Sudan: Military Takeover Threatens Rights

(Nairobi) – The Sudanese military leaders responsible for the October 25, 2021 takeover must respect and protect the rights of all Sudanese, including the right to life and to protest peacefully, Human Rights Watch said today. The military leaders, who have since dissolved the transitional government and imposed a state of emergency, must refrain from any unnecessary and disproportionate use of force, immediately release political leaders and other arbitrarily detained and restore communications.

In the early hours of October 25, media reported that security forces had arrested at least five ministers, as well as other officials and political leaders. The army reportedly placed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok under house arrest and moved him and his wife to an unknown location. At around noon, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of the Sovereign Council – a collective presidential body made up of both civilians and military leaders – announced in a televised speech that he was instituting a state of emergency and dissolved both the cabinet of ministers and the sovereign council.

“The military junta should not compromise the sacrifices and hard work of Sudanese from all walks of life for a more just and rights-respecting Sudan,” said Mausi Segun, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The military authorities should order the security forces to respect and fully protect the right of the people to protest and that any member using excessive force will be promptly held to account. “

As news of the takeover broke on social media in the early hours of the morning, several pro-democracy groups, including the Sudanese Professionals Association, a group of professional organizations that spearheaded the 2018 protests- 19, called it is up to the people to demonstrate in order to defend their “revolution”. The strong presence of security forces, most of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has been reported patrolling various parts of the capital.

According to medical sources, three demonstrators were shot dead. About 80 were reportedly injured. Two protesters told Human Rights Watch that protesters near the Sudanese Armed Forces headquarters in Khartoum received live ammunition.

Access to internet connectivity and to mobile and text messaging communications has been severely disrupted, at least in Khartoum. Access to timely and accurate information, especially at such a sensitive time, is essential and managers should never resort to wide and indiscriminate shutdowns to stop the flow of information or to interfere with people’s ability to express their political views, Human Rights Watch said.

The Sudanese transitional authorities have been in power since popular protests ended Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule and paved the way for a power-sharing agreement in July 2019 between the military and civilians. He was tasked with dealing with a legacy of repression and abuse in addition to a brutal economic crisis.

The takeover risks precipitating a reversal of the small but significant gains made over the past two years under the now dissolved transitional government, Human Rights Watch said.

During the transition, Sudan ratified the main international treaties. Authorities have prosecuted 11 cases involving killings of protesters by government forces which are now before the courts.

Yet impunity for abuses by the security forces remains widespread. Military authorities have refused to cooperate in obtaining evidence or lifting immunity in several investigations. In turbulent Darfur, despite the October 2020 peace agreement, authorities have failed to deliver security or justice. Violence in January and April in al-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, left more than 300 dead, forced thousands to flee their homes and resulted in massive destruction of property.

The military takeover follows weeks of growing political tension. Military leaders blamed their civilian counterparts for what authorities described as an attempted coup on September 21. The military ceased to participate in joint meetings with civilian members following the attempt, which delayed approval of a Cabinet of Ministers decision to surrender al-Bashir and two others to the International Criminal Court (ICC ).

A group of civilians and former rebels began a sit-in outside the presidential palace on October 16, calling for the dissolution of the Hamdok cabinet and a military takeover. In apparent response, thousands of democracy supporters took to the streets on October 21, reiterating their calls for civilian rule and demanding accelerated reform and the implementation of a justice program.

Under the Transition Charter agreed in July 2019, the military would chair the Transition Council for 21 months, followed by 18 months of civilian leadership. The agreement was later amended by the Juba Peace Agreement, which added an additional year to the transition period. Divergent interpretations on the handover of the presidency of the transitional council have also contributed to the rise in tensions.

Sudanese security forces, including the RSF, have a well-documented record of abuses, especially during protests. On June 3, 2019, and in the days that followed, when the country was ruled by a Transitional Military Council, RSF-led security forces brutally dispersed a sit-in in Khartoum, killing more than 120 protesters, injuring hundreds and committing sexual violence; and cracking down on protesters elsewhere in the capital and in other cities. Security forces also disrupted internet access for weeks and continued to use excessive, even fatal, force against protesters.

Multiple international players, including the United States, UK, and Germany, had clearly expressed in recent days their support for the civil transition in Sudan. The international community should not only pressure Sudanese military leaders to respect rights, but they should also urge them to ensure that they do not damage or reverse the progress of a peace program. reform, Human Rights Watch said.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher right now,” Segun said. “Sudan’s international and regional partners must make it clear that we must not lose small but important steps towards redressing past wrongs and establishing a more positive rights framework. They should strictly monitor the rights situation on the ground, immediately urging the military to release all political detainees and end arbitrary restrictions on key rights. “

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