Sudan's forces violently attacked protesters, bystanders, and medical workers on June 3, 2019, reportedly killing at least 35 people and injuring hundreds, Human Rights Watch said today. The forces attacking protesters included the Rapid Support Force (RSF), a paramilitary force with a well-documented record of abuse.
These egregious rights violations require urgent international action to halt further violations, and to advance accountability of those responsible and to bring justice for the victims.
"The decision to unleash violence against peaceful protesters is absolutely unjustified and unlawful, and a slap in the face for those who have been pursing dialogue to achieve a handover to civilian government," said Jehanne Henry, Associate Africa Director at Human Rights Watch. "UN member states should urgently establish an impartial, independent UN inquiry into these atrocities, and ensure that those responsible for killings, detentions, destruction, and looting are held accountable."
In the early morning of June 3, the Rapid Support Force, riot police, and national security officials riding in armed vehicles surrounded the sit-in area at the army headquarters in Khartoum. The forces opened fire and shot teargas at the site, dispersing protesters and burning many of their tents, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Video clips show the RSF and other armed forces beating unarmed people on the streets and protesters carrying injured and bloody people away.
The Rapid Support Force is responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during counter-insurgency campaigns in Darfur, and the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions over the past five years.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the forces beat up medical staff and volunteers at clinics at the sit-in and in other hospitals, looted and destroyed property, and threatened doctors and medical workers with reprisals if they provided care to the wounded. They also prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded and chased protesters into the compound of Mo'alim hospital and beat them.
By evening, the Doctor's Central Committee, an opposition doctors' group, estimated that the death toll was 35, with hundreds more injured. The committee said that some bodies were dumped in the Nile river shortly after the attack on the sit-in. Hundreds of protesters were arrested and were still missing by the end of the day. Human Rights Watch received reports of similar crackdowns on sit-ins in other towns but has yet to confirm details.
Violent crackdowns on protesters were a hallmark of the former ruling National Congress Party led by President Omar al-Bashir, himself subject to a warrant for genocide, war crimes, and other atrocities by the International Criminal Court (ICC); al-Bashir was ousted on April 11 following four months of protests across the country. Sudanese monitors on the ground estimated that more than 100 protesters were killed, including many since April 6 when protesters converged on the army headquarters in Khartoum, prompting al-Bashir's ouster.
The Transitional Military Council (TMC) led by general Abdel Fattah al-Bourhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo or "Hemeti," who is the RSF commander, had until June 3 refrained from large-scale attacks on protesters. The council had promised to negotiate with opposition groups to agree on transition to a civilian-led government within two months, a deadline imposed by the African Union. But after the June 3 events, the Sudanese Professionals' Associations and opposition groups cut all contact with the council, calling for continued civil disobedience to overthrow it.
The AU Chairperson condemned the violence against protesters, called for an immediate and transparent investigation to hold those responsible accountable, and urged the council to protect civilians from further harm. The UN secretary-general and the UN high commissioner for human rights, the European Union, , and Germany have also condemned the violence and called for accountability.
The UN's Human Rights Council should continue scrutiny of the human rights situation in Sudan and ensure an investigation into violations and abuses committed since December 2018, including the most recent violence against protestors, Human Rights Watch said.
"Today's violence reminds us of the serious RSF abuses against civilians in Sudan's war zones and it requires more than condemnations," Henry said. "Key international actors should impose targeted punitive sanctions against those responsible for the violence and urgently establish a UN inquiry."