NEWS
14/06/2019 7:58 AM IST

What Is Happening In Sudan?

The UN is concerned that the country is sliding into a “human rights abyss”.

Just two months ago, scenes of jubilation filled the Sudanese capital Khartoum after the country’s military overthrew President Omar al-Bashir.

His 30-year premiership came to an end following increasingly bloody protests over his repressive rule and the deteriorating economy.

Yet weeks later, the optimism which filled the city’s streets has been replaced with bloodshed, after at least 118 people were killed, doctors said, when the ruling military council opened fire on pro-democracy protesters.

In April, the demonstrators were left angry and disappointed when the defence minister announced the armed forces would govern for the next two years.

The aftermath of al-Bashir’s removal has seen a struggle emerge between the two sides, with protesters demanding a handing over of power from the military, to civilians.

Meanwhile, the UN has voiced concerns that the nation of 40 million people is sliding into a “human rights abyss”, and has called for an independent investigation into violations against peaceful protesters.

What Sparked The Unrest?

On June 3, Sudanese security forces attacked a pro-democracy sit-in in the capital Khartoum, killing dozens of people. Hundreds were wounded by the gunfire and the death toll has since escalated amid ongoing unrest.

The killings were a challenge to a protest movement that first succeeded in forcing the overthrow of Sudan’s long-time strongman al-Bashir. Dozens of bodies have been pulled out of the Nile river in the capital following the violence.

After the military removed al-Bashir and seized power, tens of thousands of protesters had remained in the protest camp and other sites, saying an end to his rule was not enough and demanding that the generals who took power hand over authority to civilians.

Protest leaders and military officials have been negotiating over the make-up of a transitional government, as protesters call for “limited military representation” in a sovereign council that would lead the country as it transitions to civilian rule over three years.

But ruling generals are refusing to relinquish power.

The violent crackdown put an end to the relative peace that surrounded the talks, signalling that the military had lost patience with activists’ demands. 

Mohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, which has spearheaded the protests, previously said: “We have no choice but to continue our protests and civil disobedience until the fall of the military council.”

Madani Abbas Madani, a leading activist, said the protesters would continue a civil disobedience campaign until the overthrow of the ruling military council.

Is There Any Hope Of An Agreement Between Protesters And The Military?

Not at the moment.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmoud Dirir said talks between the two sides on restoring a civilian administration would resume soon.

The army has agreed to release political prisoners as a confidence-building measure, Mahmoud Dirir said on Tuesday.

The steps appeared to show a softening of positions after talks between the two sides collapsed following the disruption at the start of June.

Days after the violent crackdown, Sudan’s military council said ruling generals were ready to resume negotiations.

We have no choice but to continue our protests and civil disobedience until the fall of the military councilMohammed Yousef al-Mustafa, Sudanese Professionals’ Association

But protest organisers dismissed the call, saying the military was “not serious” about negotiating with protesters while killing them at the same time.

At the time, spokesman al-Mustafa said the protesters “totally reject” the call from ruling General Abdel-Fattah Burhan for the resumption of talks, the Associated Press reported.

Gen Burhan said the military would unilaterally form an interim government and hold elections sooner, within seven to nine months, under international supervision, and said any agreements reached earlier in the negotiations with the demonstrators were cancelled.

Protesters rejected the move because it would put the military in charge of running the election.

Meanwhile, the military council’s Lieutenant General Jamaleddine Omar on Sunday blamed protest leaders for “all the regrettable events” of the past days.

He said the actions of protest leaders have “crossed the line of peaceful practices... and have become a major liability for the country and the people’s security”.

How Has The Unrest Affected The Lives Of Civilians?

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters
Sudanese customers queue to access money services at the Faisal Islamic Bank  in Khartoum on June 11, 2019

Daily life has understandably been affected by the unrest.

Civilians have been cut off from the outside world amid an internet blackout enforced by authorities. The move has forced people to find new ways to communicate with each other.

In Khartoum, employees returned to work this week and store owners opened their shops, after an alliance of protesters and opposition groups suspended their three-day campaign of strikes and civil disobedience.

ATMs and banks that had closed were reopened, leading to queues outside. Meanwhile, rubbish bins not emptied for days overflowed, Reuters reported.

What Has Been The International Response?

Western states have been critical of the military council, however ruling generals have received support from China, Russia and the Gulf Arab States, the AFP reported.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the violence soon after it began, saying that the international community would “hold the Military Council to account”.

“Condemn the attack on protestors by Sudanese security forces. This is an outrageous step that will only lead to more polarisation and violence,” he tweeted.

UN experts have said they are concerned that Sudan is sliding into a “human rights abyss” as the Human Rights Council called on Wednesday for an independent investigation into violations against peaceful protesters in Sudan.

This week, the top US diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, joined the international effort to press Sudan’s military rulers and the opposition toward a deal on a transition to democracy.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed flew to Khartoum last week to mediate between the military council and protest leaders.

But the military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which between them have offered $3 billion (£2.4 billion) in aid.

Who Else Has Spoken Out About The Violence?

Outside the realm of politics, Sudanese Americans have held rallies outside the White House in solidarity with the protests in Sudan.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sudanese Americans rally outside the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 8, 2019, in solidarity with Pro-democracy protests in Sudan

Celebrities including Rihanna and Wizkid have used their influence to raise awareness of the conflict.

Actor and activist George Clooney urged the international community to freeze on military officials’ illicit assets in hopes that financial pressure would trigger a switch in their approach to the protesters.

Actress Tracee Ellis Ross and model Imaan Hammam posted on Instagram: “There is a massacre happening in Sudan right now, and the world is silent.”

Some social media users have been replacing their profile pictures to the colour blue to draw awareness, including Demi Lovato and Naomi Campbell.

Sudanese social media influencer Shahd Khidir, who is known for her lifestyle content, told her tens of thousands of Instagram followers: “There’s a massacre happening in my country Sudan’s and a media blackout and internet censorship for four consecutive days.”