Physicians for Human Rights report exposes targeted attacks on health care providers and sexual and gender-based violence against pro-democracy forces on June 3, 2019
GENEVA – Sudanese security forces launched a series of planned, violent attacks against pro-democracy protesters that resulted in the deaths of scores of people and hundreds more injured, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today. PHR’s new report, “‘Chaos and Fire’: An Analysis of Sudan’s June 3, 2019 Khartoum Massacre,” exposes how those forces also intentionally targeted health care workers and facilities with harassment, intimidation, and violence and subjected male and female protesters to sexual and gender-based violence.
PHR’s findings indicate that state security forces planned and perpetrated the attack, referred to herein as the June 3 massacre, on the central sit-in site in the al-Qiyada neighborhood of Khartoum occupied by pro-democracy protesters. That area has been the focal point for such protests since December 2018, when demonstrations began against the 30-year dictatorship of former President Omar al-Bashir. The Sudanese military ousted al-Bashir in April 2019.
The new report, based on interviews with 30 survivors of the June 3 massacre, eyewitness accounts, clinical evaluations, consultation with local health care workers, and open-source analysis of thousands of still and video images captured by witnesses at the scene on June 3 provides compelling evidence that Sudanese security forces were responsible for perpetrating unconscionable acts of violence against pro-democracy demonstrators, including extrajudicial killings and torture, excessive use of force, sexual and gender-based violence, and the forced disappearance of detained protesters. The attackers included those who told protesters they were members of the Rapid Support Forces.
PHR has determined that Sudanese authorities purposefully pre-positioned large numbers of government security forces armed with tear gas, whips, assault rifles, and other weapons around the sit-in protest area in late May as part of an early coordination to attack demonstrators. PHR’s findings also document a pattern of Sudanese forces’ violence against health care providers, institutions, and patients, as well as prevention of access to medical care.
The report documents the nature of injuries victims sustained and identifies patterns in testimony and medical evidence that support witness and victim allegations of a planned attack by Sudanese security forces. Victims suffered from gunshot wounds, severe beatings with whips and batons, rape, and significant mental trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. In some cases, PHR found that survivors will suffer from a lifetime of chronic pain and disability as a result of their injuries.
“The June 3 massacre against Sudanese civilians at the hands of government security forces is an egregious violation of human rights,” said Phelim Kine, director of research and investigations for PHR. “Security forces’ horrific tactics – sexual violence, including rape, use of tear gas, whips, batons, and live ammunition – killed and critically injured hundreds of civilians.
To support the National Commission charged with investigating these crimes, the Sudanese legal and human rights community, as well as international bodies such as the United Nations and the African Union, must conduct further investigation into the full scope of government-perpetrated violence on June 3.”
The report includes detailed first-person accounts from people who were attacked or witnessed attacks, and documents the harassment, intimidation, and violence used against medical professionals, including detention and torture, forced medical care in detention, and the firing of live ammunition into hospitals.
One doctor recounted being detained by soldiers who pointed automatic weapons at him as they yelled, “You’re the reason for all this chaos and this whole mess…you’re the reason why the country’s like this, you’re the reason why we kill people, you’re the reason why people die.”
Through its interviews with survivors and identification of video documentation of violence against health care, PHR found that government security forces attacked multiple hospitals and clinics on June 3, prevented patients from accessing care, and restricted the flow of medical supplies and health care workers’ access. The report’s findings build upon the substantial evidence of a continued pattern of violence against health care workers and institutions that PHR documented in its 2019 report, “Intimidation and Persecution: Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” released days before al-Bashir was deposed.
Said Rohini J. Haar, MD, MPH, medical expert and research and investigations advisor at PHR, “This pattern of targeted attacks on health care is a recurring weapon used by Sudanese security forces that violates the obligation and rights of medical personnel to treat those in need, threatens the lives of medical workers, and has a devastating impact on civilians.”
Added Susannah Sirkin, director of policy at PHR, “The future of human rights and the transition to civilian rule in Sudan will require the Sudanese government to modify laws that prevent access to justice for survivors and families of the dead. It is critical that the international community reinforce human rights accountability in Sudan, including by providing documentation to the National Commission created to investigate the June 3 massacre, and through the introduction of a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council addressing accountability for violence against Sudanese protesters and subsequent human rights violations.”
PHR urges the government of Sudan to:
- Fully support the National Commission established by the transitional government to investigate the attacks on June 3 by enabling an independent, comprehensive, and transparent accounting of the violence;
- Hold those found to be responsible for violations accountable through due process;
- Uphold its commitments under international law to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens; and
- Facilitate the return of remains of those killed so that their families can arrange religious ceremonies and memorials.
PHR calls on UN member states to sanction Sudanese officials responsible for gross human rights abuses and urges the United States government to prioritize legislation that protects medical neutrality.
Additionally, PHR calls on Sudanese organizations as well as relevant UN agencies, the Arab League, the African Union and other governments to call on the Sudanese government to repeal laws that provide impunity for acts carried out by security forces in the line of duty, and to support the inclusion of human rights, rule of law, and accountability protections in Sudan’s new constitution.
Additional information for the media:
PHR Sudan Research:
PHR has documented torture, sexual violence, and unlawful attacks on civilians in Sudan for decades. PHR has also been at the forefront of documenting genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur and of advocating for the prosecution of Sudanese leaders for their culpability in that crime. PHR also documents and works to prevent attacks on health care globally, including in Bahrain, Syria, and Türkiye.
PHR began investigating the assault on Darfur in 2004, collecting eyewitness testimony from dozens of Darfurian refugees in neighboring Chad and publishing findings in the report “Darfur: Assault on Survival.” Another PHR report, “The Use of Rape as a Weapon of War in the Conflict in Darfur, Sudan,” documents a campaign of rape by the Janjaweed militias in concert with the government of Sudan. PHR’s work in 2009, in partnership with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, culminated in another exposé entitled “Nowhere to Turn: Failure to Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women,” documenting the scope and long-term impact of rape and other sexual violence experienced by these women.
PHR’s research in the region contributed to campaigns which mobilized health professionals, students, and members of the general public to press for urgently needed security in Darfur and for the prosecution of perpetrators by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.