The Rights to Work and Health in The Sudan
Upon consideration of a communication submitted before it, the African Commission held that in its persecution of human rights defenders, the government of Sudan violated several provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the rights to work and health.
In 2012, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (Commission) accepted this communication as admissible for consideration. The case was filed on behalf of three prominent human rights defenders working in Sudan, Monim Elgak, Amir Suliman and the late Osman Hummaida, who were targeted for their alleged cooperation with the ICC in its investigation of several Sudanese political leaders. The three men were arrested by Sudan’s National and Intelligence Services (NISS), tortured and maltreated for three days. Afterwards, they were effectively compelled to flee Sudan due to their fear of further persecution, in light of the impunity enjoyed by the security and intelligence services. One of the three complainants, Suliman, was the Director of the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development (KCHRED), which was shut down by the Sudanese authorities and also had its bank account frozen, as part of the persecution strategy.
In its decision published on 10th March, 2015, the Commission held that in its brutal mistreatment of the three human rights defenders, the Sudanese government had violated several articles under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including, among others, provisions pertaining to the rights to dignity and to freedom from torture (Art. 5), liberty and security (Art. 6), work (Art.15) and health (Art. 16).
In upholding the right to health, the Commission found the Sudanese government accountable for breaching the right on grounds of the physical and psychological harm the complainants suffered due to their detention. In addition, the Commission held that the State violated Mr. Hummeida’s right to health by failing to take necessary measures to lower his high blood pressure, and thus protect his health, especially given that he was in State custody. Instead they left him in a situation that was life-threatening. Elaborating on the labor rights aspect of the case, the Commission held that the Sudanese government had interfered with Mr. Suliman’s right to work when it closed down KCHRED and froze its bank account without any legitimate reason, resulting in the loss of his source of income.
In its recommendations, the Commission called on Sudan to pay adequate compensation to the complainants, investigate and prosecute all persons who participated in their illegal incarceration and torture, and reopen and unfreeze the bank accounts of KCHRED.
Implementation of the decision should currently be in progress. Enforcing the Committee recommendations will constitute concrete steps by Sudan towards meeting its obligations under the Convention. In its decision, the Commission explicitly states that Government of Sudan should inform the Commission within 180 days of the measures taken to implement the decision. One commentator notes that it is unclear whether its order will be properly enforced as there is not yet any information as to whether the NISS officers responsible for the torture have been prosecuted in Sudan, and because Sudan has remained silent both as to the merits of the complaint and following the decision of the ACHPR.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) (an ESCR-Net member) and World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) represented the three human rights defenders before the African Commission, and the complaint was supported by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) (also an ESCR-Net member), the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) and REDRESS.
This decision handed down by Africa’s main human rights treaty body recognizes Sudan’s obligation to protect human rights defenders, and to ensure that their work promoting and protecting the rights of others is not obstructed. The victory in favor of human rights defenders is particularly important at a time when their situation in Sudan remains dire. Karim Lahidji, the FIDH President, has said: “The decision of the African Commission is significant and comes in a context where Sudanese human rights defenders continue to work in an environment that is marked by extreme insecurity and rampant impunity. Sudan must ensure that reprisals against those advocating for justice and fundamental rights and freedoms are no longer tolerated and unpunished.”
Today, human rights defenders across the world are under attack. It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is for the advancement of human rights and social justice to address the brutal rights violations faced so many human rights defenders, whether working in the realm of civil or political rights, or ESCR. Decisions such as these, at the very least, shine a spotlight on the abuses, galvanize relevant actors, and create an impetus for further action.