Open Society Justice Initiative Condemns Arrests of Human Rights Activists in Sudan
NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative today condemned the arrest of human rights and prodemocracy activists in Khartoum on Sunday, January 22, 2006.
Approximately 30 activists, including eight foreign nationals, were arrested by Sudanese security forces and interrogated for several hours before being released. The activists were participating in a civil society consultation on the crisis in Darfur organized in conjunction with the Sixth African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government, taking place in Khartoum this week.
Sudanese security police raided the meeting which was organized by the Darfur Consortium and its local partners, the Sudan Social Development Organization and the Sudan Organization Against Torture at around 4:00 p.m. local time, arresting every person inside the meeting room. The police also seized all laptops and meeting materials and have yet to release them.
The Darfur Consortium is an international coalition co-convened by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the International Refugee Rights Initiative. It comprises about 40 organizations working for effective justice and civilian protection in Darfur.
The arrests came just hours before the opening of the African Union summit and form an ironic backdrop to Khartoum's campaign for the presidency of the 53-member African Union. Sudan has nominated itself for the year-long position as head of the African Union, but rights groups have voiced opposition, citing Khartoum's involvement in mass violations of human rights in Darfur.
"The timing and scope of these arrests are intended to send a message," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative. "In its desperation to secure the [AU] Presidency, the Sudanese government has added to a long record of abuses and confirmed doubts about its suitability for this responsibility. African leaders should send a clear message that such conduct will not be rewarded."
The activists were charged with "organizing an illegal meeting," despite having already obtained the Sudanese government's written approval for the consultation.
Salih Mahmoud Mohamed Osman, an internationally acclaimed Sudanese lawyer and rights activist, and Deirdre Clancy, co-director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative and one of the meeting's chief organizers, were among those arrested, along with four British nationals, two Zimbabweans and an Italian activist. Sudanese authorities initially tried to release just the foreign nationals while continuing to detain the Sudanese citizens. When the foreign nationals refused to be separated from their Sudanese colleagues, all the activists were released together. However, some of the activists arrested Sunday claim that since their release they have been followed and their activities monitored by Sudanese security forces.
"The Darfur peace process will be jeopardized if African leaders elect a president for the African Union who is a party to the conflict there. It creates a clear conflict of interest," said Alioune Tine, secretary general of the Senegalese nongovernmental organization Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits Humains and one of the leaders of the Darfur Consortium. "The people of Darfur in particular need an [African Union] president capable of taking a strong and independent stand on behalf of peace and justice."