(Nairobi) – Sudan’s transitional government has yet to deliver justice to victims and families a year after more than 120 people were killed and hundreds injured and abused in a violent attack on protesters in Khartoum, Human Rights Watch said today.
The government’s investigation committee is to deliver its findings to the attorney general in coming weeks. The authorities should guarantee they will be made public and that prosecutors will have resources to follow them up, including bringing charges against those responsible at the highest levels.
“One year on, victims of the bloody crackdown have heard many promises but are yet to see any form of accountability,” said Jehanne Henry, East Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The investigating committee’s final report should be made public to ensure full transparency. And the attorney general’s office should prosecute those responsible, even if they are members of the ruling sovereign council.”
After popular protests forced the longtime president, Omar al-Bashir, to step down on April 11, 2019, a transitional military council took power. But protesters continued to gather, amid tense negotiations between military and civilian groups, in a sit-in in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum, demanding a transfer of power to civilian rule.
Government security forces made several attempts to disband parts of the sit-in. In the early hours of June 3, the security forces surrounded and violently dispersed the protest, firing live ammunition directly at protesters, killing and wounding scores, and subjecting many more to harsh beatings, rapes, sexual assaults, humiliation, and other abuse. The security forces also attacked medical personnel, hospitals, and clinics.
Based on research in August 2019, Human Rights Watch found that at least 120 people had been killed and more than 900 injured between June 3 and 18. Sudanese officials now estimate that at least 64 women were raped, and others sexually assaulted. Human Rights Watch concluded that the crimes and abuses against during the crackdown could qualify as crimes against humanity because they were part of a longstanding government practice of using excessive, including lethal, force against unarmed protesters.
In August, the parties agreed to a transitional government headed by a sovereign council of military and civilian leaders. The military members are to lead the council for the first 22 months, followed by the civilians, with elections scheduled for 2022. The agreement called for an independent investigation into the June 3 violence. In September, the authorities established an investigation committee and made clear that the attorney general would be able to use the evidence and findings for criminal prosecutions.
However, the committee has attracted wide criticism for its slow pace and perceived lack of transparency and independence. Its lack of expertise in sexual and gender-based violence has led to claims that it is inaccessible for victims of gender-based violence, and it lacks resources to offer witness protection or preserve evidence in line with international standards.
“After one year, justice is still delayed and pending,” Saadia Saif al-Deen, spokesperson for the victims’ families association, told Human Rights Watch. “We do not want the blood of our martyrs to be lost in vain. We want justice for them to be the pillar of our new country, where such abuses should not happen again.”
Multiple sources and accounts identify the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – which have a well-documented record of abuses and attacks on civilians in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile – as leading the lethal attacks on protesters on June 3 and the following days. The RSF is led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, “Hemedti,” who is now the deputy chair of the country’s ruling sovereign council.
Hemedti has blamed rogue soldiers for the attack. He told the media last July that the person responsible for the “chaos” was under arrest. A previous investigation by the former attorney general, widely rejected by protesters, said attacking forces exceeded their duties by dispersing the sit-in and charged eight officers and a commander with crimes against humanity. However, no information has surfaced about their cases or whereabouts.
The head of the government-appointed investigation committee, Nabil Adeeb, told media that the committee would submit a report to the attorney general after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. The long-awaited report and the follow-up actions of the attorney general should be made transparent and public, and the attorney general should consider whether the crimes committed could amount to crimes against humanity and whether commanders responsible at the time could be held criminally liable, Human Rights Watch said.
The attorney general, within his powers under the Attorney General Act of 2017, should review the findings of the investigation committee, guided by international and regional best practices on investigating and prosecuting serious crimes. If needed, he should instruct prosecutors to carry out any further necessary steps, such as collecting additional evidence and interrogating and charging more suspects.
Sudan’s transition remains fragile, with little or no progress establishing the envisioned commissions for law reform, transitional justice, or human rights, or appointing the legislative council or state governors, Human Rights Watch said. The countrys dire economic situation and the delays and risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic risk further derailing the transition timelines. The attorney general’s office has announced investigations into crimes during al-Bashir’s tenure, but has focused publicly on economic crimes, for which al-Bashir was sentenced to two years in a rehabilitation facility. The office has not prosecuted any cases of human rights abuses during the former regime.
Human Rights Watch has proposed that Sudanese authorities consider establishing an independent entity to try these serious crimes. Victims’ families and Amnesty International have proposed specialized investigation units and specialized civilian courts. Such units and courts could potentially deal with other past abuses, in addition to those committed on June 3. Donors should engage with the Sudanese government on the best system for accountability and provide needed financial and technical support, Human Rights Watch said.
“Justice remains a litmus test for the success of Sudan’s revolution,” Henry said. “Failure to deliver risks betraying protesters’ sacrifices and demands. The transitional government should prioritize meaningful and transparent accountability at the highest levels.”