Amnesty International has warned of increasing human rights violations in Sudan as the country's referendum on southern independence takes place.
Thousands have been displaced by the government's military offensive in Darfur, while the international community’s attention is focused on preparations for the referendum and the negotiation of a peace agreement for Darfur.
The April 2010 elections were marked by human rights violations and threats to freedom of expression in both the south and north of the country and Amnesty International is concerned that such violations would occur again during or after the referendum.
“Human rights should be at the heart of this coming referendum. The governments of unity and of south Sudan should make it clear that human rights violations will not be tolerated. The respect, protection and promotion of human rights in Sudan are vital to the success of this historic vote,” said Amnesty International.
An Amnesty International delegation recently returned from Juba in southern Sudan where it assessed the human rights situation ahead of the referendum.
The referendum comes as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in January 2005.
Since December 2010, more than 20,000 people in Darfur have been displaced during attacks by the Khartoum government's attacks on various parts of North and South Darfur, including camps for the displaced in Dar Al Salam, Shangil Tobaya and Khor Abeche.
"In 2004 and 2005 negotiations and preparations for signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan allowed attacks, displacement and crimes committed in Darfur to go unnoticed by the international community. This mistake must not be repeated," said Amnesty International.
Amnesty International has also warned that if people are not to be allowed dual nationality or citizenship of both south and north Sudan, they should be free to choose which one they take.
The organization said that there should be no discrimination in the application process and that people must be allowed to pass citizenship on to their children.
In the north of Sudan, agents of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) continue to use the sweeping powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure given them by 2010's National Security Act.
NISS agents are also granted immunity from prosecution for human rights violations carried out during the course of their work.
The NISS has targeted both Darfuris and Southerners. In November 2010 13 Darfuri activists were arrested in Khartoum and held without charge for more than two months.
Amnesty International said it is concerned that persecution of ethnic minorities in the north may increase during and after the referendum.
Women continue to suffer the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under a public order regime which allows for their arrest and flogging based on their clothing and public behaviour.
Amnesty International has documented human rights violations committed by the police, security forces and by members of the SPLA in south Sudan, both during and after the presidential and parliamentary elections in April 2010.
In September 2010, Amnesty International's report The Chains Remain: Restrictions on Freedom of Expression documented a clampdown on freedom of expression in Sudan since the elections that has seen journalists detained for carrying out their work while others have been tortured or tried on politically motivated charges.
"The authorities and the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission must give assurances that human rights violations will not be tolerated," said Amnesty International.
"The police must ensure that people are protected from intimidation and harassment when exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and their right to vote."