On the heels of Monday’s brutal and bloody crackdown on protesters in Khartoum, the African Union (AU) has suspended Sudan’s membership and threatened its leaders with sanctions for failing to hand over power to a civilian-led government. The AU’s willingness to follow through on its past threats is a welcomed move.
But suspension is not enough. The violent June 3 attack aimed to disband the protesters who had been camped out since the days before former President Omar al-Bashir’s ouster on April 11. They had vowed to stay until the transitional military council – the group of commanders who took over – handed power over to a civilian-led government. But as negotiations stalled and the military council refused to cede power, tensions rose.
At daybreak large numbers of government forces, led by the Rapid Support Forces, arrived at the sit-in camp. They shot at protesters, burned down tents, chased people into homes and office buildings, where they whipped and beat them, and reportedly raped several civilians. Even after they cleared the camp, residents said that soldiers continued to loot, beat, and commit other crimes.
The full extent of the crimes is not clear. The military council shut down the internet, slowing the flow of information from Sudan. The death toll was initially reported around 30, but by Wednesday, information emerged that it was much higher. The Sudanese doctors committee, which has reported on casualty figures for months, now estimates 107 killed and over 500 wounded. They said 40 bodies were pulled out of the River Nile, footage showing some with limbs tied to cement bricks to keep them under water. Many people are still unaccounted for, including opposition leader Yasser Arman, who was violently abducted from his home on Wednesday. His family members don’t know where he is being held and fear for his safety.
International actors, including the AU Commission chairperson, were quick to condemn the violence and called for accountability. The AU should follow up this call by setting up a commission of inquiry; it has a growing track-record of doing so. Likewise, the UN Human Rights Council should investigate abuses committed in Sudan since December.
These two actions are not mutually exclusive. Both are needed in a country with such an extensive legacy of government-led atrocities and so little actual accountability for them.