Nairobi — Sudanese authorities have failed to provide justice for scores of civilians killed in anti-government protests in September 2013, Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should release all remaining political detainees and investigate allegations of abuse and torture of detainees.
"Sudan needs to address evidence that its forces killed scores of people during protests, and arbitrarily arrested and tortured detainees," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of investigating these crimes, it's using brutality and violence to silence perceived opponents."
The 32-page report, "'We Stood, They Opened Fire': Killings and Arrests by Sudan's Security Forces during the September Protests," describes unlawful killings, arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture of detainees, and other serious abuses committed by government security forces.
The protests erupted on September 23 in Wad Madani in response to new economic austerity measures and price hikes, then spread to the capital, Khartoum, and other towns.
The Sudanese government responded by deploying police and security forces, who used live ammunition, teargas and batons to disperse the protests. As many as 170 people were killed.
The protests occurred in a wider context of political repression and pervasive human rights abuses, as well as ongoing conflicts in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
Darfur has seen a recent surge in government-led attacks on villages. Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is among four individuals who are fugitives from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged crimes in Darfur, and faces charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Sudanese government forces were implicated in the killing and wounding of protesters as well as bystanders caught up in protests, Human Rights Watch said. The government has contested the casualty numbers and denied that security forces were responsible.
Although the ministers of interior and justice announced the creation of two investigative committees, the only findings made public to date focus on damage allegedly caused by protesters, rather than the deaths or allegations of unlawful arrests and mistreatment.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch how authorities also blocked victims' families from pursuing justice. Hospital officials would not provide medical evidence forms and police and prosecutors refused to open investigations; of more than 50 complaints filed by family members, only one has reached court.
Lawyers involved in that case said the identity of the perpetrator was known and the victim's family could supply evidence. But in the vast majority of cases authorities took no action, placing the burden on the victims' families to identify and provide evidence of the perpetrators' identity, which most families are not in a position to do.
Given Sudan's failure to investigate or provide justice, the African Commission on Human and People's Rights should step in to examine the killings and related abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The commission meets in Luanda on April 28.
Ahead of the protests, police and National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) officials arrested opposition party members and human rights activists and, together with police and other security forces, continued to arrest people during protests throughout the week. Police and NISS authorities detained more than 800 people in various locations, according to Sudanese groups monitoring the events.
Many were released within days, often following summary trials leading to floggings or fines, but others were held for weeks or months without charge or access to family or lawyers.
Former detainees told Human Rights Watch they were beaten, verbally abused, deprived of sleep, and held for long periods in solitary confinement.
One opposition party member from Darfur said security officials forced him and other detainees to sit in a hot courtyard for several hours after being arrested.
He was then locked up in an air-conditioned 3x3 meter cell at very cold temperatures under bright lights, and deprived of sleep, decent food and medical assistance for much of the next month. A journalist, Mohamed Ali Mahamadu, was held in solitary confinement for over 60 days and subjected to bright lights, death threats, insults and intermittent beatings.
Torture is prohibited under international law, and Sudan should enforce this absolute prohibition, proactively investigate all allegations of torture and hold abusive officers to account. Sudan should ratify the Convention Against Torture, Human Rights Watch said.
On April 6, 2014, al-Bashir said he would release all "political detainees" and ease restrictions on opposition parties and the media. However, Sudanese human rights groups have reported that many people, including Darfuri students, and blogger Tajeldin Ahmed Arja, remain in NISS detention without charge for their real or perceived political views. Some have been detained since September 2013.
"Sudan's leaders should respect basic civil and political rights, especially in the face of dissent during this time of political transition," Bekele said. "They should start by providing justice for the victims of the September crackdown and releasing detainees."