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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 November 2006, 20:04 GMT
Darfur lawyer receives top award
Salih Mahmoud Osman, lawyer from Darfur, Sudan
Mr Salih Mahmoud Osman was imprisoned in 2004
A lawyer from the Sudanese region of Darfur is to receive a top award from the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

Salih Mahmoud Osman is being recognised for his work representing some of the poorest people in Sudan.

For 20 years he has defended and given free legal aid to those who say they have been detained and tortured by the Sudanese government.

He was arrested by security forces in the country in 2004 and imprisoned for seven months before being released.

Mr Osman will receive his award in London on Tuesday.

When the conflict in Darfur began in 2003, he began working with the Sudan Organization Against Torture (SOAT).

In a country governed by the rule of the gun, Salih believes in the rule of law
Georgette Gagnon, HRW

A member of the Fur ethnic group, he defended people who opposed government policies as well as those persecuted for sharing the same ethnicity as the rebel movements in Darfur.

He told the BBC that he believed Sudan's justice system was not working.

"People are of the opinion that justice is denied in Darfur. We don't have the competent legal system that can effectively bring perpetrators to justice," he said.

Providing a lifeline

In the same interview, Mr Osman appealed for international intervention in Darfur.

"Our demands are very clear - we, the people of Darfur, we need urgent action," he said.

"We don't even talk about sanctions or prolonged procedures. We need direct action like intervention to prevent aerial bombardment - otherwise it is genocide and ethnic cleansing that is happening on the watch of everybody in the world here."

In 2006, Mr Osman became an opposition member of parliament, working on legal reform whilst continuing to provide legal aid in Nyala in southern Darfur and in the capital, Khartoum.

Human Rights Watch say he has contributed immeasurably to their investigation into ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

"In a country governed by the rule of the gun, Salih believes in the rule of law," said the group's deputy director, Georgette Gagnon.

"He is a thorn in the side of those who use violence to cling to power. And for so many of his fellow Darfurians, Salih is a lifeline," she said.

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