Amid largely peaceful protests by thousands of Sudanese citizens demonstrating against government corruption, economic mismanagement, and brutal repression since December 2018, security forces of President Omar al-Bashir’s government have committed massive violations of human rights, including the use of disproportionate, unnecessary, and sometimes lethal force. They have prevented medical professionals from attending to the wounded and arrested and detained these professionals, attacked medical facilities, and targeted, injured, and killed medical personnel who have sought to carry out their medical duties and whose professional associations have participated in, and in some cases, led the protests.
A new report from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), based on eyewitness accounts, news reports, video footage, legal records, and medical documentation, shows that Sudan’s government is violating international law and Sudanese national law through a campaign of persecution and intimidation of medical personnel and other professionals, while violating the basic civil rights of Sudanese citizens. These rights include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to liberty, and the right to a fair trial. The government is also restricting health access to people who depend on these medical professionals.
The report, “Intimidation and Persecution: Sudan’s Attacks on Peaceful Protesters and Physicians,” provides specific examples that occurred between December 19, 2018, and March 17, 2019 of targeted attacks on peaceful protests and medical professionals who support or treat protesters. Sudanese government forces, including police and National Intelligence and Security Services forces, have carried out attacks on at least seven medical facilities in Sudan, arrested at least 136 health personnel, fired tear gas and additional weapons into hospital wards, and denied patient access to medical care.
As of the date of publication, 60 protesters have been killed by government forces, including two medical students and a practicing doctor. Fifteen physicians remained in detention at the time of publication. Government forces’ specific targeting of Sudan’s health care infrastructure and the torturing of detainees, including doctors, have increased the impact of the violence on the health of Sudanese civilians and threatened their right to access health care.
“The abuse and attacks on doctors and medical facilities represent an egregious violation of human rights just when health care is most needed in Sudan,” said Rohini J. Haar, MD, MPH, medical expert and research and investigations advisor at PHR. “Disproportionate and excessive use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition by security forces are critically injuring Sudanese citizens who are exercising their legal right to peaceful demonstration, causing serious long-term health risks and, in some cases, even death.
“Furthermore, security forces are violating basic norms of medical ethics by impeding care for the sick and wounded. These attacks must cease immediately, medical facilities must be protected from harm, and officials who have perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable by Sudanese and international bodies.”
PHR communicated directly with Sudanese medical organizations and physicians in Sudan as well as Sudanese physicians now living in North America who witnessed the attacks or aided injured protesters. Due to the Sudanese government’s forced closure of local media and restricted access to public information, PHR’s analysis is based on the data obtained from open sources and health professional colleagues in Sudan.
The report includes first-person accounts from individuals who have been attacked or witnessed attacks, and details the intimidation and persecution of essential health professionals who have supported peaceful protesters, including workplace intimidation, extended detention and torture, and attacks on medical facilities and places of residence.
One Sudanese doctor said: “I know that if a doctor gets arrested, they will be detained for a long time. I’m afraid of being a doctor in Sudan. We are all afraid.”
Maryam Al-Khawaja, Europe director and interim director of advocacy at PHR, said, “Physicians for Human Rights calls on the Sudanese government to release detainees being held without charge or trial. Those responsible for the injury, death, and severe harm of Sudanese civilians must be held accountable without delay. Furthermore, it is crucial that the members of the international community respond adequately through the United Nations and in their regional and individual capacities to protect the people of Sudan from President al-Bashir’s abuse of power. Without accountability, there will be no end to violations.”
The report details the national and international legal standards which Sudan is violating, including norms protecting health professionals’ independence. It supports health professionals’ crucial role in civil society to carry out their ethical obligations to prevent illness and to care for the sick and wounded without discrimination.
The report concludes with specific recommendations for the government of Sudan, international bodies, and the United States and other governments, including Sudan’s obligation to uphold all human rights treaties to which it is party and to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens.
Additional information for media:
Physicians for Human Rights representatives, including Haar and Al-Khawaja, are available to discuss the report in depth. Spokespeople are available to comment in English, French, and Arabic. This press release and the report are also available in Arabic.
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 the perpetration of genocide in Darfur. PHR also documents and works to prevent attacks on health care globally, including in Bahrain, Syria, and Turkey.
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.