Monim Elgak and others v. Sudan
Closed Expands Expression
- Mode of Expression
Non-verbal Expression, Public Documents
- Date of Decision
March 10, 2015
Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Violation of a Rule of International Law, ACHPR Violation
- Case Number
- Region & Country
- Judicial Body
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
- Type of Law
International/Regional Human Rights Law
Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)
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Case Summary and Outcome
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“ACmHPR” or “the Commission”) held that Sudan violated Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“the Charter”). The case concerned the arrest and interrogation of Monim Elgak, Osman Hummeida, and Amir Suliman on account of their work as human rights defenders, particularly their alleged cooperation with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation in Sudan. The Commission reaffirmed that any restriction on freedom of expression “must be provided by law, served a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society”. [para. 114] In that sense, the Commission considered that there was no justifiable reason to restrict the freedom of expression of the three human rights defenders since their perceived connection to the ICC, if true, had not “endangered the lives of others, national security, morality, common interest or caused any other legitimate prejudice.” [para. 115] Therefore, the ACmHPR held that Sudan violated the rights of the three victims under Article 9 of the Charter. In addition, it found that Sudan violated Amir Suliman’s rights under Articles 1, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, and 16; Monim Elgak’s rights under Articles 1, 5, 6, 10, 12, and 16; and Osman Hummeida’s rights under Articles 1, 5, 6, 10, 12(1), and 16 of the Charter.
The complainants in this case are Monim Elgak, Osman Hummeida, and Amir Suliman, three widely known human rights defenders in Sudan. On 24 November 2008, Amir Suliman was arrested and transferred to an area near the Central Khartoum Police Station where the other two victims were arrested. That day “they were taken to the NISS headquarters, a building near Khartoum North Bus Station (Shendi)”, where they were questioned by three NISS officers, including the officer who led the arrest. [para. 4]
According to the Complainants, once they denied knowing the existence of two bags and two laptops with supposedly incriminating information about Osman Hummeida and Monim Elgak’s alleged involvement with the ICC, the officers became hostile. They questioned Amir Suliman about his link with the other two and his work at the Khartoum Centre for Human Rights and Environmental Development (KCHRED). Monim Elgak was questioned about his alleged cooperation with the ICC while Osman Hummeida “was taken outside to search Mr. Monim Elgak’s car parked outside and after an unsuccessful search he was taken inside and was punched and forcibly grabbed by the neck by the three officers.” [para. 5]
Both Amir Suliman and Monim Elgak were later released while Osman Hummeida was taken to Kober Prison after denying any relationship with the ICC prosecutor. There he was subjected to long hours of interrogation; he was not given access to medical care despite suffering from high blood pressure and was threatened with being raped by the security forces. As a British national of Sudanese origin, Osman Hummeida requested to contact the British Embassy, but it was also denied.
The other two human rights defenders were summoned to the NISS headquarters on 26 November 2008. Once there, Monim Elgak was severely beaten by NISS officers to the point of having his face swollen and being unable to talk. Amir Suliman was questioned again about the bags and laptops of the other two. Both Amir Suliman and Monim Elgak were released after they agreed to deliver the bags. However, upon his return with the bags, a laptop, and other documents, Amir Suliman was allowed to leave only after further questioning and an exhaustive search.
On the other hand, Osman Hummeida was released on 28 November 2008 after being taken to the NISS headquarters where the Director of Security informed him that he had been arrested due to information that he was connected to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC and had come to Sudan seeking to gather more evidence. Osman Hummeida and Monim Elgak left Sudan shortly after due to the serious nature of the allegations and the threat of being rearrested.
Osman Hummeida and Monim Elgak left Sudan shortly thereafter due to the seriousness of the possible charges of espionage charges and the threat of re-arrest. Amir Suliman also remained abroad after threats and intimidation against him, including the freezing of the KCHRED’s bank account.
On 10 November 2009, the Complainants submitted their Communication to the Secretariat of the African Commission.
In this case, the ACmHPR had to decide in relation to freedom of expression whether the arrest and interrogation of the three human rights defenders on account of their work violated Article 9 of the Charter. The Complainants contended that they were known for their human rights work in Sudan both nationally and internationally. They claimed that the actions of the State, namely the arrest, detention, interrogation, torture and ill treatment, intended to prevent them from “obtaining and disseminating information about human rights in Sudan and this constituted an unjustified infringement of their right to freedom of information and expression and amounted to a violation of Article 9 of the Charter.” [para. 85]
The Commission began its analysis by addressing the Complainants’ submission regarding the motive behind their arrest. In particular, the Court noted that indeed the questions raised during the interrogation of the Complainant related essentially to their human rights work and particularly the alleged connection to the ICC. It also noted that the actions of the security officers “against the Complainants were aimed at preventing them from obtaining and disseminating information about the situation of human rights in Sudan”. [para. 113] The ACmHPR proceeded then to address the underlying question: whether such restriction was in accordance with the Charter.
By referencing to its Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in African, the Commission recalled that any restriction on freedom of expression “must be provided by law, served a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society” [para. 114]. In that sense, the Commission considered that there was no justifiable reason to restrict the freedom of expression of the three human rights defenders since their perceived connection to the ICC, if true, had not “endangered the lives of others, national security, morality, common interest or caused any other legitimate prejudice”. [para. 115] Consequently, the Commission held that Zimbabwe violated the victims’ right to freedom of expression under Article 9 (1) and (2) of the Charter.
In relation to the other alleged violations, the Commission found that Sudan violated Amir Suliman’s rights under Articles 1, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, and 16; Monim Elgak’s rights under Articles 1, 5, 6, 10, 12, and 16; and Osman Hummeida’s rights under Articles 1, 5, 6, 10, 12(1) and 16 of the Charter.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This decision expands expression by reaffirming that although freedom of expression allows for certain restrictions, such limitations “must be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society” [para. 114]. The decision promotes the protection against an unjustified restriction to freedom of expression, in this case, an arrest, interrogation, and other acts motivated solely for the perceived connection between the victims and an ICC investigation. In addition, the Commission pointed out that even if the reason alleged for the arrest and interrogation was true, such link with the ICC had to have “endangered the lives of others, national security, morality, common interest or caused any other legitimate prejudice” for it to be considered a legitimate reason. [para. 115]
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Table of Authorities
Related International and/or regional laws
- ACHPR, art. 1
- ACHPR, art. 5
- ACHPR, art. 6
- ACHPR, art. 9
- ACHPR, art. 10
- ACHPR, art. 12
- ACHPR, art. 15
- ACHPR, art. 16
- ACmHPR, Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002).
- ACmHPR, Media Rights Agenda, Constitutional Rights Project v. Nigeria, Comm. No. 105/93-128/94-130/94-152/96 (Oct. 1998)
- ACmHPR, Huri-Laws v. Nigeria (2000), Comm. No. 225/98.
- ACmHPR, Amnesty International v. Zambia, Comm. No. 212/98 (1999)
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.
Official Case Documents
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