On April 11 Sudanese protesters took to the streets in the capital city of Khartoum to celebrate the stepping down of long-standing former president Omar al-Bashir. Hopes of democracy and civilian rule flooded the crowd. However, the removal of one man from power proved not enough to dismantle the deeply entrenched military structure of the Sudanese government.
The country’s hopes of democracy were shattered on June 3 when peaceful protesters
were met with the sound of gunfire during the sit-in outside Khartoum’s army headquarters. Over a hundred civilians have been murdered and 700 injured by regime forces. Moreover, there are widespread reports of sexual assaults, mass rapes, beatings, and bodies floating in the river Nile following callous efforts to dispose of evidence.
Much of the ensuing brutality was at the hands of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and their commander, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dogolo – more commonly known as Hemeti – who was a close political ally of Sudan’s former president. As an early leader of the Janjaweed, Hemeti has been instrumental in the atrocities committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, leaving a trail of human rights abuse allegations in his wake. Hemeti has spread his tide of brute force to the capital city of Khartoum as the notorious Janjaweed have been rebranded as the RSF. The ghastly violence experienced in Khartoum for the past two weeks has been routine for those in Darfur since the genocide began in 2003.
As the most powerful man in Sudan currently, Hemeti has the support of regional allies - bankrolled by corrupt dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. According to sources, Hemeti met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohamed bin Salman in May, offering the support of Sudanese troops in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen against Iran and Houthi militias – one of the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have played an influential role in facilitating the RSF, propping them up with a £2.35bn aid package.
Following the attacks, Sudan has been suspended by the African Union amid growing fears that the ruling military regime could descend into civil war. The decision by the union should put pressure to some extent on Hemeti to give in to a civilian-led authority through sanctions and diplomatic isolation on the continent. However, this is not enough - without global pressure condemning Hemeti’s acts, it is likely that Sudan will be transformed from a military regime to a militia state as major western states watch from the side lines.
The US, which for years demanded democratic reform in Sudan, has been noticeably silent now that Sudan’s watershed movement has finally arrived. This is in part because of President Trump’s support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The UK minister for Africa, Harriet Baldwin, has expressed to Sudan’s ambassador that Britain is “utterly appalled” by the “sickening and brutal acts” – yet this is not the time for empty words. These claims require the support of keen diplomatic efforts to assist the safe transfer of power to a legitimate civilian-led transitional government. Global condemnation and prosecution of those who are suspected of international crimes is imperative. We must not turn a blind eye to Sudan’s genocidaires and war criminals. Countries cannot become a haven for unexplained wealth orders or asset-freezing orders for dirty money. Repatriation and imprisonment can halt the profits of crimes from being laundered into the global financial system.
The Transitional Military Council’s intention to hold premature elections in nine months must be met by global resistance. The UN resolution condemning the attacks in Khartoum has been blocked by China and Russia which opposed foreign intervention in Sudan. While Sudan’s Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) leaders believe that establishing a democratic system is the route to peace and stability, the military junta upholds the argument that democracy means chaos. The difference is of course that FFC politicians and activists are not guilty of the atrocious crimes committed in Khartoum over the past two weeks.
Hemeti must be recognised globally as the criminal warlord that he is and his actions should be condemned by the International Criminal Court. If the TMC is granted legitimacy, it is not far fetched to predict Sudan’s spiral into civil war. If the military junta continues down this bloody path it is entirely possible Sudan will suffer the same fate as the kind of conflict seen in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.