Nairobi — Human Rights Watch released a video on February 11, 2019, that shows government forces’ extreme violence and shocking abuses against protesters during weeks of largely peaceful protests across the country. The United Nations Human Rights Council should urgently respond to the human rights crisis in Sudan at its March session and ensure an independent investigation into the violations committed since the start of protests in December 2018.
Video footage, verified by Human Rights Watch, shows security forces driving around in armed vehicles, shooting bullets and teargas at unarmed protesters, and rounding up and brutally beating protesters and bystanders with sticks and gun butts. The footage also shows gruesome, bloody injuries from gunshots; evidence of harsh beatings and torture; and the effects of raids by security forces on hospitals, filling emergency rooms with teargas and hindering medical care.
“There is irrefutable evidence that Sudan is using ruthless violence and brutality against peaceful protesters and critics of the government,” said Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These violent tactics, which violate the very core of Sudan’s international human rights obligations, should end immediately, and those responsible should be held to account.”
Since mid-December, protesters have taken to the streets in towns and cities across the country to protest price increases and to call on President Omar al-Bashir, in power for 29 years, to step down. The protests began in Atbara and have spread to other cities and towns, including Gedarif, Wad Madani, Port Sudan, Dongola, El Obeid, El Fasher, Khartoum, and Omdurman.
Acting with complete impunity, government security forces – police national security and paramilitary groups including the Rapid Support Forces – have used excessive violence, shooting live bullets, rubber bullets and teargas in the air and directly at protesters. Sudanese activists estimate that over 50 people have died, most from bullet wounds, including 25-year-old Babiker Abdul Hamid, a physician who was shot on January 17 at close range while attempting to treat the wounded.
The forces have brazenly attacked hospitals and medical personnel, arresting dozens of doctors, and entering hospital compounds, as they did during the January 9 protests in Omdurman, firing bullets and teargas, and preventing medical personnel from treating wounded people. Physicians for Human Rights reported that seven hospitals have been directly attacked, severely hampering staff treating patients and causing breathing difficulties from teargas.
Government forces have also rounded up and detained hundreds, possibly thousands, of protesters and critics, arresting them on the streets and in offices and homes. The video evidence shows signs of torture on released detainees. Despite a January 20 order by the head of national security to release all the detainees, only 186 were reported released. Security officials have continued to detain hundreds of people, including many prominent opposition party members, lawyers, doctors, and activists on a near-daily basis.
“With each passing week the situation is getting worse,” Henry said. “It is high time for the UN Human Rights Council to ramp up monitoring and reporting on the situation and to send investigators to the country at once.”
Lack of accountability for past violations has fueled continued abuses in Sudan, Human Rights Watch said.
Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Darfur. Despite arrest warrants issued in 2009 and 2010, Sudan’s government has refused to cooperate with the court or to provide meaningful accountability for atrocities in Darfur and two other conflict zones, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Human Rights Watch has documented atrocity crimes in those areas, including killings, rape, torture, attacks on hospitals and schools, and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Since 2011, Sudanese have protested more frequently and in larger numbers over a range of grievances. In 2013, Sudan’s government responded to a wave of popular protests with extreme violence, killing more than 170 people. The government has not prosecuted any of those responsible for the killings.
“Emboldened by years of impunity, Sudan’s leaders are once again committing grave crimes against civilians for weeks on end, without consequences,” Henry said, “Omar al-Bashir is an international fugitive who should be answering the ICC’s charges against him for crimes in Darfur, including genocide.”