The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has called on international donors, diplomats and organizations to pressure the Sudanese government to end its crackdown on civil society organizations.
Khartoum shut down four rights groups last month and revoked the registration of another. The government has accused NGOs of having a “political agenda” and serving as mouthpieces of the West.
Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, said the crackdown reflects the government’s fragility and defensiveness toward independent voices of democracy.
“The organizations themselves are cultural groups, promoting diversity and democracy, [and the] history of Sudan. The Sudan Studies Association is one the groups, and it produces research on Sudanese history and culture. So, the allegations that these groups have political agendas is all very suspicious sounding, and it smacks a political crackdown on independent voices,” she said.
Henry said Sudan needs independent voices at this point in its history, especially since the country lacks a constitution, and has gone through so many changes since its separation from South Sudan, as well as the challenges of wars in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
She said both the United Nations and the African Union have the power to tell the Khartoum government to rescind its decisions.
“The United Nations does have the independent experts mandated to follow the human rights situation in Sudan. So, we would like these independent experts to echo our call to get Sudan to revoke and revise these decisions. The African Union also has a voice on this,” Henry said.
Henry also said international donors and diplomats in Khartoum are aware of what is going on, and Human Rights Watch would like them to coordinate and increase pressure on the government to revoke its decisions.
She said, even though Sudan faces many challenges, it still must abide by its own constitution and international human rights laws to which Khartoum is a signatory, including freedom of expression and assembly.
“Certainly, the debate around the constitution has brought up the issue of having a circular system versus an Islamic constitution, and it has also provoked some very anti-Western rhetoric in the media. But, this is related to what’s going politically inside Sudan’s ruling party, and it’s related to Sudan’s request for a new identity, but it does not empower the government to violate human rights laws or its own constitution,” Henry said.