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Sudan paramilitaries raped and assaulted protesters and medics

The military crackdown in Sudan lays bare the dark heart of Bashir’s regime

Tuesday 4 June 2019, by siawi3


Sudan paramilitaries raped and assaulted protesters and medics

Witnesses describe attacks in Khartoum during deadly assault on pro-democracy sit-in

Jason Burke

Africa correspondent

Tue 4 Jun 2019 17.48 BST
First published on Tue 4 Jun 2019 03.01 BST

Sudanese military cracks down on protesters – video 1:13

Paramilitaries who killed 35 people when they attacked pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum on Monday also committed multiple sexual assaults, beat up medical staff and volunteers at clinics, looted and destroyed property in hospitals and threatened doctors and medical workers with reprisals if they provided care to the wounded, witnesses have said.

Hundreds were injured in the attack on a sit-in in the centre of the Sudanese capital and in clashes afterwards as the paramilitaries, from the feared Rapid Support Forces (RSF) spread through the city to quell sporadic unrest.

Video clips circulated on social media show the RSF and other armed forces shooting and beating unarmed people on the streets.

Harrowing details of rapes by the paramilitaries are also emerging, despite restrictions on communications in Sudan.

At least one such assault took place when the RSF invaded a hospital close to the site of the sit-in where injured protesters were being treated. Others occurred in the street when paramilitaries chased and caught fleeing civilians, activists said.

Jehanne Henry, the associate Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said the reports of sexual assaults were credible but the extent of such violence was unclear.

“There are beatings on the streets. It looks like a bunch of thugs. There has been sexual violence … This would not be a surprise,” Henry said.

Khartoum and other cities were tense on Tuesday as scattered protests continued and thousands defied an order from military leaders to postpone religious gatherings marking the festival of Eid. Many roads were blocked by makeshift barricades.

Witnesses said the RSF were still driving through streets in the capital in columns of armoured vehicles, often shooting into the air or at people near roadblocks.

“They are shooting … harassing and robbing people, anybody. They don’t care,” one told the Guardian.

Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the leader of the transitional military council (TMC) that took power in April after ousting president Omar al-Bashir, announced on national television early on Tuesday morning that polls were planned in nine months.

Burhan also said that all previous agreements with the main opposition coalition had been cancelled.

The military’s move against Bashir, whose brutal, repressive rule lasted 30 years, followed months of protests that culminated in a massive demonstration outside the defence ministry in Khartoum.

Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF) opposition alliance, said an open-ended civil disobedience campaign would continue to try to force the council from power.

“What happened [on Monday] – the killing and injuring of protesters, the humiliation – was a systematic and planned attempt to impose repression on the Sudanese people,” he said.

The opposition groups have resisted a rush to early elections which are likely to be dominated by the former ruling National Congress party (NCP).

The NCP is currently the only organised political party with significant resources and there are widespread fears that any poll would be rigged.

Rosalind Marsden, an associate fellow at the Chatham House thinktank and an expert on Sudan, said the military council intended to use the election as a means of legitimising their interests.

“The concern is the TMC … will now link up with old regime elements and so the elections will open the way for the old regime to come back into power. It is very worrying,” Marsden said.

Talks between the ruling military council and the DFCF alliance broke down last month after weeks of negotiations over the composition of a powerful council that would govern the country alongside a new parliament.

The country is now braced for further violence. Hundreds of activists have been detained and many more are missing.

“The revolution has gained real momentum over the last five months but it is very difficult to predict if the professionals, youth and women who have been a driving force will be prepared to carry on,” said Marsden.

The RSF was organised and armed by Bashir and is largely composed of militia that have been accused of systematic human rights abuses during the war in Darfur The force is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who also serves as deputy head of the TMC.
Sudan: how Arab autocrats conspired to thwart reformists’ hopes
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The violence drew strong criticism from the US, UK and other nations. The UN secretary general, António Guterres, condemned the excessive use of force against protesters and called for an independent investigation.

“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 Henry.

Lt Gen Shams El Din Kabbashi, a spokesman for the military council, said security forces had pursued “unruly elements” who fled to the protest site and caused chaos.



The military crackdown in Sudan lays bare the dark heart of Bashir’s regime

Nesrine Malik

Dirty deals with regional allies and militias grown too big to disband have led to this – slaughter on the streets of Khartoum

Tue 4 Jun 2019 12.08 BST
Last modified on Tue 4 Jun 2019 16.03 BST

Sudanese protesters outside Khartoum’s army headquarters 3 June 2019. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

Even though it was not unexpected, it is still horrifying. To assume that the Sudanese revolution would manage to topple not only Omar al-Bashir but also uproot the deeply entrenched network of military and security interests behind him was always optimistic. But the success of the protests so far, and the extent and consistency of the protesters’ efforts, offered a glimmer of hope that while civilians were negotiating with the transitional military government to end military rule, their leverage in the streets was strong.

It became obvious, however, that the military regime and its associated security bodies were simply playing for time. And they have finally run out of patience. On Monday night the massacre began. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group created from the remnants of the infamous Janjaweed militia, moved against the main areas where sit-ins were occurring in Khartoum and opened fire. The troops burned the encampments, beat whoever they did not kill, and blockaded roads and hospitals so that medical support could not reach the wounded and the dying. There are reports of rape, pillage, and the bodies of the executed floating in the river Nile.

The country was then plunged into a communications blackout, with sporadic access to the internet only producing howls of bereavement and desperation as the faces of missing loved ones were circulated on social media. The body count continues to rise; the last official figure was 31, but dozens more are missing and hundreds are injured.

These are unfamiliar scenes in Khartoum. In Darfur, where the Janjaweed originated, and in other parts of Sudan from where Bashir’s government, holed up in the garrison city of Khartoum, dispatched mercenaries to violently suppress rebellion, they were commonplace. But rebellion has finally come to Khartoum, and so the Janjaweed, briefly restrained by the military and led by the deputy leader of the transitional government, were unmuzzled to do what they do best – scorched-earth suppression.

Read more: Sudan, Algeria, Libya: new Arab spring stalls as Trump looks away
Simon Tisdall

It was always clear that the Sudanese revolution was going to be a long process of attrition. The protesters were praised for their canniness in understanding that, even though the dictator had been toppled, there would be no returning home until the military went back to the barracks. There would be no hoodwinking them with transitional periods and election promises only made in order to give the “new” military government time to bed in. But the immensity of the task has quickly become clear.

Bashir’s regime not only impoverished the country and murdered its restive and marginalised ethnic groups, it created an entire parallel security infrastructure outside the army. This grew from an informal ragtag band of village-torchers into a large organised body with its own culture, its own economy, its own grudges against the coddled elites of Khartoum – even its own foreign policy and funding. An organised body that seems to relish the opportunity to show those comfortable Khartoum dwellers – absent from the bush and desert, the wars and skirmishes of the past 20 years – who is boss. What the Sudanese revolution is reckoning with now is the very heart of Bashir’s government distilled into its essential parts: networks of patronage with too much to lose, militias grown too large to disband, and dirty deals with regional allies too important to jettison.

The RSF and the military’s foreign alliances with the powers of the Gulf represent another front against the Sudanese revolution. The RSF’s leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, has supported the Saudi war in Yemen by providing Sudanese soldiers – some of them reported to be children – in exchange for financial assistance. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia’s partner in the coalition in Yemen, also has a strong interest in ensuring that this access to Sudan’s cannon fodder continues.

Egypt, another ally in the axis of the counter-revolution, is also wary of any civilian government in Sudan. A delegation from the Sudanese military council met with representatives of all three countries in the run-up to this week’s massacre, strongly suggesting that the plan was hatched – or at least blessed – by these allies, eager to prevent the disruption of any military support they receive from Sudan, and keen to avoid the undesirable optics of a successful civilian revolution in the region.

And so the Sudanese revolution is fighting against four governments. The international community – so interested and morally exercised by Bashir’s human rights abuses in the past that it has left Sudan hobbled by years of economic sanctions and international isolation – has now moved on. It will only issue the usual boilerplate condemnations of violence.

The Sudanese remain alone, locked in a death grip with a government that has now dropped all pretence of negotiation or compromise. Layer by layer, Bashir’s regime has been stripped back to show its true face. There is no longer any amnesty afforded to those from the right class or ethnic background, if the price for that mercy would mean the relinquishing of power. Sudan’s wars have come home to the capital.

Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist