HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: MILITARY GOVERNMENT IN SUDAN SHOT AND VIOLENTLY ATTACKED PROTESTERS IN KHARTOUM

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[Africa News\Sudan]
A large number of government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the paramilitary force established in 2013 which carried out highly abusive counter insurgency campaigns in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile – surrounded the sit-in area. After an initial attempt by men in police uniforms to move a barricade, witnesses said RSF soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters, instantly killing many. The soldiers rounded up and beat protestors, subjecting them to various abuses and humiliation, burned tents and looted and destroyed property. They also raped protesters and committed other acts of sexual violence.
Photo: Facebook

Lt. General Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo has been accused of overseeing the killings of over 120 people during protests, in June, against Sudan's military government, which took power after the ouster of former Sudan President Omar al-Bashir last April.

It was dark and rainy in the early hours of Monday, June 3, 2019, on eve of the last day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Sudanese protesters – whose months of protests prompted the ouster of Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s President for 30 years, on April 11 – were still at their sit-in near the army headquarters, despite rumors that the government would soon disperse them. They remained even after al-Bashir’s ouster to protest rule by the transitional military council that took power and call for a handover to civilian rule.

Before dawn, a large number of government forces, including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the paramilitary force established in 2013 which carried out highly abusive counterinsurgency campaigns in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile – surrounded the sit-in area. After an initial attempt by men in police uniforms to move a barricade, witnesses said RSF soldiers opened fire on unarmed protesters, instantly killing many. The soldiers rounded up and beat protestors, subjecting them to various abuses and humiliation, burned tents and looted and destroyed property. They also raped protesters and committed other acts of sexual violence. Three days later, the African Union suspended Sudan’s membership.

Triggered by price hikes following austerity measures imposed by al-Bashir, nationwide protests started in December 2018 outside Khartoum, in the southern town of Damazin, in Blue Nile state; Atbara, in the northeastern River Nile state; El Obeid, in the central state of Northern Kordofan; and al-Gadarif, in the east. Women, who have challenged patriarchal policies and practices by al-Bashir’s government, joined in and provided leadership for protests. The sexual violence some of them faced should be understood in light of Sudan’s history of security forces using sexual violence to silence female rights activists.

From the beginning in December, government security forces, particularly the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS), responded to the protests with excessive force, using live bullets to disperse unarmed protesters. They rounded up thousands of protesters, opposition leaders, organizers and activists, often violently, and detained hundreds without charge for months, beating and abusing many. They censored the media by confiscating newspapers, arresting journalists, blocking social media, and shutting down or expelling foreign media.

On April 11, about four months after the protests started, al-Bashir’s first vice president and defense minister, Awad Ibn Ouf, announced on national television that a high-security committee, composed of commanders of security, police and military forces, had overthrown al-Bashir and his regime and that al-Bashir had stepped down. The announcement came just days after protesters staged a sit-in around the army headquarters in Khartoum, demanding al-Bashir’s resignation with chants of “tasgut bass” (“just fall, that’s all”).

Following al-Bashir’s ouster, a Transition Military Council (TMC) of army generals led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took over the government, with Mohamed “Hemedti” Hamdan Dagalo, as his deputy. Hemedti, the commander of the RSF, has been implicated by Human Rights Watch in serious crimes by the RSF against civilians in Darfur and elsewhere – including mass rape and burning villages. After April, RSF forces were more visible in Khartoum and led most of the subsequent violence against protesters.

Based on field research in Khartoum between July 28 and August 11, and interviews with more than 60 people in Khartoum and Omdurman including families of those killed, activists, staff of civil society organizations, and medical service providers, this report documents the most violent of these dispersals, including the attack on the June 3 sit-in, when security forces led by the RSF opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing scores, raping people, injuring hundreds, and committed a range of other serious abuses. The report also describes subsequent attacks on protesters including another violent crackdown on June 30, when protesters marched against the June 3 killings and again called for handover to civilian rule.

Human Rights Watch was not able to ascertain the total number of those killed during the attack on June 3 and in the following days. Independent doctors’ groups reported credible estimates of over 120 protesters killed between June 3 and 18 and over nine hundred injured, some severely. They also reported bodies were pulled from the Nile river, two of whom were tied to bricks showing gunshot wounds, pointing to possible execution. Dozens were reported missing. The official death toll, 87, was widely rejected as too low.

International and regional actors condemned the violence, calling for impartial and independent investigations and accountability for grave human rights violations by armed forces. The TMC’s initial response was to deny attacking the sit-in, claiming they only targeted an area across the street from the sit-in that they said hosted “illegal activities.” The TMC spokesman then expressed regret for “mistakes” made by officers while attempting to disperse the sit-in. Authorities sought to suppress information about the violence by restricting international media’s access to the country, and completely shutting down the internet for over a month from June 10. But within weeks, protesters in the capital again took to the streets, demanding civilian rule and justice for the June 3 killings. In response to the “millions march” in Omdurman on June 30, government forces again used live ammunition to disperse the protests, killing at least ten.

In early July, political negotiations between the TMC and the opposition Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), a coalition of political parties, professional associations and civil society groups, which had stalled for four weeks, resumed. On August 17, the parties agreed to a transitional government, headed by a sovereign council that will be led by the military for 21 months followed by 17 months of civilian leadership. They agreed to make reforms and ensure accountability for crimes committed under al-Bashir’s regime, and to form a national independent investigation into the June 3 violence.

The use of disproportionate, excessive force to disperse protests in violent repeated crackdowns, without ensuring that security operations pose a minimal risk to life, according to many people Human Rights Watch interviewed, was a deliberate attempt to intimidate the movement and break the resolve of protesters. These crackdowns have involved serious violations of domestic and international law, including some crimes that may constitute crimes against humanity. The crackdowns also violated basic freedoms of assembly and expression, protected in Sudan’s constitution and international obligations that guarantee Sudanese people the right to protest.

The abuses, and lack of transparency and accountability from authorities, have clearly fueled ongoing calls for justice by the protesters. The families of “martyrs” killed since December, and families of the missing continue to demand justice for the crimes against their loved ones.

To begin the process of undoing Sudan’s long history of entrenched impunity, there should be meaningful and genuine accountability. This will require a process that can effectively establish facts, preserve evidence and prepare for criminal prosecutions in a system that is truly independent. Such a process is only likely to be established if it has a significant international component, through UN involvement and support.

On September 21 the prime minister announced the formation of a national investigation committee, as envisioned in the August 17 agreement. Its mandate is limited to events on June 3. On October 21, the prime minister announced the names of committee members and which powers they would enjoy. Victims’ groups and rights groups have raised concerns about the lack of female members as well as the independence of the committee because members include representatives from the ministries of interior and defense, which oversee the forces responsible for the crimes.

Authorities should revise the mandate or create a new committee that can investigate all unlawful use of force and other crimes against protestors since December 2018, including sexual violence, and provide that the evidence should be available to the relevant bodies for use in pursuing prosecutions. Investigators should probe the roles of the TMC and all those involved in the planning of the June 3 operation, including RSF commander Hemedti.

Authorities should ensure involvement from civil society groups and families of victims and invite support from the AU and UN. Investigators should include persons with experience in documenting sexual violence in a survivor-centered manner and help survivors access services including long term healthcare. All investigations should provide referrals for medical assistance and other services for survivors and include special expertise on assistance for survivors of rape and sexual assault.

Sudan’s transitional government, although it is yet to appoint its legislative council, should embark on a much-needed reform process with clear benchmarks. The sovereign council and cabinet should swiftly form the numerous commissions envisioned in the August agreement, prioritizing those related to human rights, law reform and transitional justice, and review existing national laws to bring them in line with international standards.

The sovereign council should promptly ratify key international human rights treaties such as the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). The government should also now cooperate with the outstanding warrants issued by the International Criminal Court against al-Bashir and other suspects.

This article is part of a Human Rights Watch report.  For more information on Human Rights Watch logon to https://www.hrw.org

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