Since Omar al-Bashir was ousted as Sudan’s president on April 11, thousands of protesters have continued to hold vigil at the military headquarters in Khartoum. And the transitional military council that now rules the country has been negotiating with political opposition groups to form a civilian-led sovereignty council. By most accounts, government security forces have treated the protesters fairly, a welcome respite after violent crackdowns over the last few months that resulted in over 100 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
But this hasn’t been the case in Sudan’s restive Darfur region. On May 4, residents of the Otash displaced person’s camp joined protests in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Government forces, which according to witnesses included the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group responsible for grave crimes in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile over the past five years, tried to disperse the protesters by beating and shooting live bullets and teargas at them, reportedly killing an 18-year old and injuring others in the process. Days earlier, media reported RSF soldiers used violence to break up protests in Zalingei, Central Darfur.
The RSF are still being implicated in crimes against civilians in Darfur, even as their commander, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemeti,” is now deputy head of the transitional military council. But the crackdown in Nyala exposes the grim reality that civilians in Darfur still face violence and abuse more than elsewhere, and often out of public view. As one young man who witnessed protesters being dispersed told us: “The security forces always treat us [in Darfur] differently.”
Darfur’s legacy of conflict includes decades of government scorched-earth tactics, pushing millions of people out of their villages, burning large swathes of land, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. The crimes were so grave the International Criminal Court brought charges against then-president al-Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. But various reports show government forces continue to commit atrocities against villagers, especially in the Jebal Mara area.
Sudan’s leaders should not just end these abuses but take steps toward justice. They should cooperate with the International Criminal Court by handing al-Bashir over, and ensure credible, independent investigations into recent and past crimes by all forces, including Hemeti’s RSF.