Slogans like ‘حرية سلام و عدالة و الثورة خيار الشعب‘, which translates to ‘Freedom, peace, justice…the revolution is the choice of the people’- can be heard being chanted in every street of Sudan. Sudan, officially the Republic of Sudan, is a country located in Northeast Africa. It has a population of about 39 million people and is the third-largest country in Africa. The official politics of Sudan takes place within the framework of a federal representative democratic republic under which the President is the head of state, head of government and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Recently, this system was overthrown by people, with the military taking control of the government. Anti-government protests have rocked several cities and towns since the last few months. Sudan is in the midst of a humanitarian and political crisis with the country turning into a battlefield, bringing sufferings and bloodshed to its people. With no sign of an agreement or the end of violence, Sudan teeters on the brink of a ‘human rights abyss’.
The 20th century saw the growth of Sudanese nationalism. Independence was proclaimed on 1 January,1956. Since independence, Sudan has been ruled by a series of unstable parliamentary governments and military regimes. Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir had ruled the country since 1989, after he had led a successful coup against the elected, but extremely unpopular prime minister at the time, Sadiq al-Mahidi. Under his leadership, there was a steep rise in prices of basic goods like bread and fuel. The government devalued the local currency, removed subsidies from wheat and electricity and placed limits on money withdrawals from banks. Al-Bashir has various charges against him for carrying out atrocities against innocent people, grave human rights abuses committed in the country’s western region, crimes against humanity and violating basic human rights. Sudan’s economy has struggled since Omar al-Bashir came to power, but became increasingly turbulent following the separation of South Sudan in 2011, which was an important source of foreign currency, because of its oil input. This economic mismanagement in the country prompted a wave of protests on the 19th of December, 2018 when high school students took to the streets of the city of Atbara to demand their basic right to a decent life. The protests quickly spread to other parts of the country, including the capital Khartoum. But what started as an economic protest turned political, with many calling for Omar Al-Bashir to step down. People were unhappy with the autocracy, political repression and corruption within his government. The Sudanese government responded brutally, trying to suppress the protests using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas, killing and arresting a large number of people. Access to social media and instant messaging was cut on 21 December by the country’s major service providers, indicating the installation of an extensive Internet censorship regime. Media coverage of the protests was strictly controlled by security forces and almost all internet services were suspended. On 22 February 2019, al-Bashir declared a year-long state of emergency in response to months of nationwide protests and calls for his resignation. He dissolved the national and regional governments arbitrarily, replacing them with military and intelligence-service officers. Al-Bashir tried to win the people back by announcing the release of all women prisoners on March 8 but this did not deter the people from protesting for their rights.
Finally, on 11 April 2019, Omar al-Bashir’s repressive regime was brought to an end by an army takeover in a coup d’état and the former President was sent to prison. The ouster by the military was initially met with euphoria by protesters, who gathered in capital Khartoum. Things turned grim since then as the military, which promised a transition to civilian rule, consolidated its power. Street protests by the Sudanese Professionals Association- a pro-democracy group of doctors, lawyers and other urban middle-class professionals continue, urging for transition to a civilian government. Their other demands include civil rule, freedom of speech, equality for women, and reinstatement of the 2005 constitution. Leaders of the Transitional Military Council such as Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan (Chairman of TMC), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Deputy Head of TMC) are unwilling to leave their positions because they have a huge list of war crimes against them and giving up their powers will result in them being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court which is a court of last resort for the prosecution of serious international crimes. They also gained a tremendous amount of money while holding their jobs and they won’t let that go. Negotiations between the Transitional Council and the civilian-led opposition groups to form a joint interim government took place during late April and May.
After a lot of debate and discussion, the military council and protesters came to an agreement of a 3 year period to allow Sudan to come under civilian rule as disassembling Bashir’s government and political networks need time. But all the agreements were scrapped when the Rapid Support Forces- Sudanese paramilitary forces-allied to al-Bashir’s government and other government security organs cracked down brutally on peaceful protesters, killing, beating and arresting hundreds of people in the Khartoum massacre on 3 June. The following day, the Sudanese Professionals Association called for complete civil disobedience and a 3-day open political strike from 9-11 June in Sudan, using the techniques of nonviolent resistance against the TMC. It was an attempt by pro-democracy campaigners to put pressure on the transitional military council to transfer power to them. With telecommunication blackouts across Sudan, the authorities tried to cover up the crimes. The head of the military government has called for a general election within nine months but the people no longer trust them and want power to be transferred immediately. On 12 June, the opposition agreed to stop the strike and the TMC agreed to free political prisoners as a confidence building measure; the two sides also agreed to resume power sharing talks soon. The ousted president has been taken to the prosecutor’s office in charge of corruption cases in Khartoum. Ethiopia and the African Union had led diplomatic efforts to bring military and protest leaders back to the negotiating table. The Ethiopian compromise blueprint suggested the creation of a 15 member governing body that would install a civilian administration, comprising eight civilians and seven members of the military. Sudanese protest leaders had accepted the creation of a civilian majority governing body for a political transition in Sudan as proposed by the Ethiopian envoy. Of the eight civilians, seven were to come from the umbrella protest movement, the Alliance for Freedom and Change, as was decided by the protest leaders. However, the TMC leaders had criticized the Ethiopian mediator for delays and for presenting a proposal different from the African Union’s. They had appealed to the African Union and Ethiopia to unify their efforts in outlining a blueprint for transition in the crisis hit country. The court had also ordered telecom operators to restore internet services. On July 5, months of pro-democracy protests finally seemed to culminate as the ruling military faction and a coalition of opposition and protest groups reached a power-sharing agreement for a transitional period until elections. Both sides have agreed to establish a joint military-civilian sovereign council that will rule the country by rotation for a period of three years. Under this agreement, five seats would go to the military and five to the civilians, with an additional seat given to a civilian agreed upon by both sides. The first 21 months of the sovereign council will be led by the military and the remaining 8 months by civilians. The two sides agreed to set up a committee of lawyers, including jurists from the AU, to finalise the agreement within 48 hours. The ruling TMC and the civilian leaders have also decided to launch a transparent and independent investigation into the violence of June 3. News of this deal has set off celebrations in the streets of Khartoum as it has revived hopes for a peaceful transition of power in a nation plagued by internal conflicts and a deepening economic crisis. The people of Sudan have welcomed this development as the beginning of a new era as their revolution has won and their victory shines.
There have been increasing international calls for negotiations and for military officers behind the crackdown to be held accountable. The African Union has suspended Sudan from its membership until a civilian-led transitional authority is established. Most African and western countries have backed the protesters. The United States of America has sent top diplomats to encourage talks. Saudi Arabia has urged discussions between the two sides, but not directly condemned military violence. Along with UAE and Egypt, it perhaps fears that the revolution could set a dangerous precedent for their own autocratic rule on home turf and are thus funding TMC to stop the protests by any means to achieve their own goals. The European Union has condemned the Sudanese military. China and Russia have blocked a bid at the UN Security Council to condemn the killings in Sudan and issue a pressing call for an immediate halt to the violence due to their own interests. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has also condemned the happenings, ordering Sudanese authorities to grant human rights monitors access to the country and end repression against protesters and the shutdown of the internet.
An economic crisis, an overthrown dictator, and now an assaulting militant regime that is brutally killing and raping peaceful demonstrators including men, women and children-the past few months have been tumultuous for the Sudanese. It is the need of the hour that the multilateral organisations stand up and support these people whose rights have been violated. The various institutions of the country should be strengthened so that they’re free from military control and their power can’t be undermined arbitrarily. The Sudanese government should respect people’s rights to gather peacefully and express themselves. It should release all the people arrested for protesting peacefully. One major step that the Transitional Military Council should take to improve the volatile situation is that the much-feared Rapid Support Forces, which are still roaming the streets of Khartoum and inflicting terror, must be withdrawn from any policing and law enforcement operations, especially in Khartoum, and be confined to their barracks for public safety. Efforts to silence international media and attention by relentlessly harassing, intimidating and censoring journalists must be stopped. The military council should hand over the ousted President to the International Criminal Court to face justice for masterminding atrocities in the Darfur region. There should be an immediate international intervention and the internet services of Sudan should be resumed. The government must also conduct an independent and transparent investigation to bring to justice to those responsible for the killing of peaceful protesters and attacks on hospitals.
The people of Sudan are simply asking for a better lifestyle, better human rights and a better life and we, the international community owe them to support them in their freedom struggle before all their sacrifices go in vain.
By Rashi Chaudhry
Grade 11 student, Delhi Public School Ghaziabad
This piece was written under our Writing Mentorship Program – June 2019.