Legal reforms and change of mindsets to counter torture in Sudan

On 20 January 2021, Dr. Alice Edwards, Head of the CTI Secretariat, participated in an online round-table on “Legislative and Institutional Reform in Sudan”, organised by REDRESS and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

Khartoum, Sudan
Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Christopher Michel

Since the deposition of the former President Omar Al Bashir, who ruled Sudan for thirty years, the country has been undergoing a democratic transition. The Transitional Government has vowed to launch vast human rights reforms and to guarantee accountability for human rights violations.

On 1 January 2021, H.E. Abdalla Hamdok, Prime Minister of Sudan, reiterated Sudan’s intention to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), as well as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICED). These ratifications await their approval by a joint meeting of the Sovereign Council and the Council of Ministers.

Yesterday’s REDRESS-SOAS roundtable was convened to share ideas on how the implementation of these Conventions can be integrated within Sudan’s broad programme of reforms. Thirty-two participants took part, drawn from local and international civil society, the United Nations, lawyers, and other international partners who are cooperating with Sudan on human rights matters, such as CTI.

Dr. Edwards was joined as a panellist by Mr. Abdel Salam Sidahmed, Senior Human Rights Advisor to the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister, and Mr. Rifaat Makkawi, Director of the People’s Legal Aid Clinic – a nonprofit that serves the legal needs of displaced and other marginalized people in Sudan.

When asked about what would be the next steps for the Transitional Government, Dr. Edwards recommended that Sudan “undertake a prioritisation exercise to identify both existing laws and policies that are good and may need reinforcement – such as through new policies, institutions, funding or training, as well as gaps and challenges.” She added that a consultation process which includes civil society and other stakeholders would be important to obtain buy-in for changes to existing practices, and that timeframes for action should be realistic.

It was considered overall that legislative and institutional reforms ought to be comprehensive and evaluated for conformity with constitutional and international obligations.

That said, legislative reform will not change practices or mind-sets of the police, military, security and prisons sectors on their own.

Dr. Edwards shared the experience of CTI in changing attitudes of public officials by training law enforcement personnel on non-coercive investigative interviewing techniques, of which the efficiency is confirmed by research and practice in many other countries. Dr. Edwards also referred to a number of basic safeguards which States can put in place to prevent torture and ill-treatment in custody situations, such asnotifying arrested persons of their rights, consultation with a lawyer, access to a medical treatment/examination, or communicating with family or another third party. Finally, Dr. Edwards stated CTI’s availability to support Sudan as it becomes party to UNCAT.

About the Convention against Torture Initiative

CTI is an inter-governmental initiative, promoting the universal ratification and implementation of the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT). The Initiative is being spearheaded by the Governments of Chile, Denmark, Fiji, Ghana, Indonesia and Morocco, and is supported by a full-time Secretariat based in Geneva. CTI fosters constructive dialogue and international cooperation between States, and offers technical and capacity building support to governments. We are encouraged by a Group of Friends, which is open to all UN Member States and serves as a platform for the exchange of knowledge, experience and ideas on how to overcome obstacles to ratification and implementation of the UNCAT.

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