Sudan Table of Contents
Trial in Tambura, western Al Istiwai State, with stolen
goods (honey in cans) and judges in foreground, accused on the
Courtesy Robert O. Collins
The Sudanese criminal code embodied elements of British law, the penal code of British colonial India, and the Egyptian civil code (see The Legal System , ch. 4). In 1977 Nimeiri formed a committee, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, to revise the legal code according to the sharia (Islamic law). In September 1983, the Nimeiri government introduced a version of the sharia prescribing harsh corporal punishments for such crimes as murder, theft, drinking alcohol, prostitution, and adultery. These "September Laws," sometimes known as hudud (sing., hadd, penalty prescribed by Islamic law) provided for execution, flogging, amputation, and stoning as modes of punishment for both Muslims and non-Muslims. During the final twenty months of Nimeiri's rule, at least ninety persons convicted of theft had their hands amputated. The military and civil governments succeeding Nimeiri between 1985 and 1989 suspended the September Laws. Progress on a new Islamic penal code to replace the September Laws was delayed by the legislature pending a constitutional assembly that would include the SPLA. Although flogging, consisting normally of forty lashes, was limited to offenses involving sex or alcohol, it was often inflicted summarily. In 1989 the RCC-NS extended flogging as a punishment for a much wider range of offenses. Extreme hudud sentences such as amputations were not handed down, however, and many hudud sentences imposed under the Sadiq al Mahdi government were converted to jail terms and fines.
In the regular criminal court system, extensive guarantees of due process were prescribed for accused persons. These courts consisted of a panel of three judges. The judicial process involved a police or magistrate's investigation and an arrest warrant preceding the arrest. Trials were held in public except when the accused requested a closed trial. The accused had to be brought before a court within forty-eight hours of arrest, informed of the charges, and provided with access to an attorney of the accused's choice. There were legal aid services for the poor, but, because resources were limited, legal aid was apportioned to those facing serious charges and those most in need. Bail was permitted except in some capital cases. Defendants had the right to speak, to present evidence on their own behalf, and to appeal judgments through a series of courts from the magistrate level to the High Court of Appeal.
Under the state of emergency imposed by the Sadiq al Mahdi regime in 1987, the government had wide powers in areas declared to be emergency zones to arrest and preventively detain for an indefinite period anyone suspected of contravening emergency regulations. Military personnel could not be arrested by civilian authorities, nor was there provision for judicial review of actions by the armed forces. The Sadiq al Mahdi government declared emergency zones in the southern and western areas of the country and used the detention powers on people suspected of sympathy with the rebellion.
On seizing power in 1989, the RCC-NS declared a state of emergency for the whole of Sudan and granted itself broad powers. The government initially detained more than 300 people without warrants, including many prominent political and academic figures, journalists, alleged leftists, and trade unionists. About sixty judges who petitioned against the government's action were also detained. Many of the original detainees were released within several months, but they were replaced by others. There were an estimated 300 to 500 detainees at the close of 1990; some reports claimed as many as 1,000 detainees.
After the 1989 coup, the regular civilian courts continued to handle ordinary criminal offenses, including theft and some capital crimes, although the court system was seriously backlogged and the judiciary was less independent of the executive than previously. After experimenting with various forms of special courts, the RCC-NS established special security courts in November 1989. These courts were formed by the military governors of the regions and the commissioner of the national capital. The courts had three-member panels of both military and civilian judges. They tried persons accused of violating constitutional decrees, emergency regulations, and some portions of the criminal code, notably drug crimes and currency violations. The new security courts did not extend normal protections to the accused. Attorneys were permitted to sit with defendants but were not permitted to address the courts. Sentences imposed by the courts were to be carried out immediately, with the exception that death penalties were to be reviewed by the chief justice and the head of state. The special security courts gained a reputation for harsh sentences. Two defendants convicted of illegal possession of foreign currency and another convicted of drug smuggling were executed and others were sentenced to death for similar crimes, although the sentences were not carried out.
In areas of the south affected by the war, normal judicial procedures could not be applied and civil authorities were made redundant by the application of the state of emergency. Units of the armed forces and militias ruled by force of arms, and in many cases the accused were summarily tried and punished, especially for offenses against public order. In war-torn southern Kurdufan the government authorized a system of justice administered by village elders, and a similar system was reportedly in effect in areas controlled by the SPLA.
Data as of June 1991
Sudan Table of Contents