In Which I Learn Something New: Immunities Edition

While reading the Sudan Tribune the other day (what, you don’t read it?) I came across the  statement, attributed to Sudan’s Justice Minister Mohamed Bushara Dousa, that “25% of people in Sudan have some form of immunity.”

This sounded beyond crazy, but Amanda and I did some asking around and discovered that, in fact, widespread immunity from criminal prosecution is a serious human rights issue in Sudan. While 25% of the population might be an overstatement, it appears that most government officials, including the entire security sector, enjoy functional immunity (also known as “act immunity”), which protects them from prosecution for crimes committed in the course of their official duties. This means that victims of torture by members of the police or armed forces have no legal recourse.

Obviously, this bums me out hard, but it also makes me wonder whether this is a common problem worldwide that I’ve somehow missed. So, internets, learn me a thing: Do these sorts of broad immunities exist in your countries / regions of expertise?


Kate Cronin-Furman


  1. It’s very common for individuals who are tortured, coerced into confessing, etc, to have a right of action only if they are subsequently declared innocent by a court. I’ve encountered this specifically in the former USSR and Middle Eastern countries, but I suspect it’s common worldwide. Since many people languish without trial or are convicted based upon those false confessions, the right of action is essentially illusory.

  2. Hi J, thanks for your comment. That is also definitely a huge challenge for human rights prosecutions, and perhaps a more common approach to preventing them? (At least, it’s one I’m more familiar with than broad grants of immunity…)

  3. I don’t think it’s even intended to prevent human rights prosecutions. Generally, there’s no right of action for any wrong or illegal actions taken during an investigation unless the defendant is declared innocent. It’s essentially an end-justifies-the-means mentality – judges and lawyers I’ve worked with in MENA and the former USSR are incredulous at the very idea of excluding evidence at trial or letting a guilty person sue the police.

    I should note that torture and physical abuse is technically illegal in these places, usually under ordinary assault laws and not laws specific to abuse of office by law enforcement or torture laws. Having said that, it would be incredibly rare for a police officer to actually be prosecuted for “assaulting” a suspect.

  4. It’s actually very common but most people that work in international human rights rarely explore the intricacies of countries’ domestic law and the sundry limitations on right to recourse under national law even though it’s the only recourse realistically available to 99% of victims of human rights abuses. Sigh.

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