A new report released today by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) sheds more light on the 3 June attack in Sudan, implicating the Rapid Support Force militia and other security forces in a planned attack that affected far larger numbers than previous assessments.
On 3 June, security forces under the direction of the Transitional Military Council surrounded Sudan’s main protest site around the army headquarters in Khartoum and proceeded to attack the demonstrators in one of the most violent raids recorded. Based on eyewitness accounts and crowdsourcing research, the targeting of the protestors was designed to clear the protest site and to quell any further civic action.
Using a multi-source verification process, PHR estimates that up to 241 people were killed in the attack, possibly double previous estimates. Previously, data on those killed in Khartoum fluctuated widely, even within government agencies, according to Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
A planned attack, security forces were aiming to do as much bodily harm as possible. “What was strange is that they didn’t shoot in the limbs…in the legs, no. There were shooting either directly to the chest or to the head,” said Dr Yaseen, who treated patients near Blue Nile Bridge on 3 June. “Even the tear gas should not kill you, but rather than using the tear gas just to shoot in the air, no, they shoot directly to the head.”
PHR’s research indicates that the notorious Rapid Support Force (RSF) militia was at the forefront of the violence against the pro-democracy protestors, Phelim Kine, PHR’s deputy program director of research and investigations told Ayin. Witnesses also described how senior army officers ordered junior officers to surrender the protestors to the RSF.
The RSF forces were not the same ones that previously patrolled the city, but new and often very young recruits taken from outside, PHR reported. Interviewees indicated that during the weeks prior to June 3, the soldiers were replaced with new, antagonistic RSF personnel from Darfur, notable for their distinct accents and lack of familiarity with central Khartoum. Perhaps most importantly, the new RSF cadres were disconnected from any personal attachments to the demonstrators based at the protest site. Usman, an active protester, reported that the forces deployed to the sit-in area on 3 June included boys who appeared to be between 12 and 15 years old, wearing new, oversized riot police uniforms, “like when a child wears their dad’s clothes,” and armed with pieces of metal pipe. Dr Abbas, a physician present at the sit-in on 3 June who was detained by RSF, said his captors told him many RSF personnel were dressed in other uniforms since, he said, there were too many RSF to clothe them all in RSF uniforms.
Targeting medical workers, facilities
While all participants in the pro-democracy protests were targeted, medical workers and their facilities were especially singled out, PHR reported. “Security forces targeted physicians and other medical personnel with harassment, intimidation and violence for the simple reason that doctors and nurses have literally been at the front lines of demanding change in Sudan over the past 18 months,” Kine told Ayin. The report documents a pattern of attacks on health care providers, with an estimated 136 physicians detained during the 3 June attack, as well as prevention of access to care at nearby health facilities.
“You’re the reason for all this chaos and this whole mess … you’re the reason why the country’s like this, you’re the reason why we kill people, you’re the reason why people die, you’re the reason, you’re the reason!” –shouted an RSF militiaman to Dr. Abbas after capturing the young doctor and forcing him to treat wounded RSF patients. According to Dr Abbas, the security forces singularly targeted doctors.
Ahmed was detained and tortured by the RSF who cut open a healed scar and then put out cigarettes in the open wound, PHR reported. His crime? The RSF mistakenly thought Ahmed was a doctor.
Security forces attacked makeshift clinics and fully functioning hospitals alike. The Central Committee of Doctors reported on 9 June that the RSF targeting of medical personnel had led to the closing of eight hospitals. One of the worst affected was Royal Care Hospital, where armed forces wearing RSF and riot police uniforms surrounded the premises, effectively blocking the injured access as early as noon on 3 June. Dr. Haitham said RSF ordered the medical staff to kick out all injured protestors from Royal Care Hospital. Dr. Haitham added that they complied with the demand but RSF forces continued to surround the facility for two days, firing so much tear gas all around the building.
Besides singling out medical staff, the security forces were also racist in their targeting, PHR reported. Many survivors mentioned their attacker’s racial hostility, even splitting some of them by colour ordering “Arabs” into one line and “Abids (slaves)” into another. Multiple interviews reported a pregnant woman with darker, African features being beaten under the Blue Nile Bridge. “Some of these soldiers were holding whips and beating her up, asking who the father is. Doctors attempted to stop the attack, one eyewitness reported, given her advance pregnancy but the RSF continued to beat her until she lost consciousness.
Many grievances, little justice
Despite the multitude of grievances and confirmations of these attacks, PHR fears there is little chance for survivors to achieve justice. An independent national commission was set up via the constitution to conduct “a transparent, meticulous investigation of violations committed on 3 June 2019.” But at least half of the Sovereign Council members in Sudan are loyal to the RSF, the main perpetrators in these attacks, PHR said. “There are inherent risks to conducting prosecutions while these forces retain the majority of the country’s weapons and govern, even in tandem, with civilian leadership,” Kine said. In this setting, few survivors and prosecutors will feel safe enough to come forward with evidence, ensuring the culprits’ relative immunity. The report’s findings indicate serious violations took place that, given their severity, could be considered international crimes.