Amnesty International is raising concerns about possible human rights violations during Sudan?s independence vote.

Amnesty researcher Rania Rajji, who recently visited the region, says, ?The main concern?is growing on the experience that you have of Sudan, which is a culture of human rights violations, especially when you see the example of the elections.?

Sudan held presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2010.

?In the north, we have obviously the National Intelligence and Security Service, which is known to detain, harass and intimidate opposition groups and minorities.  And in the south, during the elections, you saw harassment and intimidation of voters and members of the opposition by the security and police forces.?

Don?t forget Darfur

Amnesty says it?s also concerned that the independence referendum will draw attention away from the situation in Darfur.

?We see that the international community is at present focusing on the referendum,? she says, ?and considering it a solution to human rights in Sudan, which it is not.  Because the conflict in Darfur has intensified in the past month with attacks on civilians during December, while the peace negotiations are failing.

Amnesty is calling on the United Nations and the international community to view Sudan as a whole when it comes to human rights.  Rajji says, ?(They) have to invest in the solution of Darfur and a cessation of hostilities in Darfur as the referendum carries on.?

No election observers, but?

Amnesty International does not have election observers assigned to southern Sudan during the referendum.

?Amnesty does not involve itself in electoral rights and the right to vote.  However, we consider human rights to be at the core of any election or referendum in the sense that voters have to right to place their vote without intimidation.  So, what we have done is send a human rights briefing to international referendum monitors asking them to report any human rights violations that occur during the referendum.?

Amnesty says it contacted the governments in both north and south Sudan prior to the vote.

Rajji says the governments are being asked ?to make it clear that there will be no toleration of any human rights violations?that there are mechanisms in place to report any harassment and intimidation.?

She also says there?s a history of harassment of southerners still living in the north by the Khartoum government.

?We have asked them not to intimidate any voters,? she says, ?and to just cease any activity of harassment by the national security and other forces in the north.?