Citizens in Sudan during citizen's protests

Breaking the Cycle of Impunity for Torture: Rights Groups Welcome Long-Awaited African Commission Decision Calling for Anti-torture Reforms in Sudan

In an emblematic decision, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“African Commission”) has recently found Sudan responsible for the arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture by Sudanese security forces of two human rights defenders, Dr. Amin Mekki Medani and Mr. Farouq Abu Eissa.  

In 2014, Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were arrested from their homes in Khartoum, detained incommunicado without medical treatment, and charged with crimes punishable by death before being released after intervention from the Minister of Justice. Neither individual ever heard anything further from the Sudanese government about the reasons for their detention, nor did they ever receive reparations for the torture and ill-treatment they experienced in detention.   

While more than eight years have passed since a complaint was initially filed (in which time, both Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa have passed away), the African Commission’s recent decision remains highly relevant. Security actors in Sudan have long been allowed to commit serious (and often targeted) human rights violations against human rights defenders and civilians with impunity. Here, Sudan failed to even investigate the violations suffered by Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa. Now, Sudan is entering its fourth month of deadly armed conflict – a conflict fuelled by this same impunity, and which has enabled Sudan’s security forces to, again, violently target political activists and human rights defenders.

Decision and next steps 

In its decision, the African Commission found several violations of the African Charter: 

  • The African Commission found that the incommunicado detention of Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa in poor conditions without adequate medical care constituted torture and inhuman treatment, violating Article 5 of the African Charter.  
  • It also found that the National Security Act 2010, under which Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were arrested, was “arbitrary in nature” and therefore contrary to Article 6.  
  • Because neither Dr. Medani nor Mr. Eissa had been able to exercise their right to counsel and had been tried in front of a procedurally flawed Anti-terrorism Court, the African Commission also found a violation of the right to a fair trial protected by Article 7.  
  • Recognising that Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa had been arrested and detained because of their participation in the creation of the Sudan Call (a political agreement between opposition parties and civil society) the African Commission found violations of Article 9 (freedom of expression) and Article 10 (freedom of association).  
  • Finally, because Sudan had never investigated the violations suffered by Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa, nor had it provided reparations for their injuries, the African Commission found a violation of Article 1 (obligation to give effect to rights).  

As reparation, the African Commission called on Sudan to pay material and moral damages, conduct a prompt and independent investigation of the State security actors responsible for the violations, and enact reforms to the National Security Act 2010 and Criminal Procedure Act 1991, as well as implement a series of wider institutional and practical reforms to Sudan’s detention system.  

Sadly, both Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa passed away before the African Commission made its decision on the merits. The ongoing armed conflict in Sudan will also likely pose significant challenges to any meaningful implementation of the decision, at least for the time being. Nonetheless, this decision provides a foundation for future legal and institutional reforms to prevent torture in Sudan and is a timely reminder of the need to challenge impunity in all its forms. It is also a crucial illustration of the importance of regional human rights mechanisms in progressing accountability efforts when domestic bodies are unable or unwilling to do so. 

Amidst the current armed conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), justice and accountability cannot wait. Both the SAF and the RSF have long been responsible for gross human rights violations in Sudan, and their patterns of violence and impunity continue in the current conflict. It is vital that Sudan complies with the African Commission’s decision as soon as possible by holding those responsible for human rights violations accountable for their actions and by reforming the laws and policies that create a culture of impunity. In doing so, Sudan must take urgent steps to protect all Sudanese human rights defenders from harassment, persecution, arbitrary detention, and torture. 


In late 2014, Dr. Medani, a distinguished human rights lawyer, and Mr. Eissa, a prominent politician in Sudan, both participated in the negotiation and adoption of the “Sudan Call”, a Bashir-era agreement between Sudanese opposition forces and civil society to promote peace, human rights, and political reform in Sudan. Three days after the Sudan Call was signed, Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were both arrested by the Sudanese National Intelligence Security Services. Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were 75 and 86 years old, respectively, at the time of their arrests. Neither were provided any reasons for their arrests. Both suffered from chronic medical conditions at the time. 

Following their arrests, Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were held incommunicado for 15 days in inhumane conditions, without access to any legal assistance or their families, and with no access to the essential medications required to treat their serious health conditions. They were then charged with a number of unsubstantiated offences, subjected to an unfair trial (and the prospect of the death penalty), and held for a further 110 days in degrading conditions. Eventually, on 9 April 2015, the criminal charges against them were dropped, and Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were released from detention. 

On 20 February 2015, REDRESS, in partnership with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), submitted a complaint on behalf of Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa to the African Commission. The complaint alleged that Dr. Medani and Mr. Eissa were subjected to incommunicado detention and medical mistreatment as punishment for their participation in the Sudan Call, and that their treatment amounted to torture. The complaint also alleged that Sudan had violated Dr. Medani’s and Mr. Eissa’s rights to personal liberty, a fair trial, free expression, free association, and to be free from torture and ill-treatment under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

In February 2015, the African Commission granted provisional measures requesting that Sudan guarantee Dr. Medani’s and Mr. Eissa’s access to adequate medical attention and legal counsel. After receiving submissions from both the complainants and Sudan, the African Commission deemed the case admissible around August 2018. Sudan refused to submit a briefing on the merits, so after a briefing was submitted by the complainants on 10 May 2019, the African Commission made a decision on the merits in November 2022. REDRESS received a copy of the decision on 2 August 2023.  

More information about the case can be found on the Medani case page. 

Photo credit: David Rose/Panos Pictures.