Rights Abuses at Root of Sudan Suffering

Article excerpt

Human rights abuses by the fundamentalist Islamic rulers of Sudan have sparked more internal opposition and international criticism of the poor northeast African nation. Church and human rights groups, governments and now the United Nations have spoken out against Sudan's repressive military rule.

At the same time, a debate has erupted among human rights groups and humanitarian aid agencies over how they can help halt such abuses, which are largely responsible for the prolonged humanitarian crises in both the government-controlled North and the wartorn South.

Solving the serious humn rights problems in Sudan is a priority because they have precipitated most of the famine, forced relocations and refugee flows afflicting more than 5 million Sudanese, according to Amnesty International Secretary-General Pierre San. He made the comments during a news conference in late January in Nairobi, Kenya. In a 132-page report "Sudan: The Tears of Orphans," released by San, Amnesty details a sustained pattem of gross rights abuses by the military government and by its southern Sudanese opponents.

San has urged the United Nations to establish an international civilian team of observers to monitor human rights abuses on the ground in Sudan, especially in the southern region, where a civil war has raged since the mid-1980s between government forces and opposition movements.

But another human rights group, African Rights, has gone further, criticizing international aid agencies that work in the North while avoiding public challenge of Khartoum's deliberate and systematic abuses of human rights. Such criticism is part of a growing debate among international relief agencies over whether refraining from speaking out against a government's human rights record in return for permission to work inside a country makes ethical, political or practical sense.

Abuses worsen

A November 1994 study by Human Rights Watch/Africa and more recent reports by Amnesty International and African Rights detail how disappearances, arbitrary detentions and the torture of suspected government opponents in secret "ghost houses" have become standard practice. The abuses included summary executions and forced displacement of entire communities. The studies cover abuses that have occurred since the military regime seized power from a more democratic pro-Islamic government in mid-1989.

But "all parties to the con have driven villagers from their land and looted and destroyed property," noted the Amnesty report, which also documents anti-civilian violence by the two main armed opposition groups fighting government forces in the south. One group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, is led by John Garang. A breakaway group, the South Sudan Independence Army, is headed by Riek Machar.

Bishop Paride Taban Ibrahim of Torit diocese and other church leaders have repeatedly appealed to these groups to end the violence.

Criticism of Khartoum's human rights record has mounted in recent months. In December, a U.N. General Assembly committee strongly condemned the Sudanese government after reviewing a report by Gaspar Biro, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, that focused on widespread violation of the rights of Sudanese children and women. Those violations, the report said, included government involvement in the kidnapping, involuntary detention and forced conversion of children to Islam. The United States reiterated much of this criticism in its annual State Department report on human rights, issued in early February. It has also charged Sudan with complicity in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

In early March, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, by a vote of 33 to 7, adopted an unusually strong resolution accusing Sudan's government of gross human rights abuses. The resolution expressed `outrage' at the use of military force by all sides in Sudan's long-running civil war to disrupt aid operations. …