The Sudanese government must end politically-motivated and sometimes deadly attacks on Darfuri students at universities across the country, said Amnesty International today as it released a report covering a wave of attacks spanning three years.
“Dozens of students have been killed, injured and expelled from universities since 2014 for organizing around and speaking out against human rights violations in Darfur,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“This continues an appalling pattern that continues to see Darfuri students being subject to arrest, detention, as well as torture and other ill-treatment, since the conflict in Darfur broke out in 2003, often compromising their continued access to higher education.”
“These deliberate and shameful attacks on students are totally unacceptable and must be brought to a speedy end.”
According to the report, the attacks are mostly carried out by agents of Sudan’s National Intelligence Security Service (NISS) and student supporters of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), also sometimes referred to as “Jihad Units.”
These deliberate and shameful attacks on students are totally unacceptable and must be brought to a speedy end.Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes
On 31 January 2016, the NISS, working with ruling party-affiliated students, violently disrupted a peaceful seminar at El Geneina University organized by students affiliated with the Sudan Liberation Movement/Abdul Wahid Al Nur (SLM/AW), an armed opposition group. One student, Salah al-Din Qamar Ibrahim, was killed, and a number of others seriously injured. According to an eyewitness, Qamar, a fourth-year economics student, died after a security agent hit him on the head with an iron bar and a rifle butt.
In a separate incident, Salma (not her real name), a member of the Darfur Female Students’ Association at the University of Khartoum, was arrested twice in 2014 for campaigning against the forced eviction of female Darfuri students from their housing complex. During her first arrest and interrogation in March, she was insulted, beaten with batons and a rifle butt, hose pipes and sticks, and tortured with electric shocks. The second time, in October, she was drugged and raped by four intelligence officers at their offices in Khartoum.
“I woke up and found myself laying on the bed naked. All four security officers were there looking at me, and then one of them showed me a video clip of them raping me,” she told Amnesty International from exile.
Another student, Abdel, was arrested when security agents and pro-government students wielding knives, iron bars and machine guns broke up a peaceful protest by Darfuri students at El Geneina University in January 2016. He said: “They mercilessly beat me with a black plastic water pipe all over my body, on my bare back and feet.”
This suppression of Darfuri students’ rights to expression and association – as well as the interruption of their education – cannot be tolerated.Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes
Amnesty International researchers carried out 84 interviews between October 2015 and October 2016 for the report, including with 52 students from 14 universities across Sudan, 32 lawyers, activists, journalists and academics.
The majority of the students were interviewed in exile, having fled abroad to continue their education after they were expelled or subjected to other forms of persecution in Sudan.
Some of them told Amnesty International that their attackers accused them of supporting armed groups fighting the government, an accusation they deny. Others said they were targeted for demanding the full implementation of a fee-exemption policy for Darfuri students agreed to by the Sudanese government during peace talks with Darfuri armed groups in 2006 and 2011.
“This suppression of Darfuri students’ rights to expression and association – as well as the interruption of their education – cannot be tolerated. The government must fully investigate and bring those responsible to account, as well as ensure effective remedies for victims, including by guaranteeing full access to reparations,” said Muthoni Wanyeki.
“The government must also take measures to reduce the intelligence agency’s unfettered powers of arrest and detention, and establish a judicial mechanism to oversee it in order to stop these gross excesses.”
This report is released only days after the US government issued an order easing sanctions against the Sudanese government.
“The US ordering the easing of sanctions against Sudan must not lead to the international community letting the government off the hook for its appalling human rights record, including these horrific abuses against students and the use of chemical weapons that we reported on last September.
“The international community’s silence on rights abuses in Sudan would send a strong message that the people of Sudan don’t matter in the wider context of the fight against terrorism,” said Muthoni Wanyeki.
Thirteen years since the conflict in Darfur first broke out in 2003, security forces continue to commit serious violations of human rights in the region.
A new offensive launched in 2016 against armed opposition groups in Darfur’s Jebel Marra region has seen government forces use excessive force, including what appear to be chemical weapons. They have also carried out widespread killings, and displaced more than 160,000 people from their homes.
The Darfur situation was referred to the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council in 2005 and an arrest warrant issued for President Omar Al Bashir in 2009 on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but he remains at large over seven years later.
Security agents have targeted students from Darfur in particular, using the armed conflict both an excuse and a mask for human rights violations.