This recommendation has not been implemented. The group did neither receive information on this issue from other sources nor information from the government about the existence of specific legal norms and programs to protect witnesses.
The Government stated that it did not violate the human rights of human rights defenders. It also provided a list of more than 170 licensed lawyers working in Darfur defending in daily basis the victims. One of these lawyers is the winner of 3 prominent prizes for human rights defenders, Mr. Salih Osman Mahmoud who is currently a member of the Parliament.
Article 39 of the Interim National Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. However, the group of experts received reports that journalists reporting on Darfur continued to suffer harassment, arrest and detention as well as ill treatment and other forms of intimidation as referred to under recommendation 1.6.2. According to reports received, the Government invoked the Organization of Humanitarian and Voluntary Work Act, 2006, to restrict freedom of association and the activities of human rights defenders. There were also a number of reports of human rights defenders facing restrictions or delays as regards visa or extension of visa, or travel in and out of Darfur. The premises of a number of human rights defenders, including persons who had offered or provided legal assistance to victims of violations were closed and documents were removed. In some cases, human rights defenders were summoned for questioning by the Humanitarian Aid Commission.
Implementation has not begun.
Information orally submitted to the group of experts on 18 September 2007
Following a decision of the Public Prosecutor in January 2007, Art. 130 of Criminal Procedures Code of 1991 must not be used by the Press and Publications Prosecution Office to arrest journalists or ban any newspapers on the basis of complaints of defamation. Since then no disruptions have been reported.
On 15 September 2007, the Constitutional Court issued an important ruling in recognition of general freedoms, the freedom to bring proceedings and the rule of law. The ruling states that the freedom to bring proceedings pursuant to the Interim Constitution is unlimited and that ministerial orders or laws are not immutable but may be challenged before the courts. The Court, in Constitutional Court ruling No. CC/CL/2006, v. 1. The Government of the Sudan 2. The Ministry of Justice, which is a precedent setting ruling, makes the following conclusion: It must be pointed out here that article 35 of the 2005 Constitution omits the restriction mentioned in the corresponding article 31 of the 1998 Constitution, which reads “The right to bring proceedings shall be guaranteed for all persons and no proceedings in a criminal case or civil matter shall be brought except in accordance with the provisions and procedures of the law.” From this one may conclude that article 35 broadens the scope of protection by omitting the reference to the restriction that this right shall be exercised in accordance with the provisions and procedures laid down in the law. It can thus be said that the exercise of the right to bring proceedings under article 35 is not subject to any legal restriction.
Another issue has been the prohibition of publication of news relating to national security, which was discussed in connection with the case of Amadi Tohar, when security officers stopped the publication of related news. On 10 September 2007 an Order was issued by the Director of the National Intelligence and Security Services to stop security officers from visiting the press. This Order was published in the press.
On 30 October 2007, the Government sent the group of experts a number of headlines and news reports that appeared in Sudanese newspapers about Darfur. Further newspapers were provided on 15 November 2007.
Written information submitted to the group of experts on Darfur on 1 November 2007
The group received in Arabic a number of documents relating to humanitarian assistance, voluntary return of IDPs to South Darfur, as well as a number of documents relating to recommendations 1.6.2 and 2.3 which at the time of the writing of the present report, were being translated from Arabic into English.
Written information submitted to the group of experts on Darfur on 15 November 2007
The Government provided the group of experts with a stack of Sudanese newspapers which it said were replete with articles on the human rights situation in Darfur to indicate that there was a free press operating in the Sudan.
UN agencies bodies and programmes operational in Darfur did not observe any effective action by Government authorities to lift restrictions on the press. The work of newspapers and journalists remained significantly restricted by the National Press Law, criminal laws, as well as extra legal practices.
A number of draft laws remain under the consideration of the Media Information and Communication Committee of the National Assembly, the parliamentary body in charge of drafting the new law. The National Assembly was expected to consider new legislation during the October to mid December 2007 parliamentary session.
Current laws fail to uphold freedom of the press and are frequently used to stifle freedom of expression. The 2004 Press and Printed Press Material Act (Press Act) contains numerous provisions which have been used to curb criticism. The Act does not provide clear guarantees for the protection of freedom of expression in the media. Vague and ambiguous articles of the Press Act impose restrictions on the work of journalists and may be used to silence critical reporting. Under Article 29 for example, which outlines the duties of journalists, the law places restrictions on publishing information related to national security or the armed forces and indicates that journalist at all times “must intend truthfulness and chastity.” This provision has been used by the Press Council to issue bans preventing journalists from reporting on certain topics (see example below). Articles 36 and 37 of the Press Act render any person who violates any provision of the act liable to sanctions by the Press Council or to criminal prosecution. The application of the Press Law is supervised by the Press Council, a body that has broad powers and that has generally perceived to lack independence, because the majority of its members are directly or indirectly appointed by government controlled bodies. The Press Council has the power to allocate licenses to individual journalists and may impose penalties, such as the suspension of a newspaper’s publication license.
Article 115 of the 1991 Criminal Code (“Influencing the course of justice”) places sanctions on “whomever intentionally does any act to influence the fairness of judicial or legal proceedings”. This article has been repeatedly used by the authorities to prevent media from reporting on judicial investigations by placing bans on publishing information. Editors and journalists who do not comply with such bans are liable under this article to be punished with fines or with up to three months’ imprisonment. Since 20 March 2007, a general ban has been placed on news related to criminal cases connected with the Darfur conflict. There has apparently been no explicit mention of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but journalists fear that the ban may extend to reporting on the work of the ICC on Sudan. The ban was reportedly ordered by the Minister of Justice, Ali Mohamed al Mardi.
Under Articles 66, 159 and 160 of the 1991 Criminal Act (“Publication of false news”, “Defamation” and “Insult and Abuse”) and Article 29 of the 2004 Press Act (“Duties of the journalist”) the journalists may be sentenced to fines, lashes or imprisonment for up to several months. Additionally, the Press Council has used the provisions on “duties of the journalist” to place restrictions on the content of information published by the media. For instance, on 22 May 2007, the Press Council imposed a ban on reporting statements of representatives of Darfurian rebel groups. It requested daily newspapers not to publish reports on activities of the rebel movements and not to interview its political leaders or field commanders. The council urged newspapers not to “give publicity to the rebel movements and not to report on their threats and statements that undermine the country’s security, instigate fear, and create instability”. This ban came after a statement by one of the Darfurian rebels to the newspaper Al Sahafa accused Government forces and armed militias of killing five civilians in North Darfur on 20 May 2007. This statement by the Press Council imposes an open ended restriction on independent reporting on Darfur and exposes journalists and editors to a risk of sanctions, such as the withdrawal of their licenses.
In mid May 2007, a court ruled that Article 130 the 1991 Criminal Act (“Prevention of public nuisance”) may not be used to impose restrictions on the press. This was seen as a landmark ruling which is likely to prevent future sanctions against the newspapers under the said legal provision. Article 130 grants wide ranging powers to the prosecutor to act on offences “relating to peace and public health” by confiscating items belonging to a person who has been charged with an offence, or to order that person to cease any activities. The law provides no detail on what would constitute a danger to peace and public health. Based on Article 130 newspaper editors have been ordered by prosecutors not to report on certain topics. Newspapers that failed to comply with such orders have been temporarily suspended.
Since mid August, the UN has documented several cases of arbitrary censorship by the NISS of Arabic language dailies including Ray al Shaab, Al Sudani, Al Sahafa, Al Ayaam and Al Meidan. Methods of censorship have included the seizure of all copies of the latest edition of the newspaper, daily inspections by NISS officials of newspaper offices and printing houses and orders by the NISS to remove or re edit articles from the next day’s issue of the paper. UNMIS HR has raised concerns and sought clarification with Government authorities in relation to the use of these measures. On 2 September 2007, a letter of concern was sent to the secretary general of the Press Council and to the chairman of the Advisory Council for Human Rights. No response had been received by the time of the writing of the present report.