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Sudan: In fourth week of clashes police fire tear gas leaving 40 dead

In what marks the fourth week of protests in a growing movement against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, police fired tear gas at crowds of protestors in Khartoum on 13 January. Protestors were chanting “peace peace” and “revolution is the people’s choice” but despite their peaceful calls were met by riot police.

Human Rights Watch say that medical workers on the ground have reported that at least 40 people have been killed by Sudanese forces, including children, since the beginning of the demonstrations that started on 19 December 2019.

Audrey Kawire Wabwire, Senior Press Officer (East Africa) at Human Rights Watch tweeted on 14 January,

“Last week’s carnage and ongoing serious human rights violations send a damning message that #Sudan does not care – perhaps not surprising for a government led by someone indicted for war crimes.”

Ongoing human rights violations

Ms Wabwire’s comments reflect the feeling of discontent in Sudan over the rule of president al-Bashir and the questionable human rights record during his presidency. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued two arrest warrants for al-Bashir since he has started ruling Sudan after a military coup in 1989. He stands accused of a number of war crimes, grave human rights abuses and genocide.

Overall, Sudan has been on the radar of human rights organisations for quite a while for widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. According to reports, the Sudanese government is systematically infringing the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. In the past years, human rights and political activists, opposition party members and students have often been targeted for arbitrary arrest, detention and other abuses.

Background of the protests

The protests initially sparked in response to the severe economic crisis experienced by Sudan, which led to a rise in the cost of basic necessities such as electricity, fuel, transportation, food and medicine. On 14 January, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights watch said on his twitter account,

“Why are Sudanese protesting against Pres Bashir? The usual corrupt mismanagement of an unaccountable autocrat: “Unable to pay its bills, the government has printed money. Inflation, at around 70%, is now the second highest in the world after Venezuela.”

However, following a pattern seen in a number of countries in recent years, protests in Sudan soon turned into anti-government demonstrations, with the Sudanese people now asking for President al-Bashir to step down. Tens of thousands have been protesting since 19 December 2018 in Omdurman, Wad Madani, Karima, Beber, Al Qadarif and other cities all over Sudan. People of all ages are participating in the protests, but the majority is represented by demonstrators between 17 and 23 years old.

The protests were organised by several independent professional unions and have the support of Umma and Democratic Unionist, Sudan’s largest political parties. However, official governmental sources blamed these demonstrations on external factors, ‘infiltrators’, ‘saboteurs’, and other ‘enemies of Sudan’. According to al-Bashir, the economic hardships experienced by the country are due to international sanctions.

This week protestors burnt tyres to obscure the view of policemen chasing them. A crowd chanted in the area, “The people want the fall of the regime,”

International Response

In a joint statement published on 8 January, the US, the UK, Norway and Canada condemned the violence and said that Sudan’s,

“actions and decisions over the coming weeks will have an impact on the engagement of our governments and others in the coming weeks, months and years.”

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