Trade union coalition in Sudan launches campaign to dissolve government-backed militia

The Sudanese Professionals Association launched the campaign following the torture and killing of a young activist, Bahaeldin Nouri, who was abducted by the intelligence wing of the government-backed Rapid Support Forces on December 21

January 06, 2021 by Pavan Kulkarni
Sudan RSF
Thousands attended the burial of Bahaeldin Nouri, an activist who was tortured and killed by the RSF. (Photo: Radio Dabanga)

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) launched a campaign this week demanding the dissolution of the notorious government-backed militia, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The SPA is the trade union coalition which led the December 2018 Revolution that successfully ousted Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

SPA’s campaign against the RSF, called “Know Your Right”, comes in the backdrop of the torture and killing of yet another young activist in the country, Bahaeldin Nouri. He was abducted from a busy market place near his house in southern Khartoum by civilian-clothed armed personnel of the RSF’s intelligence department on December 21. He was forced on to a pick up truck with no number plate and subsequently held at a detention center in the capital’s twin city, Omdurman.

Nouri’s family, which had filed a complaint with the local police, was informed by an unidentified caller the next day that his body was at the Omdurman Teaching Hospital. According to the family, there were signs of torture on the body. 

A second autopsy was conducted at the insistence of the family after the first autopsy report appeared to have concealed or omitted evidence of torture. The report of the second autopsy confirmed multiple injuries on his body. 

On December 24, members of his local resistance committee blocked the main roads around the El Kalakla Sangaat market from where he was abducted, in protest. Local resistance committees are the neighborhood youth organizations that formed the backbone of the protest movement driving the December Revolution.

RSF spokesman Brig. Gen. Jamal Juma admitted to the crime on December 27, adding that the head of the intelligence department was being questioned and those involved in Nouri’s abduction had been taken into custody for interrogation. 

The next day, attorney general Tajelsir El Hibir ordered the RSF to stop its internal investigation. He demanded that the RSF lift the immunity accorded to these personnel and hand them over to the public prosecutor for interrogation.

Nouri’s funeral on December 29 was attended by thousands who marched alongside his dead body from the Omdurman Hospital to the RSF headquarters in Shambat city in Khartoum State. Raising slogans against the immunity provided to the RSF, the mourning protesters vowed that Nouri would be the last activist to meet such a fate, reported Radio Dabanga

The SPA insisted that those involved in the killing must be tried in court for premeditated murder. Assuring that this will be done, El Hibir confirmed the next day that the RSF had lifted the immunity of these officers, and that his office had taken over the case.  

The SPA is demanding a more systematic effort to eliminate the menace that the RSF has become over the years. Formed in 2013 during the rule of al-Bashir, the RSF comprised largely the Janjaweed militias which were the foot-soldiers of the genocide in the civil war-torn Darfur region. Omar al-Bashir now stands trial at the ICC for this genocide.

The RSF was also deployed by the military junta – which had assumed power for a period immediately after al-Bashir’s removal – to disperse the massive sit-in demonstration surrounding the army HQ in Khartoum on June 3, 2019. 

The unarmed protesters who were demanding that the military yield power to a civilian government were surrounded by the RSF militiamen from all sides, fired upon and hacked with machetes, in a massacre that claimed over a 100 lives. No one has been tried and punished for the crime yet.

The compromise which consolidated RSF’s power

In the transitional government that was subsequently formed in August 2019, key positions were taken up by military generals as a result of the compromises made by the centrist opposition parties at the time. These parties now share power with the military in the current government. 

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka ‘Hemeti’, the head of the RSF, was appointed as the deputy-vice president of the sovereignty council –  the highest body of the civilian-majority transitional government. 

The RSF was incorporated into the military but not dissolved as a separate force. The military now consists of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the RSF, whose effective control rests with General Hemeti. 

Such an arrangement was enabled by Article 35 of the 2019 Constitutional Document, a power sharing agreement between the military and civilian factions on the basis of which the current transitional government was formed. 

“In order to prevent any future violations, we demand the amendment of Article 35 of the 2019 Constitutional Document, to make the armed forces the only military protector of the homeland,” reads the SPA’s memorandum, submitted to the attorney general and justice minister on January 3. 

The memorandum further demands the repeal of the Rapid Support Forces Act 2017, which gave this militia legal sanction. The SPA also maintains that individual members of the RSF who qualify to be a part of the armed forces should be integrated into the army, while others should be disarmed and dismissed. In addition, all the RSF detention centers in the country must be identified and shut down permanently. 

“We also demand that the Attorney General form a standing committee with all powers to review past violations and receive complaints from those who have been arrested (by the RSF),” the memorandum reads.

“We further ask the Minister of Justice to work to enact legislation that repeals the power to arrest and imprisonment for 24 hours on the basis of the suspicion granted to the Public Intelligence Service in 2019 after amending the National Security Act of 2010,” it adds.

As per the SPA, the power to arrest and interrogate suspects for 24 hours before producing them in court must be limited to the regular police. The record of the police force is also not clear on this front as a number of police custodial deaths have been documented. However, the degree of impunity enjoyed by the RSF far exceeds that of the police.