Media coverage as well as the response to the Sudan crisis has been abysmal
Since the talks between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Alliance for Freedom and Change have broken down, Khartoum has been plagued by violence. When the military capitulated to popular demand and brought an end to the 30-year long oppressive rule of Omar al-Bashir, the people rejoiced. Sudanese spirits were at a high much like the same demonstrators who managed to overthrow despots during the Arab Spring Uprising. Unfortunately, after that uprising it soon became clear that the military is often as authoritarian as its governmental counterpart. It cleverly employs a tactic of appearing to appease the people, allowing the dust settle which is then followed by strict military rule. Fortunately, the Sudanese appeared to have learnt from history as the Alliance for Freedom and Change called for a total civil disobedience campaign after the military’s very brutal crackdown on a protestors’ camp on 3 June when it refused to hand over authority to a civilian administration preferring to concentrate power in its own hands.
There have been serious human rights violations as the Central Committee for Sudanese Doctors (CSSD) has put the death toll at 118 victims while hundreds have been injured. About 40 “bloated” bodies have been recovered from the Nile- an attempt by the military to lower the official death toll. Additionally many women have suffered from rape with numbers likely understated due to the societal stigma attached to such an offense. Much of the atrocities have been committed by the paramilitary force known as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) headed by General Hamdan. It is this same force that was responsible for the genocide in Darfur for which Mr. Bashir has been indicted by the International Criminal Court and gives rise to the question: why are similar crimes currently committed by the same force not being taken seriously by the international community?
While the US has stepped in by deploying a special envoy, Donald Booth, and the assistant secretary of state for Africa, Tibur Nagy to resolve the crisis, the Trump administration has shown an aversion to involve itself in new conflicts. Furthermore, it is Trump’s close allies Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt that have not criticized the military’s actions as they fear criticism of a foreign military’s attempt to “maintain order” may lead to protests at home.
It is important to note Saudi Arabia and Sudan are strategically interlinked: last month the TMC’s vice president, General Hamdan, met with Mohamed Bin Salman to reiterate his commitment to defend Saudi Arabia and continue to send Sudanese troops to fight for the Saudi cause in Yemen while Saudi Arabia and the UAE provided Khartoum with a $3 billion aid package including a $500 million cash injection into Sudan’s central bank to help stabilize the local currency.
Though the US has often claimed to be a champion of human rights and democracy, it appears to value its biggest weapons-purchasing customer over taking a stand against atrocities committed in Yemen and now Sudan. Media coverage as well as the response to the Sudan crisis has been abysmal when compared to news of the Notre Dame fire – an event that did not even involve the loss of human lives. The problem is further exacerbated as the military has taken over local channels and shut down the internet, thus, preventing activists and civilians from sharing ground realities e.g. New York City-based beauty blogger Shahd Khidir is one of the few people who has been able to draw some social media attention to the crisis in a heartwrenching post about her abused friend.
The Sudanese military has been attempting to present itself in the right as its spokesperson, Shams al-Din Kabashi stated:
we ordered the commanders to come up with a plan to disperse this sit-in … but we regret that some mistakes happened.
Kabashi further stated that the military aimed to clear the area of drug dealers and would conduct an investigation on the 3 June crackdown.
However, the military’s attempt to displace blame from itself, well as conducting a non-transparent investigation and downplaying its actions as a “mistake” are indicative not of sincerity, but of limited international pressure Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the erosion of trust between the TMC and the Alliance for Freedom and Change has caused the latter to demand that future agreements be backed by regional and international guarantors.
In terms of international organizations, the African Union has taken action by suspending Sudan’s membership till authority is transferred to a civilian transitional body. However, the African Union is not as tightly integrated as other regional bodies such as the EU, thereby reducing the impact of Sudan’s suspension.
The UN has remained largely defunct as two of its permanent members namely Russia and China have blocked moves to impose sanctions on Sudan and rejected calls by Britain, Germany and other African countries to stop the withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur in light of the new crisis in Khartoum. China’s Deputy Ambassador Wu Haitao stated, “the Sudanese government has the capacity to maintain peace and security in Darfur on its own” with the Russian ambassador also asserting non-intervention in Sudan. China always prefers a policy of non-intervention as it does not wish to set a precedent for intervention within its own borders while Russia clearly stands against “American democracy”.
The fate of the Sudanese people is at stake and it is imperative that the world wake up and realize that it is hypocritical of states to pick and choose human rights issues that act as a cover for them to target their rivals at the cost of human suffering.
The author Urooj Hanafi has a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences with a major in Political Science from IBA, Karachi. She is soon to enroll in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies in the University of Washington as a Fulbright scholar.