(Nairobi) – Sudans transitional government should accelerate efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes against protesters by government security forces since December 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. December 2018 was the start of the wave of protests triggered by price increases that forced president Omar al-Bashir to step down on April 11, 2019.
“Scores of protesters, including teenagers and children, paid with their lives to force al-Bashir out, but a year on, the families of those killed are still searching for justice,” said Jehanne Henry, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudanese authorities should step up their efforts to do right by these victims. Justice should not be denied or delayed.”
Government security forces, particularly the National Security and Intelligence Service (NISS), used lethal, excessive force including live ammunition to break up the protests, killing dozens of unarmed protesters every month. While the exact death toll of protesters is not known, independent groups estimated that over 100 people were killed between December 2018 and April 11, 2019, and Amnesty International verified at least 77 killings during that period.
On April 11, a transitional military council took power and announced that al-Bashir and several of his allies in the ruling National Congress Party were in detention. Salah Gosh, the former head of the NISS, was not detained and reportedly fled to Egypt in May.
Protesters remained at the sit-in demanding that military authorities hand over the government to civilian rule. On June 3, security forces violently dispersed the sit-in, killing over 120 protesters between June 3 and 18, according to doctors groups. The security forces were led by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which have a documented record of abuses and attacks on civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
On August 17, opposition groups and the military agreed on a transitional government, forming a sovereign council composed of military and civilian leaders but led by military for the first 22 months, with a civilian prime minister and cabinet. Gen. Abdelfattah al-Bourhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, “Hemedti,” commander of the RSF, are chair and deputy chair of the sovereign council respectively. Dr. Abdalla Hamdok, a former United Nations official, is prime minister.
Human Rights Watch concluded after documenting the events on June 3 and the following days that the killings and abuses could qualify as crimes against humanity because they were part of a government policy of using excessive, lethal force against unarmed protesters. Human Rights Watch recommended that the authorities should establish an independent entity to investigate abuses committed since December 2018, including sexual violence.
Despite the transitional governments promises to ensure justice, it has made slow progress in the face of many serious problems, including a collapsing economy. In September, the authorities appointed a committee to investigate the June 3, 2019 crackdown. However, the committee has attracted wide criticism for its slow pace and inaccessibility, especially for victims of gender-based violence.
The authorities have not established a body specifically to address the crimes against protesters since December 2018, but are handling cases alleging violations against protesters in an ad hoc manner, if and when victims families come to them with evidence. Legal aid groups told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors, who lack resources and technical capacity, do not actively investigate but rather rely on victims families to collect evidence.
“It is very disappointing to protesters, victims, and their families, to see that justice is not moving one step further one year after ousting al-Bashir,” said Rifat Makkawi, a prominent human rights lawyer and director of PLACE legal aid center.