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92 NGOs urgently call for the re-establishment of telecommunications infrastructure across Sudan

Date: May 20, 2024

In the midst of the devastating humanitarian crisis that is fast deteriorating in Sudan, we, representing 92 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:

1. Access Now

2. Action Against Hunger

3. ADRA

4. African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies

5. African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)

6. Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI)

7. African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL)

8. AfricTivistes

9. AISPO

10. Almostagball for Enlightenment and Development Organization (AEDO)

11. Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)

12. Blueprint for Free Speech

13. CAFOD

14. CARE

15. Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD Ethiopia)

16. Coalition for Darfur Women Human Rights Defenders

17. Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)

18. Computech Institute

19. Connect Rurals

20. Cooperazione Internazionale

21. Danish Refugee Council

22. Digital Grassroots (DIGRA)

23. Digital Rights Kashmir

24. Digital Rights Lab - Sudan

25. EMERGENCY NGO

26. Fikra for Studies and Development

27. Free Press Unlimited

28. Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)

29. Global Programming Overseas

30. Guardians Organization

31. Hopes & Actions Foundation

32. Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust

33. Humanity for Development & Prosperity Organization

34. Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria

35. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

36. International Press Institute

37. International Rescue Committee

38. International Medical Committee

39. Intersos

40. Islamic Relief Worldwide

41. JCA-NET(Japan)

42. Jonction

43. Kandoo

44. KICTANet

45. Kijiji Yeetu

46. LastMile4D

47. Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan

48. LM International

49. Medair

50. Media Diversity Institute - Armenia

51. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)

52. Mercy Corps

53. Miaan Group

54. Nobel Women’s Initiative

55. Nonviolent Peaceforce

56. Nora Center for Combating Sexual Violence

57. Norwegian Church Aid

58. Norwegian Refugee Council

59. ONG Women Be Free

60. OONI (Open Observatory of Network Interference)

61. OpenNet Africa

62. Organization of the Justice Campaign

63. PAEMA

64. Paradigm Initiative

65. PEN America

66. Plan International

67. Premiere Urgence International

68. Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness

69. Refugees International

70. Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in Southwest Asia and North Africa

71. Rights for Peace

72. Saferworld

73. Solidarites International

74. Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)

75. Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)

76. Sudanese American Public Affairs Association

77. Sudan Human Rights Network

78. Sudan Peace & Security Monitor

79. Sudan Women Rights Action

80. The Circle

81. The Tor Project

82. Tomorrow’s Smile Organization

83. Ubunteam

84. United Nations Association – UK

85. US-Educated Sudanese Association (USESA)

86. Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE)

87. Waging Peace

88. Women’s International Peace Centre

89. World Vision International

90. YODET

91. Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria)

92. Zaina Foundation

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