Sudanese demand justice for protesters killed in 2019 crackdown

At least 128 said to have died in security forces clampdown

Sudanese take part in a march against the Rapid Support Forces, who they blame for a raid on protesters who had camped outside the defense ministry during the 2019 revolution, in Khartoum, Sudan, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
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Protesters took to the streets in Sudan’s capital and elsewhere across the country amid tight security on Thursday, demanding justice for the victims of a 2019 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The marches commemorate the second anniversary of the deadly June 3 break-up by security forces of a major protest camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum and others in Sudan.

The violence came shortly after the military overthrew long-time leader Omar Al Bashir amid a public uprising against his nearly three-decade rule.

Sudan is now on a fragile path to democracy and is ruled by a transitional military-civilian government that faces towering economic and security challenges.

Protest organisers say security forces killed at least 128 people during the dispersal and subsequent crackdown in June 2019, which was a turning point in the relationship between the generals and the protest movement that led the uprising against Al Bashir.

The crackdown also involved what activists describe as a campaign of rapes and sexual misconduct by troops ordered by the military to crush the pro-democracy movement.

Thursday’s demonstrations were called by the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, and the so-called Resistance Committees, which were instrumental in leading protests against Al Bashir.

Before Thursday’s protests, security forces closed off major roads and streets leading to the government and military headquarters in Khartoum.

Video footage later shared online showed protesters gathering outside the Cabinet headquarters and carrying Sudanese flags and posters of those killed in the uprising.

The marches came amid mounting frustration among activists who accuse the government of delaying and obstructing investigations and trials related to the crackdown.

“Today’s protest is another test for the commitment of the government to seek justice and protect the freedom of assembly,” said activist Nazik Awad. She added that families of the victims “are loosing faith in the ongoing investigation process”.

The protest organisers also renewed calls for an international investigation into the clampdown — calls that the army generals have repeatedly dismissed.

The government established an independent committee in 2019 to investigate the crackdown, but the panel kept missing its deadlines, angering the victims’ families and rights groups.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said in a statement late on Wednesday that his government had done its best to achieve justice. But he admitted that its “complicated ties” with security agencies overseen by the generals have “sometimes slowed down justice and delayed the submission of information” prosecutors need for their investigations.

“It is travesty of justice that two years since this senseless and unprovoked attack on unarmed protesters took place claiming dozens of lives, no investigation report has been published and no one responsible for the bloodshed has been held accountable. Instead those demanding justice have faced further attacks,” said Deprose Muchena, a regional director at Amnesty International.

Last month, two protesters were killed when troops opened fire on a demonstration in the capital at the end of Ramadan. The June 2019 disposal of the Khartoum protest camp also coincided with the end of Ramadan.