The deadly crackdown by Sudanese security forces against pro-democracy demonstrators last June may have amounted to a crime against humanity, a leading human rights group said Monday.
In a 59-page report, Human Rights Watch urged Sudan’s new transitional government to carry out “independent and transparent” investigation into the events.
The New York-based group said Sudanese military rulers at the time had planned a violent dispersal of a sit-in in the capital, Khartoum, in advance. The sit-in was the cornerstone in the uprising that had led to the military’s overthrow of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April following nationwide protests against his nearly 30-year rule.
The protest movement says at least 128 people were killed in the crackdown. The death toll provided by authorities at the time was 87, including 17 at the sit-in.
The violence triggered a breakdown in talks between the protesters and the generals who took over power after removing al-Bashir.
Sudanese security forces raped, stabbed, and beat protesters, Human Rights Watch said, adding that they also humiliated many demonstrators by cutting off their hair, forced protesters to crawl in sewage and urinated on them.
In July, an investigation by Sudanese prosecutors said some members of the security forces had exceeded orders and accused eight officers, including a major general, of crimes against humanity.
But that investigation angered the protest movement, which called for an international probe, something the military rejected.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, appointed in August, has set up an independent committee to probe the violence but HRW says victims’ groups have raised concerns about its lack of independence, with members including officials from the defense and interior ministries who oversee security forces.
Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch, says Sudanese leaders should establish a committee that meets “international standards of fairness and independence.”
“To this end, they should urgently request expertise from Sudanese, regional, and international bodies, including from experts in investigating sexual violence and serious crimes,” she added.