The morning of Monday 29 July brought more grim news from Sudan, where Sudanese government paramilitaries attacked a group of peacefully protesting schoolchildren, gunning down at least six, most of whom were teenagers.
The Guardian reports that these students, many of whom were still wearing their school uniforms, were protesting water shortages, a lack of public transportation, and electrical outages within El-Obeid, the capital of the North Kordofan state in central Sudan.
Reports and videos by Middle East Eye depict a merciless assault by the paramilitaries in El-Obeid, with the assailants using trucks mounted with heavy machine guns firing over the heads of the students in the crowd, likely in an effort to disperse the young protestors, before opening fire on the protestors themselves. Following the massacre, the governor of North Kordofan imposed a 9:00 P.M. to 6:00 A.M. curfew within El-Obeid and three other cities, in order to forestall future violence.
The perpetrators of this attack belong to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a government paramilitary unit described by Al Jazeera as having formed from the infamous Janjaweed militia forces previously responsible for various atrocities in Darfur during the civil war that began in 2003 in the region. In 2015, the RSF were recognized as a regular unit of the Sudanese military by the country’s longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir, and became a kind of Praetorian Guard that reported directly to the president. Monday’s assault on unarmed protestors follows a similar incident last month, in which more than one hundred protestors were killed by the RSF within the nation’s capital of Khartoum. The RSF is led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hameti. He is also a member of a group of ten military officers making up the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which has been leading Sudan since al-Bashir stepped down following popular protests in April. Hameti is seen as one of the most powerful members of the TMC.
According to UNICEF, Monday’s attack is a direct violation of both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and the Sudan Child Act of 2010. Among other rights, the UNCRC specifies in its second article that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.” Meanwhile, the Sudan Child Act of 2010 mandates that children within the country are to be protected from injury, violence, inhumane treatment, and exploitation. A spokesperson for UNICEF called upon all parties involved in the incident to respect the terms of domestic and international laws, and uphold human rights, stating that “no child should have to be buried in their school uniform.”
Response from opposition forces in Sudan has been swift, as the Guardian reported that demonstrations calling for justice for the dead schoolchildren were taking place on Tuesday within various cities, including Khartoum, Port Sudan, and Omdurman, as well as El-Obeid itself. The Guardian also stated that talks between opposition organizations, including the Sudanese Professionals’ Association, and the TMC, had been suspended in the wake of the massacre in El-Obeid. Middle East Eye reported that these talks, initially scheduled for Tuesday, were aimed at creating a new interim executive council composed of both civilian and military leaders that would run the country before a full transition to civilian rule.
Reuters reports that the TMC’s response has been careful, with its overall leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan calling the massacre in El-Obeid “regrettable,” and calling for a return to negotiations by all parties, stating that the generals of the TMC were ready to resume negotiations. This reflects what Al Jazeera describes as a power struggle between the regular army led by al-Burhan, the intelligence services, and the RSF led by Hameti, as various military factions vie for control and influence in the uncertainty following al-Bashir’s departure.
In any event, Monday’s tragic events underscore the extremely fragile situation faced by the Sudanese people in terms of human rights and justice, as the country tries to move past more than thirty years of authoritarian rule.
An update from 3 August reveals that a source from within the African Union told Al Jazeera that despite the earlier breakdown of negotiations, the previous terms of the agreement were reached between opposition and military leaders. The council of 11 civilian and military administrators will run Sudan during a three year transition period, with its first leader being from the military. Additionally, a proportional representative assembly of 300 members will exercise legislative power during this period. With this news, a more peaceful transition to democracy seems more likely.