Backward Steps Could lead to Mass Atrocities in Sudan
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
Rights for Peace is alarmed and deeply concerned by the military coup taking place in Sudan, signalling the greatest threat yet to the country’s transition to democracy and grave risks for the safety and freedom of the Sudanese people, who already sacrificed lives for democracy in the 2019 revolution and are standing up in their thousands across Sudan once again.
In the early hours of Monday 25 October 2021, prime minister Abdalla Hamdok and other key civilian leaders in Khartoum were arrested by the military and moved to an unknown location after refusing to dissolve the Governing Council.
The coup followed pro-military protests that started on Saturday 16 October in front the Presidential Palace, organised by Jebril Ibrahim, Minister of Finance and leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) - associated with the Islamic brotherhood - along with other pro-military politicians who had signed the October 2020 Peace Agreement, such as Mini Arko Minnawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement Army and the new governor of Darfur. On Saturday 23 October, the anti-democracy protesters went on to storm the headquarters of Sudan News Agency, preventing a press conference announced by Forces of Freedom and Change from taking place.
The military, led by General Al Burhan, has since taken control of the government and dissolved the Governing Council that included civilian members. With the Rapid Support Forces and other security forces, the military have blocked bridges and access routes with heavily armed troops. Communications and internet access have been restricted, echoing previous internet blackouts experienced after the 3 June 2019 massacre in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum, and outages during the rule of former president Omar al-Bashir.
In response, thousands upon thousands of pro-democracy protestors have flooded the streets of Khartoum to counter the coup and demand the return of civilian rule. Killings and injury to protestors, due to the use of live ammunition, have been reported and corroborated by Sudan’s information ministry - at the time of writing 10 people had been killed while more than 140 were injured.
Despite the hopes surrounding the October 2020 Peace Agreement and some important steps having been taken to deal with the past (such as the Cabinet’s vote to ratify the Rome Statute), atrocity risks have not ebbed since the fall of Bashir. Military structures existing prior to Sudan’s transition continued to operate, such as the Rapid Support Forces who were drawn from former Janjaweed militias accused of myriad atrocities and human rights abuses in Darfur and elsewhere and accused by civil society as responsible for ongoing human rights violations, including racist and sexual abuse towards protestors during the Khartoum protests in 2019.
Hate-based violence has been ongoing in conflict areas such as West Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, with new and escalating mass violence also being witnessed in eastern Sudan, in Port Sudan and Kassala. Genocidal language such as “we need to clean up the black plastic bags”, referring to black (non-Arab) ethnic minority groups in these regions were recorded in the past.
Now we are hearing of new genocidal language - for instance one of the most dangerous messages circulating widely on social media since 23 October is a video recorded during the pro-military protest in front of the presidential palace around 16-17 October, in which a member of SLMA-Menawi wing member (Sudan Liberation Movement Army), threatens to attack Khartoum with Antonov planes - while their troops are not far.
The Global Centre on R2P has listed Sudan on its Atrocity Alert several times throughout 2020, in January 2021 and in April 2021, when at least 87 people were killed and 191 injured since violence broke out between the Arab Rizeigat and Masalit communities around the city of El Geneina in West Darfur.
The current crisis only heightens the risk of atrocities occurring. Already there is evidence of misinformation and incitement to violence taking place. Last Saturday, Facebook posts surfaced claiming that prime minister Hamdok agreed with Al Burhan’s decision to dissolve the government, which experts believe to be misinformation.
Against this backdrop, counter narratives are needed to address misinformation and inflamatory rhetoric. It is essential that protests and those engaged in civic action over the coming days are protected from violence and given space to advocate for their rights. Specific attention should be placed on the safety of women protestors, who face intersecting risks of violence, including sexual violence. The international community should also ensure that the coup regime is isolated, including by suspending financial support.