11 January 2013

Sudan: NGO Recounts Events That Led to Its Closure in Sudan

Khartoum — On 1 January, Sarah Nugdalla, head of the political bureau of the National Umma Party, told Radio Dabanga about a "serious lack of freedom in Sudan", illustrated by the fierce campaign against cultural centers and civil society organizations in the country.

He mentioned the government had shut down the Sudanese Studies Center, the House of Arts and the Al Khatim Adlan Center.

Recently, Radio Dabanga received a "security report" by the Al Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE), recounting the events that led to its closure on 31 December.

Read below excerpts of the report.

"On Sunday, November 18, 6 high-level officials from the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC) came to KACE suddenly and without a scheduled appointment.

They insisted on compliance with the 2006 Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act and made other claims about [our] unlawful activity. These officials included the HAC Director of Projects and Activities, HAC Director of National Organizations, a high ranking NISS officer responsible of the Security of Organizations, and two other officials, as well as members of HAC's legal advisory body.

In this meeting with KACE director Dr. Albaqir A. Mukhtar (...) the officials informed [us] that HAC had "decided" [we broke] the law on three counts: violating the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act; opening an office in Uganda; and inviting diplomats to the KACE office."

Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act

"Sudanese Civil Society has been involved in a Constitutional Court case against this law, which is not clearly worded in order to understand circumstances for its implementation. In addition, since its introduction in 2006, the law has only been enforced periodically."

"Following a meeting held at HAC office on September 19, 2012, the representatives insisted that they must see all stages of KACE's project development before a contract is signed with a donor and must approve these proposals, the activities and budget, the contract itself, all staff members assigned to the project, and examine all the receipts to justify final reports.

The representatives used threats and harsh language and [insisted] to see project documents, narrative reports, and a full disclosure of KACE's donors and amounts received.

The official claimed that KACE had violated the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act by failing to get approval from the minister of Humanitarian Affairs before receiving new funding. They said that the minister must approve of any project before KACE could begin implementation, and threatened serious measures if KACE did not comply.

Despite this, KACE supplied the officials with all of the documentation they requested. Dr. Albaqir made clear that KACE would be working within the legal framework, regardless of its constitutionality."

Uganda office

"The accusation that KACE was breaking the law by operating an office in Uganda, however, was met with surprise by the KACE staff. The HAC officials claimed that KACE is required to request permission for opening any other office.

They were reminded, however, that HAC has no jurisdiction outside of Sudan to decide whether or not an organization can be registered in a sovereign country. KACE has the right and freedom to register in any country pursuant to the laws of that country, whether in Uganda or anywhere else."

Inviting diplomats

"There is no Sudanese law which states [it is illegal to invite foreign diplomats. And] Dr. Albaqir argued the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues diplomats visas, gives them space for embassies, and accepts bilateral cooperation within Sudan. With this comes the right for them to be in contact with civil society.

[In addition] HAC officials (...) made comments during the meeting that KACE should work in the less controversial humanitarian sector, rather than concepts and awareness raising, and accused KACE of advocating secularism."

"Raids on a Number of Organizations and Cultural Centers in the Coming Hours"

"On Monday, December 24, a newspaper with known connections with NISS, Al Akher Lahza, printed the following headline "Raids on a Number of Organizations and Cultural Centers in the Coming Hours."

At 2 p.m. of the same day, the Sudanese Studies Centre, headed by Dr. Haider Ibrahim and registered with the Ministry of Information as a cultural association, received a letter from the Minister of Information informing them of a decision to suspend their activities for a calendar year.

The reasons stated in the letter are "because of what has been monitored by the relevant authorities of subversive activities that harm the national security of the country and other deeds that are incompatible with the center's mandate and purposes." The letter was signed by the Minister of Culture and Information, Dr. Ahmed Bilal Osman.

Since that day, most newspapers have reported daily on accusations and harsh statements against independent civil society by different government and NCP officials. The official radio and TV continue to broadcast programs and interviews where criticism and denunciations accumulate against both international and national NGOs."

Organized threats

"Organized threats such as these by security forces and government sympathizers are an ongoing challenge for civil society.

KACE has initiated a coalition with other Sudanese partners affected by this discriminatory application of the Voluntary and Humanitarian Work Act called the Confederation of Sudanese Civil Society Organizations (CSCSO).

CSCSO announced a press conference on December 5 in order to declare itself. However NISS interfered to stop the press conference under the pretext of CSCSO's failure to obtain prior permission from HAC in the state of Khartoum for the event.

On December 25, CSCSO along with a number of other civil society organizations and networks, met to discuss this serious development. The meeting decided to organize a protest on December 30 in front of the National Commission for Human Rights. Other protests will follow.

On December 31, HAC officers arrived to KACE and issued a declaration to close the center and seize all assets."

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