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Sudan Tribune

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Sudanese groups caution against rushing reforms without consultation

January 12, 2009 (LONDON) — Two human rights organizations, the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development (KCHRED) and the London-based REDRESS organisation for torture survivors, stated today that rushed legislative reforms in Sudan are counterproductive.

A series of legislative reforms is required by the nation’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), though most are delayed.

While the Sudanese advocacy groups praised the “renewed impetus of the Sudanese Government to adopt important pieces of legislation in the forthcoming session of Parliament, scheduled to begin in early February 2009,” they criticized the two ruling parties for reportedly coming to an accord that outstanding bills are to be submitted by the end of the month.

“The process of law reforms has been, and continues to be, deeply flawed,” said the rights groups.

Amin Mekki Medani, a legal experts and human rights activists in Sudan, expressed serious doubts about the process, saying, “Many features of the process we witness are alien to any genuine legislative reforms. Several bodies are tasked with engaging in law reform but they lack power and
capacity. There has also been a great deal of confusion about their mandates and their workings, which has hindered meaningful public debates.”

Medani went on to criticize the National Congress Party, Sudan’s ruling party since 1989, and its former nemesis and current partner, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, for taking an insular approach. “Debates are often limited to high-level political bargaining between the two CPA partners behind closed doors and laws are frequently passed without effective scrutiny given the NCP’s absolute majority in parliament,” he said.

“More than three years have passed since the signing of the CPA and the adoption of the (National Interim Constitution) but only few acts have been adopted, and there are concerns about their conformity with the Bill of Rights.”

The rights groups are thus calling on the government and the political parties to consult civil society in the reform process, publish bills in advance for public consideration, refrain from the common practice in Khartoum of pre-print censorship and engage with the public.

“‘Law reforms are of immense symbolic and practical importance but there is no system of effective consultation of experts and civil society at large. Even where changes are made, the old mindsets prevail,” said Amir Suleiman, Director of the KCHRED.

“For example, the Police Act retained immunity legislation for officials that facilitates impunity and we have concerns that the same may happen in respect of the Security Forces law under consideration. In addition, many important issues have not even been considered, such as a wholesale review and reform of the Criminal Act,” he added.

However, even the SPLM leadership, which views the legislation as important milestones before the elections of 2009, does not appear to want to engage in a lengthy, open process. Yasser Arman, the SPLM caucus chairman, indicated in an interview with Sudan Tribune last week that he views the situation with some urgency.

“We made it very clear, even we boycotted one of the sittings of the parliament recently because we need to extend the parliament session and we need to work quickly many laws ahead: the law of media and press, the national security law, the criminal law,” he said.

Despite their support for different approaches in parliament, both Arman and the human rights groups argued that there is heavy censorship of the media in Sudan.