We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 human rights organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — urge the warring parties in Sudan to immediately end the disruption of internet access across the country. Internet shutdowns during wars and armed conflict endanger people’s lives, prevent access to lifesaving information, and exacerbate humanitarian crises. Amid the ongoing brutal violence in Sudan, the continued weaponization of internet shutdowns is a flagrant violation of international law.
Since conflict broke out in April 2023, both the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have deployed internet shutdowns as a weapon to block information flows in areas controlled by the opposing faction. This is exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis that has seen at least 13,000 people killed, and over nine million internally displaced; the largest internal displacement crisis in the world.
The ongoing internet blackout has posed serious challenges for emergency assistance and humanitarian aid. A number of Sudanese embassies and consulates have suspended their consular services for Sudanese communities as a result of the shutdown. Accessing lifesaving information on safe routes, as well as wiring money or using e-wallets, which many in Sudan depend on, has become more challenging. Being cut off from family members and loved ones, and unable to check on their wellbeing or whereabouts, is also exacerbating people’s suffering.
The ongoing internet shutdown began on February 2, 2024, following reports that the RSF had seized control of internet service providers’ (ISPs) data centers in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, causing internet outages in several parts of the country. The outage was confirmed by Cloudflare Radar data showing significant disruption to internet connectivity since 4:15 PM local time on February 2, including complete outages of MTN Sudan and Sudatel Group services. Internet Outage Detection & Analysis (IODA) data also shows a drop in internet connectivity for MTN and Sudatel around 4:30 PM local time on February 2.
The blackout persisted after the RSF shut down MTN and Sudani’s switchboards in Khartoum, sabotaged Zain equipment, and threatened to destroy additional communications infrastructure should companies fail to comply with their shutdown orders. This came in retaliation to reports of the SAF shutting down internet services in Darfur for several weeks.
As of February 9, the internet remains disrupted across Sudan with reports suggesting there is a near-total communications blackout. According to data from Cloudflare Radar, the internet outage began after a leading ISP, Zain Sudan, went offline just hours before midnight on February 6. Further reports show that a complete internet shutdown occurred twice on February 6 in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan. This blackout further exacerbates the already significant humanitarian challenges in an area currently hosting thousands of internally displaced civilians, as well as many UN agencies and government officials. Sudan’s major ISPs, Zain Sudan, Sudani, and MTN Sudan, have all apologized to users for service disruptions, but without offering any explanations or timeframe for restoring connectivity.
With the conflict escalating and the security situation deteriorating, people in Sudan must remain connected with each other and with the world. Internet access is fundamental for sharing information about safe havens and routes to safety for enabling access by emergency services and to humanitarian aid, and for reporting and documenting casualties and human rights abuses.
We, the undersigned organizations, reiterate the devastating impact of shutdowns in times of conflict, strongly condemn the ongoing shutdowns across Sudan, and demand a peaceful resolution to the current conflict and instability.
Sudan has a poor record of shutdowns cloaking human rights abuses
Sudan has a history of shutting down the internet during times of civil unrest and political turmoil, to control information flows and suppress dissent. In 2022, the military regime cut off internet access at least four times during protests that followed its 2021 military coup, including during the #June30March protests demanding return to civilian rule, which saw security forces kill at least nine protestors. During the coup itself, authorities shut down the internet on five different occasions, to cover up coinciding military atrocities and human rights violations.
But Sudan’s shutdown story also predates the current military regime. In 2020, the internet was cut off twice, while in June 2019, a week-long internet shutdown was implemented during the now-infamous and heinous Khartoum massacre, which resulted in at least 100 deaths, over 700 injuries, and more than 70 cases of rape.
Shutdowns violate international human rights standards
Disrupting internet access and deliberately targeting civilian telecommunications infrastructure, as a collective punishment or retaliative action against protected categories, is forbidden by international humanitarian law. During conflict that jeopardizes civilian safety, shutting down internet and telecommunications services has been examined by the International Criminal Court after the murder and persecution of civilians, and seen as a sign of possible crimes against humanity.
Given the widespread reports of ongoing atrocities, the ICC opened a new investigation on Sudan in July 2023. The UN Human Rights Council also established an independent international fact-finding mission in October 2023 to investigate alleged human rights abuses and war crimes in Sudan. This underscores the importance of maintaining communication channels to facilitate the documentation of abuses, and possibly dissuade additional crimes from being committed. In light of this, companies, businesses, and ISPs should contribute to preserving and transmitting crucial evidence while upholding IHL and International Human Rights Law (IHRL).
Article 57 of Sudan’s Constitution grants every citizen the right “to access the internet, without prejudice to public order, safety, and morals in accordance with what is determined by law.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on access to information and the freedom of expression, which Sudan has ratified, also provide for the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information to be protected by states at all times, online and offline. Finally, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019 calls upon states not to “engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.”
In 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution recognized the “importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa,” expressing concern over the “emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the internet, social media, and messaging services.” Moreover, the UN Secretary General and other experts have affirmed that, “blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, telecommunications companies must respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for any harms they cause or contribute to. Telecommunications and internet service providers operating in Sudan — including Zain, MTN, Sudatel and others — are responsible for providing quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools.
Internet shutdowns jeopardize human rights and must never become a norm. We encourage businesses in Sudan to comply with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and OECD Guidelines to ensure they are not causing or contributing to human rights violations when responding to censorship and network disruption requests from any of the warring parties.
The #KeepItOn coalition, together with the undersigned organizations, unequivocally condemns the ongoing internet shutdowns in Sudan and calls on all parties to the conflict to act in accordance with international human rights law and the law of armed conflict, by immediately reinstating internet access across the country and refraining from further targeting critical telecommunications infrastructure and personnel.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Amhara Association of America
Avocats Sans Frontières France
Digital Rights Kashmir
Digital Rights Lab – Sudan
Freedom Forum, Nepal
Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)
Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria
International Press Institute
Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
OONI (Open Observatory of Network Interference
Office of Civil Freedoms
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
Sudan Bukra TV Channel
Sudan Human Rights Hub (SHRH)
Sudan ICT Advisory Group (SICTA)
Sudanese Archive / Mnemonic
Sudanese Engineers Syndicate
The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Youths and Environmental Advocacy Advocacy (YEAC-Nigeria)