Geneva - The decision of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council President General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to freeze the activity of trade unions, professional federations, and the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation—including controlling their financial assets and accounts—is deeply concerning. It is essential to restore these entities’ legitimacy using democratic solutions, said Euro-Med Monitor in a statement.
The president’s act clearly violates the Supreme Court’s decision in early November to overturn Decision No. 3, which was issued by the Dissolution Committee with regard to dissolving the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation and trade union organisations in December 2019. It is not permissible to overturn judicial rulings through executive orders issued without due process; federations and professional and labour unions whose mandates have expired should take all necessary steps to restore their legitimacy through elections, and ensure that members have the right to freely choose their representatives through a proper, transparent democratic process.
On 10 December 2019, al-Burhan announced the formation of a committee to “end the control of the symbols of ousted President Omar al-Bashir’s regime at the state level, fight corruption, and recover the looted funds.” The committee later decided to dissolve trade union organisations, but the decision was overturned by the country’s Supreme Court last month, after three years of judicial proceedings.
Criticising al-Burhan’s decision to establish a governmental committee that will form steering committees for trade unions, professional federations, and the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation, Euro-Med Monitor warned of the dangers of imposing guardianship over trade union representatives elected by their membership and management; noting that a guardianship that adheres to authority directives contradicts the goals that unions work to achieve.
It is difficult to justify violations of judicial rulings or control over elected entities under the pretext of removing institutions associated with the regime of ousted President Omar al-Bashir, as the same pretext can be used largely to suppress and restrict freedoms. Unions should not be used as a scapegoat by Sudan’s authorities in their ongoing talks with civil force representatives to agree on the best route to a return to democracy. Confiscating the rights of individuals and entities, particularly free speech and freedom of assembly and association, ignoring judicial decisions, and freezing the activity of trade union entities run by elected representatives should not be viewed as a remedy for the effects of the previous regime, but rather as a step toward other illegal measures.
Any remedies for the effects of the previous regime should not come at the expense of the civil, political, social, or economic rights of individuals and entities, but implemented within a framework of controls that respect those rights and ensure that they are not squandered arbitrarily or unjustifiably. The behaviour of Sudanese authorities following the army’s takeover on 25 October 2021 gives reason to believe that the control imposed on professional and trade union entities may not be primarily aimed at paving the way for the democratic reconstruction of these institutions, but rather at eliminating or adapting their activities to serve the interests and policies of the military authority. The authorities have been involved in horrific human rights violations, including the killing of approximately 120 demonstrators, the arrest of dozens of opposition politicians, the closure of several local and foreign media outlets, and the illegal dismissal of a large number of officials.
Sudanese authorities must reverse their decision to freeze and control the activities of trade unions, professional federations, and the Sudanese Businessmen and Employers Federation, as well as respect the trade unionists’ need for privacy and independence and adhere to relevant judicial decisions.
Civil force representatives and Sudanese authorities should agree to deal with the effects of the previous regime in a way that ensures respect for the rights of individuals and entities, does not take any action contradicting the rights guaranteed in relevant domestic and international laws, and acts in accordance with human rights principles in all procedures aimed at restoring a civil path and laying the foundation for justice and democracy.