EIPR launches legal action against Sudan for violations arising from the construction of the Merowe and Kajbar dams

Press Release

7 October 2013

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has decided to be seized of a case initiated by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) against Sudan following its failure to address violations arising from the construction of the Merowe and Kajbar dams. The case, brought to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights alleges violations of several articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Sudan is a signatory. The Commission’s decision to be seized of the matter means that it has agreed to examine the case and to consider further testimony and arguments brought by EIPR on behalf of the complainants.

The Merowe damn, described by the Sudanese government and state media as “the biggest economic accomplishment in Sudan”, has resulted in the displacement and forced eviction of over fifty thousand individuals (seventy-five thousand according to some estimates). The communities’ elected representatives were not consulted before the construction or forced resettlement commenced. Moreover, the affected communities were relocated to areas unsuitable for farming and herding due to poor soil conditions. The construction of the second dam, the Kajbar Dam, began in December 2005. In this case too, no procedures were put in place to seek the input of the local communities, even though a representative group had formerly rejected the plans for the Dam back in 1998. It is estimated that construction of the Kajbar Dam will submerge around 90 villages, displace around ten thousand individuals belonging to the Mahas, an indigenous Nubian community, and destroy an estimated five hundred archaeological sites. While construction was halted in Kajbar for several years, the Government has recently expressed its intent to resume the construction of the dam.

In addition to the violation of the local populations’ right to housing which requires governments to consult and at times attain the permission of affected communities before commencing projects that would affect their lands and livelihood, the case alleges that the Sudanese government has violated a number of civil and political rights through excessive use of force and through unjustifiably restricting the right to assembly. Local protests of the two dams have been met with excessive force by the Sudanese government. In April 2006, armed militia attacked an anti-dam gathering in a school yard in Amri, in the presence of police guards, killing at least three protesters and injuring around forty others. In June 2007, heavily armed Sudanese forces fired on a march protesting the construction of the Kajbar dam, killing four, wounding more than fifteen others and arresting twnety-six individuals for several weeks, including journalists who tried to cover the protest. In both instances perpetrators of the attacks have not been prosecuted in violation of the state’s duty to investigate, prosecute and punish.

The case is part of an effort by the affected communities to seek remedy and to resist further marginalization. In May 2010, a criminal complaint was filed in Germany by the European Center for Constitutional Rights against Lahmeyer, a German company that took the lead in the construction of the Merowe Dam in spite of its disastrous impacts.The Commission, which sits twice a year, is expected to consider the EIPR’s request to hear the case during its upcoming session. Should the Commission agree to examine the case; EIPR will submit further testimony and arguments. On behalf of the affected communities, EIPR will seek different forms of reparation, including compensation to forcibly evicted individuals, investigation and prosecution of several incidents where excessive force was used against protesters, restitution of land where available, putting a halt to the Kajbar dam and structural reforms of relevant Sudanese laws and policies with respect to development projects.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a quasi-judicial body, which promotes and protects human rights in Africa by overseeing and interpreting the African Charter, which was ratified by 53 African countries including Sudan.

 Spokespeople are available for interview:

Bahaa Ezzelarab, Legal Adviser, North African Litigation Initiative (NALI), EIPR, bahaa@eipr.org

For more: The Other Side of the Sudan Dams Complaint before the African Commission seeks justice for victims of Sudanese dams