Re: Paul Foreman, country Director of MSF Holland; Vincent Hoedt, MSF regional Coordinator for Darfur
To: H.E. Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, President of the Republic of Sudan
From: Catherine A. Morris, Sudan Monitor of LRWC
We are writing to express concern about charges that have been laid against Mr. Paul Foreman, country Director of MSFBHolland, and Mr. Vincent Hoedt, MSF regional Coordinator for Darfur. We understand Mr. Foreman and Mr. Hoedt have been charged with several offences under Sudan=s 1991 Penal Code, including articles 66 (Publication of False News), 96 (Omission to Produce Document or Deliver Statement) and 53 (Espionage against the Country). Article 53 appears to be a capital offence. We understand that Mr. Foreman was arrested on May 30, 2005, and interrogated for three-and-a-half hours by police. He was released on bail late on May 31, 2005, pending trial, and on conditions that he not leave Sudan. We understand Mr. Hoedt was released on bail on June 14, 2005.
The reported reason for the charges was the publication of a March 2005 report by MSF-Holland entitled The Crushing Burden of Rape: Sexual Violence in Darfur which discusses approximately 500 cases of rape in Darfur over four-and-a-half month period. We understand that MSF-Holland declined requests by Sudan government authorities not to publish the report, and requests to name sources and share medical information used to support the information in the report.
Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail reportedly stated on June 1, 2005, that these arrests should never have been carried out. On June 14, 2005, UN Special Envoy Jan Pronk reportedly stated he believed the charges would be dropped. However, on June 15, 2005, a senior official of the Ministry of Justice, Mr. Abdel Daim Zumrawi, reportedly told Reuters news that the criminal charges against MSF personnel still stand, and that a decision as to whether the charges would be dropped Adepends on the behaviour of the organization [MSF].”
LRWC confirms its respect for the sovereignty of the State of Sudan under international law. LRWC reminds the government of Sudan of its obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the obligations it has voluntarily undertaken by ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Geneva Conventions.
The charges against Messrs. Foreman and Hoedt have focused increased international attention on serious ongoing concerns related to these international obligations. First, the charges against MSF officials reinforce concern about safety of human rights defenders in Sudan who are frequently reported to be subject to arbitrary arrest and torture in violation of the ICCPR. We have written to your government about these concerns over the past several years.
Second, these charges against MSF personnel raise alarm about the safety of persons working for humanitarian organizations serving the people of Sudan, particularly organizations that report violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law (including the Geneva Conventions). On May 31, 2005, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, expressed concern about the arrests, saying that the MSF report did no more than to record and focus attention on crimes of rape and sexual violence that had already been described by UN monitors and the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the UN Secretary-General.
A third concern is that these arrests appear to be aimed at intimidating not only humanitarian organizations and local human rights defenders, but also those who report rapes and other human rights violations as witnesses (including victims). The February 2005 Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur emphasized the importance of ensuring protection of witnesses from possible harassment or intimidation. Yet, your government appears to have tried to obtain information about the identity of victims of violations by asking MSF personnel for medical reports, and by charging and arresting MSF personnel who have declined to reveal medical information that would reveal identities of rape victims. For all these reasons, the charges against MSF personnel do nothing to improve the reputation of the Government of Sudan, nor do these charges lessen persistent concern that your government is implicated in widespread atrocities and massive human rights violations in Sudan.
We hope to hear immediate news that the charges against Messrs. Foreman and Hoedt have been dropped. We also hope to hear news that your government is demonstrating sincere and urgent efforts to cooperate with the United Nations, the African Union and the many humanitarian and other organizations working to stop human rights violations from occurring in Sudan.