Sudan’s Tiananmen Moment: Democracy Protestors Murdered And Dumped In Nile

Peaceful pro-democracy protestors have been slaughtered in Sudan’s capital Khartoum following the breakdown of talks between military and civilian leaders, regarding the transition to civilian authority and democratic elections, triggered by the usurpation of long-standing dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir in April.

Al-Bashir’s 30-year grip on the country was terminated by a military coup that placed the Transitional Military Council in power to oversee a transition to civilian rule in the build-up to new elections. However, these intentions were cast into doubt on 3 June when security forces stormed a civilian sit-in outside military headquarters, shooting and beating unarmed protestors. The brutality killed over 100 people and injured 326, while 40 bodies were pulled from the River Nile, according to the doctor’s group that organised the protest. There were also reports from doctors of militia members blocking ambulance access to medical units.

“They weren’t shooting in the air, they were shooting directly at people…it was a massacre,” said Ahmed Kwarte, a photographer and activist who witnessed the chaos. Western countries, the African Union, and the United Nations have all condemned the brutality which echoes that which was seen in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, and in Egypt with the Rabaa massacre of 2013. Meanwhile, Islamic dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who support the military in Sudan, have also called for a return to order.

The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has placed blame with the Transitional Military Council, but video evidence suggests the Rapid Support Forces are responsible. A Rapid Support Forces spokesperson, Major General Othman Hamed, described the non-violent protests as a threat to national security, supposedly justifying his forces’ actions.

The Alliance for Freedom and Change has been calling for civilian governance for 6 months now and there has been nation-wide galvanization around this movement in post-Bashir times. Meanwhile, the Rapid Support Services have been patrolling the streets of Khartoum, some dressed in the disguise of police uniform, murdering, raping and humiliating civilians. Some of this militia participated in the atrocities seen in Darfur in Western Sudan, in the 2000s with the genocide against its non-Arab population. Now, they have brought their disregard for human rights and civil rights to Khartoum.

A country with more years in civil war than not since independence from Britain in 1956, Sudan looked to be on a hopeful return to civilian rule and democracy when former President al-Bashir was removed from power and imprisoned. However, the recent brutality has cast doubt over the intentions of the Transitional Military Council, despite its Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan assuring, just a day after the killings, that an election will be held within nine months. Leading military generals are also open to further talks with civilian leaders over governance structure – namely who should lead, either soldiers or civilians – in this transitional period. However, the opposition group has rejected such an idea.

Sudan is now experiencing the all-too-familiar feeling of chaos and uncertainty when the climate initially looked more hopeful. There is the potential for the nation to spiral into its third major civil war since independence and this would be devastating. The international community has an interest to prevent this: especially Europe, given the wave of Sudanese migrants that would surely dash across the Mediterranean Sea to escape civil war. Whether the Transitional Military Council can successfully negotiate a peaceful transition with civilian opposition is uncertain, but one thing that does need to happen is international community intervention to avoid the outbreak of armed conflict at all costs and facilitate peace talks.