The brutal suppression of protest in Sudan must end, and members of the security forces responsible for killing, injuring, and torturing protesters must be held to account, said Amnesty International and the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) in a report published today.
The report, Excessive and deadly: The use of force, detention and torture against protesters in Sudan documents allegations of human rights violations committed by the security forces against mostly peaceful protesters over the past two years. It reveals a disturbing pattern of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and excessive use of force, including the use of live ammunition resulting in scores of deaths and injuries. It also reveals a widespread state of impunity in which those allegedly responsible for these violations are not held to account.
“The violent crackdown on dissent has meant that people expressing genuine grievances at government repression and economic austerity measures are met with batons, beatings and bullets,” said Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher.
“The use of unnecessary or disproportionate force, including at times lethal force, by the security forces appears to be a deliberate attempt to crush protest. The absence of accountability for those in the security forces illustrates the dangerous culture of impunity that exists in Sudan,” said Katherine Perks, Programme Director at ACJPS.
The report examines four protests that were violently dispersed by the police, the National Intelligence Security Services (NISS), and other security forces. These include country-wide protests in June 2012 and September/October 2013 as well as demonstrations at Al Jazeera University in December 2012 and the University of Khartoum in March 2014.
The government response to these protests was characterised by excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment with protesters beaten and fired on with rubber bullets and live ammunition by security forces. At least 185 people were killed during the 2013 protests.
Unlawful use of force
During the 2012 protests, twelve demonstrators - ten of whom were children - were killed by gunfire on a single day. Of the 185 killed during the 2013 protests, the majority were shot in the head or chest. Many others were shot in the back. One of the dead was found to have been wounded by gunfire and then shot again at point-blank range.
There are numerous instances where police and NISS reportedly blocked protester’s access to hospitals or arrested injured demonstrators as they arrived seeking medical treatment. Others chose not to go to hospital for fear of arrest and intimidation.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
Since 2012, hundreds of demonstrators, including scores of human rights defenders, members of political opposition parties, students and other activists, have been detained and held incommunicado without charge. Many detainees were reportedly subjected to ill-treatment, with some being punched, kicked, electrocuted and beaten with rubber hoses by NISS agents.
Reports indicate that some detainees were made to stand outside for hours in the heat whilst others were placed in cells which were kept deliberately cold. Some were forced to adopt stress positions and others were subjected to threats of rape and other verbal abuse of a sexual nature. Many were kept in overcrowded conditions and denied food, water and access to basic hygiene facilities.
Despite credible evidence of human rights violations, the government of Sudan has repeatedly failed to ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations, nor has it taken steps to provide reparation to the victims. While it has set up Committees with a mandate to investigate the incidents, their composition, the parameters of their investigations and their findings have never been made public.
Immunities provided in law to government officials, including members of the NISS and the police, have acted as an obstacle to accountability, as they create legal barriers to effective investigations and prosecutions into human rights violations.
One year on, only one of 85 criminal complaints made by families of the victims of the 2013 protests has gone to trial. Criminal complaints that have been lodged by victims and their families have been met with a lack of will to investigate by the competent authorities. Some of those who lodged complaints have faced harassment and intimidation and, knowing these risks, the majority of victims have not attempted to seek justice.
“Victims and their families are still awaiting justice and there is an urgent need for transparent, thorough and impartial investigations into the killings, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment inflicted on protesters since 2012,” said Katherine Perks.
“It is vital that those responsible for these human right violations are brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty and that the laws that grant security forces immunities are urgently reformed,” said Manar Idriss.
After South Sudan’s independence in 2011, Sudan lost two thirds of its oil revenue and with this, saw its economy deteriorate. With cuts in fuel subsidies, high food prices and an increasingly repressive environment, the years 2012 and 2013 saw a surge in protests.
The report is based on research carried out between June 2012 and August 2014. Amnesty International and ACJPS have relied on testimonies from eyewitnesses and victims of human rights violations and their families, as well as on information provided to Amnesty International and ACJPS by university students, activists from youth groups, journalists, and lawyers that are part of the Sudanese civil society.
Amnesty International has not been granted access to Sudan since 2006.
In cases where demonstrators did resort to violence, throwing stones and burning tires, the response by security services, including incidents where live ammunition was fired, was unnecessary and disproportionate.
In the past two years, a deteriorating economy and other austerity measures have fuelled popular discontent amongst the Sudanese people, leading to a surge in demonstrations across the country. The government continues to use a number of tactics to stifle dissent such as the criminalisation of the exercise of freedoms of expression and assembly, excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment. This report demonstrates that the police and other security forces have repeatedly violated their obligations, resulting in a series of unlawful killings and injuries to civilians.