary, Rapid Support Forces (RSF), including child soldiers, violently attacked protesters, bystanders, and medical workers, killing more than 100 people and injuring hundreds. Following the attack, on June 4, more than 40 bodies were recovered after security forces allegedly threw bodies into the Nile River. Hundreds of people were also arrested or disappeared and their properties were looted or destroyed.

The bloody dispersal drew sharp condemnation from the United Nations, the African Union (AU) and other international partners. On June 6, the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) suspended Sudan from participation in all AU activities until it effectively established a civilian-led transitional authority. The PSC further decided that should TMC fail to hand over power to a civilian government, punitive measures shall be imposed.

Criminal penalties. Prison terms and physical punishment are common for even minor violations 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. For instance, Section 67 of the Sudan Penal Code states, “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.”

In addition, Section 68 states, “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.”

UN Universal Periodic Review ReportsSudan
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs and UN Human Rights CouncilSee here

Situation of human rights in the Sudan – Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights on his visit to Sudan – Comments by the State (A/HRC/42/63/Add.1) (August 28, 2019)

USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country NotesNot available
U.S. State Department2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Sudan
Fragile States Index ReportForeign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country ReportsSudan and the IMF
International Commission of JuristsNot Available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online LibrarySudan
ACJPS, FIDH, IRRIKey Concerns and Recommendations for the Universal Periodic Review of Sudan, 2016

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 forms 11-member sovereign council (August 2019)
Sudan’s generals and protest leaders have announced a joint ruling body, formally disbanding the military council that took power after the toppling of longtime ruler Omar Bashir in April 2019 in the wake of relentless protests against his rule.

TMC, FFC add text on peace in Sudan to constitutional declaration (August 2019)
The Addis Ababa document on peace agreed between the rebel umbrella Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) and its political allies in the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) was officially added to the agreed Constitutional Declaration. On Friday the FFC and the Transitional Military Council (TMC) finished discussions on the fundamental law facilitating orderly change to a democratic regime during the 39 months transitional period.

Sudan factions initial pact ushering in transitional government (August 2019)
Sudan’s military rulers and the main opposition coalition initialled a constitutional declaration, paving the way for a transitional government following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.

Women and Children’s Rights NGO’s Khartoum Office Ransacked (July 2019)
The Sima Centre for Training and Protection of Women and Children’s Rights has said that its office in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum was raided early on Tuesday. The outer door was broken, and the contents of the office ransacked, but initial inspection suggests nothing was stolen. The centre said in a statement that all signs indicate that the raid and break-in had nothing to do with theft; but aimed at papers and documents concerning the nature of the work of the centre.