Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Darfuris Subject to Arbitrary Detention

Rights activists say Sudan’s emergency laws being unjustly applied in the region.
By IWPR
Twelve people, including a Darfur chief, have been held in Shalla prison in El Fasher, the state capital of North Darfur, for over three months, despite an order by El Fasher's prosecutor that the men should be released.


Umda Hussein Sago was arrested in Abu Shok camp for internally displaced people near El Fasher, immediately after the murder of another chief of the camp and his wife.


A court in El Fasher granted the release of the detainees, but the state governor overturned this ruling and ordered that they continue to be held under emergency laws.


It was initially rumoured that Chief Sago was arrested in connection with the camp murders, but Hassan Atiem, one of Sago's cousins, said, “Even the court closed the case because they do not have any connection with the murders."


No official justification has been given for their imprisonment, nor have any formal charges been issued against them.


Emergency laws were imposed throughout Sudan in 1997 by Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who claimed that he was responding to a perceived threat from the United States.


In 1999, the government went even further by imposing the National Security Forces Act, NSFA, which gave the country's National Intelligence and Security Services, NISS, wide-ranging powers to monitor, investigate, search and detain individuals, without needing to justify their actions.


The NSFA also granted members of the security services broad immunity from prosecution.


With the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, in 2005, these laws were lifted in most of the country, apart from in Darfur.


The outbreak of fierce fighting in the region in 2003 was used as a justification for their continued application in the region.


During the first month of detention, Chief Sago was refused access to a defence lawyer, but for the last two months he has been represented by lawyer Mohamed Salim Gadalla.


His family claim that he has been given no chance to be with his lawyer alone, in violation of his basic human rights.


Sago's family also assert that the chief is being detained illegally, and that no framework has been given to release him.


Family members have tried to visit Shalla prison, but say that they were not allowed to enter.


When they tried to take food to the prisoners, the guards told them to leave it and they would take it in – but, according to the family, this did not happen.


Gadalla, the lawyer representing Sago, maintains that detention under the emergency laws is unconstitutional.


He says that, because the men have been imprisoned under the terms of the emergency laws, there is nothing he can do judicially to secure their release.


Moreover, Gadalla told Radio Dabanga that he has been denied access to his client, in direct violation of his client's fundamental rights.


"I'm not allowed to see my client so how can I help?” he said. “There is no specific accusation [against the men] so I can help them only if they are accused with [a] particular crime.


"We thought they were arrested because of the involvement with the murder and then we figured out that they were arrested under the emergency laws. The only one who can order their release is the governor of North Darfur.


"We don't have rules and steps to help them. They even didn't allow us to meet them. That means the prisoners cannot get any help from their lawyers, and they are not even allowed to see their families."


Hafiz Mohammed, from advocacy group Justice Africa, says any arbitrary detention without charge violates international human rights agreements, which Sudan has signed.


"Every detained person has the right to legal counsel,” he said. “[Violating this right] is against the [Sudanese] constitution and against the CPA.”


Mohammed also worries that the application of emergency powers in Darfur could sour the mood ahead of next year's scheduled election.


During a conference held in the southern capital of Juba at the beginning of October, all opposition parties in the country called on the government to create a good climate for holding elections.


“This is why any rule that contradicts the constitution must be removed,” Mohammed insisted. “One of these rules is the security of national state. This rule gives the security [forces] the permission to arrest anybody."


Ali Agab, a prominent human rights lawyer in Khartoum, says that the Sago case is not the only example of emergency laws being unjustly applied in Darfur.


“The laws give security forces in Darfur the freedom to search, investigate and detain anyone that they choose, and they continue to be widely used throughout the region,”Agab said.


The information minister and spokesman for the government in North Darfur, Ahmed Saleh, maintains that the security situation in Darfur at the moment justifies individuals being detained in this way.


"Because Darfur is passing through a special security situation all these cases are under the security office's control and responsibility,” he said. “The security [office] doesn't give any information to any other organ about these cases."


The article was produced in cooperation with Radio Dabanga (http://www.radiodabanga.org/), a radio station for Darfuris run by Darfuris from The Netherlands.


Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam is a Radio Dabanga reporter and IWPR trainee and contributor. Assa Dig Musa is working with Radio Dabanga. Katy Glassborow is the producer of a new radio show for Radio Dabanga about justice issues, and an IWPR reporter in The Hague.