On Saturday, May 15, three days after attorney general Al-Hebir Taj Elsir asked for the custody of the soldiers accused of opening fire at the protest outside the army headquarters in the capital city Khartoum recently, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) conceded to his request.
Osman Ahmed and Mudasir Mukhtar died of bullet injuries and 37 others were wounded when soldiers attacked the protest that was held on May 11 demanding justice for the victims of the massacre on June 3, 2019.
“There are seven defendants in the military prison together with 92 others suspected of being involved in the attack,” Taj Elsir said in a press statement after the military’s report was handed over to him by Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan – the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the head of the sovereignty council, the highest body of the transitional government.
The handover of the arrested soldiers is schdueled to take place on Sunday. While seeking their custody, the attorney general had confirmed on May 12 the office of public prosecution had lodged two lawsuits in connection with the shooting. SAF maintains it had not issued orders to shoot at the demonstration.
June 3 massacre
Held on the 29 of Ramadan — the second year anniversary according to Islamic calendar of the massacre on June 3, 2019 — the demonstration was against the delay by the transitional government in investigating the killings of over 200 and holding the perpetrators accountable. Thousands of protesters led by the Organization of the December Revolution Martyrs forced their way past the soldiers deployed to stop them and demonstrated at the square.
At the time of the massacre two years ago, the square was occupied by the main sit-demonstration of Sudan’s December Revolution which began in 2018.
Months of multiple protests and crackdowns had evolved into a mass demonstration of hundreds of thousands, occupying this square and virtually blockading the army’s HQ for five days, finally forcing it on April 11, 2019, to remove Omar al Bashir. Bashir had ruled Sudan as a dictator since he had come to power through a coup in 1990. Upon his removal, however, the army formed a military junta, which assumed power after placing Bashir under house arrest.
The protest movement refused to yield ground to military rule and held the square in larger numbers, demanding that the army give way to civilian rule. The sit-in demonstration here had continued on to its 58th day on June 3, 2019, when the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), armed with gun-mounted pick-up trucks, surrounded the protesters occupying this square and opened fire. Many protesters were hacked to death and dumped in the Nile.
The RSF is a militia made up of the Janjaweed fighters from the nomadic Arab herdsmen who were organized and armed by Bashir’s regime to commit an alleged genocide in Darfur, for which he was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The army — sections of whose lower ranks had previously protected the demonstration from an attack by Bashir’s intelligence forces — stood as mute spectators this time and allowed the massacre to proceed. Many cases of active participation of the army’s soldiers have also been documented. Over 200 died and many more hundreds were injured.
The international outrage which erupted, and the continued resistance of the Sudanese people by other means, imposed an enormous pressure on the army to seek an accommodation. The centrist political parties — which by then had diluted the original demands of the protest movement they claimed to represent and were seeking to compromise — reached a power sharing agreement with the army.
A joint civilian-military transitional government with a mandate to rule for 39 months before holding elections was formed in August 2019. General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemeti, head of the RSF and the Deputy Chairman of the military junta, went on to become one of the most powerful members of this government. The highest body of the government, the sovereignty council, is chaired by the president of the military junta, Lt Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Among its many unfulfilled promises was that the massacre will be investigated and those who gave the orders will be punished. 76-year-old Nabil Adeeb, a prominent human rights lawyer, was appointed as the head of the committee which was tasked in September 2019 to conduct the investigation and press charges in three months. The deadline passed almost a year and a half ago.
Hemeti maintains that it was not the RSF, but rogue Islamist elements of the former regime wearing RSF uniforms bought from shops, who were involved in the massacre. However, given the scale of the operation — the large number of pick-up trucks and weapons involved, and the coordination demonstrated by the army and the police — few believe Hemeti’s version. It is reported that Adeeb is also toying with a similar theory, pinning the blame on Islamists of the former regime who supposedly acted with the support of other Islamist regimes in the Arab region.
Senior generals in powerful government positions accused of massacre
The Organization of the December Revolution Martyrs is unequivocal on who is to be blamed. Speaking on its behalf at the protest on May 11 against the failure of the government to hold the perpetrators accountable, the mother of Mohamed Matar, a 26-year-old killed in the June 3 massacre, accused Hemeti and his brother Abdelrahim Dagalo, the Deputy Commander of the RSF, of being the architects of the massacre.
Insisting on the dissolution of the RSF, she went on to call on “those responsible for the crime [..] to admit their involvement in the massacre to the Sudanese people” by the deadline of June 3 this year. Should this not be done, she went on to warn that the coming “June 3 will be the starting date for the escalation of actions demanding justice for the protestors killed.”
Following the attack on this demonstration, the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) have called for the dissolution of the investigating committee led by Adeeb and the formation of a new panel which includes the families of the victims.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an umbrella body of trade unions which had spearheaded the December Revolution, called for an international commission to be formed to investigate the massacre under supervision of the ICC.
Anticipating the political fallout of the shooting at this demonstration demanding justice for the slain protesters, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok convened an emergency meeting with his top ministers, the attorney general and the director of General Intelligence Service (GIS).
“The Minister of Defense confirmed that the armed forces have arrested all the army personnel accused of shooting at the peaceful demonstrators before to hand over the perpetrators of the crime to be brought to justice within a few days,” read the government’s statement following this meeting.
These measures, however, have not diffused the immense pressure mounting on the civilian political parties which had gone along with the military rulers in the transitional government, and subsequently joined the controversial Transitional Partners Council (TPC). The TPC was formed on December 1, 2019, to accommodate into a governing body the armed rebels with whom the transitional government reached a power sharing agreement in October 2020.
This body was constituted of six military members, including the Dagalo brothers accused of the massacre, alongside nine members from the armed groups which will now be integrated into the national defense forces. Only the remaining 14 seats are allocated to representatives of the political parties. This move is seen by the critics as an attempt by the military elite to further concentrate power and undermine the original agreement which envisioned a civilian-dominated legislature to counter the power of the military.
The Nasserist Democratic Unionists Party, which had gone along with the army’s agenda, withdrew itself from the TPC after condemning the shooting. The Sudanese Congress Party withdrew its chairperson, Omar El Dekheir, from the TPC. Placing the responsibility on the governor of Khartoum, the attorney general, defense minister and the interior affairs minister, the SCoP also pulled its two ministers out of the government.
The centrist National Umma Party (NUP) admonished the security forces for failing to “comprehend the requirements of the democratic transformation. They need to be restructured in a way so that they contribute to the glorious revolution, preserve public rights and freedoms, and apply the law to the fullest.”
Reiterating its consistent refusal of any power-sharing arrangement with the military and calling for the formation of a “fully civilian government”, the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), deemed it “a crime committed in cold blood, previously agreed on, for which the military and civilian sides in the government and the governor of Khartoum bear full responsibility.”
The story has been updated to reflect recent developments