To member and observer States of the UN Human Rights Council
We write at the start of the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) to urge you to take concrete action in response to the Sudanese government’s violent crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters in Sudan. At this session, the HRC should hold an urgent debate and adopt a resolution putting in place a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situation in Sudan with a view to preventing further human rights violations and abuses in relation to peaceful demonstrations, and ensuring accountability.
As you are aware, on June 3rd Sudan’s Transitional Military Council (TMC) unleashed government security forces, including the Rapid Response Force (RSF) – the paramilitary forces that have carried out grave abuses in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile in recent years – to attack peaceful protesters at their sit-in site in Khartoum.
These forces shot live bullets into the sit-in, beat and detained protesters and bystanders, and burned their tents to the ground. The forces also beat up medical staff and volunteers at clinics at the sit-in and in other hospitals, looted and destroyed property, threatened doctors and medical workers with reprisals if they provided care, and prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded. Monitors estimate 128 protesters were killed and hundreds injured, and 28 women were raped or sexually assaulted. The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict has called for prompt investigations of all allegations of sexual violence including rapes and gang rapes of protesters, women’s human rights defenders and female medical personnel working in hospitals near the sit-in, and accountability for all those responsible. In a statement on June 11, UNICEF expressed its grave concerns at the impact of the crackdown on children referring to at least 19 children reportedly killed and another 49 injured since June 3.
Security officials have also beaten, arbitrarily detained, and deported opposition figures, and national security officials detained activists and journalists and prevented groups from holding events in recent days. The whereabouts of many civilians who are believed to have been detained is still unknown and authorities have shut down the internet, making reporting and information sharing extremely difficult.
The June 3 attack followed months of violence against peaceful democracy protests across Sudan. Since anti-government protests started in December 2018, government security forces beat and opened fire on protesters and bystanders and attacked doctors and hospitals, already killing over 100 people by the time al-Bashir stepped down on April 11. Government forces have also attacked protesters elsewhere in the country, including Darfur where the Rapid Support Forces continue to attack civilians, especially in the Jebel Mara area.
Sudan has a long history of using lethal violence to disperse peaceful protests with impunity. In 2013, security forces killed almost 200 protesters, and although the violence was widely condemned, those responsible were never held to account. Yet again, authorities appear to be confident they can use brutal force against civilians with no sanctions to face or cost to pay.
The situation in Sudan is dire and deserves an urgent and robust response. Political tensions are running high, while negotiations stall between the TMC and the opposition groups over the composition of the civilian-led government despite regional mediation efforts. International organizations and governments have condemned the violence and called for investigations and accountability. The African Union suspended Sudan from participating in its activities until a civilian-led transitional authority is established. But condemnations are not enough. The HRC should take concrete steps to ensure violations and abuses since December 2018 are independently and impartially investigated, evidence gathered and analyzed, and those responsible identified.
As you might be aware, following from a joint letter in January 2019 in which we called for an independent investigation into violence against protesters, a group of national, regional, and international organizations, this month, urged the HRC to hold a special session on the situation in Sudan. As this has not taken place, we call on the States at the HRC to immediately hold an urgent debate on the situation in the country.
Following from such an urgent debate, the HRC should adopt a resolution condemning the full range of violations and abuses in Sudan, and requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up a fact-finding mission to monitor, verify and report on the situation in Sudan and identify perpetrators, with a view to making recommendations on preventing further human rights violations and abuses in relation to peaceful demonstrations, and ensuring accountability for these violations and abuses. The Council should also ensure strengthened monitoring and public reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The HRC mandated mechanism should cooperate with and bolster any African regional efforts underway to achieve similar goals.
Thank you for your attention to this important and urgent matter.
With assurances of our highest consideration,
Human Rights Watch