Sudan opposition rejects committee report blaming sit-in attack on rogue security officers
 
 
Sit-in outside the Sudanese military headquarters, Khartoum, April 2019 - Courtesy: Alaa Kheir
 

It took less than an hour for the streets of Khartoum to react on Saturday to the announcement of the results of an investigation by Sudan’s military council and public prosecutor into the violent dispersal of the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. People are still missing after the June 3 raid that left dozens dead and over 100 wounded. 

Protesters blockaded streets with stones and barricades yesterday, and set fire to car tires. Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters in a number of areas. The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors estimated that 15 were injured by tear gas canisters in Saturday’s protests.

Opposition groups rejected the report as inaccurate, and an attempt to shield the military council from responsibility for the violence. The report comes less than a month after the council and leading opposition reached an agreement for a new transitional government council with both civilian and military members. The parties were due to sign a constitutional declaration on Friday, but it was postponed due to disagreements within the opposition. It remains to be seen how the report will affect negotiations between the military council and opposition groups.

The investigation committee, which was established by the public prosecutor appointed by the military council, called for the initiation of criminal proceedings against seven officers and their commander for crimes against humanity, for issuing orders to shoot protesters at the protest camp in front of the military headquarters in Khartoum on June 3. The committee recommended sentences of capital punishment and life imprisonment for the accused officers, for crimes of murder and assault.

The head of the investigation committee, Fath al-Rahman Saeed, said at a press conference on Saturday that the officers were only ordered to clear only the Columbia area, where he said illegal drugs are sold, but that the accused had violated those orders, instead moving towards the sit-in area. Saeed also said that unknown, masked individuals shot at the protesters from atop the Bashir Medical City building near the protest, leading to several casualties. 

Saeed’s committee put the casualties from the dispersal at 87 between June 3 and 6, including 17 inside the sit-in area, with 168 injured, including 105 severely injured, and 63 who were injured within the sit-in area. Saeed denied all accusations of rape and arson during the dispersal, and said that gun residue unrelated to the sit-in raid was found on the bodies floating in the Nile in the Halfaya district north of the capital.

The opposition coalition in Sudan rejected the results of the investigation. 

“The prosecutor’s report was not what the people were waiting for, and it was a shock to the Sudanese, regional and international community,” the spokesperson for the Sudanese Professionals Association, Ismail Eltag, said at a press conference on Saturday, noting that the Coalition for Freedom and Change had previously rejected the current committee. Eltag pointed to the discrepancy between the report’s casualty count of 87 and the number estimated by the Sudanese Doctors Committee, which counted at least 130 people killed in the dispersal.

Eltag described the results of the investigation as “shocking”, and accused the public prosecutor of undermining the justice process, suggesting that the handling of the investigation should be investigated as a crime.

A member of the opposition committee in the al-Diyum district of Khartoum, Mudather Omar, called the investigation results “provocative.” Omar believes more than 45 neighborhoods in the capital and other cities saw impromptu street protests against the results. 

“There is a message the military council wants to deliver with these shocking and counterfactual results,” Omar told Mada Masr. The military council hopes the report will both absolve them of accountability, Omar said, and the council aims to stymie the political handover to a civilian-led body, which Omar believes should be responsible for conducting any investigation into the dispersal.

Sudan’s transitional military council and opposition groups had reached a power-sharing agreement in early July, establishing a joint military-civilian council to rule for a 39-month transitional period until elections are held. The agreement allows the military to head the council for the first 21 months.

Omar said that the military council and the Coalition for Freedom and Change took a long time to reach a compromise on the formation of the investigation committee, ultimately agreeing on an independent, Sudan-based committee with limited international aid after the opposition had called for an international committee.

Abdallah Rizk, a political analyst, agreed that the military council wanted to form the committee and announce the results quickly to clear the council’s leaders of responsibility by blaming specific, subordinate individuals. It formed the committee in an agreement with the Coalition for Freedom and Change, Rizk said, to improve its image in the international community. 

Rizk told Mada Masr that the announced results may even complicate the situation among the security forces themselves. After videos showed the Rapid Support Forces breaking up the sit-in by beating and torturing protesters, RSF head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who is also the deputy head of the military council, denied accusations against his soldiers by claiming that the former intelligence service had infiltrated his forces and perpetrated the violence. Rizk believes that any investigation of the sit-in dispersal will face considerable pressure during the transitional period, and that the military council will seek to block any additional investigations into the dispersal going forward.

The Democratic Lawyers Association, which is a subset of the Sudanese Professionals Association, a leading opposition body, said it finds strong evidence that the military council is directly responsible for the massacre, including that the military council has previously admitted responsibility, and that the council had attempted to dismantle barricades on Nile Street around the sit-in twice in May, alleging that protesters had provoked the Rapid Support Forces. At least five were killed and dozens injured, and skirmishes continued until the day the sit-in was dispersed.

In a statement, the association rejected the investigation results announced by the committee, and what it sees as a transparent attempt to exonerate the military council and find a scapegoat to fill its place. The statement also criticized the investigation’s omission of rape victims, the people whose bodies were tossed into the Nile, and those still missing.

“This leads us to insist on the necessity of forming an independent committee, with either regional or international supervision, to investigate in the events of the Ramadan massacre and bring those truly responsible to justice,” the association’s statement read.

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