Yesterday’s protest in the Sudanese city of Omdurman was particularly bloody. Government security forces responded to peaceful demonstrations with live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas, killing at least three protesters and injuring several others, in broad daylight. As in protests over the past three weeks, photos and video clips circulated quickly on social media, showing bloody bodies in the streets.
Shockingly, the images on social media show government forces entered the main hospital and shot live bullets, causing panic and chaos. Tear gas flooded operating rooms in at least two hospitals, videos show, and doctors confirmed in interviews. One doctor saw security forces enter a hospital and beat doctors and patients inside. She said she heard them say “we don’t care if you are doctors.” By day’s end, doctors’ organizations issued a joint statement condemning the attacks and arrests and announcing a general strike.
The security forces’ brazen disregard for medical facilities is not new. Since protests started nearly a month ago, sparked by price hikes but tapping a deep reservoir of discontent, government forces have shot scores of protesters dead and detained hundreds including doctors and medics. One doctor told me that security have also demanded relatives of shooting victims and medical personnel hand over bullets, presumably to cover up evidence.
Far from condemning the killings and calling a halt to the shooting, beating, and arrests, Sudan’s leaders seem to encourage their forces’ violence. On Monday January 8, in a rare public appearance, Former Vice President Ali Osman Taha warned opponents of the government that militia “brigades” would defend the regime. They are ready to sacrifice their lives for it – a statement that recalls the response to demonstrations in 2013 that killed more than 170 protesters.
In a joint statement Tuesday, the United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Canada condemned the violence and said Sudan’s “actions and decisions over the coming weeks will have an impact on the engagement of our governments and others in the coming months and years,” referring to ongoing efforts by the US and UK to normalize relations with Sudan. Thursday’s carnage and ongoing serious human rights violations send a damning message that Sudan does not care – perhaps not surprising for a government led by someone indicted for war crimes. Will these governments now follow through on their warning?