The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Sudan is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Sudan is not a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Sudan is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Sudan is a signatory but not a party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 40(1) of the 2005 Constitution of the Republic of the Sudan, the right to peaceful assembly "shall be guaranteed".
According to Article 125 of the 2003 Code of Criminal Procedure, related to offences against public safety, if a crowd refuses to disperse following an order from the Public Prosecutor, or from a police official, to do so, law enforcement agents may proceed to disperse the crowd, with the least use of force possible.
Firearms may only be used with the permission of the Prosecutor, and in no case should they be used with the intent to kill.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
According to Article 125 of the 2003 Code of Criminal Procedure, when law enforcement agents are authorised to disperse an assembly the must use the least force possible.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Under the 2003 Code of Criminal Procedure, firearms may only be used against an assembly with the permission of the Prosecutor, and in no case should they be used with the intent to kill.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Sudan, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern
about reports of restrictions on public meetings, including a number of instances in 2018 during which the National Intelligence and Security Service prevented public gatherings of political parties
The Committee called on Sudan to review its legislation and practice to ensure that any restrictions on the exercise of freedom of assembly comply strictly with the requirements set out in the ICCPR and that Sudan release from prison all persons whose convictions had stemmed from their having exercised their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and grant those persons full compensation for the harm suffered.
The Committee was also concerned
about allegations that police and security officers use excessive force to disperse demonstrations. This reportedly happened, for example, during crackdowns on anti-austerity protests in January 2018, when live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas were reportedly used against demonstrators, resulting in the death and injury of several protesters.
The Committee called on Sudan to
(a) refrain from prosecuting demonstrators and meeting organizers for exercising their right of assembly; and
(b) ensure that the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials are implemented, through measures to ensure that law enforcement personnel do not use excessive force during demonstrations and that all such instances of excessive use of force are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice.
In early July 2019, amid the violent repression of peaceful protests in towns and cities across Sudan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the Sudanese authorities to lift restrictions on the internet and launch proper independent investigations into all acts of violence and allegations of excessive use of force, including attacks on hospitals. She also urged the authorities to respect people’s right to protest peacefully and to ensure a swift transition to a civilian government, in line with the clear wishes of large segments of the Sudanese population and of the African Union.
In June 2019, the African Union suspended Sudan's membership "with immediate effect", amid an upsurge of violence in the capital that has seen dozens killed. It warned of further action if power is not transferred to a civilian authority - a key demand of pro-democracy protesters. The African Union tweeted that:
The AU Peace and Security Council has with immediate effect suspended the participation of the Republic of Sudan in all AU activities until the effective establishment of a Civilian-led Transitional Authority, as the only way to allow the Sudan to exit from the current crisis.
Views of Civil Society
Freedom House reported in 2021 that Sudan has experienced frequent protests, with thousands gathering to demand change, especially in regards to socio-economic conditions and the lack of political reforms in the country.