Terror In Khartoum

the ruling junta has brought decades of horrific crimes in the periphery to the capital

Posted by Mark Hackett on June 5th, 2019

On Monday, Sudan's ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) junta committed a massacre against unarmed and peaceful protesters in Khartoum.

More details will emerge in the coming days; however, due to the sheer horror of the crimes being committed, we want to provide you with what we know and some additional context around the slaughter. Most internet in Sudan has been cut off by the junta as part of their efforts to block international coverage of the massacre. Our hope is that we can help prevent that effort from being successful. 

Much of the information below has been published by other reliable sources in the past 72 hours and, in those cases, we have provided links to the original reporting. Some of what follows is newer information that has been privately reported to our organization or has not been made public in any meaningful yet. 

We do warn you, the following information and images are extremely graphic and disturbing. 

Map: Protests have centred on government buildings in Khartoum (Guardian)

The Lead Up To The Massacre

Mass protests have occupied the street in front of the military headquarters since April 6, only days before Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by his own junta after nearly 30 years in power. The junta rebranded themselves as the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and promised to work with protesters to move the country toward civilian rule. That promise ended up being a colossal lie. 

The junta remains fundamentally unchanged: violent, racist, and corrupt. The TMC only offered vague steps and dragged their feet in negotiations with civil society leaders. Wary protesters fed up with violent and corrupt military and Islamic rule refused to go home until their demands were met.

On Sunday, it became clear that the regime's ultimate plan had been to wait the protesters out and not cede an inch of power. TMC leaders finally lost patience. Army units quietly withdrew from the nearby streets and the main gate to their headquarters, only to be replaced moments later by the junta's genocidal Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia. On Monday morning, the massacre began.

Photo: Sudanese forces are deployed near Khartoum's army headquarters on Monday.

Hundreds of Rapid Support Forces militiamen and National Intelligence and Security Service agents marched on the sit-in protest at the army headquarters and began firing live ammunition and throwing grenades. The troops burned tents and beat the wounded and those who could not flee fast enough. Eyewitnesses reported that RSF militiamen grabbed several women and took them back to their vehicles to be raped. 

A photo circulating online reportedly shows Rapid Support Forces militiamen showing off the underwear of women they raped during the attack.

The army refused to let protesters enter their headquarters or provide any sort of protection from the junta's security forces: 

Other RSF and NISS units reportedly scooped up the wounded and put them into ambulances in a failed attempt to make it look like they were trying to help. The bodies of protesters already murdered were thrown into their own vehicles. We now know that dozens of the wounded and dead bodies were taken to the Nile River nearby. RSF units killed the wounded with their firearms and machetes and mutilated the bodies of those already killed before dumping them into the river. Some bodies had stones tied to their legs so they would not rise back up to the surface.

The protest site outside of the military headquarters had been a vibrant place that was full of life the past several weeks. Following the initial massacre, all that remained were torched vehicles and tents. 

There is not much video of the massacre itself yet. Most of what has made it online can be found in the Al Jazeera video at the top of this post. Protesters have been uploading endless amounts of video and photos to social media platforms for several weeks to document their stories, but the junta has cut off most internet in Sudan since the massacre. Whenever internet returns, we expect to see more video and photo evidence from the massacre emerge.

The RSF has also been robbing civilians of their cell phones across Khartoum. The RSF has a long history of violently stealing from ordinary Sudanese across the country for their own personal gain; however, this appears to be an attempt to keep protesters from getting information about junta crimes out into the world. 

The RSF Spreads Terror Across Khartoum

Following the initial massacre outside of the army headquarters, heavily armed RSF units chased fleeing unarmed protesters into side streets and residential neighborhoods. They were met with makeshift blockades and protesters moving vehicles into the middle of roads to block RSF movements. RSF units have continued beating, raping, and shooting protesters across Khartoum since Monday. The city has been described as "on lockdown" with RSF units killing, raping, and beating protesters and shopkeepers at will.

RSF units have also surrounded hospitals and clinics, which have been overrun with survivors and the protesters who have brought them in. RSF soldiers entered East Nile Hospital and opened fire on doctors and survivors. At Royal Care Hospital, the RSF threatened the staff and forced over 50 wounded to leave without medical care.

Yesterday, we received a private report from Khartoum that includes the names of several dozen rape survivors. Because we do not personally know the survivors and to protect their identities, we will not be releasing their names. We can say that there are several children among the survivors, including an 8 year old girl. There are at least 4 cases in which daughters and wives have been raped in front of their fathers or husbands, who were forced to watch by RSF soldiers. 

The death toll has skyrocketed in recent days. As of the time of this posting, most international coverage is reporting that between 30-65 people have been killed and several hundred wounded. The private report we have received states that well over 100 people have been murdered and more than 1,000 peaceful protesters injured. Several hundred more Sudanese citizens are missing and presumed to be dead or locked up in the junta's vast network of torture chambers. 

Why & How Is A Government Militia Calling The Shots

The Rapid Support Forces militia is a rebranded, better armed, and better trained version of the Janjaweed, the notorious regime militia that committed the bulk of the Darfur genocide in the 2000s. Several years ago and while Bashir was still Sudan's sitting dictator, his regime formalized the Janjaweed into a mobile and effective fighting force and spread the militia across Sudan's oppressed periphery regions. The regime dubbed the Janjaweed as the new Rapid Support Forces

The RSF have been committing war crimes including mass murder, rape, and looting ever since. From Darfur to the Nuba Mountains to Blue Nile, RSF units have burned entire communities to the ground and battled armed rebels in the western and southern regions of the country. They have historically been mercenaries hired by the junta to decimate Sudan's already oppressed and rebellious hinterlands.

When peaceful protests against Bashir broke out in Khartoum in December 2018, the junta quietly began moving thousands of RSF units out of the besieged periphery regions of Sudan and into the capital. Where there is any form of rebellion against the regime in Sudan, the RSF usually arrives soon afterward to repress it. The Transitional Military Council restrained the RSF after seizing power from Bashir in April, but no more.

On Monday, the junta unlocked the shackles so RSF paramilitaries could do what they do best: slaughter the people and allow the military to claim they had nothing to do with the violence. 

The regime has brought its genocidal wars to the capital, the very place it has long said it is fighting to protect and enrich. The RSF is unleashing its own violent culture on Sudanese who have never known it, and they seem to gleefully embrace the opportunity to show citizens in Khartoum, who have no experience with the wars and genocides of the past 30 years, what life has been like outside of the Khartoum bubble.


Photo: RSF commander Mohamed Hamadan Dagolo, commonly known as Hemeti, speaks to the press in Khartoum, Sudan, on May 28, 2019.

What Happens Next

For now, it appears that RSF commander Hemeti is trying to position himself to be Sudan's next dictator. Hemeti is technically second-in-command on the Transitional Military Council, but many Sudan observers have become immensely worried the past few weeks that he is the one pulling the strings or he is operating outside of TMC authority. Hemeti has the backing of powerful Gulf states, and the RSF has its own relations with several international actors that goes beyond official Sudanese government foreign policy.

The RSF's true size and strength is largely unknown, but Hemeti's units lack the heavy firepower of the official army, which has an array of tanks, artilllery, and more at its disposal. If there is ever a showdown between the Sudan Armed Forces and the RSF, a nightmare scenario that is increasingly likely to happen, it is highly probable that the army will enter the fray with a lot more firepower.

On the international front, the usual actors who have long supported mass murder and chaos in Sudan for their own gain are lining up behind the junta. The Russian and Chinese governments have blocked a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the violence. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are pouring money into regime coffers. And Egypt's military leaders remain opposed to civilian rule on their southern border.

The Trump Administration has mildly thrown verbal support to the protest movement; however, there is no clear policy in place. In fact, the American approach to the current crisis in Sudan can only be described as a dumpster fire. At a recent private meeting in Washington D.C, Steven Koutsis, the top ranking American diplomat in Khartoum, attempted to assuage concerns about U.S. policy toward Sudan. Attendees left with even more concerns, and much of what Koutsis said was directly contradicted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson shortly afterward. Three other American officials have admitted the U.S. government is struggling to get basic intelligence about what is happening inside Sudan’s government and information on different political actors. Other U.S. officials have made it clear the Trump Administration has no policy on the current crisis whatsoever. 

That leaves the Sudanese people themselves. While Khartoum is on lockdown due to the Transitional Military Council's Rapid Support Forces attack dog being unchained, there are early signs that this massacre is going to backfire. Protesters have been unable to reclaim their positions outside of army headquarters, but they continue to stand their ground in residential areas of the capital. Protesters have not retreated in other parts of Sudan either, despite RSF attacks. 

For many Sudanese, protesting despite the immense dangers is the only option the Transitional Military Council has left them with. The junta has spent the last 30 years wrecking Sudan's economy, stealing from government coffers, shrinking public services, and committing unaffordable and pointless genocides in the name of a crazed, violent ideology that doesn't help anyone. Most Sudanese only have the breath in their lungs left to lose, especially now that the horrors of Sudan's war-torn edges have entered the capital. 

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About Mark

Mark began working on Sudan issues in 2007 after an eye-opening conversation with a genocide survivor from Darfur, Sudan. Since 2011 he has overseen the steady growth of our organization. 

Mark makes sure our on the ground programs stay on the rails and that our movement remains focused on our end goal of closing our doors one day. He’s one of only a few Americans to have been in frontline areas in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan during the war.

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