On Thursday, August 1, the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors reported that at least four protesters were killed and many were injured by gunfire in Omdurman, Sudan as thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against the country’s military rulers. On the following day, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the country’s most powerful paramilitary group, dismissed and detained nine soldiers in connection with the killings.
Earlier in the week on Monday, six young people, including five schoolchildren, were killed in the state capital of El-Obeid while protesting over bread and food shortages. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the military council, called Monday’s killings “regrettable and upsetting.” The state news agency quoted al-Burhan saying, “The killing of peaceful citizens is unacceptable and rejected and a crime that requires immediate and deterrent accountability.” According to Reuters, Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi stated that the governor of North Kordofan state and its security council would be held accountable for the protester deaths on Monday.
After the army overthrew long-time leader Omar al-Bashir in April, Sudan has been in political turmoil as the military and opposition groups are struggling for power. Celebration quickly turned into further demonstrations as the generals announced military rule for the next two years, followed by elections. Protests have sprung up, denouncing the military’s use of violence and demanding justice for the economic hardship and shortages suffered by civilians. In July, a deal was signed to secure a three-year transition period and a joint sovereign council with rotating leadership after intervention by Ethiopia and pressure from world powers. A constitutional declaration, however, is still in the works.
The RSF’s quick response to the protester killings is reassuring, showing their disapproval of violent tactics and their commitment to civilian protection. The violence against peaceful protesters, especially against the young teenagers, violated the civilians’ freedom of assembly. As citizens in a changing political landscape, the Sudanese people have a right to demand a share of power in rule. According to Reuters, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) welcomed the action against the RSF members, saying it would prevent further violence. Previously, when the Sudanese protested against the RSF and their reputation for violence, RSF commander General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo denied claims and blamed “infiltrators” instead. This change in attitude shows how the RSF is willing to work peacefully with opposition groups for the future of Sudan governance.
The killings happened on the same day that opposition leaders and the military were meeting to discuss a draft of the constitutional declaration. There had previously been a disagreement over the rights of the sovereign council. The opposition demanded that the council, the governing body until elections are held, should not be granted blanket immunity from prosecution for past crimes. However, they came to an agreement on Thursday of procedural immunity, meaning that officials could be tried with a two-thirds agreement by the legislative council. Another key point regarding composition of the legislative council reached agreement as well, in which parties included in the FFC will have two-thirds of the council and the remaining seats will be granted to other groups. Satea al-Hajj, a leader in the FFC coalition of opposition groups, seemed hopeful. “The agreement is really now just around the corner,” al-Hajj said in a press conference in Khartoum on Thursday.
However, the violence could have had severe implications on the relationship between opposition leaders and the military. Khalid Omar, a spokesperson for the FFC, told the New York Times that the killings will “surely have a negative effect on the talks and on the relationship between the two negotiating sides.” Fortunately, the RSF’s decision to detain the soldiers responsible and investigate further may have quelled disagreements down the road, as a draft of the constitutional declaration was agreed on by Sudanese factions and seen by Reuters on Saturday.
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