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UN envoy demands swift probe into ‘unacceptable’ killings of Sudanese protesters

Visiting Sudan, rights expert decries violent crackdown on protests that erupted after last year’s military coup, as death toll nears 100

Adama Dieng, United Nations designated expert on human rights in Sudan, speaks at a press conference in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, June 4, 2022. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)
Adama Dieng, United Nations designated expert on human rights in Sudan, speaks at a press conference in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, June 4, 2022. (Ashraf Shazly/AFP)

KHARTOUM, Sudan — A UN human rights expert on Sudan called on Saturday for accelerated investigations into killings of protesters and other atrocities, as the death toll since last year’s coup nears 100.

Sudan has been rocked by deepening unrest and a violent crackdown against near-weekly mass protests since army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s power grab on October 25 derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.

“It is simply unacceptable that 99 people have been killed and more than 5,000 injured as a result of excessive use of force by the joint security forces,” Adama Dieng told reporters, quoting a toll provided by pro-democracy medics.

He called on authorities “to expedite” investigations into the killings of protesters.

On what is his second visit to Sudan since last year’s coup, Dieng has raised concerns during talks with senior officials over arbitrary and mass arrests of activists, sexual and gender-based violence, and “acts of torture and ill-treatment” during detentions.

He said a probe set up by Sudanese authorities has confirmed “four cases of sexual violence” during the protests.

Sudanese protesters demonstrate against the military coup in Sudan in the capital Khartoum, on November 13, 2021. (AFP)

The UN expert also pointed to an intensification of an existing economic crisis since the coup, which has seen Western donors return to the sidelines, after brief engagement with a civilian-military power-sharing government established in the wake of autocrat Omar al-Bashir’s ouster in 2019.

Spiraling prices and a poor harvest are “forecast to dramatically increase the number of people living in poverty,” he noted.

Dieng is scheduled to meet with Burhan later Saturday.

On Friday, thousands of protesters took to the streets across Sudan to mark the third anniversary of a crackdown that medics say killed 128 people in June 2019, when armed men in military fatigues violently dispersed a weeks-long sit-in outside army headquarters.

A protester was killed during Friday’s demonstrations despite calls by Dieng, echoed by Western diplomats, for security forces to “refrain from excessive violence against protesters.”

Sudanese demonstrators take to the streets in Khartoum to demand justice for scores of pro-democracy protesters killed during the suppression of a 2019 sit-in against now-ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir, June 3, 2022. (Ebrahim Hamid/AFP)

The UN, along with the African Union and regional grouping IGAD, have been pushing for Sudanese-led talks to break the post-coup political stalemate.

On Friday, UN special representative Volker Perthes announced the Security Council had voted to extend by one year the United Nations’ mission in Sudan.

Perthes, as well as AU and IGAD representatives, agreed with military officials to launch “direct talks” among Sudanese factions next week.

On Sunday, Burhan lifted a state of emergency in force since the coup to set the stage for “meaningful dialogue that achieves stability for the transitional period.”

Since April, Sudanese authorities have released several civilian leaders and pro-democracy activists.

In response to the coup, the Biden administration suspended assistance to Sudan, including aid related to its normalization deal with Israel.

“The United States is not moving forward at this time with assistance originally committed to Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government in connection with its efforts to improve Sudan’s bilateral relationship with Israel,” a State Department spokesman said in an email at the end of May. “This includes wheat shipments and certain development and trade and investment assistance.”

He added the Biden administration expected Israel to join in the call for a return to a democratically elected government.

Israel has not commented on the situation and a minister in the former civilian government told the Haaretz daily in April that this could be seen as backing for the coup.

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