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UN Official: Human Rights Situation in Sudan 'Critical'

A new report on the human rights situation in Sudan documents a wide range of serious violations committed throughout the whole country. The United Nations Special Human Rights Investigator for Sudan, Sima Samar, has submitted the report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Samar acknowledges some positive steps taken by the Sudanese government in ratifying a couple of international human rights conventions and in efforts to enact legislative reforms.

But, the thrust of her report is generally critical of the human rights situation on the ground. She says the right to life, security of the person and the effective administration of justice are not guaranteed.

"Since my last report to the Human Rights Council, I continue to receive reports of arbitrary arrests, detention, as well as allegations of ill-treatment and torture of human rights defenders and humanitarian workers by security forces, in particular by the National Intelligence and Security Services," she said. "This includes recent incidents of arbitrary arrests, detention, and ill-treatment amounting to torture of UNAMID [UN-African Union Mission in Darfur]."

In this regard, Samar expresses concern about the security situation in the conflict-ridden province of Darfur, which she says remains fluid and unpredictable. She highlights ongoing sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls and attacks against humanitarian workers.

The UN investigator criticizes the increasing censorship and restrictions on the media, human rights defenders and political opponents.

"In view of the upcoming elections in February 2010, it is imperative that restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly be removed to create a conducive environment for free and fair elections," added Samar.

UN Investigator Samar is also concerned by the humanitarian and human rights situation in southern Sudan, especially large-scale killings, and displacement of civilians caused by recent conflict.

"The killings of several hundred civilians in Jonglei state due to intertribal clashes, and the scale of these clashes over cattle rustling has been unprecedented, including the targeting of women and children," she said. "I also note that the administration of justice in the southern Sudan is hampered by lack of capacity, including the shortage of professional police, qualified judges and lawyers."

A Sudanese representative accuses the UN investigator of failing to give a true picture of human rights in Sudan. He says her report does not reflect the steps taken by the government to preserve national unity, to protect the rights of non-Muslims in the capital and to amend the criminal code so it recognizes crimes against humanity.

He urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to terminate the mandate of the special investigator, saying her work hinders the recognition of progress being made in the Sudan.

Human Rights Watch disagrees and warns that the victims of abuse in Sudan will be betrayed if the Council does not extend the mandate of the special investigator.