‘Smoke and mirrors’ in post-revolution Sudan: Lessons from Egypt

This time two years ago, Sudan was in the midst of an unprecedented revolution. Citizens of all ethnicities, religious beliefs and walks of life across the whole country had come together to call for justice, democracy, human rights, and an end to nearly three decades of repression under President Omar al Bashir. An Islamist army officer, al Bashir had seized power from an elected government in 1989, and had enjoyed support from the Muslim Brotherhood movement both inside and outside the country.

After several months of consistent demonstrations which saw the Sudanese people overcome a repressive and heavy-handed response from the government and its security forces, it seemed as though their vision for an inclusive Sudan was finally within touching distance. President al Bashir was arrested in April 2019, and in August a transitional government was appointed to oversee the country’s progression towards democracy, with the transition period scheduled to end in 2022.

While these welcome developments were praised by many as ushering in a new era for Sudan, progress since then has been frustratingly slow.

Human rights violations, including violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), continue to occur on a regular basis, and there is still a need to ensure that justice is served for atrocity crimes committed under the previous regime, and indeed by members of the current government who are alleged to have been complicit in crackdowns on protesters, including the shocking massacre of demonstrators in Khartoum on 3 June 2019.

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A welcome development – the National Commission on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Sudan

On 21 May, Sudan’s transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Agar) announced the creation of an independent National Commission on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).[1] This welcome development has the potential to be of great benefit to the Sudanese people, and particularly to groups that have been marginalised historically. However, implementation will be the key factor determining whether the commission realises its full potential.  

The transitional government, specifically the Prime Minister and Minister of Religious Affairs, have made positive statements and pledges regarding the advancement of FoRB for all. However, there are limitations to the current government’s capacity to respond effectively to the many obstacles to the full enjoyment of FoRB by every religious community.

Over the last 30 years, policies, laws and practices have systematically undermined the rights of marginalised communities in Sudan, particularly Christians, as well as Muslims who did not conform to what the former regime deemed to be permissible religious practice. The transitional government has the herculean task of investigating, reviewing and taking steps to compensate for past violations, and ensuring an end to these abuses.

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Towards an inclusive Sudan

The people of Sudan have endured a long and winding road towards realising their dream of a free, just and peaceful country.

Since the arrest of former President al Bashir in April, protesters organised under the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), have been engaged in negotiations with the Transitional Military Council (TMC) over the creation of a civilian led transitional administration.

What is clear is that human rights like freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) must be upheld in order for such a transition to be successful. FoRB is a vital right in the context of a democratic society. Being able to live in a diverse society, where a plurality of opinions, beliefs, cultures and expressions are accommodated is key to promoting tolerance, peace, and development.

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‘Just fall that is all’: A look at Sudan’s protests, why now and what next?

Mohaned Mustafa El-Nour is a distinguished Sudanese Human Rights Lawyer who practiced law in the country for over 13 years. He currently resides in the UK along with his family after they were forced to flee Sudan in 2018. Despite his displacement Mohaned has continued to advocate for the rights of Sudanese citizens, in this post he breaks down some of the details of the current protests in Sudan, looking at why they are different this time and what may lie ahead for the country.

“Sudan’s revolution began on 13 December in Blue Nile State, followed by Atbara State on 19 December after cuts to bread subsidies. Protests quickly spread over all Sudan, calling for the overthrow of President Bashir and his regime. So far 55 people have been shot or heavily tortured to death, and hundreds have been injured and detained.

Despite a violent official response the protests have continued for more than three months and are increasing day by day.

The revolution has become a way of life for people in Sudan. Across the country, Sudanese men and women of all ages are repeating the slogan ‘Just fall that is all’ on a daily basis.

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Will Lifting Sanctions improve Human Rights in Sudan?

The recent decision by the United States (US) to lift two decades of sanctions on Sudan has been welcomed by some international actors, but received criticism from human rights organisations, campaigners and Sudanese opposition politicians.

The significance of this achievement for the government of Sudan cannot be understated.

Sudan has invested heavily in efforts towards the lifting of sanctions, including bringing the African Union on board and supporting the appointment of the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights. The mandate holder is tasked with investigating the human rights impact of economic measures applied by one State to change policy of another State. After the creation of the role, the Special Rapporteur’s first visit was Sudan, where he advocated for the lifting of US sanctions.

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