Sudan: June massacre’s legal impacts pushing generals for more power gripping

Krory Salih

As the time for transferring the sovereignty council’s presidency in Sudan to the civilians approaches, fears of the 3rd June 2019 massacre’s legal impacts are prompting General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese sovereignty council, and his deputy Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemidti) for more power gripping, according to law and policy experts.

 What Happened

While hundreds of thousands of protesters prepared for the last day of Ramadan in front of the military headquarter in Khartoum on June 3rd 2019, armed forces belonging to the then Sudanese Transitional Military Council (TMC), headed by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the immediate successor organization to the Janjaweed militia— used heavy gunfire and teargas to disperse the protestors’ sit-in, killing over an estimated number of 500 people, with the actual numbers yet to emerge.

A number of at least forty bodies had been disposed of in the Nile River. Hundreds of unarmed civilians were injured and arrested, many families were terrorized in their home estates across Sudan, and the RSF violated more than 70 women and men. Internet access was completely blocked in Sudan for 17 days following the massacre, contributing to the difficulty in estimating the number of deaths.

A few hours after the massacre, al-Burhan announced that negotiations with protesters were over, all previous agreements were cancelled, and that elections would be held within nine months. Demonstrators and observers considered this as a coup.

The killings, mass rape, and public torture continued over the next 3 days as the Rapid Support Forces put Khartoum under a brutal lockdown.

 Wide Pressure

Al-Burhan and Hemidti were surrounded by increasing allegations of their responsibility in the massacre as, with the former having been the head of the TMC, and the latter, his TMC deputy, being the commander of the RSF.

They are facing local and international pressure to hand over the presidency of the sovereignty council to the civilians by next November as agreed upon in the constitutional declaration, which would means they will be subject to justice.

While a gathering of Sudanese law professionals were chanting Thursday near the Presidential Palace in Khartoum “Hand over the presidency… Justice …justice for the 3rd June massacre’s victims,” heated debates were going on in the country regarding whether the military generals would in fact hand over power to civilians next month, and inevitably face justice, or would continue to block the path to democratic transition and thus prolong their grip on power in order to escape the legal ramifications that may implicate both of them?

Prolonged Stay

Al-Burhan and Hemidti prolonging of their stay in power is a tactic they have followed in order to avoid the June massacre’s legal consequences.

To prolong their stay in power, both have tried to create a situation whereby they might convince the Sudanese public and the international community that the civilians were not able to control the country.

Several practices have been fueled in this regard with the widespread belief that the members of the military component of the Sovereignty Council were supporting the on-going security problems in Khartoum and the blockade of roads and ports in Sudan’s eastern region.

At the height of the economic crisis last year, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok announced that his government was unable to secure the resources needed to tackle the crisis due to 80% of the country’s economy being controlled by the military.

Nevertheless, the military leaders refused firmly to transfer their dominion over the non-military sectors into the hands of the transitional government’s civilian component.

The toppled Omar al-Bashir regime was heavily empowered by the military and the RSF in a wide range of civil economic sectors including mining, industry, agriculture, trade, banking, and others.

In fact, the economic difficulties – which attributed partly to the military’s control – created a state of popular anger and resentment.

Bakry Eljack Elmedni, professor of public policy and administration at Long Island University in New York, believes that al-Burhan and Hemidti are involved in creating a situation whereby they could convince the Sudanese people and the international community that the civilians are not organized and therefore giving them the power would place the country’s stability at risk.

“Burhan and Hemidti are both concerned about their involvement in the massacre and other crimes committed in Darfur and other parts of the country,” said Elmedni. “They think if they have to give over their power, they will lose their control of their forces and their economic power”, he added.

 Unifying Factor

The June 3rd massacre’s expected legal ramifications seem to be one of the strongest factors in forcing this al-Burhan and Hemidti’s alliance.

When Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok announced in June his initiative titled “The Road Forward”, tension between the Sudanese military and the RSF had reached an all-time high, but as the date of handling their power to civilians approached, both al-Burhan and Hemidti realize that they both have a common interest in preventing the civilians’ control.

Ambassador Ibrahim Taha Ayoub, former Minister of Foreign Affairs in Sudan, identified 4 areas of common interest that makes both al-Burhan and Hemidti work hard to discredit the transitional period; for him, the 3rd June massacre’s was the most appealing.

He clarified: “Both are responsible for the massacre, where an unaccounted number of youth were killed or drowned in the Nile. They are implicated in the atrocities committed in Darfur including systematic killings and rapes of civilians. Both of them need to protect their business interests and to use each other’s power to guarantee their share of power gripping”.

Ayoub strongly disbelieves al-Burhan and Hemidti’s claims that they are siding with the Sudanese public, saying that “under the continuous youth marches and demonstrations against al-Bashir, they came to the conclusion that there was no way for his regime to survive.”

 Command Responsibility

During the past two years, al-Burhan and Hemidti tried by all means to hide the crime or at least find someone else to take the fall. For the past 30 years, the Sudanese judiciary was lacking “practical” experience in international humanitarian law and human rights violations.

While al-Burhan stands firmly to prevent justice reforms in order to create an independent, impartial and transparent judiciary, Hemidti continues to launch legal action against critics who spoke about his involvement, and reportedly tried to bribe some of the victims’ families.

 Nevertheless, their efforts seem to have borne no fruit. For the lawyer and human rights defender Saleh Mahmoud, the way the General Command HQ sit-in was dispersed is a clear crime that was committed by regular forces.

“Based on international law, the ruling body who issued the orders is directly responsible for the crime,” Mahmoud said.

In this regard, Mahmoud referred to the international humanitarian law of the Command Responsibility’s rule 153, which states: “Commanders and other superiors are criminally responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates if they knew, or had reason to know, that the subordinates were about to commit or were committing such crimes and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures in their power to prevent their commission.”

Mahmoud, who is the winner of four international awards, stresses that the case investigated by the Nabil Adeeb Committee is a case of a crime against humanity.

Hence, direct responsibility lies with the governing body at the time of the crime, which, according to international law, is required to protect every human being living in the geographical area of ​​the homeland.

“This issue preoccupies the entire world’s conscience, so no party should seek to extinguish it or obliterate its features, because it is not a crime that can be subject to a statute of limitations or pardon,” Mahmoud concluded.

 Investigation Doubts

 In September 2019, Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok ordered the formation of an investigation committee into the massacre.

Two years after its formation, the committee has yet to announce any results. Many observers believe that the committee is facing a certain pressure and that has led to it prolonging its investigations. The committee’s chairman Nabil Adeeb insisted that technical and logistical obstacles are behind the delaying of the final report.

In statements made to Sky News Arabia, Adeeb attributed the delaying of the final report to the inability of the Sudanese Criminal Evidence Department to deal with physical evidence, and the African Union’s inability to provide logistical support.

However, some official and legal bodies rejected these justifications. A former senior commander in the Sudanese police confirmed that the Sudanese Criminal Evidence Department has huge capabilities that enable it to perform the task.

A senior official in the Sudanese Foreign Ministry had also denied the existence of any official response confirming the validity of the African Union’s rejection of a request from the Sudanese government to provide logistical support to the committee.

Families of the victims who were killed or went missing during the June massacre’s events are still waiting for justice, but they no longer trust the committee and do not expect any results from it, said Kisha Abdel Salam Kisha, the father of Abdel Salam who was twenty-five years old when he was killed.

Kisha expressed his categorical rejection of the way the committee works, and pointed out that him and the rest of the victims’ families will continue to work in order to achieve an impartial investigation, even if this required the intervention of international bodies.

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