Since the 14th December protests have rocked Sudan to its core. Thousands of people have been demonstrating against the incumbent government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir in several cities across the country. Security forces are reportedly using tear gas, batons and live ammunition to disperse the crowds, injuring hundreds and killing tens of people. But the protests continue, despite this violence and the mass arrests of demonstrators.
Economic protests turned political
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. However, these soon turned into anti-government demonstrations, people now asking for President al-Bashir, who has been ruling Sudan for the past three decades, to step down.
Tens of thousands have been protesting for more than a week 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. In the last days, people in Khartoum have also marched on the presidential palace, with the crowds singing patriotic songs or chanting “freedom”, “peaceful, peaceful against the thieves” and “the people want to bring down the regime”. Demonstrators have also tried to enter official buildings by force and set tyres on fire.
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 are blaming 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.
The government’s response
Apart from using tear gas and batons to disperse the crowds, the riot police have also opened fire against unarmed protesters. Tens have been injured and 37 people have been allegedly killed, in addition to the hundreds of demonstrators who have been arrested despite protesting peacefully. However, activists continue to reassemble after nightfall and the protests continue.
In the capital city, large numbers of police officers were deployed ahead of the march. According to witnesses, several protesters were shot to the head with live ammunition by police snipers placed on rooftops around the presidential palace ahead of the march. The few videos posted by protesters on social media platforms clearly show security forces using lethal force indiscriminately against unarmed demonstrators.
Since the 20th December access to internet has been restricted in Sudan and social media platforms have been reportedly blocked in an attempt to stop the protests. Al-Bashir is denying any allegations that he has something to do with this.
A history of human rights violations
Protests are nothing new in Sudan. In 2013 there were wide demonstrations as a result of the rising costs of cooking gas and fuel. These protests were quashed by the government through violence as well, with hundreds of people arrested and more than 200 killed.
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.
The international reaction
The UK, the US, Canada and Norway have issued a joint statement expressing concern over ‘credible reports’ that security forces in Sudan are using live fire against protesters.
Human rights organisations have also publicly condemned the Sudanese government for opening fire on unarmed protesters and for allowing an unjustified and unnecessary bloodshed to take place. Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, called on al-Bashir to “immediately and unconditionally release all those arrested for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. The government must address the root cause of the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in the country instead of trying to prevent people from fully exercising their right to protest against the growing hardships they are facing.”
Human rights organisations are also calling for a full investigation into the protests and the violence used against protesters by security forces in Sudan. At the same time, the Sudanese government should restore access to internet and respect people’s right to information.