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PHR: Sudanese Forces’ Use of Lethal Force to Quell Protests Calling for a Civilian-Led Government Must End

Physicians for Human Rights calls for protection of unarmed protesters, national and international investigation into violence against Sudanese civilians

NEW YORK – As Sudanese citizens protest against the country’s transitional military ruling council in favor of a civilian-led government, recent days have seen the killing of an additional five civilians and an army officer, and at least 125 people injured, during the sit-in at military headquarters in the capital, Khartoum. This is in the aftermath of months of lethal violence against protesters pressing for democracy and rights.

According to news reports, the fatalities were caused by live ammunition fired by soldiers, though the military is not claiming responsibility. Protesters, organized by the Sudanese Professionals Association and allied under the banner of the Forces for Freedom and Change, are calling for the transition of power from the Transitional Military Council (TMA), which has been governing Sudan since President Omar al-Bashir was ousted last month, to a mostly civilian administration.

“The Sudanese people are exercising their right to express their disapproval with the transitional military regime and the urgency of installing a majority civilian government,” said Maryam Al-Khawaja, European director and interim director of advocacy at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). “It is the responsibility of Sudanese authorities to protect protesters participating in the sit-in from attacks, investigate the violence, and hold perpetrators accountable. Given the ongoing volatility in Sudan, and the deaths and life-threatening injuries protesters continue to suffer, it is imperative that regional and international bodies, including the United Nations and its Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, engage more strongly in supporting and protecting Sudanese civilians and their human rights, while also pushing for accountability.”

Following this week’s violence against protesters, the TMA halted negotiations, demanding that protesters remove barricades they have erected outside military headquarters in an effort to encourage ongoing negotiations. “The standstill in negotiations forced by the Transitional Military Council is particularly concerning as it comes just as the Council and the protesters were supposed to discuss final negotiation points, including the make-up of a ruling council,” Al-Khawaja added. “Though the military claims it is stopping negotiations in the name of avoiding additional violence, this move appears to be a poorly disguised control tactic.”

Susannah Sirkin, director of policy at Physicians for Human Rights, called for greater accountability for the killings and violence in Sudan. “The Sudanese prosecutor’s office has charged longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir with the killing of protesters, including Dr. Babiker Salama, who was shot and killed while trying to provide medical treatment to fellow civilians. But al-Bashir is not the only individual responsible for the deaths of more than 60 protesters since December. All perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions, including for attacks on health care personnel and facilities. Even those who are part of the transitional government should not be absolved of accountability if they have committed such crimes. The new ruling council must be comprised carefully, to ensure that those who have committed mass crimes under al-Bashir’s regime are not provided with a forum for future dictatorship and violence.”

In April, PHR released a report on massive violations of human rights committed by al-Bashir’s forces during the months of protests, including the use of disproportionate, unnecessary, and sometimes lethal force. The report, “Intimidation and Persecution: Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” provides specific examples from December 19, 2018 through March 17, 2019 of targeted attacks on peaceful protests and medical professionals who support or treat protesters.

PHR has long been active in documenting torture, sexual violence, and brutal attacks on civilians in Sudan and in advocating for the prosecution of Sudanese leaders for perpetrating genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir is charged by the International Criminal Court for perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur; PHR continues to call for his extradition to the court in The Hague to stand trial for these atrocities.

PHR also documents and works to prevent attacks on health care globally, including in Bahrain, Syria, and Türkiye.

Additional resources from Physicians for Human Rights:

Report: “Intimidation and Persecution: Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” April 5, 2019
Press release on above report: “Sudanese Government Violating Human Rights on Massive Scale Through Campaign of Intimidation, Persecution, and Torture,” April 5, 2019
Press release: “After Omar al-Bashir’s Ouster, PHR Intensifies Call for Accountability and Respect for Rights in Sudan,” April 11, 2019
Press release: “PHR Demands Sudan End Detention of Doctors, Attacks on Hospitals; Calls for Accountability of Sudanese Government,” March 1, 2019

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.

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