Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sudan: New Attacks on Civilians in Darfur

South Sudan Referendum Should Not Distract From New Abuses
JANUARY 28, 2011

President Bashir and the people of Sudan should be congratulated for holding a peaceful referendum on southern secession, but that smooth process does not exonerate Sudan’s leaders for ongoing abuses in Darfur. Concerned governments should urgently and forcefully press both Khartoum and rebel movements to end their abuses of civilians in Darfur, grant humanitarian access to affected areas, and ensure accountability for war crimes.

Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - Sudanese government and rebel attacks on civilians in Darfur have dramatically increased in recent weeks without signs of abating, Human Rights Watch said today. The government of Sudan, its allied forces, and rebel factions should end abuses against civilians, and concerned governments - still focused on South Sudan's referendum - should press for an end to unlawful attacks and accountability for abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

"While the international community remains focused on South Sudan, the situation in Darfur has sharply deteriorated," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "We are seeing a return to past patterns of violence, with both government and rebel forces targeting civilians and committing other abuses."

On January 25, 2011, Sudanese government air and ground forces fought rebel troops in and around the town of Tabit, North Darfur. The fighting reportedly destroyed eight villages and caused thousands of civilians to flee the area.

At Tabit, and in other clashes in Darfur since early December 2010, both government and rebel forces carried out targeted attacks on civilian populations based on their ethnic affiliations, Human Rights Watch said. The fighting has caused civilian deaths and injuries, destruction and looting of civilian property, and mass displacement of tens of thousands of people to displaced persons camps and safe havens.

The renewed fighting began after the Sudanese government severed ties with the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel faction loyal to Minni Arko Minawi, who signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006 and was appointed special adviser to President Omar al-Bashir and head of the Darfur Transitional Regional Authority. Relations between the government and Minawi soured in late 2010, resulting in Minawi's dismissal from government in early December.

According to the United Nations, the violence in December alone caused 40,000 people to flee their homes. Many are taking refuge near African Union/United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) bases in Khor Abeche, Shearia, and Shangil Tobayi.

Sudan has continued to restrict UN and humanitarian agencies from accessing conflict-affected areas, including Tabit, the site of the January 25 clash. The government also still bars access to much of eastern Jebel Mara where, since early 2010, government forces and militias have clashed with the SLA faction led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur, and attacked civilians from the majority Fur ethnicity. Humanitarian agencies have also been denied access from the Wada'a and Khazan Jedid areas, between North and South Darfur.

December Clashes and Attacks in North-South Corridor
Fighting in the corridor between North and South Darfur started on December 8, when rebels from the Minni Minawi faction of the SLA ambushed a convoy containing the governor of North Darfur at Shangil Tobayi on the road to El Fasher, North Darfur's capital. Two government soldiers and three rebel fighters were killed.

The ambush was possibly in retaliation for comments made by the North Darfur governor, Youssif Kibir, in a speech delivered at the graduation ceremony of a group of Popular Defense Forces (PDF) - a government paramilitary force that fought alongside the Sudanese army during Sudan's long civil war and throughout the Darfur conflict.

The corridor is strategic for its transport route linking the North and South Darfur state capitals and for its access routes to the mountainous region of Jebel Mara, a rebel stronghold dominated by the Fur ethnic group where there was heavy fighting in 2010 between government and SLA forces loyal to Abdel Wahid.

In response to the ambush, on December 10 the government began large-scale attacks on the SLA-controlled area of Khor Abeche and surrounding villages in South Darfur. The attacks included aerial bombing by Antonov aircraft, followed by ground attacks led by government soldiers in more than a dozen military vehicles and hundreds of militia members on camels and horseback. The attacks killed at least two civilians, injured dozens, and caused massive damage to civilian property, particularly that of ethnic Zaghawa, who the government treats as being linked to the SLA.

Villagers told Human Rights Watch that SLA forces were not in the area during the government attacks. Under international humanitarian law, which is applicable in Darfur, armed forces must take all feasible precautions to ensure that targets of attack are military objectives and not civilians. Civilians and civilian property may never be deliberately attacked - those responsible are committing war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.

A Khor Abeche resident told Human Rights Watch that he saw government soldiers looting the town's market and beating civilians with sticks. Among the victims were the man's wife, who sustained injuries to her head, as well as many other women and children. He said that on December 11, he saw soldiers shooting into populated areas with mounted machine guns, injuring more than a dozen civilians and killing two.

A 30-year-old mother of four gave a similar account: "The soldiers went to the market and started beating the people, including women and old men, with sticks and the butts of their guns. I was able to take my children and some clothes and flee. All our remaining things were completely burned."

The government's looting of the town resulted in more than 60 homes being burned and caused thousands of people to flee the area. Many sought refuge at the United Nations/African Union mission's compound, and government forces shot at civilians moving toward the compound, presumably to prevent them from entering. Government troops positioned themselves in front of the camp, also in an apparent effort to block civilians seeking safety.

Attacking civilians and preventing them from seeking safe haven are serious violations of international humanitarian law. Blocking civilians from entering the UNAMID compound is also a violation of the Status of Forces Agreement between the Sudanese government and the UN. Human Rights Watch urged UNAMID to press Sudan to guarantee the security of peacekeepers and the civilians who seek their assistance.

Following the attacks on Khor Abeche, the government and various rebel factions clashed throughout December in numerous areas, causing further civilian displacement. In mid-December, government forces began a series of attacks on the town of Shangil Tobayi, which is host to large displaced populations, and surrounding villages, displacing thousands more. On December 26, government forces in Land Cruisers and on camels and horses attacked the ethnic Zaghawa section of the town, killing at least two civilians. The soldiers also harassed civilians and raped one 16-year-old girl, which required her to seek medical treatment.

At the same time, SLA forces carried out attacks on the ethnic Birgid communities, whose members are in the Sudanese army and PDF paramilitary, and are seen as pro-government. Rebel attacks on Jaghara and surrounding villages caused numerous civilian casualties, said Birgid and government sources interviewed by Human Rights Watch. In one incident on December 18, rebel fighters attacked Nigaa and Jaghara, killing at least eight civilians.

Attack on Displaced Persons Camp
On January 23, heavily armed government forces surrounded and entered the Zamzam displaced persons camp in North Darfur. They rounded up and detained 37 people; at least 27 men remain in detention facilities. Human Rights Watch received reports that the government forces entered civilian homes, looted properties and beat several people, killing one man.

The government publicly stated that the operation aimed to retrieve arms and drugs, and arrest "criminal elements." It did not give notice to the UN mission, despite requirements in the Status of Forces Agreement between Sudan and the peacekeeping mission that require consultation on actions related to displaced persons camps.

The peace process for Darfur has stalled, with government and rebel factions unable to agree on key terms. In early December 2010, the SLA's Minawi, who signed the Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006, formally broke ties with the government after the federal minister of defense, Ibrahim Mohammed Hussein, said that SLA fighters were "a legitimate military target." Government forces arrested several of Minawi's cadres in North and South Darfur, and President al-Bashir dismissed Minawi from his position in government.

Meanwhile, the government has pursued a new strategy for Darfur, calling for "domestication" of the peace process, development and reconstruction, accelerated returns of displaced persons, and government-provided security across the region. Rebel movements and the vast majority of displaced communities oppose the plan based on the continued conflict and lack of security on the ground.

Despite the recent surge in fighting and attacks on civilians, the head of the UN humanitarian operation in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, on January 23 said that the security situation in Darfur was improving. The UN Security Council met on January 26 to discuss peace and security in Sudan.

The Sudanese government has not carried out its commitments to disarm militias or improve accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations. It has yet to prosecute anyone who participated in a brutal attack on Tabrat, North Darfur in early September that killed more than 37 civilians. The government has also not taken concrete steps to carry out the justice recommendations of High-Level Panel of the African Union on Darfur - the so-called Mbeki panel - which recommended the establishment of hybrid courts and promoted legal reforms to bring justice to this troubled region of Sudan.

"President Bashir and the people of Sudan should be congratulated for holding a peaceful referendum on southern secession, but that smooth process does not exonerate Sudan's leaders for ongoing abuses in Darfur," Bekele said. "Concerned governments should urgently and forcefully press both Khartoum and rebel movements to end their abuses of civilians in Darfur, grant humanitarian access to affected areas, and ensure accountability for war crimes."

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Egypt: Stop Attacks on Peaceful Protesters

More Violence Should Prompt Suspension of US Military Assistance

FEBRUARY 3, 2011

(Cairo) - The Egyptian government should stop what appear to be organized attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators, which resulted in three deaths and several hundred injuries, and hold all those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said today. The Egyptian security forces failed to protect those peacefully assembling in Tahrir Square in Cairo on February 2, 2011, from pro-government provocateurs armed with petrol bombs, sticks, and whips.

The United States and the European Union should use their leverage with the Egyptian government to ensure that there is no further violence against peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said. They should tell President Hosni Mubarak and Egypt's military commanders that the army's actions on February 2 raised serious doubts about its willingness to protect pro-democracy protestors from violent attacks, and that their failure to uphold fundamental human rights, including prohibitions on extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances, will prompt an immediate suspension of all military assistance.

"The events in Tahrir Square and elsewhere strongly suggest government involvement in violence against peaceful protesters," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The US and other allies should make clear that further abuse will come at a very high price."

The Egyptian government has a responsibility not only to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, but also to protect protesters from violent attack, Human Rights Watch said. This includes ensuring that sufficient and properly trained security forces are deployed on Tahrir Square and other demonstration sites and that they intervene immediately to prevent injury. The Egyptian army has acknowledged the protesters' right to peaceful protest and assembly, and Human Rights Watch said the role of the security forces is to uphold those rights.

Human Rights Watch also warned that soldiers and officers could face prosecution if they unlawfully fire on demonstrators or give orders to do so, or ill-treat people in custody.

The army, which had been controlling access to Tahrir Square very tightly, with tanks at all the main entrances to the square, checking identification cards and searching bags, allowed pro-Mubarak protesters into the square, including men riding horses and camels and brandishing whips. Soldiers mostly stood by and did not act to protect peaceful demonstrators or try to stop the attacks on them. The Egyptian Health Ministry said three people were killed in the violence and more than 600 injured.

The use of force by state security forces is governed by international standards, and subject to international legal obligations that are binding on Egypt. Egypt is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary killings including those resulting from unlawful or excessive use of force. This prohibition imposes an obligation on states to investigate, and where appropriate prosecute, any such alleged killings. The UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms applies to all those who exercise police powers, including soldiers when they are acting in this capacity. The Basic Principles state that lethal force may only be used "when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life." When doing so, the security forces must act with restraint and in proportion to the seriousness of the offense and the legitimate objective to be achieved; minimize injury; and respect and preserve human life.

In addition to numerous media reports suggesting official involvement in the attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators, a number of witnesses have described their belief that the government has coordinated the activities of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators. One source told Human Rights Watch that staff at a state hospital was told to go and protest in favor of Mubarak on February 2. A female pro-democracy protester told Human Rights Watch that men standing near the TV building on the Corniche had offered her 50 Egyptian pounds early in the morning to go into Tahrir Square and demonstrate for Mubarak.

"It boggles the imagination that armed pro-Mubarak demonstrators on camels and horseback could have assembled themselves and passed through army checkpoints without government complicity and coordination," said Roth.

Journalists were also targeted for attack, with several Egyptian and foreign reporters describing beatings at the hands of pro-Mubarak supporters or plainclothes police and several others arrested and still in detention. An Al Arabiya reporter was in intensive care after being attacked by pro-Mubarak demonstrators. A BBC crew was detained for several hours and at least two other journalists, including a correspondent for the Belgian daily Le Soir, were still being held last night. A pro-Mubarak crowd in Alexandria attacked a television crew, who had to be rescued by the army.

Courtesy of


31 January 2011

Amnesty International has condemned the Egyptian government’s continuing crackdown on freedom of expression after six Al Jazeera journalists were briefly detained by the military and their Cairo bureau was shut down by the authorities, disrupting its reporting of mass nationwide demonstrations.

Al Jazeera English said that six journalists were detained at an army checkpoint outside Cairo’s Hilton hotel on Monday. They were held only briefly but their cameras and other equipment was confiscated.

Yesterday, the Cairo bureau of the Al Jazeera network was officially shut down by order of Egypt's Information Ministry, the network said.

“This government action against Al Jazeera is just its latest attempt to close down reporting of the protests on the streets and the free flow of information," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The authorities are clearly trying to intimidate the media and to prevent the truth coming out about abuses by its security forces, as they struggle to maintain their grip on power in the face of unprecedented protests and demands for fundamental change."

Local and international journalists were assaulted, arrested and their equipment confiscated by security forces throughout recent mass protests against poverty, police abuse and corruption.

“Journalists must be free to do their jobs, and internet services must be restored” said Malcolm Smart.

“The government must not be allowed to put the whole country under an information blackout, and that message needs to be sent to them very clearly by their friends and allies abroad."

In separate incidents, Amnesty International researchers also reported that security forces were confiscating video cameras from people on Cairo’s streets today.

Most of the country’s internet services have been suspended since last Friday.

"Mobile phones and social networking sites have been a big factor in helping bring people on to the streets and to organize protests, with people using their phone cameras to expose the reality of police torture and violence. That is why the Egyptian authorities are so keen to target them" said Malcolm Smart.

"They want to stop the truth emerging. They must not be allowed to succeed."

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