Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir addresses supporters during his visit to the war-torn Darfur region, in Bilal, Darfur, Sudan September 22, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

Sudan’s security forces opened fire today on protesters in South Darfur’s largest camp for displaced people, killing at least 5 and wounding more than 20. The residents were protesting, for the third consecutive day, a planned visit by President Omar al-Bashir. They flooded the streets of the camp and chanted slogans, holding signs saying al-Bashir should not set foot in Kalma camp and instead be sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) where he faces charges for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The Sudanese government’s use of force in response was, according to witnesses, grossly disproportionate. Security forces, including the notorious Rapid Support Forces responsible for war crimes in Darfur, deployed around the camp and fired live ammunition at protesters to disperse them. This is not the first time Sudanese forces have opened fire on residents of Kalma. In 2008, on the pretext of disarming the camp, government forces shot indiscriminately at residents, killing at least 31.

As if Kalma’s own history of violence were not tragic enough, this week marks the fourth anniversary of the government’s violent crackdown on popular protests in Khartoum, Omdurman and other towns. When people took to the streets after al-Bashir’s announcement of austerity measures on September 22, 2013, government forces again fired on protesters. More than 170 people were killed, most by gunshot to the back, head and chest. Days earlier, government forces also shot at protesters in Nyala, South Darfur, killing seven, including two children.

The victims’ families continue to demand justice for the killings; none have succeeded.

After the Kalma camp leadership refused to allow al-Bashir to visit, he delivered a speech at a site two kilometers away. According to one news outlet, he urged displaced people to return home and promised to build housing. He made no mention of the numerous crimes allegedly carried out by his forces and allied militia, which caused their displacement in the first place.

If al-Bashir’s visit to Kalma camp was meant to show the world that the situation in Darfur is stable, his strategy backfired. Sudan’s representative at the United Nations recently claimed that, “Darfur, since 2015, had been enjoying great stability in security and humanitarian conditions.” Today’s shootings show instead that Darfur is a place where killing to silence protesters is commonplace. That, when combined with years of impunity and continuing human rights abuses across the country, should certainly give pause to those in the United States government considering relaxing all sanctions on Sudan’s government.