June 12, 2024

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Sudan: Telecommunications Blackout in Sudan: Parties to the Conflict Must End Collective Punishment and Enable Access to Life-Saving Telecommunications

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In the midst of the devastating humanitarian crisis that is fast deteriorating in Sudan, we, representing 94 humanitarian, civil society, human rights organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition, urgently appeal for the re-establishment of telecommunications infrastructure across the entire country. Sudan has become the world’s worst displacement crisis and is on the brink of becoming the world’s worst hunger crisis. In total, more than half of Sudan’s population – nearly 25 million people – need humanitarian aid. Over a year of relentless warfare and indiscriminate violence have destroyed homes, towns, livelihoods, and critical civilian infrastructure.

Indiscriminate attacks and disruption of telecommunications by warring parties have severely affected civilians’ ability to cope with the effects of the war, as well as aid workers’ capacity to deliver essential services, with local responders most severely impacted. Both sides have consistently used targeted attacks on telecommunication infrastructure or the imposition of bureaucratic restrictions (such as the banning of the importation and use of certain satellite-internet devices). severely impacting civilian populations.

When available, internet access has been instrumental in assisting civilians share and receive critical and often lifesaving information, including about safe areas and routes. Civilians also use the internet to access cash and bank transfers—often receiving support from relatives living overseas—which for many has become a lifeline, allowing them to purchase the most basic necessities, such as food and water. Local aid groups, who have been the first and main responders in most conflict-affected parts of the country, rely heavily on telecommunications to reach vulnerable communities and receive funding for their lifesaving activities. In areas where formal telecommunication is barely functioning, both civilians and local responders, such as Emergency Response Rooms (ERRs), often connect through informal Starlink internet cafes. Humanitarian organizations also rely on functional telecommunications to coordinate and deliver relief efforts safely, particularly to provide cash assistance into the most remote areas.

A nationwide telecommunication shutdown in February 2024 left almost 30 million Sudanese without access to the internet or telephone calls for more than a month. Across the country, those experiencing the horrors of war have been separated from and unable to contact their families and loved ones. While some levels of services were restored in the east of the country, large swathes of territory remain disconnected from the network providers, such as Zain, MTN and Sudani – namely the Darfur region, and parts of Khartoum and the Kordofans. The same areas are also the most exposed to conflict and risk of famine, making the consequences of telecommunications blackout even more life-threatening. In some areas cut-off from broader telecommunications, the only available service has been via satellite connectivity devices such as Starlink. While the cost of satellite services is prohibitive to most civilians and there are significant restrictions on the importation of satellite equipment, such services remain critical for both international humanitarian organizations and local responders to remain operational in Sudan. While there remain valid concerns around the use of this technology—and other telecommunications systems–by the parties to the conflict, the potential shutdown of Starlink (as announced in April 2024) would have a disproportionate impact on civilians and the aid organizations who are trying to reach them.

We call upon all stakeholders to ensure the uninterrupted provision of telecommunication services in Sudan. Any shutdown of telecommunication services is a violation of human rights and may be considered to be a collective punishment that will not only isolate individuals from their support networks but also exacerbate the already dire economic situation facing millions.
Telecommunications infrastructure must be considered as critical civilian infrastructure. As such, parties to the conflict must refrain from attacking, destroying, damaging, or otherwise rendering inoperable telecommunications infrastructure, facilitate the rehabilitation of damaged systems, and ensure telecommunication services are accessible to all, regardless of where they live. In addition, they should lift restrictions on all satellite-internet and actively facilitate the importation of satellite-internet devices.
All service providers able to ensure connectivity in Sudan must immediately ensure that access to the internet remains accessible without interruption or additional cost increases. This includes diversifying the means to access the internet, such as solutions based on satellite (including, though not limited to, Starlink) and WiMAX technology, or the use of e-SIMs near the country’s borders.
Development donors and financial institutions should support the development of the telecommunication sector in the longer term, by promoting decentralized infrastructure and reducing barriers for smaller businesses to enter the telecommunications market.
The United Nations, through the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, must urgently increase emergency telecommunication capacity in Darfur and the Kordofans, and provide access to the services to all humanitarian actors, including expanding its services to civilians until other options become available.
Signatories:

Access Now
Action Against Hunger
ADRA
African Centre for Justic and Peace Studies
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI)
African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL)
AfricTivistes
AISPO
Almostagball for Enlightenment and Development Organization (AEDO)
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Blueprint for Free Speech
CAFOD
CARE
Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD Ethiopia)
Coalition for Darfur Women Human Rights Defenders
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Computech Institute
Connect Rurals
Cooperazione Internazionale
Danish Refugee Council
Digital Grassroots (DIGRA)
Digital Rights Kashmir
Digital Rights Lab – Sudan
EMERGENCY NGO
Fikra for Studies and Development
Free Press Unlimited
Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)
Global Programming Overseas
Guardians Organization
Hopes & Actions Foundation
Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust
Humanity for Development & Prosperity Organization
Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria
International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
International Press Institute
International Rescue Committee
International Medical Committee
Intersos
Islamic Relief Worldwide
JCA-NET(Japan)
Jonction
Kandoo
KICTANet
Kijiji Yeetu
LastMile4D
Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
LM International
Medair
Media Diversity Institute – Armenia
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Mercy Corps
Miaan Group
Nobel Women’s Initiative
Nonviolent Peaceforce
Nora Center for Combating Sexual Violence
Norwegian Church Aid
Norwegian Refugee Council
ONG Women Be Free
OONI (Open Observatory of Network Interference)
OpenNet Africa
Organization of the Justice Campaign
PAEMA
Paradigm Initiative
PEN America
Plan International
Premiere Urgence International
Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness
Refugees International
Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in Southwest Asia and North Africa
Rights for Peace
Save the Children
Saferworld
Solidarites International
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)
Sudanese American Public Affairs Association
Sudan Human Rights Hub
Sudan Human Rights Network
Sudan Peace & Security Monitor
Sudan Women Rights Action
The Circle
The Tor Project
Tomorrow’s Smile Organization
Ubunteam
United Nations Association – UK
US-Educated Sudanese Association (USESA)
Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE)
Waging Peace
Women’s International Peace Centre
World Vision International
YODET
Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria)
Zaina Foundation

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