Human Rights in Africa: Review of 2019 - Sudan [AFR 01/1352/2020]


The year was marked by a deepening economic crisis, excessive use of force and unlawful killings by Sudanese security forces against peaceful protesters which resulted in at least 177 people killed and thousands injured. Security forces used live ammunition against demonstrators, beat them on the streets and in hospitals and arbitrarily detained thousands who faced torture and other ill-treatment in detention. These violations mainly remain under investigation. Government forces and allied militias continued to carry out war crimes and other serious human rights abuses in Darfur with full impunity.


Political unrest which, in December 2018, brought Sudanese people to the streets to express their anger over the rising cost of living and erosion of political freedoms, quickly gathered momentum. The protests led to a military coup in April which overthrew the National Congress Party (NCP) government, and President al-Bashir and other senior party leaders were arrested. On 17 August 2019, after lengthy negotiations between the military and a coalition of opposition groups, the Constitutional Declaration was signed. It contained a new Bill of Rights strengthening the protection of human rights. On 21 August, the Transitional Military Council (TMC) was dissolved and a new Sovereign Council and Prime Minister were appointed. A new cabinet was formed in September.

Excessive use of force and unlawful killings

The year was marked by sustained and brutal attacks by security forces against peaceful protesters, following mass street protests which began in December 2018 in response to the economic and political crisis, and the systematic violation of a wide range of human rights. By April, when President al-Bashir was deposed, the use of excessive and lethal force had left 77 civilians dead and hundreds injured. In the period up to April, National Intelligence Security Service officers committed unlawful killings, mainly as a result of live ammunition used to disperse protesters. Hundreds of demonstrators were also beaten, arbitrarily arrested and detained, and faced torture and other ill-treatment, to suppress their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

In Khartoum, the capital, and elsewhere, the security forces frequently attacked residential areas and entered houses and hospitals. In one incident on 9 January, officers entered a hospital and fired live bullets and tear gas, searching for people being treated for gunshot wounds sustained during protests earlier in the day in Omdurman, on the outskirts of Khartoum. The security officers opened fire in the hospital courtyard and marched into the emergency and medical sections of the Omdurman Hospital, [beating] patients and doctors. At least three people had been killed in the demonstration that day as a result of gunfire, while eight people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds in the head, chest, stomach and legs

On 24 February, security forces fired live ammunition and tear gas at protesters in Khartoum state, injuring at least three people. Another group of officers forced their way into the University of Medical Sciences and Technology campus in Khartoum where students were peacefully protesting. They fired tear gas into classrooms, beat up students and arrested dozens of them.

Security forces continued to use excessive force against protestors following President al-Bashir’s deposal in April. In June, over 100 protesters were killed in a three-day period in attacks led by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a special military force allied to the former government].[1] In a particularly brutal event, on 3 June, [the RSF and other security forces] attacked a peaceful sit-in in Khartoum state.[2] They arrived at the protest in vehicles without number plates, carrying hundreds of heavily armed soldiers, and fired live bullets and tear gas, beat protesters and set their tents alight and committed horrific acts of sexual violence. At least 100 were killed, while 700 needed medical attention. The wounded were pursued in nearby hospitals. The security forces tried to hide their crimes, dumping dead bodies weighed down with bricks in the River Nile.[3]

Lack of accountability

Since December 2018, only one case relating to human rights violations by security forces against protesters, was brought to trial while other cases remained under investigation. In October, the Prime Minister of the transitional government formed a national, independent investigation Commission which it said would conduct transparent and thorough investigations into human rights violations carried out on 3 June. The Commission was expected to publish its reports and findings within three months. However, the deadline was extended beyond the three months period. Meanwhile, about 40 security force officers were brought to trial for the death of Ahmed El-khair, a 40-year-old teacher who died as result of torture in detention on 1 February. On 30 December 2019, a court in Khartoum sentenced 29 security officers to death for the killing of Ahmed El Khair.

Violations perpetrated in the conflict in Darfur remained unpunished. No investigation has been initiated into war crimes and other serious human rights violations committed in the year or during the previous regime. Sudanese authorities also continued to refuse to surrender suspects under arrest warrant for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Darfur to the International Criminal Court.

Freedoms of expression, assembly and association

During the first four months of the year, the authorities severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. On 22 February, the Government imposed a national state of emergency which led, three days later to five presidential decrees that gave sweeping powers to security forces and which restricted the rights to liberty, security of person, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.[4] This was followed by the deployment of large numbers of security forces, including the army, on the streets.

Thousands who were arrested for participating in peaceful protests in early 2019, many of whom had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention, were released in April after the removal of President al-Bashir’s government. At the end of the year, at least 23 senior National Congress Party members remained in detention after being arrested in April. They had not been charged with a recognizable criminal offence. In June, the Sudanese Professionals Association, which organized protests, issued warnings of an expected attack by security forces to stop a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. Protesters had camped there since 6 April. On 3 June, RSF and other security forces attacked the protesters with firearms and tear gas. Hundreds were arrested, and while many were released an unknown number remain missing. Later, the TMC issued a statement claiming the sit-in was infiltrated by “uncontrollable elements” and had therefore become a hotspot for crime and a threat to the protesters. On the same day, the TMC wrote to diplomatic missions asking them to stay away from the protest site.

Between 3 June and 9 July, the government blocked internet access in a calculated effort to crush any dissent and prevent human rights activists from reporting on the attacks against protesters.

Armed conflict


Despite a reduction in violence in some parts of Darfur, the conflict continued in the Jebel Marra area where the Sudan Liberation Army-Abdul Wahid (SLA-AW) [fought] the Sudanese Army and the RSF. Government forces and allied militias continued to carry out war crimes and other serious human rights abuses including killings, sexual violence, systematic looting and forced displacement.

New satellite evidence and testimonies [which emerged during the year] confirmed that government forces, including the RSF and associated militias, damaged or destroyed at least 45 villages in Jebel Marra between July 2018 and February 2019. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that 6,000 new internally displaced people (IDPs) arrived in Otash IDP camp during the same period, bringing the total number of IDPs from East Jebel Marra in Otash camp to an estimated 10,300 by 26 May. According to OCHA, approximately 2 million people were displaced by violence [throughout] Darfur, many of whom remained as refugees in neighboring Chad.

South Kordofan and Blue Nile

The ceasefire between the government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) in South Kordofan and Blue Nile continued to hold. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network said that the humanitarian situation in SPLM/A-N-controlled areas had reached crisis point in terms of food insecurity, exacerbated by the poor micro-economic conditions in all of Sudan, affecting 1.2 million people living in the area since 2011. By end of 2019 the government agreed to allow humanitarian assistance to SPLM-N controlled areas in South Kordofan and Blue Nile.


[1] Sudan: Remove Rapid Support Forces from Khartoum streets immediately (News story, June 2019)

[2] Sudan: International community should impose sanctions on transitional authorities (News story, June 2019)

[3] Sudan: Soaring violence calls for urgent international response (News story, June 2019)

[4] Sudan: State of emergency intensifies brutal government crackdown on protests (News story, February 2019)