24 September 2015
Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) commemorated on 15 September 2015 the International Day for Democracy, which the United Nations (UN) marks as a day to encourage governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO) and individuals all over the world to work towards consolidating democracy and boosting its opportunities.
In its observation of the International Day for Democracy this year, the UN has raised the theme of ‘Space for Civil Society’. The Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon, highlighted the pivotal relation between civil society and the democratic process, describing civil society as ‘the oxygen of democracy’. We, at SDFG, support the UN theme for this year’s International Day for Democracy, as it reflects the Sudanese experience and the effective contribution of Sudanese civil society organizations and trade unions in realizing democratic changes in 1964 and 1985.
SDFG believes that the theme of commemorating this year’s International Day for Democracy is a challenge for the Sudanese people that reminds them of their failure to attain democratic transformation and create space for civil society activities, said Mohamed Is’haq Abdulshafi, an SDFG program coordinator. SDFG believes that the Sudanese government has systematically and deliberately undermined the work of civil society organizations and denied them credible opportunities to carry out their tasks. The present situation of democracy and civil society, as seen by SDFG, could be summarized as follows:
First: civil society space in Sudan is very limited due to restrictive laws, such as The Voluntary and Humanitarian Activities Act of 1996 (VHAA), which hampers civil society organizations’ critical role in achieving democratic change. The VHAA is just one example of security-related laws that restrict rights and freedoms and silence political activist and civil society organization members through intimidation, detentions, convictions as well as arbitrary closing down and hindering of independent civil initiatives. The current situation leaves no option for civil society organizations other than the continuation of resistance in order to gain more space and to prevent the introduction of more restrictions.
Second: we observe the International Day for Democracy this year amid on-going genocidal wars against the people in Darfur, South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains, and the Blue Nile, where there is no space for civil society to operate due to emergency laws and the new closed areas policies. These policies and laws provided grounds for the expulsion of independent civil society organizations, targeting civilian activists on the basis of ethnicity and origin, hampering the work of international humanitarian organizations and denying access to the needy war victims in these areas. SDFG believes that the problem lies not only in the limited space for civil society, but also in the deliberate obstruction by the Sudanese government to create the necessary conditions for a just peace; needless to say that no genuine democracy is achievable without a just peace that stops the war and allows civil society to operate freely.
Third: the International Day for Democracy came this year while the Sudanese ruling regime deceives its people with the so-called National Dialogue process. At the backdrop of this government-government dialogue, there are continuous violations of civil and political rights, which are in essence targeting the freedom of expression, media, peaceful assembly, organization, and movement. The National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) continues its bloody and oppressive campaign, arbitrarily detaining political and civil activists in its notorious ghost houses, where they are routinely subjected to torture, ill-treatment, defamation, assets confiscation, false accusations, and unjust court decisions, as well as other measures to end any anti-government civilian and political activities. This is consequently blocked any possible avenues towards viable transition to democracy.
While commemorating the International Day for Democracy, under the theme of ‘Space for Civil Society’, SDFG would like to reassert that it is our duty as civil society groups to work for achieving democratic transformation , and believe that it is a necessary pillar to realize just peace, development, and justice in Sudan. It is also important to exert every effort possible to broaden the participation and contribution of civil society forces alongside the political forces in order to achieve change and build a strong alliance for change as the main safeguard to realize transition and regain democracy in Sudan.