Hundreds of thousands took to the streets calling for the overthrow of the military junta, in at least 19 cities and towns across Sudan on October 25, marking one year since the military coup. With the internet shut down from 9am to 6pm, the army, police and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) — the notorious militia accused of war crimes in Darfur — attacked the protesters with live fire, tear gas and batons, and even ran over some people with armoured vehicles.
At least 185 injuries were recorded in hospitals in the state of Khartoum alone, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD). Many others injured are not counted in this figure because security forces took several measures to stop the wounded from reaching hospitals.
The CCSD said that one ambulance rushing an injured protester to a hospital in Omdruman, one of three cities in Khartoum, was stopped and attacked with sticks and stones by security forces.
Security forces also entered another hospital in Omdurman located close to where protesters were rallying. Stationing themselves inside, they fired tear gas at the protesters outside.
“There are patients in critical condition in the hospital … [U]sing its premises to fire tear gas ... confirms” the military junta’s disregard for the lives of the Sudanese, the CCSD said. It also reported that the entrance to at least one other hospital in Omdurman was barricaded. Such attempts by security forces to prevent the injured from receiving timely medical care have contributed to the high death toll of protesters since the coup, the CCSD said.
Twenty-year-old Abu al-Qasim died in Omdurman after being run over by security forces with an armoured vehicle — a systematic practice documented in several videos since the coup.
Qasim was the 119th protester killed since the coup, according to the CCSD. According to some other estimates, 120 protesters have been killed since the coup on October 25 last year. More than 7000 protesters have been injured, hundreds of whom are still undergoing treatment. Hundreds of others are under arrest, and custodial torture is widespread.
Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands have continued to rally against the junta since the coup. This is testimony to the “determination” of the Sudanese people to “send the army back to the barracks”, said Osama Saeed, a member of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), who was at the rally from Omdurman to the neighbouring city of Khartoum, the national capital of Sudan.
To stop this rally and another coming from Khartoum Bahri from reaching the capital to join the march to the presidential palace — the seat of the coup leader — security forces blocked the connecting bridges with large containers. And yet, hundreds of thousands mobilised from the neighbourhoods of Khartoum city alone.
Most of the injuries recorded by the CCSD — 125 of the 185 — were from the capital. Marches here originated from 20 different locations and aimed to converge at the presidential palace. Despite heavy deployment of security forces along the anticipated routes of the march, protesters managed to cross several junctions and main roads — many stretches under fire — and reached El Gasr street, only a kilometre from the palace.
Rallies and demonstrations also took place in at least four cities in the war-torn Darfur region in western Sudan, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced and several hundred killed since the coup in multiple massacres by militias armed by the state.
Protests were also reported in the north-eastern city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast and in Dongola in Northern state, among several other cities across the length and breadth of Sudan.
“No negotiation, no compromise, no partnership” with the military was a common slogan from the demonstrations across the country. While commending the “revolutionaries”, the mainstream right-wing parties of the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) coalition have already entered into a negotiation with the military to strike a compromise to form a government in partnership by sharing state power.
These negotiations have been underway on two parallel tracks. One is led by the United Nations, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a trade bloc of eight African countries. On the other end, the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are also cajoling the military and the right-wing parties to find common ground.
Immunity for coup leaders on the table
Bloomberg reported on October 17 that “the secret US-brokered discussions” are nearing a deal under which the military is likely to be offered “independence and immunity from prosecution”, while civilians will be appointed as the prime minister and head of state.
“A proposed new transitional constitution drafted by the Sudanese Bar Association [SBA] has been used as a starting point for the deal, although elements such as concessions to the army have been added,” said the Bloomberg report.
The draft proposed by the SBA for a new transitional constitution envisions some legal immunities for members of the Sovereignty Council, the highest body of the transitional government, where FFC-chosen civilians will also get some seats. However, one of the clauses of the draft which might go out under the “concessions to the army” clarifies: “Legal immunity shall not be deemed valid with regard to all the violations and crimes committed since the 30th of June 1989.”
On this date, Omar al Bashir came to power in a military coup in Sudan and set up an Islamist regime under his dictatorship. He was overthrown in April 2019, four months after the start of the December Revolution in 2018. However, following his removal by the army, under pressure from unrelenting mass demonstrations, Bashir’s inner circle of trusted generals formed a military junta presided over by the current coup leader, General Abdel Fattah al Burhan.
The mass sit-in demonstration outside the army headquarters in Khartoum continued, demanding that the army cede power to a civilian transitional government. On June 3, 2019, the RSF — which is led by the junta’s deputy president Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemeti — was ordered to clear the sit-in. Over a hundred people were killed in the massacre that followed — hundreds more were injured and several raped.
It was in the aftermath of this massacre that the right-wing parties in the FFC started negotiations and finally reached an agreement with the junta. A joint civilian-military transitional government, much like the one being negotiated now, was formed in August 2019. Under the arrangement, the army held sovereign power to declare war and make foreign policy. Most of the economy also remained in the control of the army.
The little state power that the army shared with the FFC-chosen civilian members was also taken back in the coup. Only months later, the FFC was back in negotiations with the army, and reportedly making additional concessions — over and above what was already made in the 2019 power-sharing agreement called the Constitutional Document.
This arrangement had also included immunity to Sovereignty Council members, which could however be lifted by the Legislative Council. However, before this body could be formed, Burhan led the coup last October seizing all power in the hands of the military.
Emma DiNapoli, legal officer at REDRESS, an international organisation campaigning against torture and working with survivors argued that “[N]o concessions to the military in relation to immunities should be accepted by either Sudanese opposition groups or international mediators — since this would be contrary to the international prohibition on amnesties in respect of international crimes subject to a treaty-based obligation to prosecute. This includes genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and enforced disappearance.”
Deposed dictator Bashir is standing trial at the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. But the RSF, which is made up of members accused of being the foot-soldiers who carried out these atrocities during the civil war in Darfur under Bashir, has been tasked since 2019 to police the protesters in Khartoum. The RSF is also accused of pouring weapons into so-called “tribal conflicts” manufactured by the junta in another war-torn state, Blue Nile.
Several hundreds have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in Darfur since the coup, due to attacks by RSF-backed militias. A depopulation campaign dressed up as a “tribal war” is alleged to be underway in this region, which is rich in minerals such as gold, whose mining has been monopolised by the family of RSF-head and the junta’s deputy president Hemeti.
Hemeti is said to be the most powerful person in Sudan, heading a paramilitary organisation which operates outside the Sudanese Armed Forces and controls more than a billion dollars in finance. An agreement on immunity for Sovereignty Council members would give Hemeti an added layer of constitutional protection from prosecution.
It is important to note, however, that even without the immunity concessions to the junta’s generals, the idea of sharing state power with the military has been resoundingly rejected in the popular slogans on the streets.
‘Revolutionaries will prevail’
Time and again, the demand for full civilian transitional government, under which the junta’s generals will be prosecuted for their crimes, has been reiterated by the Resistance Committees (RCs). Organised in neighbourhoods across Sudan, a network of over 5000 RCs are spearheading the anti-coup demonstrations.
“Let us be clear: The revolution will continue and the revolutionaries will prevail, despite … physical threats,” said a statement by the Khartoum RCs Coordination Committee (KRCCC) following the demonstrations on October 25.
The junta in turn ratcheted up the physical threats by accusing unarmed pro-democracy protesters of being “forces trained with armed military formations that embrace violence and sabotage”, in a statement by its “Ministry of Internal Security”.
It went on to “appeal to the Ministry of Justice ... to impose exceptional measures to enable us to confront these groups ... and present the perpetrators to successful justice” with “brief trials” for “crimes against the state”. The junta also asked for measures that allow them to take action against “intruders of the state’s prestige”.
“It’s a habit of the Sudanese Police Forces to fabricate stories about peaceful protests in order to legitimize ... arbitrary detention, torture and murder. We call on all human rights agencies and national and international organizations to continue to closely monitor and document violations by the Sudanese Police Forces against peaceful protestors and activists,” the Khartoum RCs said.
“As the number of those killed reaches 120 martyrs since the October 25th 2021 coup, and thousands since 2019, our determination shall not wane, nor shall we be discouraged from achieving our goal of establishing full civilian democratic rule,” the KRCCC statement reiterated.
The scale and spread of the protests on October 25 demonstrate the refusal of the masses to make compromises with the military, the SCP said in a statement. Instead of “forcing the dictatorial regime to relinquish power ... if the Sudanese revolution takes the path of settlement”, any share of political power ceded to the army will be used to prevent its restructuring, the party warned.
The urgent task of disarming all the militias, including the RSF, and establishing a unified national army — as opposed to the current coalition of warlords — can never be accomplished until the army is subjugated to a democratic civil authority, the SCP maintains. A failure to accomplish this task would mean the bloodletting in Blue Nile, South Kordofan and the states of Darfur region will continue.
Mass immiseration will continue as the “government resulting from a settlement will follow the same [International Monetary Fund]-prescribed economic policies of the former regime”, the SCP statement said. Eighty-two percent of state finances that are controlled by the military can never be wrested free from its stranglehold by reaching a settlement, it pointed out.
“Even the rank-and-file members of the right-wing parties in FFC are standing with the revolutionaries on the ground,” Saeed told Peoples Dispatch. “They understand that overthrowing this junta is the only way forward. But their leadership has bourgeois interests.”
“They are taking advantage of the severe economic distress and trying to convince people that the US and IMF will provide financial support and help alleviate their suffering if a compromise is reached,” he said. “And people really are suffering.”
The prices of staple foods have risen by 250–300% since the coup, and were “550–700% above the five-year average” as of last month, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network. As of September, “650,000 kids are suffering from severe acute malnutrition”, said Mandeep O’Brien, UN Children’s Fund representative in Sudan. “If not treated, half of them will die.”
Saeed says it is “understandable” that under these desperate conditions, the prospect of finding some international relief through the FFC’s compromise with the army may have some takers. “But for the majority of the masses on the streets,” it has by now become clear that unless the junta is overthrown and democratic civilian rule is established, there is no escaping from the cycles of starvation and bloodshed that Sudan has been reeling under.
“The US, UK, Saudis and other international actors trying to bring about a settlement between the right-wing parties and the army have no interest in democracy,” argues Saeed. He insists that the correct line is not to enter into a negotiation, but to work on strengthening the RCs, the trade union movement and the farmers’ organisations, and create what the SCP calls “Unified Centres” in all regions to coordinate actions between them.
The task, he says, is “to sufficiently raise the level of organisation” of the resistance movement to be able to deliver a fatal blow to the junta; an indefinite and total political general strike and civil disobedience that can paralyse the state machinery and force its surrender.
[Abridged from Peoples Dispatch.]