It is imperative that Sudan amends all laws concerning the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to ensure that they are in line with their original mandate under the 2005 Interim Constitution, says the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS).
In an ACJPS blog today, Catherine Komuhangi, the centre’s legal programme officer, states that the wide powers exercised by NISS contravene Sudan’s domestic and international human rights obligations.
Article 151 (3) of the 2005 Interim National Constitution, mandates country’s security apparatus to among other things, “focus on information gathering, analysis and advice to the appropriate authorities”. The NISS is also governed by the 2010 National Security Act that empowers officials to detain individuals without a warrant; no charges proffered against them; for up to four and a half months without judicial review.
The powers of the NISS were extended in early 2015, by an amendment to the Interim Constitution which turned the apparatus into a full part of Sudan's regular forces. The paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, a large militia commanded by the NISS, was thus legitimised as well. The Sudanese opposition, including member parties of the National Dialogue immediately denounced the step.
In practice, Komuhangi states, the wide powers exercised by NISS are mainly used to intimidate political opponents, human rights activists and defenders, and individuals exercising their civil and political rights such as the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
On 7 December last year, human rights defender Dr Mudawi Ibrahim was detained by NISS agents without an arrest warrant. His family was only informed of his detention a week after his arrest. He has been held in NISS detention for three months and three weeks without charge or being presented before a judge. The Attorney General in Khartoum issued an order for Dr Ibrahim’s release on 28 March, but he has not been released yet.
Komuhangi further points to 14 doctors who were detained by NISS on 31 October last year, for participating in a strike condemning poor pay, poor working conditions, and inadequate funding for medical equipment. They were detained incommunicado without charge and denied access to their lawyers, and released with no charges against them on 22 November.
“In practice, the wide powers exercised by NISS are mainly used to intimidate political opponents, human rights activists and defenders.”
In November 2016, 17 members of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party were detained by NISS officers for publicly calling for peaceful demonstrations against austerity measures announced by the Government of Sudan. They were released in December with no charges against them.
“The wide powers exercised by NISS contravene Sudan’s domestic and international human rights obligations,” the ACJPS blog reads. “They contravene various rights such as the right to liberty as individuals are never informed of the reasons of their arrest and are hardly ever brought promptly before a judge.
“The detentions are further marred by the fact detainees face a risk of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by NISS in an effort to obtain confessions that form the basis of charges later issued; detainees are kept in poor conditions; and are rarely provided access to medical attention.
“In some cases, individuals are released after being held for long periods due to insufficient evidence. These individuals may have lost their jobs due to the long periods of detention and are not compensated for the unlawful detention.”
National Dialogue recommendations
Komuhangi further points to Sudan’s National Dialogue that was concluded in October last year. One of the outcomes was an amendment of the powers of the national security apparatus, though some high level oficials and NISS leaders have publicly rejected the proposal.
“The wide powers exercised by NISS contravene Sudan’s domestic and international human rights obligations.”
The proposed amendment, if approved, would ensure that NISS’s powers are strictly aligned to its Constitutional mandate and ensure that detentions are carried out only after a warrant has been issued.
It is imperative, ACJPS states, that Sudan amends all NISS laws to ensure that they are in line with their original mandate under the 2005 Interim Constitution to information gathering, analysis and advising appropriate authorities.
“Additionally, any laws empowering NISS with detention powers should adhere to procedural safeguards i.e. only carried out pursuant to a warrant; if a warrant is issued, individuals are provided access to their lawyers and families; and individuals are presented before a judicial officer within 48 hours of arrest.
“Lastly, the government of Sudan should scrap immunities for NISS officials; put in place disciplinary measures for officials that order and detain individuals without warrants; and endeavour to provide compensation to victims of unlawful detention.”