CLAIMS made by the UK about the human rights situation in Sudan have been refuted by Khartoum. In its Human Rights and Democracy Report 2016 released last month, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said ‘there was no improvement in the human rights situation in Sudan during 2016.’
The report added: ‘We have seen further restrictions on freedom of expression. The government continued to confiscate newspaper runs. We remain concerned by arbitrary arrests and reports of torture and ill-treatment by the Sudanese authorities of political figures and human rights defenders…’
A Sudanese government spokesman told Africa Briefing that there were 42 daily newspapers in Sudan and if any was confiscated it was because the publication violated press laws. On the issue of ‘unlawful arrests’, the spokesman said that those detained, including Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, founder of the Sudan Social Development Organisation, were ‘facing criminal charges.’
Sudan is one of 30 Human Rights Priority Countries (HRPCs), which the UK looks for positive engagement that contributes to addressing human rights concerns. There are nine other African HRPCs: Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The Sudanese government also reject slavery claims. ‘There is no slavery in Sudan. The government is doing its best to fight human trafficking despite the blockage imposed on it,’ the spokesman said.
He said a national committee was formed in April 2014 to tackle human trafficking. ‘It is a mechanism for enforcing the law and it coordinates domestic, regional and international efforts. There is an anti-human trafficking law, plus periodical workshops to discuss means of combating this problem. A number of specialised offices has been opened in Eastern Sudanese states, plus special courts to try traffickers.’
The FCO report acknowledged that ‘fighting decreased in conflict areas over the second half of 2016” because of “unilateral ceasefires’ by the government and rebel groups. But it added that in early 2016 there was ‘intense fighting’ in Jebel Marra that displaced 98,000 civilians. The Sudanese government spokesman said this figure was ‘exaggerated,’ adding: ‘Those displaced have returned to their villages after the security situation improved.’
On the issue of child protection, the spokesman said: ‘Several national legislations have been issued to include a minimum working age. Sudan ratified regional and international conventions on children’s rights. Sudan has also ratified the two optional protocols attached to the UN Convention on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.’
The FCO began publishing its Annual Human Rights Report in 1998. As well as the annual report, it publishes twice-yearly updates on the 30 HRPCs. The latest update was published days before the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, visited Sudan to inaugurate the 39th Province of the Anglican Communion at All Saints Cathedral in Khartoum.
In becoming the newest autonomous member of the Anglican family, the archbishop said it was a ‘new beginning’ for Christians in Sudan. Sudanese Christians said that this would allow them to become more visible and deal directly with the worldwide Anglican communion.
Before the creation of the latest province, Sudanese Anglicans were under the jurisdiction of the Church in South Sudan where the majority of the four-and-half-million members of the Episcopal Church are based. After the country became independent from Sudan in 2011, the Anglican Church of Sudan became the Anglican Church of South Sudan and Sudan.
The decision to have a separate communion in the North was taken last year after it became clear that the Primate of South Sudan, Most Revd Daniel Deng, was finding it increasingly difficult to administer to the needs of members in the North. This was because of the strained relationship between Sudan and South Sudan since the latter’s independence six years ago.
‘After the independence of South Sudan, it was problematic for him to come to Khartoum to undertake his role as Primate,’ said Bishop Anthony Poggo, who was appointed last October as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser for Anglican Communion Affairs.
‘It is easier and better for everything to be run by the new Primate of Sudan — which is one of the reasons the new Province has been set up,’ he said. ‘There will be challenges, but it will be more easily solved by the Sudanese people rather than a Primate who is based in Juba.’
The new Archbishop of Sudan, Ezekiel Kondo, will administer to about one million Anglicans in his province.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s visit was not limited to meeting members of the Anglican Communion in Sudan, as he also met President Omar al-Bashir and government officials to discuss issues relating to religious co-existence and humanitarian assistance for refugees in the region.
The Governor of Khartoum, Abdel Rahim Hussein, said that Sudan had no incidents of conflict between Muslims and Christians. He added that the Archbishop’s visit ‘comes within the framework of supporting the well-established ties between Muslims and Christians’ in the country.
The Archbishop welcomed religious co-existence among Sudanese, noting that the government had clear plans to make this continue to work. ‘My prayer for Sudan is that there will be freedom continually so that Christians may live confidently, blessing their country,’ he said. ‘The more they are free, the more they will be a blessing to Sudan.’
He also praised the Sudanese government for welcoming refugees from the conflict in South Sudan. He said Khartoum had set an example for the world by hosting refugees and sharing its little resources with them.
The Archbishop said, after his meeting with President al-Bashir, that he supported the lifting in full of US sanctions against Sudan. He later visited camps in Northern Uganda where over 900,000 South Sudanese refugees are living.