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On 11 April 2019 the Sudanese army announced it had removed President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s long-time President, from power.

President Omar al-Bashir has ruled Sudan since taking power in a coup in 1989 but, as long-time Africa watcher Alex de Waal observes “during his last years in office, he used his formidable political talents simply to stay in power, and did nothing for the country”. Protests against rising bread and fuel costs morphed into wider, organised protests against Bashir’s rule. The army removed Bashir from power after protestors peacefully occupied the square outside the Ministry of Defence and Army HQ (elements of the security forces had forcefully cracked down on the various demonstrations held since mid-December, resulting in an estimated 50 deaths, numerous injuries and reports of sexual assaults and violence).

A consortium of civil society, labour and political organisations issued a Declaration of Freedom and Change at the beginning of the year calling for a civilian-composed transitional government to serve for four years. 

In May the army-led Transitional Military Council agreed with the consortium a three-year transition period to civilian rule.

However, on 3 June, the military scrapped these agreements and announced that instead, it will hold elections within nine months. Observers suggested this was simply a means by which the army would retain hold on power.

Security forces have also stepped up their efforts to violently disperse protestors. On 3 June members of the security forces stormed a protestors camp killing dozens of people and injuring many more. There have been reports of multiple rapes and sexual violence. The UN Secretary-General deplored the violence and use of force, as did the UK Government, who said the Transitional Military Council “bears full responsibility”.

In response, the opposition Forces of the Declaration of Freedom and Change announced they were terminating negotiations with the Transitional Military Council (which it renamed the ‘coup council’), who it held responsible for the civilian deaths, and called for a campaign of civil disobedience until “the regime is overthrown”. On 6 June the Declaration Forces issued their demands, calling: for those responsible for the violence to be held to account; transfer of power to a civilian government, and the immediate dissolution of the Janjaweed militia.

The Transitional Military Council has since arrested members of the opposition and restricted access to the internet to disrupt the protestors ability to communicate.

The leader of the Rapid Support Forces, which emerged from the feared Janjaweed militia in Darfur, is General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (commonly known as Hemeti). He is now the deputy chief of the TMC. A profile of Hamdan in Foreign Policy magazine observes “by creating the janjaweed and relentlessly empowering them under Hemeti, the Sudanese regime has created a monster it cannot control and who represents a security threat not only for Sudan but also for its neighbours”. It notes how under Hemeti the RSF “became uncontrollable and engaged in looting, killing, and rape in Darfur, as well as in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states” before eventually turning into a “third pole of power within Sudan’s security apparatus, rival to both army and intelligence”. The UK Ambassador to Khartoum expressed concern at the past role of the RSF in a meeting with Hameti on 15 April.

The situation in Sudan is further complicated by the competing influences of external actors. Long-time Sudan watcher Alex De Waal notes that all the security bosses have foreign ties, be that with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (the RSF has thousands of troops in Yemen fighting alongside the Saudi-led coalition) or Qatar and Turkey.

The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed flew to Khartoum on 6 June to try to mediate a resolution. On the same day, the African Union announced it had suspended Sudan and demanded a transition to civilian rule.

The UN has suspended the handover of any more camps for displaced civilians in Darfur to the Sudanese military because of the worsening violence and insecurity across the country. The head of the joint African Union-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) told the UN Security Council it cannot agree to a demand by the TMC to hand over all camps to the Rapid Support Forces.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council condemned the 3 June attacks and held the Transitional Military Council responsible. In a statement following a meeting of the Council on 17 June, the EU called for an immediate cessation of violence, the release of opposition leaders and lifting restrictions on freedom of assembly, media and access to the internet. The EU is calling for an immediate resumption of negotiations between the TMC and the Forces for Freedom and Change.

UK Government position

Jeremy Hunt tweeted his condemnation of the violence on 3 June, describing it as a “an outrageous step that will only lead to more polarisation and violence”. He added “the Military Council bears full responsibility for this action and the international community will hold it to account”.

The Troika, consisting of the UK, US and Norway, issued a statement of condemnation on 4 June. The UK reaffirmed previous calls for an orderly transition to a civilian-led government rather than “rushed elections imposed by the TMC’s security forces”:

  1. The Troika condemns the violent attacks in Sudan on June 3, which resulted in the killing and injuring of many peaceful civilian protesters. By ordering these attacks, the Transitional Military Council has put the transition process and peace in Sudan in jeopardy. We call for an agreed transfer of power to a civilian-led government as demanded by the people of Sudan. We welcome the statement of the Chairperson of the African Union (AU) and support the important role of the AU in solving the crisis in Sudan, including its demand for an immediate handover to a civilian-led government.
  2. The Troika also expresses its serious concern over the TMC’s announcement that it will cease negotiations with the Forces for Freedom and Change, retract all previous agreements with them on formation of an interim government, and will hold elections within nine months. The people of Sudan deserve an orderly transition, led by civilians, that can establish the conditions for free and fair elections, rather than have rushed elections imposed by the TMC’s security forces.

Harriet Baldwin, the Minister for Africa, responded to an urgent question from Sir Henry Bellingham on the situation in Sudan on 13 June. The Minister called for the Sudanese authorities to refrain from all violence, describing the attacks by Sudanese security forces on 3 June and “sickening and brutal acts” and deplored the terrible atrocities committed. Shadow Minister Liz McInnes called on the Government to call for an external-led investigation into the killings, to halt all deportations and removals to Sudan, support regime change and help ensure a peaceful transition to civilian rule.

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