The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) unequivocally condemns the military coup mounted against the civilian government of Sudan at dawn on 25 October, in an attempt by the Military Council to evade its constitutional obligation to turn power in the Sovereign Council over to its civilian partners as stipulated in the constitutional document.
Three years after the Sudanese revolution, the army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, announced it had undertaken a military coup to remove the civilian government of Abdalla Hamdok, who, with several ministers and members of the Sovereign Council and other key political actors, were either detained or placed under house arrest. The army declared a state of emergency and restricted the exercise of rights enumerated in the constitutional document pending general elections, to be held under the aegis of military forces.
The coup is yet another attempt by the Military Council to terminate the transitional phase and thwart any possibility for a peaceful democratic transition in a country that has suffered under Islamist military rule for three decades, witnessing partition, bloodshed, and genocide. The coup should remind the entire global community of the massacres committed by Sudan’s armed forces against the Sudanese people for thirty years and the resulting division of the country, displacement of millions of civilians, crimes against women and children, and severe deprivation that at times reached the point of famine.
Nevertheless, the struggle of the Sudanese people and Sudanese civil society for democracy and civilian government remains an inspiration to the entire region. Another page in this struggle was written yesterday after civilian factions took to the streets and squares to resist the military coup.
In this context, CIHRS affirms that there can be no stability in Sudan until the army returns to its barracks and pledges not to intervene in politics. The military must immediately turn the reins of government over to the political parties, the civilian government, and Sudanese civil society, all of which have proven their maturity and ability to lead the democratic transition.
Since the Hamdok government was formed several months ago, it has managed to push through systematic changes that were expected to yield positive results for the Sudanese people if they were continued and complemented with wide-ranging institutional, legal, and political reforms. Changes instituted by the Hamdok government include significant reforms to strengthen human rights, such as repealing laws used to limit women’s rights, criminalizing female circumcision, repealing a statute that required a woman to obtain her husband’s permission when traveling with her children, abolishing the death penalty for apostasy from Islam, reducing the arrest and detention powers of police, and instituting legal safeguards to ban torture and ill treatment in places of detention. Preliminary steps toward judicial reform were taken and investigations launched into serious economic crimes, alongside a declaration of readiness to refer former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In addition, the government undertook specific structural reforms of the economy, first and foremost with the aim of freeing the economy from the grip of the military establishment, removing various non-military factories from its control, and ensuring the lifting of international sanctions imposed on Sudan.
Despite these successes, Sudan’s military, as a partner in the government throughout the transitional period, has sought to undermine the process of structural change. It has used excessive force on more than one occasion to crush peaceful protests and public assemblies by people displaced from the Darfur region, and has obstructed the work of the national commission investigating the massacre of 3 June 2019. It has further sought to control various companies, which has weakened the state’s economic capacity, including its ability to confront challenges created by last year’s pandemic. The Transitional Military Council had also obstructed the implementation of the security arrangements clause in the peace agreement signed in Juba in October 2020, and failed to fulfill its obligations to protect civilians in Darfur after the evacuation of the United Nations/African Union Mission in the region at the end of December 2020.
CIHRS calls on all members of the Forces of Freedom and Change to hold fast to their support for democracy in the face of this military coup, demand the return of civilian government, and work immediately to appoint members of the yet-to-be-formed institutions stipulated in the constitutional document, including the Legislative Council and the Constitutional Court. Other top priorities for the reinstated government should be to reform the entire judiciary and establish commissions for human rights and transitional justice that adhere to international standards, as well as the remainder of the commissions stipulated in the constitutional document. Civilian authorities must also enact clear laws to guarantee sweeping reform of the security sector and civil-military relations, and the exclusion of the armed forces from the national economy.
CIHRS calls on all concerned with monitoring human rights in Sudan, including the United Nations, the African Union, international civil society, and diplomatic missions in Khartoum, to closely follow the situation of human rights defenders and activists from resistance committees, who were met with excessive violence by the army, the Rapid Support Forces, and other security forces during the first day of protests. Heavy tear gas and live ammunition were fired, leaving dozens injured or dead, according to information received from hospitals and clinics.
CIHRS further calls on all regional powers who have been hostile to the democratic transition in Sudan from the outset—in particular the governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel—to end their interference in Sudanese affairs and allow the Sudanese people to determine their own fate. It is important as well for the international community and Sudan’s international partners to take and announce a firm position against the coup and prevent Sudan’s slide into dictatorship. They must immediately suspend any support to the Sudanese Military Council and pressure it to stop the coup and turn government over to civilians.
A special onus must also be placed on the United States in regards to the latest developments in Sudan. Beginning only hours after US special envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman left Sudan following meetings with senior military officials, the coup constitutes the latest litmus test of the pro-democracy and human rights rhetoric adopted by the administration of President Joseph Biden. The military coup in Sudan represents an overdue opportunity for the Biden administration to begin supporting democracy and human rights not only in theory but also in practice.
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